Getting your John Muir Trail gear list dialed is one of the most exciting parts of preparing for your John Muir Trail thru-hike. Below I share every piece of gear I packed for my John Muir Trail hike, including big JMT gear items such as my tent, sleeping bag, bear canister, sleeping pad, and water filter all the way down to the little things (watch, sunscreen, maps, and more). I also include some of the gear I packed and then ditched at the car before setting off on the trail in an effort to reduce my pack weight.
Overall, I was happy with my choices and felt prepared on the trail. I’ll note that some of the gear I took on my JMT hike is no longer available, so I’ve updated this list with newer, lighter gear that I’ve used on more recent backpacking trips.
Here are my updated John Muir Trail gear choices! Let me know if you have any questions about what to pack for your JMT hike down in the comments.
JMT Essential Backpacking Gear
- Backpack: Deuter ACT Lite 60 + 10 SL Pack – Handled the heavy load well. I’ve tried a bunch of other packs since the JMT, and I still keep coming back to Deuter, including on a 10-day trip in Alaska. >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Packs
- Tent: Since you’re likely going to be hiking with trekking poles, why not save some weight and use a tarp-style tent that utilizes your trekking poles. My favorite is the Zpacks Duplex (2-person) or Triplex (3-person for extra space), and I’ve also heard great things about Hyperlite’s tarp tents. Just practice setting it up at home before you hit the trail. If you absolutely want a free-standing tent that’s a little less expensive, I recommend the Nemo Hornet 2p. >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Tents
- Sleeping Bag: I’ve been using a sleeping quilt for years and I’m completely sold on its warmth and comfort. For the JMT, I recommend the 20-degree Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt. If you prefer a standard mummy bag, the Western Mountaineering Versalite 10-degree bag only weighs 2 pounds and is incredibly warm. >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags
- Sleeping Pad: Therm-A-Rest Prolite Sleeping Pad – Just enough cushion to keep your back happy. >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
- Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles – So happy I brought trekking poles…made slogging up those passes so much easier. I love how compact these are when they are stowed. >> Read Next: Best Trekking Poles
- Pack Cover for rain: REI Duck’s Back Rain Cover (70-85 Liters) – We got caught in a torrential sideways downpour going over Muir Pass. This cover kept my pack dry as can be. *Note: Some of the newer packs come with their own built-in rain covers, including some from Deuter.
JMT Cooking Gear
- Stove: Jetboil Flash Cooking System + fuel canisters – Compact and super-efficient. One small fuel canister lasted over a week. Great for boiling water and cooking simple meals like ramen and couscous. Want to go more gourmet? >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Stoves
- Utensil: Snow Peak Titanium Spork – Lightweight, durable, and versatile. Not sure it’s better than other sporks, but no complaints.
- Water Filter: Platypus GravityWorks 2.0 Bottle Kit (see my full review here) – Amazing. One of my best gear choices. We could fill up the bag from a lake or stream, hook it up to the filter, and completely forget about it while the water was filtering through. This saved us a ton of time since it allowed for multi-tasking. My only complaint was sometimes the flow was slow due to air bubbles that got caught in the filter. But luckily all you need to do to resolve this is reverse the flow of water through the filter for a few seconds, thereby eliminating the air bubbles. >> Read Next: Best Backpacking Water Filters
- Water Bottle: Platypus 1.0 Liter SoftBottle (Qty: 3) – Loved how these rolled up once they were empty. So light and integrated perfectly with the Platypus gravity filter.
- Mug: The mug I brought wasn’t well insulated and it’s also no longer available. If I were to hike again I’d consider upgrading to a Snow Peak Titanium mug. You can put their mugs directly on a stove and the handle can wrap around the mug for easy storing. It also weighs only 2.4 oz and is guaranteed not to rust! You can also get the Snow Peak HotLips so you can sip straight from the mug without worrying about burning your lips.
Dish soap– I ditched the soap at the trailhead since most of our food was eat-out-of-the-package. Plus, according to Leave No Trace, you shouldn’t use any soap (even biodegradable) in the water. Instead, you need to bury your suds at least 200 feet from the water. We found that the easiest way to clean my Jetboil after eating out of it was to bring some water to a rolling boil. The pot practically cleaned itself.
- Bear Canister: The Wild Ideas Bearikade Weekender (1 per person) is one of the best bear canisters out there. It’s much lighter than its competitors and super durable. Fitting 7 days of food in it was a stretch, but with some professional squishing, everything fit. Rental canisters are available via their website. (If they don’t have any available for the dates of your hike, the BearVault is a popular second choice). >> Read Next: Best Bear Canisters for Backpacking
- Water purification tablets – Brought some as a backup in case our filter broke but didn’t end up needing them.
John Muir Trail Clothing
I hiked the John Muir Trail in September which typically sees comfortable days and cold nights. The key is layering and being prepared for the worst.
- Hiking pants (x1): You should only need one normal pair of hiking pants. Typically I prefer to hike in leggings and the lululemon Invigorate HR Tight have been my go-to lately. They’re comfy for hiking and have a stretchy pocket on each leg that is big enough for your phone. For those who prefer regular pants, these Prana hiking pants are stretchy in all the right places, durable and water-resistant for all-day hiking. >> Read Next: Best Women’s Hiking Pants
- Hiking shorts (x1): I prefer leggings-style shorts, and the lululemon Wunder Train High-Rise Shorts are my new favorite. The waistband doesn’t shift, the highrise is flattering, they dry super quick, and they come in all kinds of fun colors. I like the 8″ but they come in a variety of lengths so you can pick what works for you. If you prefer something looser with pockets, the REI Sahara Bermuda Shorts have 4 pockets, are quick-drying, and have a UPF 50+ rating. They also have elastic as well as button adjustments at the waist so if you lose weight on your trek you can easily tighten them to stay snug!
- Hiking shirts (x2): My go-to hiking shirts are the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Shirts. I personally prefer long-sleeves so I don’t have to wear as much sunscreen.
- Midweight Base Layer (x1): Patagonia R1 Pullover fleece – a warm, fleece-lined (vegan-friendly) layer that you can wear to bed at night or on chillier hiking days. It also comes in a hooded version
- Jacket (x1): On the John Muir Trail, nights and early mornings can be very cold, so a warm jacket is necessary. The Patagonia Hooded Nanopuff Jacket packs very small and has a great warmth-to-weight ratio. >> Read Next: Best Synthetic Down Jackets
- Warm Pants (x1): Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX pants are great for sleeping in and will keep you warm when you’re making breakfast
- Underwear (x3): lululemon InvisiWear Mid-Rise Boyshorts are quick-drying and seamless with a barely-there feel and no panty lines. >> Read Next: Best Women’s Hiking Underwear
- Sports bras (x2): Patagonia Wild Trails Sports Bra – supportive, comfortable, and breathable
- Rain Pants (x1): Bring some! I was so happy I had rain pants during the storm over Muir Pass. They kept me warm and dry. OR’s Helium rain pants are pricey but weigh less than 6 ounces and compact into the back pocket for easy storage. The elastic waist with drawcord is great for putting on over other pants as well as the zip ankle bottoms for getting over your shoes. Kim wore the men’s version on her PCT thru-hike almost every day in Washington.
- Rain Jacket (x1): Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Rain Jacket is a bombproof rain jacket while still being lightweight >> Read Next: Best Lightweight Rain Jackets
- Socks (x3): Darn Tough MicroCrew and SmartWool Cushion are my two favorite hiking socks. My feet stayed mostly blister-free and the socks held up. In the evenings, I would change to the warmer and more cushiony SmartWool socks, and I must say it was nice to have a “cleaner” pair to wear at camp and in my sleeping bag.
- Hat (x1): For maximum sun protection, go for a wide-brimmed hat. My favorite is the Wallaroo Sedona which offers SPF 50 (Use the code BEARFOOT20 for 20% off). Alternatively, choose a ball cap-style hat like this one.
- Wool beanie and gloves (x1 each) – I wore the hat every single night on the JMT. The gloves were also necessary, especially for Whitney. Pack a simple beanie and gloves.
- Hiking Boots (x1 pair): I have been wearing Oboz Bridger B-Dry Hiking Boots for the last few years and love them. They are waterproof, provide lots of support and unlike most boots, are comfy right out of the box. >> Read Next: Best Hiking Boots for Women
- Camp shoes: Teva Hurricane Sandals – Perfect. Waterproof and lighter than other river sandals I’ve owned, and I could wear socks with them. Saw other people with Crocs and thought those were a good idea too, but they aren’t as versatile for side adventures from camp. Either way, bring something cause you won’t want to wear your boots all night.
- Smith Optics sunglasses: I have been wearing a pair of Smith sunglasses with polarized lenses for years. They stay on the top of my head when I’m not wearing them, and they aren’t too delicate.
JMT Backpacking Gadgets/Tools
- Multi-tool: Leatherman Skeletool CX – The knife on this seemed to get dull quickly. Overall it was heavy, and I had no need for the other tools other than the screwdriver which I used to tighten my trekking poles. Scissors, which this Leatherman lacked, would have been very useful.
- Navigation: Suunto Clipper Compass – Didn’t need it, but it could come in handy on other trails. Barely noticed it on my watchband.
- Solar charger: Solar power technology keeps getting better every year. I brought the Goal Zero Nomad 7 which is fine for charging your cell phone, but that’s about it. Another option is the BioLite Solar Panel 5+, which weighs less than a pound. You can also use it to charge one of their battery banks.
- Headlamp: The Black Diamond Spot is built for surviving long-distance thru-hiking. It is waterproof and has red and green night vision modes for late-night reading in your tent that won’t kill your eyes. It uses 4 AAA batteries and shows battery life remaining when switching on the headlamp. >> Read Next: Best Headlamps for Hiking & Camping
- Watch: Timex Expedition Fast Wrap Watch – Inexpensive, waterproof, and comfortable. The alarm worked great when we woke up at 2am to climb Whitney.
JMT Backpacking Electronics
- GPS Transponder: I’d recommend an emergency communication device (especially for those of you who are hiking the JMT solo). I use the Garmin InReach Mini, which also allows you to send and receive custom text messages. The Garmin InReach is a big investment, but it comes with a lot of great and potentially life-saving features. Note that you do need a separate Garmin subscription to use the InReach Mini.
- Digital Camera: If you are serious about photography, the John Muir Trail offers non-stop epic landscapes to capture. I love the Sony Alpha a6000 which uses mirrorless technology to get professional quality photos with a camera that is only slightly larger than a point and shoot. You can also swap out the lens on the Sony Alpha cameras.
For something even more compact, consider the Sony RX100 V, a GoPro, or your phone
Mostly everything in here is travel size.
- Pee-rag: A pee-rag helps you stay clean down there. I recommend the Kula Cloth, which is anti-microbial and easy to use, or a mini quick-dry towel. Check out this blog post for more backcountry hygiene tips.
- Bug spray: Sawyer Picaridin – If you are hiking early in the season, you’ll need bug spray. Bugs usually die off later in the season though, so when we hiked in September, we didn’t end up needing it.
- Sunscreen: Sun Bum SPF 50 Sunscreen – This sunscreen was awesome. Non-greasy, and I only had to put it on once in the morning, and it lasted all day.
- First Aid: Adventure Medical Kit .7 (Added Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Kit, Excedrin Migraine, and a Quick Clot Clotting Sponge) – the Spenco blister tape was awesome. Stayed put all day even after getting wet. Luckily we didn’t need anything else in this lightweight, compact, and waterproof first aid kit. >> Read Next: How to Build a DIY First Aid Kit
- Chapstick: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 – Nice minty smell, kept lips protected in the dry high altitude air.
- Instant Hand Sanitizer
Lotion:Ditched. Sunscreen is practically the same thing as lotion.
- Dental Floss
- Toilet paper – Don’t run out! And if you’re nervous about pooping in the woods, check out our Step-by-Step Guide to Going #2 in the Wildnerness.
- Toothbrush & toothpaste pods
- Body wipes – Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes
Miscellaneous JMT Gear
- Notepad: Rite in the Rain All Weather Journal + pen – I brought this journal, but I ended up just taking notes on my phone
Book: Only read two pages and will not bring a book next time. Nice for a rainy day, but you are so tired at night that reading put me right to sleep, and it was not worth the weight
- Trail Guide: John Muir Trail Guide by Elizabeth Wenk + John Muir Trail Map Pack by Tom Harrison – The Harrison Maps were perfect, and we only kept out the page that we needed for the day. Super durable, waterproof pages, and accurate. The Wenk book was good, and I was glad we had it for the elevation profiles and campsite listings. However, it had so much extraneous information that ultra-light hikers will want to think twice about bringing it. You can see all of our favorite JMT trail maps and guides here.
Do you have any questions about my John Muir Trail gear list? Are we missing anything you loved having on the JMT? Leave us a comment below!