First Time Backpacker! JMT Gear List

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    shawn d
    BPL Member


    Hello folks of BPL,

    Yes, you read that right – I’ve never been backpacking and don’t own a single piece of backpacking gear! My sister (also a newbie backpacker) and I are going to take on the JMT this summer, starting mid-July at Lyell Canyon. We have around 26 ays to complete the trail. And yes we’ll definitely be taking 2 or 3 weekend shakedown trips beforehand.

    We both love hiking and the mountains are our soul jam so we are hopeful this will not be a one time adventure. We are fortunate to be able to invest in good lightweight gear, and I’d like to get it right the first time. I grabbed the gear list of a well known long trail thru-hiker and started tweaking. I know this might seem like overkill for a first time backpacker, and I must admit I’m a bit worried we will come across as long trail wannabe’s, but hey… even if I only hike 10 mile days on week long trips those miles will be much more pleasant with a light load. =)

    My goal is 15-ish pounds BPW, which I know is not ultralight by any means but I feel like is a reasonable goal for our first trip and while including a bear canister. I tried to choose gear that will be functional to take spring/fall trips in North Carolina, hence the 20 degree bag. Also, we will be renting the tent and bear-canister. Subtract about 30 ounces from the total below as we will split the carry of tent/cooking setup.

    So friends, there you have it. Any and all input is welcome! :)

    [edited – MK]

    shawn d
    BPL Member


    Sorry about that. The copy paste table looked fine until after I published and now I cannot edit! =(

    Here is link to gear list :

    tom lakner
    BPL Member


    Locale: midwest

    I’d say you’re on the right track especially for first time bper. Congrats



    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Looks pretty good.  If someone gives you grief about tackling such an iconic trail without previous experience, consider that a very successful thru-hiker’s and YouTuber’s (“Homemade Wanderlust”) first backpacking trip was the whole dang AT.  And she did fine.  Read up in advance, watch some vloggers, and you can be pretty dialed in.

    If you don’t know how you handle high elevation, I’d suggest you read up on that, try at least a day hike, and, immediately prior to your BPing trip, spend a few days at an intermediate or high elevation.  Even through I have below-average problems at elevation, a few nights spent high before a big trip always help me a lot.

    Brilliant of you to rent the tent and bear canister.  That 3-person tent will give you a nice amount of room and the weight isn’t not bad, especially between two people.

    That “Gossamer Gear Long-Handle Bamboo Spoon” is a great deal – for them.  I get bamboo spoons for 90 cents each, and mostly give them away (got a bag of 30 sitting at my feet right now).  Selling them for $10 is a great business model – they do compare favorably, in many ways, to titanium spoons selling for $12-18.

    It’s not great in wind, but a BRS-3000T stove for $11 and 25 grams (yeah, 0.9 ounces) beats everything else in weight, size, and cost.

    You forgot the mini-Bic.  If your stove had an ignitor, I’d bring one mini-Bic in your repair kit.  MSR Pocket Rocket 2 does not have an ignitor, so I’d have one in my kitchen kit and a spare in my repair kit.  I’d leave out that 70 gram compass (the JMT is a hard place to get lost, your phone will have GutHooks or some app on it, and your phone is a compass) before not taking a back-up lighter.  Or just take a button compass if you fret about heading the wrong way off a cloudy mountain top (except there aren’t any mountain tops, just passes and a trail that goes north-south).

    +1 on the chrome umbrella.  I find the high Sierra, mid-day, feels 10-15F cooler under mine.

    Obviously a very personal choice, but in lieu of the Diva Cup, if one is using birth control pills, she can just skip the placebo pills the last week and start the next 3 weeks of active pills, delaying menses for another month.

    Runners like hydration bladders.  I don’t.  It’s hard to tell how you much have in them, they can be hard to clean, and they freeze up for half the year (in my area).  More SmartWater bottles, Gatorade, etc, are free at the recycling center.  An extra water-bottle cap is a nice 3 grams of insurance.

    You’ll learn a lot about all of your gear on your shake-down trips, but if at all possible, use the same tent as for your JMT hike.  At an absolute minimum, when you pick up the rental tent for the JMT, find the nearest lawn, and set it up.  If you haven’t done that, for any tent, prior to a trip, you don’t really have a tent with you, IMO – rather, you have a 60-90% probability of having a complete and functional tent with you.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    A BPLer PM’ed me to express concerns that a JMT hike has some unique aspects that are difficult to appreciate from one’s computer screen.  But he didn’t want to start some raging debate so he asked me if I thought he should post his concerns or let the thread fade away. My response to him:

    Thanks for the thoughtful message. You’re right – there are significant challenges on the JMT that, combined, make it more a difficult trip to plan without specific High Sierra and thru-hiking experience under your belt.

    Since I was such a cheerleader in my response, how about I post a few more cautions in that thread? I’m 56. I learned my camping skills on Scout trips from a WWII veteran using canvas tents, wood fires, Coleman stoves and lanterns. I first learned how to backpack from a Vietnam vet using standard gear of the 1970’s. I never read Jardine’s stuff at the time, but was working in a BPing store, leading 9-day Sierra trips, and with a few hiking companions and co-workers, figuring out most of the same 1980’s UL techniques through trial and (definitely some) errors. Back then, it took experience, face-to-face discussions and mistakes to get it dialed in and all that took several years of almost monthly trips.

    It does impress me how much beginning backpackers can now learn before their first trip. Whether it’s perusing BPL, SectionHiker, or watching any of the youtube channels now dedicated to thru-hiking, some people (e.g. “Dixie” of “Homemade Wanderlust”) get really smart before their first (big) trip. While others, e.g. “Cheryl Strayed” (Cheryl Nyland) of “Wild” manage to be as bad at backpacking as she was at relationships, birth control, recreational drugs, and employment.

    Like Krakauer in “Into the Wild”, I tend to reflect on my own ill-advised trips and judge current newbies less harshly. Of course he was defending Christopher McCandless’s bare-bones (and fatal) Alaskan adventure, and I’ve had former hiking companions die on Shasta and K2 on their own more-extreme-than-David-likes trips.

    And I’m Alaskan. Amusing, slightly on-point anecdote: I was some doing trail magic for Manfred & Sons (the first time I met them) by shuttling them 300 miles north from Fairbanks to Gates of the Arctic NP. They check in with ranger at the Visitor’s Center and the ranger asks if they’ve hiked in Alaska before. “No.” Apparent total newbies proposing to go 400 off-trail, very wilderness miles in a high-water year! I wanted to interject, “they’ve done multiple JMTs, lots of other long-distance hikes, have their gear carefully selected, thoroughly tested, and have researched and planned this hike like only a German would.” But the Alaskan ranger just said, “Okay”, cautioned them about river crossings, pointed out the very few bail-out options, and handed them their permit. We Alaskans can get a little extreme in our libertarian / HYOH outlook.

    So, again, thanks for wanting to avoid some newbie / anti-newbie flame war on the forum, but you raise some great points. I’ll try to convey them in that thread.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    So, “the other perspective” now:

    The JMT is a tough place for a first backpacking experience. Sure, the AT is longer but you always have a town just a few days away to replace the shoes or other gear that isn’t working well.

    The JMT is susceptible to real storms 12 months out of the year. I’ve been on a 9-day Sierra trip in July and got hit with 3 summer storms off the Pacific in a row that gave us 8 solid days of rain.  That REALLY tests your gear, skills and cheerful attitude!  I’ve been snowed on every single month of the year in the Sierra.

    Lightning is a very real potential on the high passes, unlike in most parts of the country.  I’ve learned through long (and some bad) experiences, what developing thunderheads look like in the late afternoon in the High Sierra and have learned that sometimes, you just set up your tent at 3 pm, take a siesta, cook some soup, and hit the trail again at 6 pm when it’s blown over.

    Snowy passes, self-arrest skills (my RMI snow-travel instructor, Marty Hoey, later died on Everest), river crossings (BPL’s Hiking’ Jim was apparently the last person to see “Strawberry” alive last summer, before her fatal river crossing) are all part of the challenges.

    If they’re planning on 26 days on the trail, that suggests more than 10 days from MTR to Onion Valley which means lots of food – more than shown on the spreadsheet.  And that’s tough to get into even two bear canisters.

    The JMT is not particularly long (as thru-hikes go) but there is quite a bit of climbing. If you haven’t done lots of hills and stairs (up AND down, not a stair climber in the gym) in preparation, and then add 25-35 pounds (including food) you’re at some risk of over-use injuries, slips, trips, and falls.

    One time, on a lark when I had a long week free, I hitched to Lone Pine and Whitney Portal (no permits needed, then!).  Whitney went fine – I’d done it a bunch and the first few passes were fine, too.  But I’d totally screwed up my calorie count.  All those 9-day trips I’d done had been at the pace of the clients – 5 to 8 miles a day.  I’d done 50- and 60-mile day hikes and a GCNP Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim but not day after day.  I’d packed about 2500 calories a day instead of the 6000 I’d need to do my planned miles.  (Now, Manfred and I can figure on burning a 1/2-pound of body fat each day, but back then, I was a lean, mean, hiking machine).  At least I could do the math, so I bailed and hitched down to Big Pine and caught a Greyhound bus home.

    Which, I guess, is my big take-home (get-home) lesson: If it doesn’t look right, if it doesn’t feel right, if something isn’t adding up; be mentally and emotionally ready to regroup, ask for help or advice, down-grade the goal, or bail.  I’ve enjoyed challenging myself, but I’m also, by nature, kind of cautious.  I’ve dialed back a number of trips when the weather or the miles weren’t going my way.

    John Rowan
    BPL Member


    I started off my backpacking “career” in a somewhat similar position. I’d done one overnight in my life (a 2-mile out and back that was as much an exercise in needing to find a place to sleep as it was in outdoor recreation) when I decided to do the Wonderland Trail. It’s a bit shorter and lower than the JMT, but there’s a ton of up and down and has the potential for some proper weather. In the intervening months, I made a point of going out for as many weekend backpacking trips as possible to get a feel for my gear and also to get a sense of my wants/needs/etc. with mileage. Maybe most importantly, it gave me a chance to figure out if I even liked backpacking. The trip wound up going great, and I’ve since logged a few thousand trail miles on my feet. I’m still learning and will keep doing so till the end of my days, but there were a few things that I did that definitely helped me make wise(ish) decisions and punch above my weight, experience-wise:

    1. Read a LOT- As a starting point, I’d 100% recommend Andrew Skurka’s Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide and Justin Lichter’s Ultralight Survival Guide. The former gives a really good, objective-based approach to building and using your kit and your skills, and the latter is a great and quick “what to do in this situation” guide that was extremely helpful for my own JMT hike a few years ago, especially with lightning and weather prediction. There’s a lot about backpacking that no amount of fancy book learnin will teach you, but it’s better to encounter a new situation with a bit of knowledge, even if the execution is sloppy.
    2. Know the route really really well. Hopefully, your hike will go perfectly, but you may need to bail out. Heck, you may just need a night in a warm bed in town. Knowing your bailout points, knowing what’s at the end of your bailout points, and knowing what services are and aren’t near the trail are all huge in helping you handle a potentially problematic situation safely, and also will help with peace of mind a bit. The JMT is pretty remote terrain (comparatively, anyway), but there are numerous opportunities to get oneself back to civilization if needed.
    3. Take a multi-night trip. One of the biggest things that helped me prep for the Wonderland Trail was taking a 3-day trip on a longer and steeper trail near me (Black Forest Trail in PA). Being out for an extra night (or more) gives a very different experience over a weekend hike, and really helps to show you where the holes in your kit are and what you want/need/like. (This is BPL, but don’t completely ignore the “like” portion of the equation.)
    4. Understand that hiking sucks sometimes. I’ve had most of the best moments of my life on or near a trail. I’ve also gotten hypothermia, excruciating chafe, a dental infection, rained on, snowed on. Sometimes I was standing atop a pass looking for miles around me and awash in the wonders of nature. Sometimes I spent all day going uphill in hellishly hot conditions only to find that someone had littered the only workable campsite with poopy diapers. Learning to acknowledge the sucky parts helps you get through them and also keeps you from feeling like you’re doing something wrong when you’re having a crappy time after three days of heavy rain. (I really didn’t like the first ~80 miles of my JMT hike and came very close to quitting on a few occasions. It wound up being one of the best trips of my life.)

    As others have noted above, I’m a little hesitant to be super enthusiastic about a JMT trek as a first(ish) trip, but, by the same token, the trail isn’t going to eat you, and thoughtful study and preparation can go some of the way towards compensating for lack of experience. (Very heavy emphasis on the “some”.) At the end of the day, backpacking really is about walking while making sure you don’t starve, freeze, or get soaked.

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