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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Plan: Doing Ultralight Right

In 10 days, carrying just 25 pounds, you can pound through the John Muir Trail...happily. Get the plan.

by: Michael Lanza

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Fastpacking the JMT isn't just for the lunatic fringe: Summer conditions make it a perfect place for any hiker to go light. That said, our group found seven days pretty brutal. More reasonable? Take 10. Fit backpackers who avoid the worst afternoon heat and keep their packs under 25 pounds can average 22 miles a day without killing themselves. Here's how.


  • Hike north to south to adjust gradually to the highest elevations.
  • Start early every day. Hike in the cool morning and evening hours, and rest during the afternoon heat.
  • Plan fewer miles on days when your pack is heaviest, and more miles when you're traveling light.
  • Hiking southbound, the hardest climbs are to Mather Pass, Glen Pass, Forester Pass, and Trail Crest/Mt. Whitney. If possible, avoid these in the afternoon.

Resupply Logistics

  • From Yosemite Valley, carry only hydration packs for the 22 miles to Tuolumne. Have your backpacking gear and food waiting. Eat a big meal in the Tuolumne café.
  • At Red's Meadow (800-292-7758 or 760-934-2345,, resupply for the next 50 miles by mailing or delivering packages in advance (for a fee). Or have a buddy meet you. Eat at the Mule House Café.
  • Resupply a final time at Muir Trail Ranch (209-966-3195,, about a mile off the JMT near the path's midpoint. Ship non-perishable food in advance; a fee is charged.

Eating and Drinking

  • Go liquid light. Water is plentiful along the JMT, so carry only 1 to 1.5 liters (2-3 lbs.). Bring energy drinks to keep your body primed with electrolytes.
  • Don't overpack food. You won't eat more than 4,000 calories a day. Weigh your food and keep it to 2 lbs./day–or less.
  • Really slash weight. Ditch the stove and fuel in favor of dry foods: peanut butter, tortillas, cheese, pepperoni, dried fruits, nuts, sesame sticks, and peanut M&Ms. You'll appreciate the convenience when you're tired.

The JMT has 40,000-plus feet of uphill and 36,000 feet of down. You can't do it off the couch.

  • Establish a program. At least three months prior, begin a four-week cycle, building up from a "rest" week of 3-4 light workouts to a "peak" week of 5-7 hard workouts. Plan a rest week to fall right before your hike.
  • Wear a pack. Carry 10-20 lbs. on training hikes, stairs, or machines, or 5-6 lbs. for running.
  • Cross-train. Do 2-3 hours per week of core exercises, yoga/stretching, and weight training.
  • Hit the trail. Schedule two or more steep dayhikes a month; push your pace. Build up to a shakedown overnight hike with consecutive 25-mile days carrying your thru-hiking gear and food.
  • Train your mind. Break down big-mileage days into pieces that seem less daunting–how far you'll go by mid-morning, by your afternoon rest, by dinner, by camp.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Dave in California
Feb 23, 2014

Nice hike. The horsepackers all seem to have little dogs along.

Leave the dog at home, and bring along a smoking hot brunette. With sad eyes. And a stunning figure.

Star Star Star Star Star
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Apr 27, 2012

Hi all!
I am looking for a 15-day JMT itinerary for this summer 2012 with no rest days (I will add them where I need them). The only itineraries I can find are 21-day hikes, but they don't give me an idea of which campsites to prioritize. Can anyone help me out? Thanks.

Apr 27, 2012

I'm looking for a 15-day JMT itinerary for this summer, with no rest days (I will add them in where needed). Can anyone help me out? I hear talk of experienced hikers accomplishing this, but all I can find are 21-day itineraries that don't give me an idea of what campsites I could easily skip without hurting the aesthetic appeal of the trail.

Byron n
Dec 17, 2011

Nov 27, 2011

Hello Andy,
Thanks for the good info. I went out on Sept7 and had a great fasthike; H.I. to upper Lyell on day one, to R.M. on day two and to Mono Pass junction on day three. A heck of a storm broke out that evening (rain, hail, snow, the works). I was not willing to weather a week-long forcasted storm so I exited at VVR. What made me glad was reading your seven day and this report. My tactics were very similar and up to par with your advice. (PS, dogs are not allowed on national trails. I guess the exception would be a recognized disabled person's working dog.)
Good times!!

Ken H.
Jun 09, 2011

We did the sections of the PCT/JMT with mt Bernese Mountain Dog (Q) in 2005 (a friend, me and dog) and 2009 (me and my dog) from Silver Lake up to Thousand Island Lake (not allowed in Yosemite) and south coming out at Piute Pass and to North Lake/Bishop. We stopped both times at Lake Edison Vermilion Valley Resort for great steaks, beer and a re-supply. (they pick you up and ferry you to the resort) Q did great with no sore paws, except maybe one evening. Q died of K9 cancer in March, but I'm thinking of repeating it with my new dog.... Ken H.

the buckaroo
Jun 09, 2011

...hey andy...dogs horses, mules, llamas are all JMT approved, except in the valley portion.

Jun 09, 2011

@andy - you can't do the entire JMT with a dog because the national parks do not allow dogs on backcountry trails. there are only something like 100ish (non-consecutive) miles of the jmt that are dog-friendly - the longest stretch being about 70 miles from rush creek trail to piute canyon.

Jun 09, 2011

Has anyone tried it with a dog?

Mar 30, 2010

I'm not sure why you would try to pound out a great trail in ten days. Give yourself 14 and enjoy it.

Jul 21, 2008

I decided to start in Yosemite after all. Starting Aug 10!

Bryan L. Allen
Jun 19, 2008

Previous poster Jim mentioned "permits not available for Yosemite." I did the JMT in 2007 and started at Glacier Point to avoid this problem; typically lots of permits from there. I've hiked up from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley many times so going via Glacier Point was new and fresh. Google "bryanlallen" for details.

May 11, 2008

This itinerary sounds tough but I'm going to try to get close. With permits not available for Yosemite I'm starting at Red's Meadow and hiking north, then grabbing the YARTS bus from Happy Isles back to Mammoth and starting south. Logistically it makes car shuttle and resupply at Red's easier, though it does break the continuity a bit. My plan allows 15 days which will hopefully include two rest days.


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