Our JMT Thru Hike, What Worked & What Didn’t

So I know that everyone has been wondering exactly how our John Muir Trail thru hike went, and more specifically what worked and what didn’t. From a gear side of things we were pretty well dialed in from the get go. True, we had to overnight some shoes while on the trail and subsequently swap out a pack to carry more weight, but all things considered we had the gear thing pretty well figured out. On the personal side of things we definitely had some obstacles to overcome. From not being in trail shape to adjusting to a new reality for a month, we had a lot to tackle as a couple.

This is our life now

Kathleen and I aren’t strangers to the drastic sudden change in our everyday lives. We left our jobs and two days later we were cycling on the Trans American Bike Trail! So we’ve dealt with a sudden lifestyle design shift before. However, each time we jump headlong into a new reality it tests us and our relationship in ways that are almost unquantifiable.

The start of our JMT thru hike was no different. I was right at home, thru hiking is my unofficial calling in this world. Kathleen, however, was not amused. She had never done a thru hike before and subsequently was being forced out of her comfort zone just a bit. When you mix on overly confident element with a not-so-sure-about-all-of-this element the end result tends to be a little all over the place.

Not that we ever agree on anything, because anyone that has ever met us can surely attest to the fact that we agree on absolutely nothing. But it was a little amplified at the beginning of our hike. We had differing ideas about when to eat, what to eat, when to rest, how many miles to do, you’re doing this wrong or stop doing that… Looking back it might be a little comical but I assure you at the time we weren’t laughing.

Get your trail legs before you leave

This is definitely something we both would have done differently. It isn’t something that I even tend to think about. My body is always in shape to go hiking. I love hiking, I love wearing my backpack, and my body simply responds. 99% of everyone else (including Kathleen) needs to train for a thru hike and get in shape before heading out. So I didn’t really think much of it before hand and Kathleen suffered for it on the trail. Her body was not too happy with her and the aches and pains definitely let her know about it! So the lesson here is, train before your thru hike… your body will thank you.

Know your food and its real world applications

This is another thing that we missed the mark on at the start of the trip but quickly corrected when we made our first stop at Mammoth. Before the trip we had both spent months without a drop of sugar, dairy, processed foods… basically we were eating only fresh fruits and vegetables! Those two things are kinda hard to come by in the mountains.

So we opted for a few different healthy backcountry options in dehydrated meals and healthy sugarless trail bars. On my AT thru hike I ate what just about every other thru hiker eats, snickers and ramen noodles. I was quite skeptical if we were going to be able to meet our caloric needs (6000 plus calories a day) by eating these healthy options. Well, after being tired for about three days and not wanting to eat the food in our pot each night, we quickly had to come up with a backup plan.

While we initially stayed away from dairy, all other bets were off. Chocolate bars, candy, and lipton sides became our staples. Interestingly enough our bodies didn’t really skip a beat either, our energy levels picked back up and most importantly we were able to devour everything in front of us!

The question on everyone’s mind… what about the gear?

While we didn’t have to make any whole sale changes due to improper equipment or something simply not working, (you can read our comprehensive packing list here) we did have to make a few gear changes based on Kathleen’s blisters. The first and most obvious was getting her some new shoes. She had been traipsing around in her Salomon’s for a few years without a care in the world. When she got on the trail her feet began to swell, which happens from a thru hike, and her shoes were simply too tight.

This created all sorts of problems in the form compression blisters all over her feet. So we had to take a couple rest days and overnight a new pair of shoes that were a full size bigger. The lesson to learn here is make sure your shoes provided plenty of room for your feet to swell and still wiggle around freely.

We also had to adjust another piece of gear due to these nasty blisters. I started the hike with the Equinox Katahdin frameless backpack. Well in order to take the pressure off Kathleen’s feet I had to switch to an internal framed pack, the Osprey Exos 58. I simply couldn’t add more weight to my frameless pack and expect it to perform at a high level.

As for the rest of the things in the gear department we didn’t have to swap out anything else. The rest of our gear performed at a high level. There weren’t any items that we brought along that we wished we didn’t and conversely we didn’t miss anything either.

If there is one item that I could impress up everyone to run out and get it is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II. I have never been so impressed with a tent and will continue to carry the Echo II on all our adventures!

Another little piece of advice that is specific to the JMT is really take a look at your water purification system. Water is plentiful and clean enough that you simply cannot justify carrying a pump. Treat water chemically and ditch the heavy and cumbersome camelbaks. We never carried more than 2 liters of water apiece which keeps pack weight low and allows you to put on more miles!

So there you have it. Our Favorite Adventure’s list of things that did and didn’t work for us on our John Muir Trail thru hike! Hopefully I have been able to impart a little knowledge about the highs and lows of life on the trail, taking care of your physical well being, and all the gear that helped shape our trip! The JMT is absolutely stunning in every regard and should not be missed by any outdoor enthusiast!

ProfileEditor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Kathleen and Brock, owners and authors of OurFavoriteAdventure, as guest contributors to Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Brock is one half of OurFavoriteAdventure.com where he and his wife, Kathleen, blog about their travels, hiking, and following their dreams. Brock has section hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, including the majority of the JMT, thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, has ridden his bicycle across America and is currently preparing to hike the full John Muir Trail this July with Kathleen.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • http://thepictureofhealth.com Michelle Pearson

    LOVED this article! Thanks!

  • Art Vinogradsky

    sounds like good times and nice article.
    Lets get a group to do it next year!

    • Kathleen-OurFavoriteAdventure

      Hey Art! Very happy you enjoyed the article :) Thanks for reading! Hope you get out to do it next year!

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad “Stick” Poindexter

    Awesome post, thanks for sharing! And I hope to get out and hike the JMT one day… I will be sure to keep your recommendations in mind! :)

    • Kathleen-OurFavoriteAdventure

      Stick, we are glad you found the post helpful! I sure hope you get out to do the whole JMT one day too. It was epic and well worth it. Thanks for stopping by and reading the post :)

  • http://www.outdoortrailgear.com/ Claire walters

    Good read – Thx for sharing!

    • Kathleen-OurFavoriteAdventure

      Hi, Claire :) Thanks for reading and your nice comment! Happy trails!

  • Birch

    Any non-dairy stuff that did work? My wife’s allergic to dairy (so we can’t have most chocolate or pre-packaged anyway) and we’re always looking for ideas.

    • Kathleen-OurFavoriteAdventure

      Hey Birch! I would check out Outdoor Herbivore, Mary Jane Farms and ProBar. Those are good places to start. :) Good luck!

  • hotnblak

    I’m not sure if powdered milk changes the fat globule size when processed, but on our last trip I made the peanut butter ,honey, powdered milk concoction found on this site, and it was wonderful on flour tortillas. It didn’t take much to satisfy and on a four day trip it never got old. I also made a version of Brians paleo jerky using rump roast, it didn’t make it past the 2nd day. We do trial runs of the recipes at home so there are no suprises on the road.

  • Erik Haaland

    Great post and important points to follow if my wife decides to join a hike one of these days :-)

    • Kathleen l Our Favorite Advent

      Hey Erik! Really happy you liked the post! I hope your wife changes her mind…I’m glad I changed my mind ;)

  • Matt in Oklahoma

    Very good article and I really enjoy the honesty. Everything not being butterfly’s and puppies in the gear, relationship and physical being is refreshing. My wife is no longer able to join me due to health issues but still drives around and meets me at the other end of the trail heads. The time spent together even with the fallouts and quirks will make you stronger

  • SaltBlakeCity

    Looks like a lot of fun! I’ll hopefully make it there this summer!