One of the most coveted thru hikes in North America is the John Muir Trail. The full through hike is roughly 211 miles of trail that winds through a wide mountainous landscapes with a full 80,000 feet of total elevation change.
This is a hike that even seriously experienced backpackers will spend years of planning and training to accomplish. Although it can be accomplished in as little as 7 days, it is more generally hiked over a longer period, up to a three-week trek.
You will need to do research and consult with people that have hiked the trail to make your plans, and of course, your individual JMT gear list will need to be adjusted accordingly. Deciding on where, when and what to restock is another set of choices that need to be made.
This guide is a basic primer for those interested in the JMT, but who are in the early stages of working towards gearing up for this grand once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
As with any backpacking gear list, there is a balance you must strike between weight and comfort. Some of the trails are steep, so keep that in mind when deciding on your final gear weight.
The Gear List
- Permit – yes you need one, and you should apply about 200 days in advance, they are a hassle
- Pack cover
- Tent – 3 season tent, expect rough weather
- Tarp/ground cloth
- Sleeping bag – plan for cold nights, get at least 15° rated
- Sleeping pad
- Trekking poles – A must, this is an Alpine trail
- Stove and fuel
- Small trowel
- Trail maps or trail guide
- First aid kit
- Signal mirror
- Duct tape
- Rope, 20 feet
- Fire kit
- Water filtration system, back up water purification tabs
- Water bottles and/or hydration bladders
- Bear Canister – A must, this trail goes through grizzly country, also required by the Park Service
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Extra batteries
- Repair kits for major gear: stove, tent, sewing kit, mattress (if inflatable)
- Ice axe and traction like micro-spikes for footwear
- Money, identification, credit cards
- Pen and journal
- Large Ziploc bags – 3
- Unscented garbage bags – 2
- Bug spray – depending on what time a year you go, the mosquitos are no joke. Bring this.
- Toilet paper
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Body wipes – less messy and lighter than soap
- Hand sanitizer
- Personal hygiene products
- Prescription eye glasses/contacts, plus a spare set
- Prescription medications
Clearly not everything on this list is required, and you may want to confer with hike mates to avoid duplication and share the load.
- Solar USB charger for devices
- GPS transponder
- Charger chords for all electronics that are compatible with your Solar USB charger
- Satellite phone
Food for the JMT is similar other thru hiking. If you haven’t worked out your personal favorites for long treks, you are probably not ready for the JMT. That being said, here are some general tips:
- Pack dehydrated food when possible to save space and weight and rehydrate on the trail.
- 7 days of food should fit in your bear canister.
- Research where and when you will restock or have packages shipped to you along the trail.
- Dry electrolyte drink mix for fast energy, strong hydration. Save some for potential heat stroke triage.
- Always bring one more days-worth of food for each leg of your hike.
- Plan about 6,000 calories of food and drink a day on the trail, depending on how hard you hike.
Remember that packing moisture wicking fabrics, and planning layers is always the way to go with backpacking gear. The Alpine nature of the JMT requires that you are prepared for cold weather as well as milder conditions, and a variety of weather.
- Jackets – rain, wind AND insulated jackets will cover your bases the best
- Rain pants or a rain kilt to cover your legs in the event of precipitation
- Hiking boots
- Camp shoes or sandals – got to let those feet air out daily!
- Top/bottom/socks reserved for sleepwear
- Long pants
- Extra socks and underwear
- Warm hat
- Sun hat
- Long sleeve shirt
- Mosquito head net – I mentioned the mosquitos, right? Still not joking.
- Wicking t-shirt
- Wicking long pants
- Sports bra
On a parting note, if you have not had a chance to see it yet, this full documentary of the John Muir Trail will get you motivated for some of the most breathtaking views of nature that make this one of the most popular thru hikes in America!
High Sierra – A Journey of the John Muir Trail