It seems like long-distance hikers, thru-hikers, ultralight hikers and outdoorsy people in general like to talk about gear too much. I think this is because (1) it’s easier to shop for gear online than to actually go outside and train in preparation for an objective and (2) reviewing gear and talking about gear and wearing and raving about sponsor’s gear is how all the “influencers” make money.
I feel very ambivalent about people bandying around numbers about how big the outdoor industry is and how it should have more political clout. As much as I appreciate what Patagonia does in sponsoring creative endeavors like The Dirtbag Diaries and fighting for Bears Ears, I don’t think that we can spend our way out of the environmental crises, no matter how environmentally friendly your camp shoes are. What we need to do is what they used to teach in elementary school back in the 80’s, before environmental issues were so politicized — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. (Patagonia realizes this too.)
The outdoor community in the United States is very white and very privileged. People often talk about camping and backpacking as if it is free! Outdoor gear is very expensive and obsession with the latest and lightest gear can make costs appear even more daunting and insurmountable for #unlikelyhikers just trying to get into the outdoors. Having the right gear is important. For example, having a sleeping bag that is warm enough and light enough and not too bulky will definitely be key to an enjoyable backpacking experience. But, shaving off a few grams from your pack weight by buying a $20 titanium spork?… Probably not necessary. (Full disclosure: I had said titanium spork and am still sad I lost it. Still hoping it will turn up.)
When I started putting together my backpacking gear in 2016, I did buy nice, fancy, lightweight “Big Three” — pack, shelter and sleeping bag — after intensively researching the interwebs. And, I have been really happy with those choices. However, the rest of my kit was developed over time by cobbling together stuff I already had (my tiny Thermos was initially purchased to be a purse Thermos for commuting to work) or by trying the cheapest option (I still use a BRS stove) and gradually buying more expensive pieces as I figured out what would actually enhance my quality of life on the trail, e.g. moving from a Chinese knock-off Thermarest Z-lite sleeping pad to a real insulated inflatable pad. If you are interested in putting together a beginner backpacking kit on the cheap, PMags’ blog is a great resource, as he says “[t]he best way to learn about backpacking is not discussing gear online or going to gear sales but is actually to get out there.”
Without further ado, here is my JMT gear list.
JMT Gear List
- ULA Circuit — My pack was once purple, but now it is faded to blue after a summer being used as my guide pack on the Matanuska Glacier. Many ice tools and ropes have been carried on the thing. Also good as a carry-on on planes. Super simple design but very functional, the only thing I have not been able to figure out how to do with this bag is rack a splitboard onto it.
- Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo — No tent poles so ultra squishable and packable. Uses one trekking pole. Large floor for spreading out gear. Not free standing, but I’ve never had an issue setting it up with rocks, and it sheds wind super well, better than a dome shaped tent.
- Tent accessories: Tyvek ground sheet (purchased from SMD along with the tent), 8 stakes (assorted — bought the SMD tent stake set initially, but have lost some and cobbled together others over the years) and two short pieces of tent cord (2 meter and 3 meter) for guylines.
- Sleeping System
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 Degree Down Quilt — This is literally the best thing I have ever purchased. It warms up super quick when it is cold, and unzips flat like a blanket when it is warm. The nylon shell is remarkably soft and comfortable. As an itinerant person, I sleep in this year round. I cannot go back to a sleeping bag. If forced to use a sleeping bag, I unzip it all the way down and use it like a quilt. In 2017, I was worried 20 degrees wouldn’t be warm enough and bought a sleeping bag liner and hated it. It twisted up around me negating all the wonderful things about a quilt. I’d rather just pack thicker long johns and my down parka to sleep in. Some people say quilts are drafty, but I think there is a lot of user error. The neck drawstring is key and you must wear a hat.
- REI Co-op Flash Pad Regular — R Value of 3.7 at 15 oz and less than $100 when REI is having a sale. It’s been good so far. I purchased this after the JMT in 2017 after discovering that I cease to be able to sleep on a Thermarest Z-lite closed cell foam pad if temperatures drop below freezing, also sleeping on a Z-lite was messing up my hip flexors because they weren’t able to recover in the night. I will let you know about durability after this thru-hike attempt.
- Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow Regular — Fabric-y surface hides the fact that it’s just an inflatable pillow. When I started backpacking, I used extra clothes rolled up in a fleece jacket for a pillow. I purchased a pillow before the JMT in 2017 with the thought process, “If I have to wear all my clothes to sleep to stay warm, I won’t have a pillow.”
- Gossamer Gear 1/8 inch Thinlight Foam pad – NEW! Trying this as a sit pad / yoga mat / extra sleeping pad protection/insulation / emergency sleeping pad in case inflatable pad springs a leak — I’m paranoid about leaks because last time I hiked the JMT, I was still super hard core and using an indestructible Thermarest Z-lite closed cell foam sleeping pad but it wasn’t warm enough once temps dropped below freezing.
- Hiking Clothes (Worn)
- Smartwool 150 T-shirt – NEW! Was going to slum it and wear any old synthetic T-shirt but splurged on a merino wool tee for its anti-stink quality. I have 7-day and 8-day stretches planned for this trek, which will be the longest I have ever been without a shower.
- Montbell Chameese lightweight fleece jacket
- Target sports bra and synthetic underwear
- Northface Aphrodite Pants – Lightweight, quick drying, legs roll-up easily for stream crossings. I think it’ll be cool enough in September to prefer hiking in pants, and pants provide protection from brush and bugs.
- Baseball cap
- Sunglasses – random gas station, but polarized
- Darn Tough Micro Crew socks – I used to have two pairs of Smartwool hiking socks, and two pairs of Smartwool ski socks, but the hiking socks wore out and I replaced them with two pairs of these Darn Tough hiking socks, which are just starting to show wear after 2 years of much more use than the Smartwool socks ever got. I still prefer Smartwool ski socks though.
- Shoes – I currently own and hike in New Balance Leadville trail runners and Merrill Moab Mid GTX hiking boots. Not sure which I will want to wear and both are getting kind worn, but I think it is risky to break in new shoes now. Leaning toward the hiking boots for a bit more water resistance. I have just purchased new Superfeet insoles to put in which ever pair I choose.
- Rain Gear
- Outdoor Research Women’s Aspire Jacket – I have a pretty uncanny ability to make it not rain on multi-day backcountry trips, so I do not have strong opinions on rain jackets. (Tina vs. Whittier — the wettest city in Alaska and the United States, according to Wikipedia — 1 day of rain out of 9 on three separate three-day kayaking trips. Dry rain does not count.) The lining of my old Northface rain jacket started delaminating and ripping so I bought this one because it was very well-reviewed. Will let you know what I think after the JMT.
- Montbell Versalite Rain Pants – Will shred upon contact with pretty much anything. (Patched with a lot of Tenacious Tape from the one time I tried to wear them on the glacier.) However, super light and useful as extra warm layer, mosquito barrier, pants to wear while doing laundry.
- Sleeping Clothes
- Uniqlo Heattech extra warm long johns
- Uniqlo Heattech extra warm long sleeve undershirt
- Extra underwear and socks (one to wash, one to wear)
- Warm stuff
- Uniqlo Ultra Light Down parka – Inga Askamit, author of Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail is a fan too. But last winter they started only selling a seamless parka and my friend’s mom who works at Uniqlo warned me that the baffles in the seamless jackets will separate after a while because they are not sewn so that jacket is much less durable.
- Merino wool Buff – functions as warm hat, balaclava, ear muffs and sleeping eye mask as needed.
- Hestra Touch Point Warmth Glove Liners — Merino wool synthetic blend. Expensive, but I got with a Big Sky gift card and they managed a whole season of ripping apart and applying skins to splitboard before developing any holes, which I will darn before the trail.
- Sawyer Squeeze filter
- One 2L Sawyer Squeeze Bag for collecting dirty water
- 1L Nalgene Bottle – for drinking out of, and can function as a hot water bottle for cold nights, I don’t anticipate carrying more than 1 liter of water at a time for most of the trail.
- 2L Evernew water bag – for carrying extra water and as back-up Sawyer Squeeze bag
- O-ring that came with the filter for backwashing
- Contemplating bringing Aquamira for back-up, as I expect to camp in below freezing temps at some point and am a little worried my filter will freeze like last time. Of course, I know now to not filter water first thing in the morning when it’s really cold. Filter before the sun drops below the horizon and everything freezes, then put it in your puffy jacket pocket and sleep with it.
- Bear Vault 500 Bear Canister – A bear canister is required on the JMT. It is heavy and makes my pack bulge a uncomfortably. It takes up most of my pack, so as I eat my food, I will gradually stuff more and more items in there during the day. In the Sierra, bears are very habituated to people and bear cans. In 2017 when we picked up our JMT permit, we were advised by the ranger in Yosemite National Park to place our bear cans close to our tents (12-15 feet away?), within sight and to make noise and scare the bear off if one approached… Very different from bear can protocol in Alaska or Montana where there a grizzly bears. Bears are super smart and adaptable, so when in doubt, ask the local rangers what it the best policy. Bear cans are not odor proof. The purpose of bear cans is to keep bears from being able to get to your food (bulky round shapes keep bears from being able to crush them with their jaws) and in the long run train them to leave campers alone. If a bear asks to borrow a nickle or a credit card, don’t give it to him!
- BRS Ultralight 25g Backpacking Stove – Cheap, made-in-China stove that may be less efficient than a fancy Jetboil, but is much more packable.
- 700ml Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot – I started out with a larger aluminum pot, but figured out that I am pretty happy boiling about 600ml of water for dinner and a hot beverage (coffee in the morning and tea in the evening), so I upgraded to this little titanium pot which fits a small 4 oz fuel canister.
- Bic mini lighter
- GSI Outdoors Long Essential Spoon, Large – NEW! Trying this out because silicon spatula sides sound good for cleaning out pot without awful scraping noise. Long spoons are popular for getting food out of the bottom of Mountain House meal bags. It looks kinda ridiculous next to my tiny pot though.
- Small ~330ml Thermos – Almost lost this hitching out of Lee Vining in 2017, but had the foresight to exchange contact info with the nice English mother-daughter pair that picked us up and got it back! Was sad hiking 4 days without the Thermos, so definitely bringing it!
- Montbell potty trowel — It is wayyy easier to dig a proper cathole with a potty trowel than with the heel of your shoe or a tent stake, or whatever ultralight folks claim…. Doubles as extra camp spoon! I kid.
- Toilet Paper
- Chapstick with SPF
- Toothbrush and travel size toothpaste
- Mini Vaseline – anticipating really dry hands. 😦
- Elizabeth Wenk’s JMT book
- Small Moleskine journal
- iPhone SE + charging cable + headphones – Camera and GPS.
- NEW! Small GorrillaPod smart phone tripod and shutter remote – I’ll be hiking alone this time, who will take beautiful photos of me? Me! Let’s see how much I use it.
- External battery + charging cable
- Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – I actually hate the fancy multi-touch control of this headlamp and would rather one that just cycles through all the functions the old fashioned way, but I guess by the end of the JMT I’m going to be a pro at using this.
- Extra AAA batteries for headlamp
First Aid Kit
- Exact contents TBD. I will be carrying stuff for blisters (leukotape), wound care (bandaids, gauze and iodine wipes), pain meds (ibuprofen and acetaminophen), and anti-itch stuff (benedryl as well as some topical-steroid anti-itch cream).
- Dental floss with sewing needle taped to box
- Duct tape wrapped around Sharpie
- Small amount of fabric repair tape (Gear Aid Tenacious Tape)
- Safety pins – mainly for hanging laundry on pack, also good for first aid.
Misc. Backpacking Gear
- Mosquito headnet – I’ve made it through a summer in Alaska and a summer in Montana without ever using bug spray, just long sleeves and pants and a headnet. (Not possible in muggy, hot places like Japan or Taiwan.)
- Earplugs – For windy and rainy nights and if people are partying at VVR.
- Swiss Army Knife
- Camp towel – small microfiber towel I got from a Tell charity run
- Sea to Summit ultrasil pack liner – I only bought this because there are no trash compactor bags in Japan.
- Small dry bag for sleeping bag and down puffy
- Crocs – Best camp shoes if you will be wearing socks.
- Montbell Versalite Pack 15 – for side trails, summits, carrying stuff around camp. Like Montbell Versalite rain pants, not the most durable but super light and packable.
- Black Diamond Alpine FLZ trekking poles – These poles collapse small enough to fit in my ski backpack in the winter when splitboarding and extend long enough to hold up my tent in the summer. Love them.
- Wallet – small plastic mesh zip pocket from Daiso.
- A few extra Ziplock freezer bags – A gallon Ziplock bag makes a great in-tent pee bottle for women, just make sure to double bag in case there is a leak. Set outside your tent door after using and empty at your leisure in the morning.