Camping Gear

Ask Me: What Gear Do You Suggest For Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail?

Posted On July 19, 2016 at 10:10 am by / Comments Off on Ask Me: What Gear Do You Suggest For Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail?

Hello Michael,

I read your article about ultra-backpacking and how you did the John Muir Trail in seven days. I am planning on doing it, but would like to know, for an ultralight backpacker, what items did you use for tent, sleeping bag, etc.? And any feedback or thoughts that you have that would be beneficial for me would be much appreciated.

Thank you.

Covina, CA

Hi Joei,

Very cool that you’re making a John Muir Trail thru-hike. (The lead photo above shows the view of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall from the JMT in Yosemite National Park.) I did it in late August, and I think late August through mid-September is the best time of year to hike the JMT, because you’ll find a largely snow-free trail, the voracious mosquitoes of mid-summer are just about gone, and the afternoons aren’t as blazing hot as mid-summer; and the snow that backpackers encounter in June has melted away.


Sunset from Mather Pass on the John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park.

Sunset from Mather Pass on the John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park.

I’ll let you know what sort of gear I carried ultralight backpacking the JMT in late summer, and add my thoughts where appropriate on how you may want to adjust your gear for a thru-hike in mid- or early summer. My suggestions would really apply to backpackers trying to travel light in most mid-latitude mountain ranges in summer. You should also read my tips on ultralight backpacking, which includes my ultralight gear checklist. (See also my standard checklist for backpacking.)

You may want to start by reading my story “Buying Gear? Read This First,” which has my general tips on buying any gear and links to my stories offering specific advice on buying a pack, tent, boots, and sleeping bag.

You sound most interested in the major gear items. Outside the buggy season in the High Sierra, I prefer using a tarp, like the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp (read my review), which I used on an ultralight, 86-mile, four-day, September hike in northern Yosemite. I often sleep under the stars on a clear night, but a tarp, besides protecting you from rain and some wind, can trap a surprising amount of warmth underneath it on a calm night. If you want a full tent, look for a solo or two-person tent that’s well under three pounds, like the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 mtnGLO (read my review) or MSR FlyLite (read my review). See all of my backpacking tent/shelter reviews and my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent,” which is not specific to ultralight travel but still useful for your purposes.

Descending south on the John Muir Trail from Forester Pass, Sequoia National Park.

On the JMT below Forester Pass, Sequoia National Park.

For most three-season backpacking, I carry a down sleeping bag rated at or near 30 degrees F. It’s warm enough for me on nights above freezing, as most nights are in summer, and on an unusually cold night, I can supplement by wearing my clothing. Down bags are generally warmer, lighter, and more compact and durable than synthetic, if also more expensive. See my sleeping bag reviews, especially my reviews of two bags that convert to a long down parka, negating the need to carry a puffy jacket: the Exped Dreamwalker 450 (read my review) and the Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 800 (read my review). For a well-made, warm, ultralight bag, you can’t do better than the Western Mountaineering Summerlite (read my review).

If you prefer having a puffy jacket and you expect nighttime lows generally above freezing, take an ultralight insulation piece like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer or the L.L. Bean PrimaLoft Packaway Fuse Jacket (read my review). See my “Review: 5 Super Versatile Layering Pieces” all of my puffy jacket reviews.

For a backpack, see this response I gave to a reader asking me to recommend a good thru-hiking backpack.

Lastly, if all of your gear is light, you should get lightweight hiking shoes or boots. In snow, you may want something waterproof-breathable that’s still relatively light, like the Scarpa Proton GTX (read my review), Arc’teryx Acrux2 FL GTX (read my review), or Aku Mio Surround GTX (read my review). For hiking the JMT at a time when it will be largely snow-free, I’d go with non-waterproof, mid-cut or low-cut hiking shoes for maximum breathability, as my friends and I did in late summer because we didn’t have to worry much about getting wet. Shoes I like include the Oboz Scapegoat Mid (read my review), Vasque Inhaler II Low (read my review), and Arc’teryx Acrux FL (read my review). See all of my reviews of hiking shoes.

See my advice to another reader about thru-hiking the JMT in early summer and all of my stories about the John Muir Trail.

Good luck, it’s a wonderful trip.


In Ask Me, I share my response to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at, message me at, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a blog post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I now receive more questions than I can answer, so I ask that readers sending me a question be willing to make a $25 donation to this website (sometimes less, when appropriate) through my Support button (top left of sidebar). I will also provide a telephone consult for $45. Write to me first and I will tell you whether I can answer your question (I usually can); I will respond as quickly as I can. First scroll through my Ask Me page and All Trips pagesskills stories, and gear reviews for answers to your questions before writing to me.

I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

See also my stories “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

—Michael Lanza

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