Gear We Used on the John Muir Trail, 2016
As I have said in previous posts, my goal on the John Muir Trail (JMT) was to keep my pack weight as light as possible, without sacrificing comfort. Though I knew I would never achieve ultra-ultralight status (base weight of 12-14 lbs), I did want to keep my base weight under 20 lbs, which is still considered in the ultralight range. To that end my base weight, with all gear, including my camera gear (without food and water) came in at 18 lbs. My heaviest pack weight was 37 lbs, carrying seven days of food, our longest section between resupplies. This was the section between Muir Trail Ranch and Kearsarge Pass.
My Gear list:
Zpack duplex tent
Zpack 20 degree sleeping bag– returned for Western Mountainering 10 degree bag. See explanation below
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 degree bag
Thermarest Neo Air for Women
Gossamer Gear, Mariposa Backpack
Bearikade Bear Canister
Caldera Cone Stove, with Esbit tablets
Aquamira Water treatment tablets
Montrail Sierravada Hiking shoes
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Manfrotto “Off Road” Trekking Poles
Zpacks Duplex Tent-
Zpacks is a company known for creating ultralight, though expensive gear. They use a strong Cuben fiber for most of their products. The gear will not last as long as more traditional gear, but as one through AT hiker said,”I used this tent for 5 months every night on the trail and it is just starting to show signs of wear.”
As we would both would be carrying our own tents, we chose the Duplex. It is only 4.5 oz’s more and $44.00 more than the Soloplex tent, but you get twice the room. As I was going to pay almost $600.00 for a tent, I wanted the versatility of being able to have another person in the tent at some point.
The tent worked great. The design using your hiking poles is ingenious and the height and room within the tent was great. The zippers were quiet and ran in both directions. There are exit doors one each side of the tent, which is great if you do have an extra person.
Despite the hefty price tag, I highly recommend this tent. No complaints.
Zpack 20 degree sleeping bag-
We both bought brand new Zpack 20 degree bags for our trip. As they are custom made, and ordered in the early summer, we had no way to test the bags ahead of our trip.
To our surprise, the first night we used these bags in Tuolumne Meadows before beginning our trip, we both slept chilly in our bags. The temperature was only 45 degrees during the night. We spent the next 6 nights- before our resupply at Red Meadows- trying to make these bags work for us. We slept with the zippers underneath; we fluffed the bags; we cinched the bags, and always slept chilly. I gave up and just started sleeping in my down jacket. This when the temperatures were only in the 40’s at night!
We were concerned, but had no way to contact the company as we only had limited cell service- 1-2 bars- and no internet connection. We had to call home, when we could get a connection, and have one our spouses contact the company via email. We asked for a phone number, considering our situation, but they would not give us one.
To that end, we dictated an email over the phone and told them we would be sending the bags back home, getting new bags, and we would deal with the issue when we returned from our trip- in a month’s time. They did offer to send us out a 10 degree bag, but that was not going to be within our resupply time frame.
When we got home, it took a few emails, but we did get a full refund, though they had wanted to issue us a store credit.
We did talk with others on the trail about their bags and found out that folks that had the Zpacks 10 degree bags wore clothes inside the bag if the temperatures dropped. Many ultralight hikers swear by these bags, but at $400.00, I did not want to have a bag that I was chilly in at 40 degrees.
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 degree bag-
Once we got to our Resupply at Red Meadows, we took our “zero” day and headed down into the town of Mammoth to look for a sleeping bag replacement and to ship our Zpacks 20 degree bags home. We knew we would be paying a premium, but we had no choice. We were worried about being cold once we got into the higher elevations. Indeed, up around 10,000 feet, we did have nights in the upper 20’s and low 30’s, with rime ice on our tents in the morning.
We never slept cold in these bags and they were extremely comfortable. We paid $586.00 for these bags, so another $180.00 more than our Zpacks bags, but they just felt better made. There was more loft, more down, better zippers, a great hood. The Versalite 10 degree weighs 2 lbs (32 oz’s) , the Zpacks 20 degree weighs 16.8 oz’s. So, yes, you add another pound to your base weight, but once we slept in them, I never looked back. These are bags you could have a lifetime.
We were also told that the company would repair anything that went wrong with your bag. Get it too close to a fire and burned a hole in your bag. No problem they would fix it!
I already owned a Neo Thermarest, but this Neo Air X light sleeping pad weighed 3/4 lb less than my old Neo. It cost $155.00, but I thought every little bit matters and I was willing to pay the price to trim the weight.
The sleeping bag is noisy, but it is very thick and comfortable and allowed me to sleep on my side with ease. Plus, it packed up small, a lot smaller than my old Neo.
It was expensive, but worth it. If you can’t sleep well, nothing else matters. Right?
Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack-
After reading this blog from Ultralight hiker extreme Erin Saver, “Walking with Wired“, I chose to upgrade my Gregory G series ultralight pack, which I love, to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. After training with my Gregory (which has since been discontinued) in the spring, I realized that I would need more room to carry my gear, especially since you are required to carry a bear canister. The Mariposa ended up being 3/4 of a pound lighter and had a lot more room than my Gregory. The Mariposa weighed under 2 lb’s and was well padded and came with nice size pouches on the waist belt. If you buy the bag new, it cost $300.00. I was able to get a seconds, which only cost $200.00. It is worth asking and checking into.
A great comfortable bag, that can be sized to your height and weight. A nice touch.
I ended up buying the Bearikade Weekender bear canister, which cost $288.00, but weighs only 31 ozs. You can rent them, and there is a steep discount for JMT hikers. Betsy, my hiking partner, bought the BearVault BV500 for $80.00. It weighs 2 lbs 9 0zs (41 oz’s). Which one you choose is a personal and financial call.
However, since we each had different canisters on the trip, I was able to compare them over time. I found that my Weekender was able to hold seven days of food, our longest stretch. I found it easy to open and close. I kept a couple of quarters in my pockets and backpack to aide in opening the canisters. Ease of opening may not seem like that big a deal, but I watched Betsy struggle with opening her BearVault, especially on those cold evenings and mornings.
If weight is a concern, and money isn’t, the Bearikade is definitely the way to go. It is extremely well made and very light and I will have it for a lifetime, though having to carry a Bear Canister is a real drag!
The Caldera Stove comes as a system with a dovetailed screen that also serves to hold your pot. When you order, you get the pot size that fits your screen. They offer two fuel systems with the kit- a denatured alcohol kit and an Esbit kit. Originally we ordered, and thought, we would go with the denatured alcohol kit, but when I called them and ask how much fuel, and, hence, what size fuel bottle we would need, the owner directed me to the Esbit kit.
This change took place only a couple of weeks before we were to fly out, so we had to do a complete recalculation of our needs. The owner assured me that this was what he preferred. It weighs less than denatured alcohol, and, best of all, being solid tablets, we could ship them on the plane.
This was a big selling point for us, as we would not have to worry about resupplying fuel anywhere on the trail. Over, done, one less thing to worry about.
I thought the system worked great on the trail. We did learn one trick to help them light. We took dried leaves, needles, whatever was available, and put them under the first Esbit on the “Cookie”- the little device that holds the Esbits. This helped to get the Esbits started. Also, because the Esbits do take some time to light, we made sure to have a lighter in every other resupply. The lighters made it through the mail, but they did confiscated one at the airport.
We budgeted three Esbits per day for two people- One to cook our food, another to heat water for hot drinks at night, and a third for the mornings we wanted a hot beverage as well.
I really liked this system. It was light weight, very efficient, and I liked being able to carry the fuel on the plane, and not have to worry about resupplies on the trail.
Aquamira Water Treatment Tablets-
In keeping with the lightweight theme, I chose to use the Aquamira tablets. It is a two part solution, with a 15 minute wait time before use. I carried a small bottle to mix the solution in to save us the initial five minute wait. I thought the system worked great. There was no flavor to the solution and we did not half to worry about filters or batteries. It is about as low tech a solution as you can get and I thought it worked great.
As I side note, once we got into the High Sierra’s, I just drank from the lakes and streams. The water has been tested up high, and there is no guardia. You can see to the bottom of the high lakes. They are that clear. Drinking from the lakes and streams gives your system a break, if you are worried about any chemical effects from the Aquamira. It also gave us one less chore to do at night. Hurray!
I loved this boots. I got the high tops to help protect my ankles, though many hikers use their low-tops. I never got one blister with these boots, from the beginning training hikes, right through the whole JMT. These boots felt like slippers on my feet. This was a miracle to me. I have always suffered with getting blisters once I put on a backpack, even with broken in boots. What a relief to not have to deal with this on the trail.
The only down side to the boots is that they will wear out quicker than your standard boots. I found that after my training hikes and the trail, the soles on the boots were getting slick and some seams along the tops were coming undone. However, at only a $100.00, I will just treat them like a pair of running shoes and replace them when necessary. Most summers I won’t be hiking 500 miles, so they should last a couple of years. A worthwhile trade off, to me, for their comfort. Oh, and did I mention, they are also waterproof.
I love my Dirty Girls. They are as light weight and as efficient as you can get in a gaiter. They come in wild and fun patterns, though, they do have more subdued patterns for those shy ones out there. We got lots of comments and recognition on the trail, about seemingly so simple a piece of equipment.
These are a lightweight (12.8 oz) trekking pole, made with the photographer in mind. At the top of one pole is a 1/4″ screw mount, with protective lid, for mounting a camera weighing up to 5.5 lbs.
I thought the system worked well and even though I did not use it to support my camera, I had a selfie set-up rigged to use this mount. (See my Photo Gear list for the JMT)
Once we traded out our sleeping bags for the Western Mountaineering bags, we thought all of our gear performed really well. We were both very happy with all of our choices and highly recommend these items. Many are expensive, but worth it both in quality and weight.