A lot of the Pacific Crest Trail hikers that I passed were amazed that I had such a light pack for the John Muir Trail. They kept saying, “I think that’s the lightest JMT pack I’ve seen.” I guess since the JMT is shorter, a lot of folks bring a heavy pack. One kid had a 60lb pack but they were only covering about 10 miles a day. Gil from Independence had a heavier pack and slower pace but he was doing this consciously so he could fish a lot, hang out at hot springs for days and play frisbee. A pretty relaxing approach to backpacking. I don’t think he was doing the whole trail though.
I consciously tried to cut the weight down on this trip and actually planned out meals with calorie counts. The lists are below. My base weight was at 15 lbs which is a pretty good start but I think I could cut this down by a few pounds with an alcohol stove, solo pot and a few other modifications. With 5-6 days of food and 1-2L of water my pack came in at around 35 lbs. This was a little too heavy really. Most of the time though I only had to carrying a bottle of water at a time. When out on a trail like the JMT, food weight becomes and issue and one has to walk more miles or take extra days to re supply. The better solution is a toss up and is a matter of situation and opinion. I almost hiked out of Kearsarge Pass so I could stay out longer but it would have eaten up two days and I had just enough food to finish up in two days so I staid on the trail. My reason for wanting a light pack is comfort and simplicity. Carrying a lighter pack over any distance is much more enjoyable than a big, bulky, heavy pack. I also like the challenge of simplifying everything down to the bare essentials. I’m surprised at how little one needs. After living out of the backpack for two weeks, the van even feels excessive. I’m looking forward to making and alcohol stove and applying some packing lessons learned to future trips.
My top gear of the trip was:
1. Canon Power shot Elph300HS camera. This camera is really light and takes great pictures and movies. It has a lot of features which makes it fun to play with.
2. Darn Tough Socks from Vermont. These are the best socks I have ever worn and pretty much the only ones I wore for 12 days. The higher top ones were good since they kept out the sand and gravel that was prevalent on the JMT.
3. Bug Net. I had never used a head net but thought I might need one and I was so glad I had a net. On several occasions I had to wear this while hiking and when eating in the evening.
4. Handmade beanie. Abigail made this beanie for me. It was a little heavier than my polar fleece one but I liked having a little sentimental item.
My least favorite gear was:
1. Bear Canister. These are heavy and don’t hold much food. See below for more.
2. REI Bivy. This was the first bivy I have used. It was kind of heavy as it had six zippers. It did add some warmth but the condensation was terrible. It ended up functioning as a glorified ground cloth most of the time.
Most hikers I saw on the trail were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Most were travelingfairly light with between 25-35 pounds. The Brooks Cascadia were by far the most popular shoe on the trail. As one hiker said, “It doesn’t matter what shoe you wear, the Sierras are going to destroy them.” Here is a progression of my shoes over the course of the 12 days on the JMT. Despite having giving me blisters and aches in previous hikes, the Raptors were comfortable and performed well but the mesh didn’t hold up and the soles were getting pretty worn. I still had sore achilles and heels each evening. This was probably a result of too many miles and not because of footwear.
The most popular pack on the trail was ULA. These are for pretty light loads and have a simple design. GoLite and Osprey were also fairly popular pack choices. The ULA and similar bags looked good and I will probably upgrade to a similar bag in the future. This will cut a few pounds. My Gregory Z55 worked pretty well. I cut off all the extra straps and took off the top brain compartment. The mods probably shaved about half a pound off but I like the overall simplicity of the pack after the mods. One big flaw of this pack is the lack of water bottle pockets. I will probably add a little bag for this or carry a handheld.
Bear canisters are required by the National Park Service through Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. I rented one for $10 from the Wilderness Center. They are kind of heavy at just shy of 3 pounds, barely hold 4-5 days of food and pack rather bulky. Some of the PCT hikers didn’t carry them. I heard stories on both sides of the issue. Some had luck without a canister and no bear problems and others had their tent or food bag torn into in the middle of the night by a bear. One could probably get by without if one camped smart but it comes down to personal preference and comfort. However, the canisters are a multi-functional piece of gear.
Resting those tired feet
Rolling out those sore muscles
White table cloth affair
For this trip I used the GoLite Poncho tarp for my shelter. This was the first time I had ever used a tarp shelter and didn’t have time to try it out before I left. Fortunately the tarp was really easy to setup and I didn’t have to test it as a poncho. The weather was sunny and dry but having a shelter was good for keeping off the dew and frost. I found the half pyramid setup to be the most sturdy and provided the most coverage. It was just barely big enough for me and my pack. It was a little uncomfortable one night when there was a consistent wind. It kept blowing one side into me. This side was difficult to stake out taught. Maybe I just need more practice setting it up.
For cooking I used the MSR Simmerlite stove. The name is misleading as it does not simmer. It does boil 2 cups of water in 4 minutes and it was what I had and was used to. I used about 30oz of white gas fuel over 12 days. I mostly only cooked at night but did make coffee in the morning on some days. I would like to experiment with the alcohol stoves and will probably make one soon. This should cut a couple pounds. I carried the GSI dualist pot with strainer lid and nesting pot. I like this pot and lid setup but it is a little big for one person. It did hold my bowl, stove and cooking and cleaning supplies though. I think a pot half this size would be sufficient.
Overall I was pleased with my setup and I didn’t have to spend a whole lot of money for new gear. Tweaking one’s backpacking gear is a constant process and I hope I have many more trips to work on it.