A lighterpack list gives you an overview of what I carried and used on trail, including 2 l water and 6 kg of food. It is not 100% complete so there may be a few 100 g extra for some ziplock bags, paper backups of reservations and tickets, and some items carried only on a part of the trail. I also could never weight the maximum amount of food – take it as an estimation.
My base weight around 13.5 kg does not qualify for lightweight anymore, but one should consider 2.5 kg of photographic equipment. Without this and without the crampons it would have been close to 10 kg. A further reduction by 2 kg would be possible without loss of comfort or safety, leaving stuff at home and using more expensive lightweight alternatives.
I used a combination of an expensive backpack and sleeping pad, for which I thought to know what I wanted, with a cheap tent and sleeping bag for try out.
- Backpack: the Seek Outside Divide 4500 carries very comfortably even with a high load. Worth every extra gram. Well adjusted you have no vertical load at all on your shoulders, and the waist belt is wide and well cushioned. The XPac 21 material is waterproof but you have to seam-seal the bag yourself. The construction with a roll-top, big mesh pocket and two side pockets is similar to many lightweight packs.
- Tent: I wanted to buy a Zpacks Duplex in the US but delivery went wrong. I was lucky to have planned for this case in advance, and had a cheap LanShan 2 with me. This tent of a similar construction, but SilNylon instead of DCF, and with a mesh inner tent, worked very well for me, it is just 500 g heavier but protects a bit better from condensation.
- Sleeping pad: comfortable as long as it did not leak. In the repair process Thermarest patched 7 (!) spots, and I have no idea what I did wrong. The patches are all on the lines where you fold the pad before rolling it up. I fear they have a severe quality problem in the moment as their reputation has been good in the past. The second pad which I had bought in the US as replacement also started leaking after a few days so that I directly returned it to REI. I will perhaps carry an extra foam matress in future.
- Sleeping bag: was much too warm, I never really used it as a bag, but like a quilt with a footbox. Here I can save weight (500 g).
- Pillow: very happy about it in the begin, but later just used the puffy coat as pillow. I may drop it.
Before the hike I was quite unsure about the right clothing for me, therefore carried more items than I needed. With the beautiful weather I hiked in a T shirt only, but prefered long hiking pants (convertible for creek crossings) over shorts. Items I never used: wool gloves, long sleeve shirt, rain trousers. The 3rd (merino wool) T shirt was neither necessary. I could have saved 600 g.
I liked the hooded puffy coat a lot, both in the morning and evening, then also against mosquitos.
Boots vs. trail runners? – an often disputed subject. After a test in the Alps including snowy terrain I decided to go with Altra trail runners and Darn Tough wool socks – quasi the PCT standard footwear. It was the right decision. My findings:
- no blisters. Not a single one, after 400 km and >15.000 m elevation gain and loss, each.
- lightweight footwear allows easier walking.
- fast drying after wet trails, snow, and creek fords; very breathable.
Walking through creeks with them isn’t a problem, no reason to switch to other less safe shoes then. They feel really wet for perhaps 10-15 minutes after the crossing, and have nearly reached again their normal dry state within half an hour of walking on a sunny day. Sometimes the cold water at the feet was even nice if it was hot. Snow and icy water is also ok as long as you move.
I do not believe in a positive effect of hiking boots against rolling ankles. Your muscles have to control your ankle and the position of your foot, hiking boots can and should not be stiff enough to fix the joint, like ski boots do. You just must be careful where to step, to avoid a twist in your ankle. The grip of the soles of the Altra Lone Peak is as good as with any boot, you are very safe with them.
But I also found disadvantages of trail runners vs boots:
- protection of the ankle against a collision with a stone. This happened to me more than once, was painful in the moment but without further consequence.
- rapid wear-out. The stone/shock protection of the sole decreased during the hike, easy to prove by a compare between the used shoes and a new pair. I felt this decrease already after <200 km. It may be less of an issue if your body weight is lower than mine (100 kg net at start, so 125 kg with clothes and pack)
I did not use gaiters and did not miss them.
Apart from trekking poles I carried light crampons from Salewa (older version of current Alpinist Aluminium). I used them only once where they helped me to choose a better alternative track in the snow north of Forester Pass, but I could also have walked there without them a bit slower in the established boot track. If you need to use crampons for longer stretches you should prefer boots over trail runners, but for a very short section the combination works.
If I had hiked a few weeks earlier I would have been very happy about my crampons, but 2019 was a high snow year – under normal conditions in August you do not need anything. – I am still not convinced of a possible benefit of the popular micro-spikes instead, my test on slushy snow showed no real advantage over bare shoes, and they are just 260 g lighter than these crampons, at 420 g vs. 680 g. Micro-spikes may work better on crusted snow, and with less body weight.
There are several options for water treatment:
- boil the water
- use added chemicals
- use a UV light pen
- filter the water
All methods have their pros and cons and different efficiency against different contamination, e. g. filtering does not remove viruses while the other three do not remove mud. Boil all water is no real option in the summer because it consumes much time and gas.
Generally the water on the JMT is of good quality, in particular when fetched from creeks, but sometimes you may be forced to use a lake too. In the Alps I never treat water. But the US is well known for giardia parasites causing severe diarrhea, sometimes for weeks. Nothing you want to suffer on a hike, so I was careful though giardia is usually diffused by cattle and thus not often found in NPs.
I filtered my water; the most used water filter brand is Sawyer. Buy the normal size, not the mini, for its larger throughput. I did not have to backflush the filter during the 25 days. If a cold night may be pending take the filter with you into your sleeping bag, it must not freeze and would be destroyed by ice inside.
I used a technique popularized by long distance hikers (AT/PCT) who filter the water when they use it, not when they collect it. Then you can just fill the water container with unfiltered water and do not need extra time nor separate containers for treated and untreated water. This works best when you directly screw the filter on a bottle with the same thread and drink through the filter.
I also followed their choice of bottles. The Glacéau SmartWater brand is a typical example for american insanity – this water is first distilled and then re-salted – but the bottles are well suited as water containers for hiking, especially the 1 l size (yes, they are also available in liter sizes, not only in fl oz). The bottle is slim so that you can collect water from low-running creeks, and also fits well into the backpack’s side pocket, has the right thread, and is reasonably sturdy to survive for some time but still can be compressed comfortably while drinking.
The brand is omnipresent at stores for 1 $ per bottle. I had three of them with me and one in each resupply for replacement. I also bought one 0.7 l (23.7 fl oz) bottle of the same brand which is delivered with a threaded nozzle (“sports cap”) which you can use on all sizes, and this nozzle is ideal to backflush the filter without the Sawyer standard solution (syringe and hose). I just carried the nozzle in my replacement parts bag, and the filter itself – anything else from the Sawyer kit stayed at home.
In most parts of the JMT you are required to carry a bear canister where you store your food and possibly other (smellable) items. A bear canisters is built and tested to withstand a bear’s attempt to open or destroy it and get the food.
This is a good practice – the only alternative, to hang food in a bag with a rope out of a bear’s reach, needs good skills, and something where you can hang it, preferably a tree – not available above the tree line. You may not want to sleep with your food in your tent, and must never leave it outside unprotected.
A few camp sites have bear boxes, heavy steel containers, where you can store your food, but you should not rely on this alternative as they may be out of order, or you do not make it to this place in time, and what do you do then?
Bear cans are for your own and the bears’ safety. Ranger may check not only your permit but also your bear canister on the trail. All bear cans are built in cylindrical shape out of a moderately strong but not too heavy material, with a lid which is locked by a mechanism a bear cannot operate. You must carry a bear can approved by the land authority, in this case Yosemite’s administration. They also rent bear cans if you do not want to buy one, but only the reliable, but small and heavy Garcia 812 model.
The most popular types of bear cans seen on trail are:
- BearVault BV 500: 11.5 l at 1160 g weight, polycarbonate
- Garcia 812: 10 l at 1250 g weight, ABS
- Bearikade Blazer: 12 l at 940 g weight, carbon fibre tube with aluminium lids
- Bearikade Expedition: 14.5 l at 1030 g weight, carbon fibre tube with aluminium lids
The Bearikades are by a factor of 4-5 more expensive than the other two, so you pay high to save a little weight. You can rent the Bearikade Expedition for your trip, while a 3 week rent may cost about the same as the price to buy a BV500. The Bearikade is not accepted everywhere in the US as it seems to have failed a test with a grizzly, but serves for the western parks where there are only black bears.
Initially I had planned to rent a Bearikade for the highest food volume, but I then bought a BV500 at REI during Independence Day sale at a discounted price. Checking it at home I found the manufacturer’s spec to be exaggerated, true volume with open lid until the absolute top is 10.5 l, at least if my water weights 1 kg/l. The weight is around 1200 g.