• 2014
  • Dec
  • 1

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - Elizabeth Wenk - the essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail

The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail

When hiking the John Muir Trail this year - were looking for a good guidebook and after a lot of reading we settled for

The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail
by Elizabeth Wenk and Kathy Morey

The book

The book consists of 4 sections

  • General Logistics - A section outlining trail logistics
  • Trail description north to south - about 80 pages
  • Trail description south to north - about 80 pages
  • The Appendix -probably the most useful part of the book

So most people will probably not take the full book with them on the hike, since only about 100 pages are useful on the trail.

General Logistics

This section outlines some very basic planning instructions on direction, timing, permits, and transportation. The section also outlines basic trail information such as food storage, campfires, and water.

So if this is not your first sierra hike you will not be getting a lot of meaningful information on this.

The hiking guide

The hiking guide makes up the core of the book - 80 pages per directions. While you would be expecting this to be the most useful part of the book, I got much more information out of the appendix than out of this section.

Elizabeth Wenk wrote a her Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between rocks and plants, and she is using this information extensively in this section, you will learn how the plants growing in any specific area of the hike are related to the specific rocks you are climbing over.
Unfortunately Elisabeth is going into excruciating detail about the plants living along the trail, while she is only giving a high level overview of animals and neglects to mention them when you pass through their habitat.

So what out for the yellow legged frog in the high altitude lakes (as you climb towards Muir Pass) and make sure to notice their gigantic tadpoles. Despite their large numbers you will not find them mentioned in the book.

The book does however give useful information on campsites and river crossings. The fauna sections I suggested to skim or skip entirely.


The appendix is actually the best part of the book. It details the location of campsites using coordinate, so you can find them onthe maps, and provides information on the resupply spots - so mostly the Muir Trail Ranch, and Reds Meadow.

Both excellent spots to resupply.


The book is somewhat useful, and has up-to-date information in it. Elisabeth seems to be hiking the trail at least once a year. The flora (and there is little of it as you get into the higher elevations) is much over-emphasized and fauna barely mentioned.

Nevertheless - the book makes for a good read, at night in you sleeping bag, getting ready for the next day.
We did in fact scan its pages, so we could read it on an amazon Kindle - which by itself was lighter than the book.

You can find more on how to turn a book into an ebook for your personal use in a future post.


The latest edition of book is now also available for kindle (here - so you will not need to scan it yourself:

  • 2014
  • Oct
  • 13

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Hiking Hacks - Building a tripod

The Problem

When hiking the John Muir Trail this year - we camped on the Bighorn Plateau - which is a beautiful spot, though camping there is very exposed. So there is not a single tree to be seen.

Now - when at camp we usually hang our water bladder from a tree, and also put up a cloth line but that needs at least one strong fix point.

The Solution

Without a tree we decided to build a tripod.
This is the bill of material:

  • 3x Hiking poles
  • 1x MSR Ultralight Utility Cord Kit

We used a simple tripod lashing:

Start with putting the 3 hiking poles next to each other… leave about 1.5 times the handle width in space between them, and start with a clove hitch.
Go above and below the poles 3 to 5 times.
Finish it up with an additional clove hitch.
Turn the center pole a couple of times until you feel the contraption turn stable

For added stability you can run the line around the poles after standing the tripod up.

To stand the tripod simply put one of the poles at the end between the other two and finally hang the water bladder from the tripod. Very simple, effective, and efficient. It also worked perfectly as the counterpoint for the cloth line (simply by attaching the loose end to the tent).

This is what it looks like in the wild:


  • 2014
  • Oct
  • 6

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - Shelter/Tent

For our hike of the John Muir Trail this summer we were carrying a full tent for a shelter.

h2. Before the Hike

After quite some research the tent we picked was a new MSR release.
So this is the pack list we ended up:

On the trail

While on the trail we pitched the tent on granite, sandy ground, forrest grounds, and fairly rocky ground and the the tent got wet and froze. When wet the tent was drying quickly and handled easily.
It is somewhat hard to pitch for single person, since the “double Y” single tent pole while being super handy is somewhat unwieldy for a single person to handle.

But - we also realized that if the Needle stakes hit a root they are extremely hard to extract. On one occasion we did spend about 45 minutes until we got it back - eventually using the trowel we did manage to get our stake back. But on the flip side - the stakes did hold every single day.

The tent comes with an over-sized bag - which opens along the long side - which makes it super easy to put the tent back into its bag. Which makes you wonder why you spent the last decades pushing tightly rolled tent rolls into tiny bags.

The tent has 2 doors, to the side, which makes it way more comfortable than our previous front entry only tadpole tent. It also comes with two vestibules which allowed us to store most our gear during a nightly downpour.


The tent worked out perfectly.
I would wish for the footprint to extend beyond the actual size of the tent floor and allow to keep at least the cloths and some other gear of the ground. Interestingly in the future I will try to hang some things inside the vestibule from the spreader pole.

  • 2014
  • Sep
  • 19

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - Cooking System

For our hike of the John Muir Trail this summer we were carrying a gas powered cooking system.
I want to document some of the lessons learned.

Before the Hike

In the UL hiking community it is somewhat frowned upon - but be decided to carry a cooking system for warm food on the trail. We even carried Starbucks VIA coffee for a relaxed morning coffee before hitting the trail and in some cases even had warm breakfast rice to start the day.

Before the hike we did decide for a couple of pieces of gear:

Our resupply included a replacement pack of matches, and Muir Trail Ranch is selling Primus Power Gas at a fair price.

On the trail

Our morning always started with boiling about a liter (2 Snow Peak Cups) worth of water - for our morning coffee (Starbucks VIA tasks great on the trail). The lid went onto the pot - upside down - so it would not fall off. And the bottom cover was used a a bowl for cereal. While the water was heating up one of the cups was used to mix the powdered milk with some cold water for the cereal bowl.

We found out that it is possible to fit the sporks and the canister stand into a cup, and one cup and the cooker into the pot. To avoid scratching the inside of the pot too badly the above listed tyrek sheet was used to wrap everything. It lasted 20 days, no problem, and would have lasted longer if needed. Tyrek can also be washed with water and soap should be need arise.

The second cup is used for lunch (mostly dehydrated humus) and is thus stored accessible in the pack, while the pot with the rest of the cooking gear can be stored deep in the pack.

Unfortunately the igniter of the jetboil is a bit moody - it doesn’t work when it is cold, or if you are too high - so we decided to bring a box of matches - but the strike pad on the matches got moist and the matches also did not work too well above 8k feet. So we learned two things - if you cup your hand over the igniter you can collect enough gas underneath your hand to create a combustible mixture, if you press the igniter be ready to pull your hand away. Don’t wear anything flammable (frogg toggs) while doing this. Also be careful not to touch the igniter while pressing the button - the piezo discharge is quite strong.


So next time - I would take an exotac polystriker or nanoStriker with me - it is 10g more than the match box, but it might prevent me from having to put my hand into a gas flame. Together with some rubbing alcohol from the first aid kit, and some bandage pieces it would also allow me to easily start a fire if needed. (We actually did not make a single camp fire on the JMT thru-hike).

The Primus Power Gas lasted for at at least 14 liters (at which point we replaced it with plenty of gas to spare) at the MTR. My current estimate is that we use a maximum of 25g of gas a day for about 2l of hot water. The gas amount needed varies greatly with wind, elevation and initial water temperature. We mostly used the Jetboil at 50%. So one 230g cartridge lasts us 10-12 days.

  • 2014
  • Sep
  • 15

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - Sleep System

For our hike of the John Muir Trail this summer we were using a brand new sleep system.
I want to document some of the lessons learned.

Equipment Choices

In the past we have spent some time in the high Sierra (for example hiking the Rae Lakes Loop) and have previously encountered very cold nights. In some cases we have seen water frozen inside the tent. So in preparation for the John Muir Trail we decided to invest in some warmer solutions.

On the trail

The THERM-A-REST pads come with their own bag, which allows to inflate the bags quickly, this also keeps your moist breath out of the bag, and limits condensation inside the bag.
When we first slept on the pads we both where afraid that the sounds they make when moving might keep us awake during the night, but it turns out that these sounds are really not a problem at all.

The choice of a separate base layer for sleeping instead of a liner also created the option to wear the base layer around camp when the evening turned called, or would have enabled us to wear it as base layer in very cold conditions - but luckily it never got that cold on our hike. Having a separate base layer also kept the sleeping bags clear and us warm.

Our down jackets where turned into pillows during the night. This worked particularly well for the Sierra Design Jacked with a hood - my wife was able to basically fold the entire jacket into the hood which created a very stable and perfectly sized pillow.

We both found that wearing a warm hat helped a lot in cold nights.


We have never slept as well as we have with the above mentioned sleep system.
In Yosemite Valley we slept in quite warm weather, and simply left the sleeping bags open the coldest night was in the upper Vidette Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park. Temperature in that night must have been well below freezing (since most our gear and the ground was frozen).