To prepare for a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT) this summer, I’ve been examining my backpacking gear and identifying ways to cut weight where I can. My setup is not as light as it could be, but I’ve made a lot of progress since last year. I’ve had to adjust a few items to accommodate the heavy snowfall the Sierra Nevada received this winter, but this list is generally applicable for any backpacking trip. I hope you find this JMT gear list useful in your own planning!
Shelter, Sleep System, and Pack
I’ve significantly reduced the weight of these essential items from last summer. The NEMO Hornet tent is feather light at less than 2 pounds, though the thin floor necessitates a footprint. I’ve contemplated an ultralight tarp tent, but I’m not ready to commit to that level of minimalist travel yet. The Igneo sleeping bag is filled with 700-fill duck down and compresses well. I’ve slept comfortably in the bag down to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (albeit while wearing several thermal layers), and the bag sheds condensation without getting soggy. I’m very new to the NeoAir Xlite, but I’ve had good experiences with it on a few overnight trips and it’s half the weight of my closed foam pad! Finally, I lug all my gear around in Gossamer Gear Mariposa. The pack is roomy and very comfortable, even loaded with up with a week’s worth of provisions.
[table id=1 /]
I don’t hike with very much clothing and that choice has pros and cons. On the one hand, every clothing item has a purpose and weight is minimized. Conversely, once an item is dirty or stinky, that’s the way it will stay until laundry day. I wear pants to avoid mosquitos and minimize skin area exposed to sun; my wide brimmed hat keeps the sun off my face, leaving my arms as the only skin that regularly requires sunscreen.
With the massive snowfall this year, I’m taking three pairs of socks to alternate between so I can maintain dry feet as much as possible. Sunglasses are also a must in the bright sunshine, particularly with miles of snow this year. As of this writing, I’m planning on packing the crampons for the first section of my hike where I anticipate snow. However, after reaching Red’s Meadow, I will ship them home to cut a few pounds from my pack.
[table id=2 /]
Food & Cooking
The cooking system I’ve assembled is fairly minimal. With the exception of the bear canister, each item is small and light. I’m considering investing in a Bearikade canister for future excursions in the Sierras; they are significantly lighter than the BearVault brand I own but also cost a lot more.
[table id=3 /]
First Aid & Toiletries
I haven’t resorted to cutting my toothbrush in half for weight savings – yet. Some may consider sunscreen and bug spray unnecessary luxuries but my experiences in the Sierra suggest that both are important to maintain sanity. Chapstick with some UV protection built in is also great to have; chapped lips are painful!
[table id=4 /]
A few odds and ends, some for emergencies and others for everyday use. Although I’d rather not carry a cell phone or charging cord, the amount of snow in the backcountry this year demands a backup GPS for emergencies. The trash bags are for a little extra water protection; I’ll stash my dry clothes in one and use the other to store wet items if necessary. I’m also carrying a variety of ziplock bags for my camera gear and other electronics.
[table id=5 /]
Without this category of gear, my base weight would be around 15.25 pounds (includes the heavy crampons). But… everyone has their luxury items and mine add 5+ pounds to the pack. Believe it or not, I’ve reduced the weight of my camera gear by at least three or four pounds in the last few years. I replaced my bulky Nikon DSLR with a slimmer Fuji mirrorless camera. I also replaced an aluminum tripod with a carbon fiber model, and now carry the camera in a cuben fiber chest pack instead of a heavier holster bag. The ability to take high-resolution photos in the backcountry is worth the weight to me.
[table id=6 /]
Base Weight Breakdown
A decomposition of the gear in my pack is included below. I haven’t included any items I wear or carry in my pockets (e.g., map, compass, knife).
[table id=7 /]
With 1 liter of water and 7 days of food, my calculations show the pack weight maxing out at 37.9 pounds. While that seems like a lot of weight, I’ve carried heavier packs without suffering too much. I’m sure the incredible scenery will keep my mind from dwelling on the pack weight too much.
When I return, I’ll have plenty of notes about which items worked well and which items did not. I’ve spent most of my camping trips this summer trying out the various pieces of new gear, but this two-week trip will push the gear more than any weekend trip can. Until then, happy trails!
S Sarkar 10 September, 2017
Thank you for the write up. I am particularly interested in your camera set up.
Did you recharge your Anker powerbank on the trail? How did you do that (it seems that you didn’t carry any solar charger)? How many times could you recharge a Fuji battery using your fully charged powerbank ?
Andrew Cox 10 September, 2017
I recharged the power bank in Mammoth Lakes (at a hotel) and at Muir Trail Ranch (in their power-strip bucket). I bought the Anker power bank specifically so I didn’t need a solar charger: the battery is much lighter per energy capacity (mAh).
I’m not sure exactly how many times I could recharge a Fuji battery. I usually let it drain down until 1 – 2 bars were visible on the battery indicator. I recharged it from this level to fully charged at least 5 times between MTR and Whitney, and there was still a ton of power (~50%) left in the battery.
Jim 11 April, 2018
Andrew, very much enjoyed your JMT blog and photos, wondering if you did trip again would you take the camera tripod? I’m preparing for JMT this summer, like you I have mirrorless kit and a 2# Sirui tripod. Have a semi ambitious itinerary and hard to not get caught up in ultralight fanaticism, however, my inclination is to pack it. Any thoughts or experiences on maximizing photo potential vs. weight savings greatly appreciated.
Andrew Cox 11 April, 2018 — Post Author
Thanks, Jim! The decision to bring or not to bring the tripod is something I still struggle with every trip. I have a few thoughts…
A tripod is absolutely required for long exposures (silky water, night sky, dawn/dusk), and for focus stacking. Tripods are useful, but not required, for bracketed shots, panoramas, and more “intentional” photography when you find a composition and wait for the light.
I hand-held almost all of my photos on the JMT. I didn’t want to stop and pull out the tripod while I was walking. But, I did pull it out in the mornings and evenings before/after I hiked my miles. I enjoyed spending a few hours on photography every day and it gave me something to do other than sit around camp by myself. Some of my favorite shots from the trip, those with the most dramatic lighting, benefited greatly from the use of a tripod. But I also have plenty of equally awesome shots that didn’t require a tripod.
At the end of the day, I usually just pack it. The extra two pounds have been worth it on some trips, and have been dead weight on others.