By Karla Amador, Co-founder of 52 Hike Challenge and Mandi Carozza, 52 Hike Challenge Content Creator
Read Part 1 of Karla's "Through My Eyes" series here.
Is the John Muir Trail (JMT) on your bucket list?
It was on mine, too. The amazing vistas, towering trees, meadows and abundance of lakes make this thru-hike incredibly scenic and rewarding. But the views don’t come without hard work.
Tackling a thru-hike of any kind takes a lot of preparation and perseverance.
Whether you’re hiking a section of the trail or taking the whole trek, there are some important tips you need to know to prepare for your thru-hike on the JMT.
First off, what’s a thru-hike?
What’s a Thru-Hike?
A thru-hike is a long-distance hiking/backpacking adventure in which you trek daily from one point to another. Thru-hikes can be anywhere from 200 miles to thousands of miles.
Typically, thru-hikes are completed within a 12-month period. Some hike the entire trail in one go while others choose to hike sections of the trail over time.
Popular Thru-Hikes in the United States:
- John Muir Trail
- Appalachian Trail
- Pacific Crest Trail
- Continental Divide Trail
Notorious Thru-Hikes Around the World:
- Camino de Santiago in Spain
- Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand
- Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
Now that you know what a thru-hike is, let’s explore 6 steps for you to prepare for a successful thru-hike on the John Muir Trail.
6 Steps To Prepare For A Successful Thru-Hike On The JMT
In this ultimate guide for thru-hiking the John Muir Trail, we put together lots of tips for a successful trek. Keep reading to find six steps to help you to get ready for the JMT.
Step 1: Set Your Goal
Use these tips to set your goal and commit to it!
Commit to Your Trek
- Congrats on choosing to thru-hike the JMT!
- Which point are you starting from? (Northbound or Southbound)
- Even if you don’t know your exact daily camping locations, you’ll need to have a rough idea of where you’ll be camping each night when you book your permits. I copied a fellow JMT trekker’s itinerary as a starting point.
Choose Your Dates
- The best time to hike the JMT is typically June through September
- When will you start?
- What is your desired completion date?
- Your dates may affect your permit application deadlines, so make sure to check when you need to apply. Last time I checked permits were available six months out.
- If you feel you may be a day late on your exit, give yourself an extra day as a cushion.
Secure Your Permits
- Find out who releases permits and apply accordingly. For the JMT, it’s recreation.gov
- Don’t forget some agencies open up permits at specific times, and they sell out very quickly. Knowing this information is important to secure your desired start date.
- If you want to start at Mt. Whitney, you’ll have to apply for the lottery. Other details apply.
Research & Collect Data
- Research the trail: check out books, blogs, etc.
- Talk to past thru-hikers
- Join some Facebook groups or forums: I was in the Ladies of the JMT and John Muir Hikers 2019 groups which I found very helpful.
Choose Your Hiking Partner or Commit To Go Solo*
- If going with a partner, choose someone you’ve backpacked with before whom you trust, respect, and are comfortable with. There will be trying times on the trails and you’ll need to support each other when times get tough. You’ll also motivate one another when morale is low.
- Be aligned: Agree on how you’ll handle breaks prior to your hike, whether you’ll separate at times and meet later on, plan where you’ll meet, etc.
*If you decide to go solo, rest assured there were lots of other people doing the same thing. You’ll make friends on the trail in no time! However, we highly recommend you bring a GPS unit and have experience backpacking on your own before you go.
Step 2: Plan Your Trip Details
Now that you’ve set your goal, set your start and end dates, and secured your permit, now let’s start planning your trek.
You should be able to answer these questions:
Who are you hiking with?
As we said above, you can choose to hike solo or take on the JMT with a hiking partner.
Where are you camping?
Know how many miles you want to trek each day, as this will tell you where you will end up camping. Don’t forget to account for the elevation gain because that alone can take longer than anticipated.
Where can you refill water?
Depending on the snow level prior to your trip, you may be able to get away with a liter and a half of water at a time. There are plenty of lakes, waterfalls, creeks, rivers, etc. where you can refill water
*Pro tip: Don’t forget to filter water with your Sawyer squeeze filter!
Where will you resupply?
Again, this depends on how fast you’re hiking and how much trail you’re covering in a day. For example, we had 3 resupply locations for a 21-day trek, average one resupply per week.
When will you rest?
- Take little breaks every 1-2 hours or as needed
- Enjoy a long lunch at your halfway point (highly recommend)
- Nurture your feet by airing them out and tending to blisters
- Recharge by taking a little nap or having a nice cup of coffee
*Pro tip: soothe sore feet in a cool body of water
What is your emergency plan?
- Bring a GPS unit
- Carry 10 Essentials
- Tend to blisters (First aid / blister kit / Advil for pain)
- Share your itinerary and check in with someone before you start and when you finish
*Pro tip:Depending on where you are on the JMT, you may be able to get reception — especially if you’re on a high point or peak.
What resources will you use?
Familiarize yourself with your trek and the terrain by studying trail maps. Here are the top 2 resources that will help you plan your itinerary in detail:
- National Geographic – John Muir Trail, CA Trails Illustrated Folding Map
- Shows where you can camp, resupply locations, etc.
- Helps you calculate where to camp based on miles hiked
- Gut Hook App
- Works with GPS so you don’t need cell service
- Shows where there’s water available / water resupply locations
- Tracks your location and shows you how far you are from your next destination
- Doubles as a location tracker if you get lost
Step 3: Begin Training
The JMT is no joke. Train ahead of time to prepare for the mental and physical challenges that this thru-hike presents.
- Hike with weight in your pack
- Break in your hiking boots/shoes
- Trek on similar terrain if possible
- Practice hiking long distances
- Have backpacking experience
- Camp at high elevation if possible
- Prepare for elevation gain (if you don’t have access to peaks, train in the gym on a stair climber or at an incline on the treadmill)
- Take the 52 Hike Challenge*
*Want to get more comfortable being out on the trail? Sign up for the 52 Hike Challenge and commit to hiking once a week for a year!
Step 4: Gather Gear, Food, etc.
Here are some quick tips for finding the right gear, food, and cookware for your thru-hike.
- Look for lightweight options whenever possible
- Find the right pack (traditional packs are typically less expensive than ultra-lightweight ones)
- Prepare for all kinds of weather and bring rain jacket
- Tips on backpacking food and cookware:
- Make sure you have enough daily calories
- Lay out food for each day & each resupply
- Test making/eating some of the meals
- Bring a variety to keep it interesting
- Remember a lighter in case your starter shorts
Step 5: Send Resupply Items
It would be challenging and extremely heavy to carry everything at once, so sending your food and supplies to designated resupply stations is a must. Make sure you send everything IN ADVANCE so that you can guarantee it’s there when you arrive.
Tips for sending resupply items:
- Plan resupply stations based on your thru-hike plan
- Research fees, rules, and details for each resupply location
- Budget for shipping fees (they can add up)
- Ship it!
Step 6: Start!
Now you’re well prepared to thru-hike the John Muir Trail. With the right planning, training, gear, and mindset, this trek will be one that you will remember for the rest of your life!
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