How to Train for the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, central California Photo credit: Miguel Vieira, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

The Allure of the Trail

Any serious thru-hiker will have the John Muir Trail on his or her bucket list. In a few short weeks I will begin hiking the 215-mile long trail for the first time. I am looking forward to my latest trip (of a lifetime) as I finish the last few weeks of my conditioning schedule. I want to share some thoughts on how to prepare for the John Muir Trail.

High Country Along the John Muir Trail Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

High Country Along the John Muir Trail
Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC By 2.0

Also known as the JMT, the John Muir Trail is considered to be a serious trekking endeavor. The trail’s website states that it “is the premier hiking trail in the United States. The trail starts in America’s treasure, Yosemite National Park, and continues 215 miles through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft.” Due to the length and terrain, this particular trail is not to be taken lightly.

Successfully hiking the trail requires a lot of advance preparation including setting dates and securing wilderness permits; obtaining the proper gear and food; organizing resupply drops and communications plans; enlisting the help of family, friends, and public transportation (or hitchhiking) to get to and from trailheads; and, not to be forgotten, doing sufficient physical conditioning. I will address some of these details in future posts.


Train for the Trail: A Strategy for Enjoying the John Muir Trail

My most recent post in my adventure travel preparation series provided you with a generic training plan based on progressive training methods that can be modified to meet almost any adventure goal. My philosophy is that consistent training will lead to genuine enjoyment on your trek.

As I have been training, I’ve used my generic training plan to create a schedule specific to hiking the high mountain terrain of the John Muir Trail. You may use the schedule I’ve developed below, or create your own plan with my Excel spreadsheet.

WEEK Long walk for week* (mi.) Total for week** (mi.) Mon. Tues. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Sun.
1 3+*** mi. 5+ mi.
2 3+ mi. 5+ mi.
3 4+ mi. 10+ mi.
4 3+ mi. 5+ mi.
5 4+ mi. 10+ mi.
6 5+ mi. 10+ mi.
7 6+ mi. 20+ mi.
Begin walking some hills
8 7+ mi. 30+ mi.
Mix in hills
9 8+ mi. 20+ mi.
Mix in hills
10 10+ mi. 30+ mi.
Mix in hills
11 10+ mi. 40+ mi.
Start carrying backpack; keep up some hill training
12 10+ mi. 30+ mi.
Carry backpack; keep up the hills
13 10+ mi. 40+ mi.
Carry backpack; keep up the hills
14 10+ mi. 30+ mi.
Carry backpack; keep up the hills

Note: Schedule each week a week in advance.

*At least one walk per week should be the long walk

**Total mileage for the week should equal the weekly total number

***The plus symbol (“+”) indicates that the more walking you do, the more you will enjoy your time on the JMT

Now you have a couple of tools to help you condition for the John Muir Trail. The advantage of these plans is that your training doesn’t have to be a huge daunting effort–your physical exertion will develop gradually. As you faithfully work through your schedule, look only a day or week ahead. There’s no need to burdened by something weeks ahead; you’ll get there soon enough!

These plans mention mixing in hills and carrying a pack while training, but you also need to plan for the temperatures you will encounter. The first time I trained for a 100‐mile endurance run, I did my serious mileage in the heart of winter. As the race approached, the weather was still cooler than normal but on race weekend the temperature shot up and I dropped out of the race at mile thirty! It was my first‐ever DNF (did not finish). The next time I trained for that race, I mixed in hot yoga to acclimate myself for race day heat. It worked wonders and I finished the race.

Please Don’t Take This Trail Lightly Photo credit: Cullen238, Creative Commons, CC BY 3.0

Please Don’t Take This Trail Lightly
Photo credit: Cullen238, Creative Commons, CC By 3.0

The point is, train for your adventure as if you are already there. Prepare as closely as possible for your expected environment, and  work out any issues with gear, shoes, or other components of your travel plans. You’ll be ready to tackle the trail!

One comment on “How to Train for the John Muir Trail”

  1. […] was not as big a deal as it could have been, thanks to adequate preparation! See my blog post, How To Train For The John Muir Trail, for more specific […]

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