Although it’s technically part of the much longer Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), thru-hiking the JMT is an adventure in itself for the intrepid hiker. Anyone looking to hike this 211 mile (340km) trail, however, has to be prepared with the right gear to ensure that they thrive in the often harsh weather of Sierra Nevada.
To help you plan for your upcoming thru-hike, here’s our ultimate John Muir Trail gear list. Each item on this list was chosen because it meets three key criteria for any thru-hike, namely :
- Lightweight. If you’re planning a thru-hike, you need to keep your pack weight at a minimum. Therefore, each piece of gear you choose needs to be relatively light to ensure it doesn’t hold you back.
- Packable. Thru-hikers tend to opt for small backpacks to keep their pack weight as low as possible. As a result, highly compact pieces of gear are almost always preferred to bulkier alternatives.
- Durable. Finally, long hiking trips can really take their toll on your gear, so it’s imperative that your equipment is durable enough to perform well long after you reach the end of your adventure.
On this page, we’ll walk you through our carefully curated John Muir Trail gear list so you can spend less time researching your gear and more time packing for your upcoming thru-hike.
Every good backpacking trip starts with, well, a hiking backpack, and a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail is no exception. Backpacks for JMT thru-hikes should have a 50 to 70L carrying capacity and should ideally weigh less than 3lbs (1.4kg).
If you want to go really lightweight, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest is a solid choice, though folks willing to carry a bit more weight in exchange for affordability might appreciate the REI Co-op Flash 55. Alternatively, the Osprey Levity 60 offers a good mix of weight savings, affordability, and functionality.
Read More : How to Pack Light for Your Next Camping Trip
Your tent is your home in the mountains, so having a comfortable shelter is key. But, tents can get quite heavy and bulky, so opting for a three-season model that’s durable and waterproof but doesn’t weigh a ton is ideal.
For folks that are looking to go ultralight on a solo thru-hike, the high-tech Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 1 Carbon combines the best quality materials on the market to give you a sub-1lb (450g) outdoor shelter. On the other hand, the REI Co-op Quarter Dome SL 1 is a solid choice if you’re looking for a more affordable option that still brings its A-game in terms of packability.
Read More : The 10 Best Tent Brands
3. Sleeping bag
Getting the right summer sleeping bag for hiking the JMT is all about purchasing one with the appropriate temperature rating for your needs. That being said, everyone is different, so while one person may find that a 30ºF (-1ºC) bag is warm enough, others might opt for a 20ºF (-7ºC) model.
For ultralight warmth and exceptional packability, the down-filled Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 is a great choice. However, if you’re the type of person that is often quite warm at night, the synthetic Nemo Kyan 35 sleeping bag provides plenty of lightweight, water-resistant comfort.
Read More : Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings Explained
4. Sleeping pad
Your sleeping pad has a direct impact on your comfort at night, but it’s also designed to insulate you from the cold ground. Sleeping pads for summertime JMT thru-hikes should have an R-value of 2 or more to ensure that you stay warm in the mountains.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite is a go-to choice for anyone that needs a super comfy, yet incredibly packable sleeping pad for thru-hikes and other adventures.
Meanwhile, campers that don’t mind firm sleeping surfaces can opt for the classic Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite, which provides warmth and weight savings without breaking the bank.
5. Stove & cookware
On the John Muir Trail, weight savings and packability are the name of the game, so nearly everyone opts for a canister stove system. These stoves are best for boiling water for lightweight freeze-dried camping meals or for making pasta, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re not as great for very intricate menus.
An absolute classic option is the MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove, which packs down to about the size of a small pill bottle. It can be combined with a durable, yet lightweight pot, like the GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.8L to create a highly packable kitchen system.
6. Hydration system
It can be hard to stay hydrated while thru-hiking, so it’s important that you have the right hydration system while you’re in the mountains.
Depending on your personal preferences, you can opt for a lightweight hydration system, like the Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir, which allows you to stay hydrated on the go.
Or, a highly packable, lightweight, and collapsible water bottle, like the Platypus SoftBottle is a solid choice for folks who prefer water bottles but don’t want the weight and bulk of a more traditional hard-sided plastic model.
Read More : How Much Water Should You Bring to Camping?
7. Water filtration
In general, it’s best to filter or treat your water while camping to lower your risk of contracting a waterborne illness, like giardiasis.
You have a few different options when it comes to water purification, though most thru-hikers opt for either a chemical treatment, like the lightweight Aquamira, or a small pump filter, such as the MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter.
That being said, it’s generally best to avoid UV-powered filtration systems on a longer adventure, like a JMT thru-hike because electronics can and do break, so relying on them for a two or three-week trip isn’t ideal.
Read More : How to Purify and Treat Water While Camping
8. Trekking poles
While trekking poles aren’t a requirement, per se, for the John Muir Trail, many hikers find that they make traversing difficult terrain much easier. That’s because trekking poles can improve your balance and traction on rocky or slippery parts of the trail.
For most hikers, a simple, yet durable pair of poles, like the Black Diamond Trail Back are more than sufficient. If you want to go really lightweight, though, a pair of collapsible, carbon-fiber poles, such as the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ might be best.
Headlamps are essential to any thru-hike because they provide instant hands-free illumination. Most hikers find that a compact, lightweight headlamp with at least 250 lumens is perfect for their needs, though some may opt for models with advanced features, like water-resistance and red light technology.
If you need the lightest possible gear, the impossibly small Petzl Tikkina is a great little option that provides just enough functionality for the JMT. Meanwhile, the slightly heavier Black Diamond Storm offers more illumination and a fully waterproof construction for durability-conscious hikers.
10. First aid kit
Safety is of the utmost importance while you’re on the JMT as professional medical help can be hours or days away. Therefore, anyone heading out on the trail should come prepared with their own medical kit.
Although you could make your own first aid kit, it’s generally best to start with a pre-packaged model and supplement it with extra supplies as needed. The Adventure Medical Kits .5 or its slightly larger sibling, the Adventure Medical Kit .7, are both solid options that come in waterproof, durable containers.
11. Navigation tools
While the JMT and the rest of the Pacific Crest Trail are both relatively well marked and heavily traveled, it’s always important to pack navigation tools, such as a set of maps, a compass, and a GPS, just in case things go awry.
The Tom Harrison John Muir Trail Maps Package is a simple way to get all the maps you need for the JMT. For compasses, you can opt for a lightweight and affordable option, such as the exceptionally popular Suunto A-10 or a slightly more advanced model, such as the Suunto MC-2 Pro, which comes with a sighting mirror and easier declination adjustments.
As far as GPS devices go, a standard handheld model, like the Garmin eTrex 22x is ideal for folks that just want navigation assistance while the Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a fantastic, albeit pricey, option for GPS navigation and emergency communications.
12. Bear canister
Bear canisters are required on most of the JMT to protect your food from hungry bears, so packing one is a must for your thru-hike.
Although you should check in with local land managers at Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park about what types of canisters are currently permitted, the BearVault BV500 is generally widely accepted.
Read More : How to Camp Safely in A Bear Country
13. Bug protection
The mosquitos can be quite atrocious on the John Muir Trail, particularly in July and August, so having some sort of system in place to protect yourself from the bugs is critical.
A mosquito headnet, such as the simple and affordable Sea to Summit Head Net is a great all-around choice for lounging in camp without the need to constantly reapply bug spray throughout the evening.
If you want a bit more protection, you can try the Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net with Insect Shield, which has permethrin-based Insect Shield built right in to repel mosquitos and other insects.
Read More : How to Keep Bugs Away While Camping
14. Puffy jacket
It can get cold at night in the High Sierra, and a puffy jacket is the best option for staying warm. That’s because puffy jackets tend to be lighter and more packable than their fleece counterparts, which makes them ideal for thru-hikers.
If you value weight savings above all else, a down-filled jacket, such as the Arc’teryx Cerium LT, which actually incorporates a small amount of synthetic fill for added water-resistance is a sure bet.
For all-around value and performance, though, the synthetic Patagonia Nano Puff is a classic choice that’s hard to beat.
15. Rain gear
While it thankfully doesn’t rain too much on the JMT, afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional snowstorm are not unheard of, even in mid-summer. Therefore, you need to come prepared with reliable, durable, and lightweight rain gear for weather protection.
Since the High Sierra isn’t a particularly damp location, an ultralight rain jacket, like the Outdoor Research Helium is generally more than sufficient. For increased durability and breathability, though, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL stands out from the rest.
What about rain pants, you might ask?
Well, most people forgo rain pants in relatively dry climes, like the JMT. If you really want to bring rain pants, we recommend going as light and packable as possible, such as with the Arc’teryx Zeta SL Pants or the Outdoor Research Helium Pants because you’ll find that you carry them more than you use them.
16. Long underwear
Although the temperatures are generally quite warm on the JMT during the summer months, you may find that you want a set of long underwear pants for staying warm while in your sleeping bag at night.
An affordable, yet surprisingly lightweight option is the popular Patagonia Capilene Midweight, which is durable, yet comfortable enough for snoozing on chilly evenings. For folks who prefer wool long underwear, the REI Co-op Merino Midweight are some of the most cost-effective and lightweight merino wool base layers on the market.
Generally speaking, however, many people opt not to take a long underwear shirt with them on the JMT. That’s because it’s usually not that cold at night and your puffy jacket is likely to keep you warmer than your base layer shirt, anyway.
17. Hiking pants
Hiking pants for the JMT should be exceptionally durable, yet lightweight and highly breathable. Ideally, they might also be water-resistant or offer UV protection, but durability and breathability are the most important characteristics for a thru-hike.
The Prana Stretch Zion Pants have long been a hiker favorite because they are durable, breathable, and quick-drying. For improved durability, range of motion, and breathability, however, the Arc’teryx Palisade Pants are a great premium option.
18. Hiking shoes
Footwear is a matter of personal preference, but you’ll find that most thru-hikers opt for lightweight, low-top shoes, like trail runners or hiking shoes, rather than high-top hiking boots. That’s because most people find that heavy hiking boots tend to hold them back on the trail.
It’s impossible to give a definitive answer about what hiking shoes are best for your JMT thru-hike because everyone’s feet are different.
However, some highly popular models include the Altra Lone Peak 4.5, which is renowned for its comfort and underfoot cushioning. The Salomon XA Pro 3D is also a favorite because of its exceptional grip and stability on tricky terrain.
Read More : Hiking Shoes vs Boots – How to Choose?
19. Hiking socks
While many people focus quite a bit on their footwear choice, few people realize how important hiking socks are to your comfort and overall backpacking experience. A quality pair of socks can prevent blisters, wick moisture from your feet, and provide the cushioning you need on the trail.
Darn Tough’s Hiker Micro Crew are particularly popular among thru-hikers because they’re made in the US and have a proven track record of durability, even after years of use.
If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more affordable, the REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade is a great environmentally-friendly option for warm weather hiking.
20. Sun hat
Hiking at high elevations, such as what you’d find on the JMT means you’ll spend a lot of time exposed to the sun. Protecting your face from the sun is important, particularly at high elevations where you’re more likely to get sunburnt due to the increase in UV exposure.
Therefore, a wide brim hat, like the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure is a nice choice if you also want to protect your neck from sunburns while hiking.
A more traditional, yet highly packable option is the Outdoor Research Sun Runner, which is a breathable baseball cap with removable side protection for those extra sunny days.
Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.