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…
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