One of the questions everyone asks me about hiking the John Muir Trail is “What should I wear?” It’s not usually phrased so bluntly. Sometimes it’s couched in more specific terms, like “Should I wear down or fleece?” or “trail shoes vs. boots?”
While I can’t tell you what’s right for you, I will share what I wore, and what worked well for me.
The photo below shows Reinhold Metzger and I on our respective JMT thru-hikes. Metzger was headed northbound, while I was taking the traditional southbound route. I’ve pointed out the key parts of my hiking “outfit” that you can see, and included a couple that you don’t.
The astute observer will notice that Reinhold’s gear has a certain vintage quality about it. He’s using an external frame backpack and a mashup of clothes and gear that he’s cobbled together over the years. This tried-and-true approach is the same one you should use. Start with some basics components and add to it over time, keeping what works and replacing what doesn’t. You’ll find that quality gear lasts for years. If you watch for sales and closeouts, you can pare down the costs considerably.
Here are the details
|Wide-Brimmed Hat||There are some great choices here, but mine happened to be an REI hat that includes a drawstring for those windy mountain passes (much needed), and the brim can be snapped up and out-of-the-way when needed. Looked a little goofy, but very functional. |
|Buff Multi-Function Headgear||This awesome headwear can be worn as a headband, a bandana, a baclava, a dust screen, a neck gaiter and even more. |
|ExOfficio Boxer Brief||I had two pair. They wash, rinse and dry very quickly. They are pricey, but they hold up for a long time. |
|Under Armour Tech T-Shirt||This short sleeve shirt dries quickly and was a perfect base layer. It remains one of my favorite shirts to hike in.|
|White Sierra Kalgoorlie Long Sleeve Shirt||This lightweight wind shirt helped keep the sun off and cut the wind. It can be unbuttoned or removed when temperatures rise. The White Sierra brand was a great value. |
|Marmot Radiator Polartec Fleece Jacket||This fleece provided added warmth when temperatures dipped in the evenings. Most nights, the t-shirt, wind shirt and fleece provided all the warmth needed. |
|White Sierra Trabagon Jacket||This shell (not pictured) gave a final layer of protection in the coldest situations. There were only a few nights where this came in handy, as well as up on Mt. Whitney. |
|prAna Convertible Pant||These pants have zip-off legs, which most of the time stayed off. There were two times when those legs came in handy: when the mosquitos were bad and when it was really cold. These got really dirty after three weeks on the trail, but washed up looking like new. I was amazed. |
Recommended. Read my full review.
|Keen Pyrenees Boots||I debated using trail shoes or boots. In the end, I opted for a bit more support. These waterproof boots were super comfortable, especially after upgrading the insole. I had zero problems with blisters. |
Read my full review.
|Superfeet Green Insoles||These insoles made the boots feel like butter. Preparing for the JMT was the first time I splurged for them, and now I'm sold. |
|Smartwool Hiking Sock||I sometimes combined these socks with a lightweight silk liner sock. They fit and performed well the entire 211+ miles.|
|Total worn on body weight/costs:||6 lbs. 15 oz.||$591|
Ultra-lighters will probably be aghast at the nearly 7 pounds of clothes (boots included) I wore. It’s a typical question that most thru-hikers wrestle with — trying strike the right balance between function and lowering weight. In my case, it was easier for me to lose 10 pounds that I didn’t have carry — not by cutting tags off my clothes or shortening my spoon handle, but by losing the weight personally through training.
As for what I wore, note that I didn’t create a shopping list and go out and buy all this gear. My gear acquired over time and trail-tested as we trained for the JMT. And every single one of these items is still in service today.
How does this compare to what I wore 30 years earlier? That’s a post for another day…
Disclosure: The links in the table above go to Amazon using my affiliate link. If you do decide to purchase there, you’re also supporting SoCalHiker.net. Many thanks to those who support this website!
Wayne Fenton (@DukeSilas) says
Nice post Jeff.
I originally picked a fleece for my JMT next year but have recently changed that to a lightweight Karrimor down jacket. It’s lighter and it performed better that my fleece earlier this year when we walked 25 miles of ther Norfolk Coastal path (about 0°C temps in the day).
You’re suggestion about building the kit up over time and testing is a good one. At the moment I’m settling on a lightweight layer system with short sleeved T, long sleeved T, down jacket & water proof outer that so far is working well. Off to the Lake district in a few weeks where I will get to test the set-up further. Ultra-light is great but it has to be practical and…affordable!
I have also chosen boots so far (Mammot Cirrus GTX @ 870g/pair) which to me are light enough and have worked on all my hikes so far since last July when I got them. When compared to trail shoes (such as North Face Guides @ 768g/pair) there doesn’t seem any disadvantage in going the boot option. I also like the extra protection and support a boot gives.
Jeff Hester says
Wayne, next time I would consider swapping out the fleece for a lightweight down jacket or vest. I don’t have any experience with them, and the fleece worked well for me. The big disadvantage is that it’s fairly bulky, but it’s also very comfortable. It’s my go-to insulation layer for 3-season hiking.
With the question of boots vs trail shoes. For me, comfort was a big factor, and the added support was useful “insurance” for such a trip (I’d hate to end it early because of a turned ankle). The Keen boots were very comfortable. Next time, I would like to try lighter boots and non-waterproof/breathable next time. I might even give trail shoes a go (I use a pair of Solomon trail shoes for all my day hikes), but I would need to reduce my base pack weight before feeling comfortable using them with a load on my back.
The one comment about your layers — I would consider swapping out the long sleeved tee with a lightweight long sleeve button (or snap) front shirt. I always wore the short-sleeved tech-tee, and most mornings I would start with the long-sleeved shirt over that. The fleece (worn during breakfast and while breaking camp) would go into the pack first thing, because I would quickly warm up as I started hiking. After a mile on the trail, I could open the buttons on the shirt all the way down to stay cool, without removing my pack. Similarly, on some of the windy passes, I could button them back up and that would often be just enough warmth and protection. Consider that option for convenience and flexibility.
How much longer until your JMT trip?
Lisa Mason says
This is great. I would love to hike here someday. And now I know what to wear when I get there. 🙂
Hey thanks a lot for this list, I will start the JMT in mid August and really looking forward to this trip.
For layering I will bring for sure the Patagonia Nano Puff it insulates really well and packs small.
Jeff Hester says
You’re welcome, Sarah. And as much as I love my Marmot fleece, I think the new “puff” stuff is great choice, lighter and much more packable. Have a great time on the JMT! Are you going southbound? What is your itinerary?
I still use a fleece most of the time to, especially while hiking when it’s cold. Yeah going southbound and I go with a guided group, we start mid August. I am not comfortable enough to do a trip like that on my own so this seemed a good solution.
Brian R says
Jeff – great post. I have been investing slowly as I underestimated the importance of clothing and the impact it had on me while I was hiking in the south until I went snow camping and invested in all the correct wicking clothing, including a great Columbia Insulated Fleece, REI pants, great underlayers, a good hat, etc. I didn’t realize how much I was defeating myself in the humidity I had to struggle through. The only thing I haven’t found the solution to is boxers. I’ll take your recommendation above!
Wayne Fenton (@DukeSilas) says
I do not start my JMT until next summer! Before that we’d have completed the UK coast to coast (209 miles) and the Tour du Mont Blanc (110 miles). The C2C is general distance conditioning with the TMB being alpine/altitude training, both being great trails to boot! After these two we hit the JMT ideally with no kit or fitness issues…..just time to enjoy the views and walking (we have a 25 day route planned). If any of our kit is not right we’d have found that out by then (hopefully!).
I generally wear a long sleeved T as I’m prone to sunburn even with factor 30+ applied! I will have my mitts on a Rab Zephyr jacket tomorrow which I intend to use as a summer wind/soft shell so that may do the trick as opposed to a long sleeved T or shirt (http://rab.uk.com/products/mens-clothing/windshell/zephyr-jacket.html)
For Brian R – have you looked at Rohan Ultra silver boxers? I’m going to try a pair this summer and see how they perform (http://www.rohan.co.uk/Product/Detail/MensBaseLayers_02790). At the moment all I have are cotton based and are not much fun!
Good luck on your trip Sarah. Jealous 🙂
Awesome List, couldn’t agree more!
I’m intrigued about what you wore 30 years ago,and did you find it easier? or more enjoyable?