When it comes to a gear or packing list, I’ve become a minimalist. Most of what I know I learned from a British friend of mine who has an extensive adventure travel résumé. I’ve also learned from other friends and through my own trial and error from many years of backpacking, mountain climbing, foot racing, mountain biking, and even horseback riding.
Simply put, a pack that weighs less is less of a burden. And since you are carrying the pack while hiking a strenuous trail, the John Muir Trail (JMT) in this case, a lighter burden makes a vast difference in how your day goes. And, as your day goes, so goes your hike, which is one day after another until the end.
A useful rule of thumb: if an item takes consideration, leave it out. Considering a Dutch oven? Leave it out. Sleeping bag required? Pack it. Considering the larger toothpaste because it’s a twenty-five-day trip? Leave it out. You can buy a little tube along the route. I once stepped into a small shop right on the Camino de Santiago in Sarria, Spain, and the lady running the tienda (shop) had a box of small toothpaste tubes on a shelf near the front door. Super easy and it cost me less than at home. On the JMT and other longer thru-hikes, you can include a new tube in a resupply bucket when needed.
Also consider your emotional attachment to items you think you need to carry the distance. Just because you have fond memories of sleeping in your Coleman® sleeping bag, the one with flannel lining, I suggest you not carry its ten pounds (four-and-a-half kilos) in the high Sierras. And I will repeatedly say, “Buy the lightest you can justify purchasing.” My wife gets upset with me when I cheap out on buying a piece of gear only to replace it later when the original has broken or proved itself semi-functional. Buy right and buy once, if at all possible.
You don’t always have to pay full price: watch for end-of-season deals and shop around, price checking the larger ticket items in particular. I recently met a man from California who cycled across the United States and then up the Eastern Seaboard on a bike he bought after watching the price reduce to $500 at the end of the season. When the particular bike he wanted was the only one left in the store, and the price had been reduced several times, he bought it and then rode the bike 4,400 miles (over 7,000 km), from California to Maine.
Here you may access my recommended list for the minimalist approach to hiking the John Muir Trail during the summer months.
Since it bears repeating, consider purchasing items as light as you can justify (lighter backpacking items tend to be more expensive).
When buying clothing, it’s extremely important to buy non-cotton (or low-cotton) pieces. Thin, non-cotton clothes dry quickly and effectively wick sweat from your skin. Cotton items hold moisture for a long time and cause chafing and blistering.
For specific questions, drop me a line using the contact form. You may also check out my book on hiking the Camino, a 500-mile trek in Spain, for greater detail on how I packed for and accomplished a long hike.