Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preparing For the John Muir Trail

Hiking the John Muir Trail was the easy part.  Preparing for it took a lot of time and money.  Having never backpacked more than 5 days before, we were both a little surprised by the scope of the logistics.  We scoured the internet and hiking friends' brains.  It paid off.  We experienced very little trouble and we were well fed and comfortable most days.  Tammie was down one day due to what we think was mild dehydration.  She knew better, but got so busy enjoying the hike that she didn't keep track of her fluid consumption.

There are a multitude of choices when preparing for the hike, and our choices, are not by any means the best.  But we thought we would add our two cents to the internet mix for the fun of it.  Hope it helps someone.

Resupply Points:  We sent a small resupply to Red's Meadow and ended up taking shuttle to Mammoth after all.  Next time we might just plan on riding shuttle to Mammoth, cause it was fun.     We sent 2 six gallon buckets of resupply to Muir Ranch.  Ended up trading some food with other choices that were given to us from trail friends and other food  available in the hikers  leftover buckets.   When we were there, Muir Trail Ranch had 25 five gallon buckets full of food and supplies that were leftover from others. 

Conditioning:  Starting in fall of 2011 we began walking at least 5 days a week.  We began at about 2 flat miles and slowly grew from there up to the last month where we hiked 8 to 10 miles a day carrying a loaded pack up hills. We were glad we did as we had little to no pain on the trail.  If we didn't have easy access to hiking in the mountains a stair master and a treadmill could suffice. 

What we brought:

tip Get a postage scale at any office supply and weigh everything.  Make your choices with all the knowledge you can get.  

Kelty External Back packs:    We tried finding a new, lighter internal frame pack for the trip.   But they just weren't as comfortable and cool as our 30 year old external packs that weighed in at 4 lbs  8 oz.  We purchased new hip belts and shoulder belts (with load lifters) from Kelty for around 35 bucks for both packs. While we looked a little old fashioned, we loved the functionality of our packs and were never uncomfortable and had no problem hiking logs or hopping rocks.   We saw many hikers with ultralight packs and while some loved them, others were obviously very uncomfortable.  It appeared that if you go ultra light with a pack then you need to carry a very light load.  Packing them 35 to 45 lbs is not what they were intended for.

tip: use a pack that you are comfortable with; try them out beforehand.

Western Mountaineering Down Bags:  We replaced our 30 year old Camp 7 bags with these Cadilacs and loved them.  They both weighed in at right over 2 lbs.  Tammie had a Versalight with extra down in toe box, Mark had a Alpinlite with extra down in body.

Sleeping Pads:  Ex Ped 1 lb air mats.  Loved them and many hikers had them and loved them too.  Heard no complaints.  Super comfy when not over inflated.  Next time we would also bring small piece of foam to sit on or put at our tent door. 

Tent: We took a Big Agnes Flycreek 2 that weighed right under 3 pounds.  We loved it until the weather turned ugly.  Rain bounced in under the rainfly and due to the tent's narrowness it wicked through everywhere we touched.  When we returned the Big Agnes to REI and told them the problems we had they said that a tent rated for 3 seasons is not the same as 10 years ago.  They said we need a tent rated for 3 to 4 season.

tip: If you go with an ultralight model then you probably need to size up and in our case get one for 3 people so you won't ever touch the sides.  Many single hikers loved Flycreek 2.

Trekking Poles:  Tammie started with a pair purchased at Costco and they cracked on the trail. In Mammoth she replaced them with a Leki set and loved them.  Mark used an old REI set. 

tip:  You usually get what you pay for.

Bear Canisters:  Bear canisters are required on most of the JMT.  We rented a Bearicade Expedition. Fantastic piece of equipment.  If you let Wild Ideas know that you are doing a through hike they give you a set price, it was $55 this year, for however long you needed it.    We also shipped a second Bear Vault, that we own, in our resupply to Muir Ranch.  Not  crazy about the Bear Vault.  It is very difficult to open. 

Boots:   Tammie tried using New Balance trail runners during conditioning, but her feet got sore.  She ended up with  Keen Targue and added  berry Super Feet insoles for more arch support. These boots  were very common on the trail.  (She had some difficulty finding a pair that didn't have defects in sizing and ended up taking scale to store and weighing each boot separately.)  Initially Mark was using Targue's too for conditioning and loved them until the midsole broke down.  Since he was planning on carrying more weight on the hike he opted for Asolo FSN 95 GTX hikers. He added orange Super Feet insoles.

tip: A podiatrist told us to buy boots 1/2 to 1 size bigger  because your feet will swell walking all day.  We did and were very happy.   

Socks:  Tried coolmax socks and Smartwools and the Smartwools in medium thickness won out for the hike.  Tammie also wore liners and liked that the liners kept her socks cleaner and were easy to wash and dry.  We each started the hike with 3 pairs of socks and eventually met a lady who needed socks, so we pared down to 2 pairs, and that was sufficient.

tip:  We swapped out our socks every 2 to 4 hours to keep feet dry.  We would hang one pair on pack to dry (if it wasn't raining) and wear the other. Protect your feet.

Hiking Clothes:   We each opted for the lightest convertible pants we could find and long sleeve, quick drying, lightweight shirts.  We rarely zipped off our pants.  Pants saved on sunscreen and kept us cleaner.  Loved our shirts.  Mark wore a  quick drying Mountain Hardware with netting on the sides.  Tammie wore and lightweight Ex Officio.  Again, we liked the long sleeve because it protected us from the sun.  Next time we would add some type of lightweight fingerless gloves and then we wouldn't need sunscreen for hands either.  Tammie wore a  ball cap and Mark a  cap with a flap to protect neck and ears from the sun.

tip:  Lots of choices in hiking clothes and it really is just personal preference, just make sure you don't wear cotton as it doesn't insulate at all when wet.  

Base Layer:  We both brought 2  Ex Officio underwear; Mark's were boxer briefs  and Tammie's were bikini cut.  Tammie also brought an Ex Officio travel bra and a bikini swim top.  The Ex Officio underwear are pricey, but we loved them.  We could wash and wear again in a couple hours.  We also brought microweight Smartwool tops and polypro bottoms.  Next time we want wool for the bottoms as well.  The wool didn't get stinky and wicked our sweat away better.  Love Smartwool.

Rain Gear:   Mark brought Dry Ducks  lightweight raingear, and had no problem.  The pants wore through on the bottom from sitting on granite, but a little duck tape fixed that.  Tammie brought Sierra Designs Hurricane jacket  and found that it was fine in light rain, but during long days of rain, she got wet.  She brought her lightest Cabela rain pants  and found that they weren't too waterproof either.  In most years, on the JMT, they both would have been sufficient, but the end of our trip was unusually wet and cold.  She will opt for better rain gear next time. 

Other:   Tammie brought a silk tank top and a mid-weight fleece  and was thankful she had it when it got cold.  Mark brought a down vest   and tank top and never wore them.  He sent tank top home from Muir Ranch.  We both brought lightweight beanies and lightweight gloves and used them.  We both had  head torches and used them to read from the Kindle at night.  Mark wore a  watch with compass and altimeter.   We had fun tracking our elevation.  Each carried a small multi tool knife; Mark's was a light Leatherman and Tammie's was a  tiny Swiss army knife. One tiny deck of cards for rousing games of gin rummy. Also brought 2 pack covers for rain protection, we were very glad we had them.  Almost forgot,  each of us brought a pair of slogger clogs for camp wear and creek crossings.

tip:  Know yourself.  Do you get cold or are you most often warm?

Toiletries:   1 roll of toilet paper, REI small quick dry towel,  bandana, 3 oz. of sunscreen,  2.5 oz of Deet (didn't need it this year), 2 chap sticks with sunscreen, comb, ponytail holder, Diva Cup, travel sized toothpaste, 2 toothbrushes, 3 oz of Bronner's soap and a sea sponge for sponge baths.  (In our Muir Ranch resupply we sent replacements of consumables.  Needed TP and toothpaste,  everything else we still had plenty.)

Mess Kit:  We started hike with Steri- pen traveler and dropped and broke it.  We replaced it with the lightweight Steri-pen Adventurer.  Worked great, but  it went through the batteries. Only did 20 or 30 litres on a set.  Next time, we might opt for the new type water filter bags from Sawyer. We brought a Sumo Jetboil Stove and enjoyed the extra size for cooking meals, but could have got by on smaller jetboil pot.   Large fuel canister lasted  about 9 or 10 days and we boiled water 3 times a day. Brought back up small fuel canister, small foldable spatula,  2 plastic sporks, 2 Foster's beer cans converted to drinking and eating and sometimes cooking vessels.  (took top off with can-opener and ziptied hotlips on so we didn't burn our lips, attached a plasic ring so we could hang on packs)

First Aid/Emergency:  In a qt ziploc we put 4 esbit fuel tabs,  dozen chlorine style water treatment tabs,  1 space blanket, storm matches from REI,  Ace bandage, half dozen regular sized waterproof bandages, half a sports tape roll,  some duct tape, about 4 large bandages, 6 Spenco second skin bandages, some Aleve, Exedrin, baby aspirin, Vicodin, Senna, Benedryl, Imodium, a couple of anti vomit pills too.  Tammie also brought her vitamins and personal meds and tools for her lung condition.  (In our resupply we sent a few more first aid supplies.  We did not need them.  We added some Super Glue that a trail friend gave us though and it was the best for attaching a bandage to Mark's blister.)

Fishing Supplies: We brought a 5 piece fly rod and a small collapsible spinning pole each with appropriate lightweight  reels.  Honestly could have caught fish with just a hand-line.  We brought a couple dozen flies and a half dozen or so spinners and a couple bubblers for fly fishing with the spinning reel.  We fished almost every day up until Muir Ranch. At Muir Ranch we sent home some of our heavier fishing stuff and only brought flies, pole and line.  We didn't end up fishing on second half, as we just focused more on hiking.  Not sure what we would do next time. 

Water Containers:  Mark brought a 2 liter Camelback and Tammie a 2 liter Platypus.  Most often only carried 1/2 to 1 litre.  Lots of water sources on JMT.  Enjoyed having water hose to drink from easily all day, but sometimes it was difficult to know how much water was left.  Might attach water bottles to shoulder pads next time, then we would have easy access and be able to see when we were running low.  We also brought a super lightweight half litre water bottle, just the kind you buy bottled water in.   We used this for drinking in our tent at night. 

Food:  Food prep is vital and took a lot of time before hand.  Some hikers made the JMT their summer weight loss camp, but due to cold and wet weather this year, we heard a story of a woman who experienced 2nd degree hypothermia on Muir Pass.   Bring sufficient food as it provides energy and warmth.  A good rule of thumb is about 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs per person of high density, low volume food per day.  Aim for an average of about 125 calories per ounce of food and between 3000 and 4000 calories a day per person. 

 Examples:  We brought a couple cups of olive oil for every 10 days and added some to everything we cooked.   Pro Bars and Justin's peanut butter packs were  super dense foods that we were given at Muir Ranch from a trail friend.  In the future we won't hike without them.  For breakfast we had some fruit and nut packed oatmeal or some type of protein bar. We also repackaged Chicken Cup of Soups and added extra dehydrated vegis to them for our lunch as well as adding a little hot chilli or taco sauce packet to spice things up.  For dinners we used mostly Mountain House dehydrated foods and added extra instant rice or instant mashed potatoes to the repackaged dinners in gallon ziplocs (otherwise the calories were insufficient for 2 people).   Farmhouse's angel haired Parmesan pasta was good (with added dry milk, cremora and Parmesan packet).  We also enjoyed dehydrated refried and black beans with added taco sauce packets.   Small bagels were brought for first 2 legs of our journey and tortillas for the last section.    Trail mix, corn nuts, jerky, snickers, jolly ranchers, and a variety of protein bars filled in during the day.  We tried to snack on  about 100 calories every hour we hiked.  It kept our sugar levels from falling. We just carried some snacks in our shirt pockets and hiked while we snacked.  We were really happy this way.

How much Weight we Carried:
We were obviously not ultralight hikers, but for us it worked.   Leaving Tuolumne, Tammie's pack was at 23 lbs with a liter of water, (since Mark was able to carry all the food).  She weighed her pack as she left Muir Ranch and it weighed in at 31 lbs with the Bear Vault full of food attached. (Some of their items had been sent home).   Mark's base weight was 24 lbs with liter of water.  When he left Tuolumne his pack weighed 41 lbs. and  when he left  Muir Ranch it  weighed in at 47.  (We don't have weights from leaving Red's Meadow).
Thankfully the food weight  fell by  3 to 4 lbs every day. 


  1. Wonderful information! I'm going to print this out.


  2. Whew! I'm impressed. For Betty and me, roughing it would mean a black and white TV at our motel ;)

    Dan (in Kingman, AZ - on our way)

  3. Love reading about your adventure. You guys are really doing some good living. For a spectacular trip a little closer to home I'd recommend the Marble Mtn Wilderness.

  4. Love reading about your adventure. You guys are really doing some good living. For a spectacular trip a little closer to home I'd recommend the Marble Mtn Wilderness.

  5. Thank you all, and Lodgepole, We are planning a Russian/Marble trip for next year. Perhaps lost coast this fall. Mark

  6. Good choices Mark. The Sinkyone Wilderness and The Marbles are my two favorites. I think you guys will really enjoy them.

  7. Thanks for the write-up about your gear. I'm always interested in seeing how others prepare for big trips like this. Everyone is different which means there are many correct ways to pack / prepare.


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