Deciding which gear to take with you to the John Muir Trail is probably one of the largest challenges you’ll have to face while preparing for such a demanding thru-hike. This John Muir Trail packing list guide will take you through the essential equipment you’ll need on this trail.
The total weight of your pack shouldn’t exceed 25lbs to 30lbs limit as you may struggle on numerous steep sections of the trail. You should also devise your resupply strategy in order to minimize the weight you have to carry while still having access to all gear you need to during the hike.
Although most items you’ll have to take with you are standard pieces of hiking equipment, there are several items you’ll have to include in your John Muir Trail packing list that are specific to the trail’s location.
Let’s take a look at the equipment you are going to need while you’re on the John Muir Trail.
What is the John Muir Trail?
If you are searching for the best hiking trails in California, the John Muir Trail should be at the top of your list. The trail is between 211 and 222 miles long and for approximately 160 miles it shares the same footpath with the Pacific Crest Trail.
The starting point of JMT is based in the Yosemite Valley’s Happy Isles, which also its lowest point 4,035ft above sea level, and its highest point is at the summit of Mount Whitney at 14, 505ft.
It can take anywhere between ten and thirty days to complete this trail, but most hikers stay on the trail for two or three weeks. As you will be high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the entire duration of the hike, the gear you take with you needs to be suitable for use at high altitudes.
However, the peak of the hiking season on this trail is from July until September so the clothing you take with you needs to be both light and warm as the temperature difference between the day and night is substantial.
What are the prerequisites for hiking on the John Muir Trail?
Getting a permit to hike on the John Muir Trail is the first hurdle you’ll have to get over, as it may take quite a bit of time and luck to get the permit for your preferred dates.
Showing up at the trailhead without a permit is not an option as you’re likely to get stopped by a ranger who has the right to get you off the trail if you don’t have a permit.
Applying for a permit as soon as the application process becomes available will increase your chances to get a permit during the peak of the season.
Also, the John Muir Trail is physically challenging which is why it is advisable to spend some time training for hiking before deciding to climb numerous mountain peaks on this trail. Packing light and managing the weight you’re carrying will enable you to handle better the constant ascends and descends.
The complete John Muir Trail Packing list
Developing a resupply strategy will help you prepare for each section of the John Muir trail, so one of the first things you should do is find out more about the resupply points along the trail.
The PCTA’s website features a list of JMT resupply points, but you should keep in mind that it may take more than a week to cover the distance between two resupply points. So, for certain portions of the trail, you’ll have to carry more food than you usually would.
Let’s take a closer look at the JMT packing list.
Shoes and accompanying equipment
The conventional opinion among hikers is that you need a pair of hiking shoes such as the Scarpa Zen Multisport to complete a trail that is as challenging as the JMT. There are countless advantages the best through hiking shoes as they keep your ankles safe and reduce the chances of foot ache.
However, the choice of shoes you’ll be wearing on the JMT is deeply personal, so you should go with what you feel the most comfortable wearing. Read our guide to finding the best hiking boots, shoes, and sandals for more info about the available options.
Trail running shoes
Although the terrain on the JMT can get rugged, the trail is frequently maintained so for the most part you’ll be walking on a well-kept path. That’s why a pair of Merrell Trail Glove 3 trail running shoes may be all you need to complete the JMT.
It is unlikely that you’ll encounter snow on this trail if you visit it during the hiking season, and in most cases, there’s no reason to carry a pair of hiking boots with you. However, if you are expecting the parts of the trail to be covered in snow you should pack a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid GTX hiking boots.
Keeping the dirt and rocks out of your shoes can be difficult on the JMT as the terrain is mostly rocky. However, a conventional pair of high gaiters is too warm for hiking in the High Sierra backcountry during summer.
Solomon Trail Low Gaiters cover your ankles and prevent debris or rain from reaching the inside of your shoes.
Clothes and accessories
The weather on the JMT is usually warm during the day, but as soon as the sun sets you’ll want to put your jacket on. However, temperatures rarely drop below 32F, so you’re not going to need a down jacket with a low-temperature rating.
The Montane Alpha 100 insulated jacket is warm enough to get you through most nights on the JMT, while it is relatively lightweight so it won’t increase the weight you’re carrying by much.
You should also pack a rain jacket like the Patagonia Torrentshell in case you run into a rainstorm.
A pair of Fjallraven Vidda Pro pants is a great choice for the JMT as it is comfortable, versatile, and waterproof. Besides pants you’re also going to need Prana Mojo shorts since the days on this trail can get really warm.
It is advisable to take a pair of rain pants with you so that you can stay dry in the rainy weather. Check out our guide to the best rain pants for more information about different models.
Ideally, you will have several pairs of hot weather hiking socks as they are both comfortable and breathable. You can choose between models like Darn Through Hiker Micro Crew Cushion, Icebreaker Light Crew Elevation, and countless other models.
Choose socks that dry quickly as you won’t have to spend time waiting in the camp for them to dry.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief or Under Armour Original Series Boxerjock Boxer Brief are some of the best hiking underwear models on the market. You can go through our guides to the best hiking underwear for men and the best hiking underwear for women for more options.
Additional clothing accessories
- Sunglasses – You will be wearing sunglasses most of the time you spend on the JMT, even if the weather is cloudy. Oakley Flak 2.0 sunglasses with polarized lenses are among your best options, but you should go with the model that best fits your style and budget.
- Gloves – Even though it may not seem like an obvious item on the JMT packing list, you shouldn’t get on the trail without a pair of gloves in your backpack. Nights in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are cold even during the summer months, so you’ll need to keep your hands warm. Black Diamond Screentap Fleece Gloves are arguably your best choice, but you can also check out our guide to the best hiking gloves if you want to search for another model.
- Sun hat – Any sun hat will do, just make sure to have one as you’ll be exposed to direct sunlight for long stretches of time.
As we already noted, you shouldn’t carry more than 30lbs of weight on the JMT, as it will inevitably slow you down. So, you should search for a backpack that allows you to pack up to 15lbs of equipment, food, and water excluded.
A backpack like the Mystery Ranch Scree weighs 3.1lbs and it has 1.953 cubic inches of storage capacity which should provide you with more than enough room to pack everything you’ll need at the JMT.
You should also go through our guide to the best backpacks for the Appalachian Trail for more information about thru-hiking packs.
The size of the tent you need to take with you to the JMT depends on the number of people you’re traveling with. There’s no need to carry a large and heavy tent if you are planning on hiking alone, as even a single-person tent like the Hilleberg Enan One should provide you with enough space to sleep comfortably.
Read our guide to the best waterproof tents to find a model that is compact, lightweight, and water-resistant.
Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
Even though it can get cold during the night, you don’t need a cold-weather sleeping bag like The North Face Inferno, since a model like the Sea to Summit Spark SP II should be warm enough for the weather conditions at the JMT.
You should pay attention to the weight of the sleeping bag and its compressed volume, as it will enable you to estimate how much space it will take in your backpack. Our guide to the best sleeping pads for backpackers can help you find a sleeping pad that is comfortable and space-efficient.
The John Muir trail has more than a few steep sections and a pair of trekking poles is going to help you reduce the strain you’re putting on your knees while descending and ascending down the trail. They can also double as tent poles, but only if you’re traveling with a lightweight tent.
This guide to the best trekking poles can help you find the model that is best suited for your needs.
The type of stove you’ll take to the JMT depends on the number of people you’re hiking with. Models like the Solo Stove Light or the Snow Peak LiteMax are a great space-saving option for hikers who are traveling alone or with one person.
In case you’re planning on hiking the JMT with a large group of friends you should consider getting the MSR WhisperLite stove.
The TOAKS Titanium Folding Spoon or the Light My Fire Spork aren’t going to take a lot of space in your backpack, which makes them a great replacement for conventional cutlery. Optionally, you can get the Light My Fire Utensil pack that features a spork, straw, and cutlery holder if you want more comfort.
Water bottle and water filters
There are plenty of freshwater sources along the JMT, but you’ll still have to cover a lot of ground between two water supply points. That’s why you’re going to need a model like the LARQ water bottle that can keep water fresh and cool for an entire day and filter out all pathogens.
You should consider getting the Platypus GravityWorks Water Filtration System if you want to make sure that the water you’re drinking is clean.
All the food you carry with you to the JMT must be stored in bear canisters. There are plenty of options to choose from, but their weight and volume vary.
Opting for a bear canister like the Lighter1 Big Daddy will get you 650 cubic inches of storage space but it will also add more than 2lbs of weight to your backpack.
Tools and gadgets
An artificial source of light can come in handy if you want to continue walking after dark or if you want to read a book in your tent before you fall asleep. The Ledlenser MH10 is a rechargeable headlamp that eliminates the need to carry batteries with you.
Alternatively, you can opt for the more affordable Nitecore NU25 model, but this headlamp can’t produce more than 360 lumens.
GPS tracking unit
The National Geographic’s John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide is a vital resource that will help you navigate the trail and stay on course. However, relying solely on a topographic map of the trail may not be enough to get you where you want to go.
Getting a GPS tracking unit will assist you with navigating the trail and enable you to know your exact location. Check our guide to the best hiking GPS for more information about handheld GPS units.
Smartphone and a phone charger
You will spend at least two weeks on the John Muir Trail, and it is important to maintain a connection with the outside world during that time. Also, you can install the Guthook JMT App that provides you with plenty of on-trail information.
The stunning views you’ll see along the John Muir Trail are well worth capturing, which is the reason why you should pack a camera even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a photographer.
First aid kit
Sanitation trowel, WAG bags, and toilet paper
You’ll probably get WAG bags when you pick up your permit, and although it may seem unpleasant there is a perfectly good reason for it. The John Muir Trail is one of the most frequently visited hiking trails in the United States, and such high traffic would pollute the trail with human excrement.
You should either use a sanitation trowel to dig up a 6 x 8-inch hole and bury your feces or store it in a WAG bag you can dispose of at the next resupply point.
The peak of the hiking season is during summer and early fall, so chances are that you’ll have a lot of sunny days while you’re on the trail. That’s why you need to apply sunscreen at least once per day to protect your skin from the sun.
Answer: Yes, you do even if you’re hiking during summer temperatures during the night can approach 32F, and you will need a jacket and a pair of gloves to stay warm.
Answer: You don’t have to carry too much food since you can replenish your supplies every few three to seven days, depending on how far you’re from the nearest resupply point.
Answer: The Sierra Nevada Mountains are usually dry during the summer but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter rainfall. That’s why you should have rain gear that protects you and your backpack from water
Answer: Your aim should be to travel light so you shouldn’t pack more than three t-shirts. Also, you should take at least one long-sleeve shirt with you as it will help you protect yourself from the sun.
John Muir Trail Packing List Guide Final Thoughts
Carrying a heavy backpack every day for three to four weeks takes a lot of energy and prevents you from covering long distances on a daily basis. Besides, the John Muir Trail takes you across several mountain passes that require you to climb up a steep path just to descend on the other side.
That’s why you should pack light for this trail and create a detailed resupply strategy that will enable you to gain access to food and equipment you need at critical points of the trail. Everything you need to take with you to the JMT can fit into a Mystery Ranch Scree backpack as it can hold up to 50lbs of weight.
Even though you don’t necessarily have to opt for these models, you should look for tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads that are compact and lightweight. Was this John Muir Trail packing list guide helpful? Leave a comment and let us know or check out some of the best hiking trails in San Diego.
From backpacking to cycling in the mountains, Jodie can help you stay in shape and pick the best outdoor gear, clothing, and footwear. She is a full-time blogger and is our go-to source for backpacking gear reviews, outdoor skills advice and information, destinations for backpacking, camping, and hiking, and a lot more.