• 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).

  • 2014
  • Sep
  • 15

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

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

The Equipment

The water filtering equipment is all from about 2006:

New for this hike is that the the Camelbak mouth pieces have been replaced with the Camelbak HydroLink Filter Adapter in order to easily allow filtering straight into the reservoir.

The metal weight attached to the pre-filter of the katadyn guide pro has been removed.

On the trail

Filtering the water into the reservoir worked perfectly fine. When hiking in excess of 10 miles we made it a habit to filter an additional 30 pump motions (about 1l) at lunch time per reservoir - this worked fine without even removing the reservoir from the backpack. And on the JMT creeks are usually easily available and close by the trail to allow for easy access. The long hoses on the filter also made connecting the water sources and the reservoir very easy.
The direct connection between the filter and the reservoir streamlined the entire water filtering process.I can only recommend to use the filter adapter.

The 2l platypus bottle was only used once in order to filter some extra water when we wanted to leave camp with full reservoirs and not spent time filtering in the morning. But in the past we have encountered larger dry areas when hiking the sierra in late summer, so it makes sense to be prepared for these situations.

When hiking up to Mt.Whitney I used the cloth-line to turn the 3l unbottle into a summit-pack and carried water for both of us up to the top. This worked great and would have been impossible with a “reservoir only” setup.


The water system worked perfectly. The new more lightweight water reservoirs would probably have helped reduce weight, but since we are also hanging the unbottles from trees or a hiking pole tri-pod we like the added protection the sleeves give it.

The only downside of the 2006 unbottle versus the current model is the now significantly improved lid of the latest model.The 2006 model is very hard to open especially in cold conditions, but with the filter adapter this is not an issue.

The water filter is good for roughly 200 gallons of fresh water - and even though stored outside the tent in freezing temperatures worked as expected. Replacement cartridges are available online.

  • 2014
  • Sep
  • 15

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - Rain Gear

Before the Hike

For our John Muir Trail hike this summer I spent a long time talking about foul weather gear. After plenty of discussion and reading lots of different reviews we ended up with this pile of raingear at home:

We also thought about putting a trash compactor bag inside our packs and used tyrek bags to store the Frogg Toggs.

Seeing it work out

We decided to take the Frogg Toggs Suits, as well as the backpack covers on the trail.

When we pitched our tent at Arrowhead Lake everything was great, the sun was shining, and it was perfectly warm, a perfect High Sierra day. At 1.30am a storm started, and it was raining cats and dogs on the tent, which gave us the great opportunity to test our gear under rain conditions.

Backpack Covers
The backpack covers worked just fine, they fit around the entire backpack and prevent not only the content of the pack but also the pack itself from getting wet. Cloth that were on the cloth line did not dry underneath the cover till evening - but that is not a surprise - it was raining all day and we were walking through clouds and hale showers. When pitching the tent at night on soggy ground in the woods the backpack cover provided a dry spot to put the backpack, and some other not entirely wet gear.

Our covers are black - but planning for the worst, a high visibility cover is probably a good way to carry something bright to get attention in an emergency.

Frogg Toggs
The Frogg Toggs Suits proved to be a life saver. Due to their size they went easily over our regular gear, and kept the rain away all day. The hood covered the head, plus the warm hat easily. The elastic cuffs kept rain out and the shirts underneath dry. The Frogg Toggs did hold up to the friction of the pack and did not leak. I am glad we did carry them.

Now - if you read about Frogg Toggs there is plenty of talk about their great breath-ability. I found that to be totally overrated. They keep the rain out, and they block the wind - but if you are going up a pass or hiking a decent speed you will get wet.

Think about the material as a waterproof outside layer directly bound to an textile-like inner layer, which will accept some sweat but it will quickly get very warm and humidity inside the suit will rise quickly. I found myself opening the hood, and the jacket constantly, and trying to vent the pants. Now this is the same I did see with much heavier raingear when hiking the Great Glen Way in Scotland some years ago. Maybe some pricier and heavier gear would be more breathable.


At less than a pound for the full suit I think this is an excellent piece of gear. Oh and did I mention that the pants are not only keeping the water away but also work great to keeps mosquitoes at bay which simply can’t bite through it?

  • 2014
  • Sep
  • 14

JMT - John Muir Trail 2014 - Gear Review - First Aid Kit

For our John Muir Trail hike this summer I was preparing a “First Aid Kit”. First Aid in your normal urban scenario usually only deals with stabilizing a patient and getting help - which usually arrives in minutes - on the trail even if you are carrying a SPOT or satellite phone (and we don’t) you can expect help to take hours to arrive.

My wilderness first aid kit covers a lot more than that - and is designed to help us keep going and be light and small - since you don’t want it to be in the way, or in the bottom of the pack and it needs to fit into the bear canister during the night.

Without sunscreen (see below) this “urgent care” pack is at 413g/14oz

Every day

On the trail during the day you will mostly be looking at blister prevention and blisters, so lets start with that:

I never believed it - but it seems to work wonders. If you haven’t tried it - get the smallest size and give it a shot, you might be equally surprised.

Athletic Tape
I did bring “Leukotape P” which works great to cover hot spots, also holds bandages in place firmly. It gets increasingly difficult to remove the glue from feet and socks, after some time - so I would try KT tape pro (uncut) the next time. But the tape works great! which ever type you bring - test it before for allergic reactions and to ensure that it sticks well to your feet.

Blister Bandages
These are a last resort - if a blister develops and opens and leaves you with raw feet you need to cover the wound and help it heal. Nothing I have found works as well as blister bandages. My kit includes 10 blister bandages, but we needed none. In the future I would probably take 5.

Injection Needles
Eventually you will be developing some blisters, and if you need to walk the next day you need to puncture and drain blisters. You might need to talk to your doctor to get injection needles. Otherwise insulin syringes will work as well, but the needles are very short, too small to easily drain blisters and bend easily.

As a general antiseptic I carry iodine tincture in a tiny bottle. It costs nothing and works great. It can be applied to any bandage and does not affect the adhesive of the bandages like antibiotic ointments do. 5ml are sufficient for a long time.

Other small bandages
I also carry some small finger bandages and finger cots since both my wife and I have had cuts in our fingers before. For covering other small cuts and bruises I carry Antibiotic Fabric Bandages in 2 sizes - 10 of each size, which seems to be a good amount. These can also be used underneath the athletic tape to cover blisters if needed. In that case I would cut off excess adhesive parts.

Severe Issues

For more severe issues my first aid kit includes:

Surgical Gloves
When handling open wounds you need to ensure that you are not introducing any contamination, and in case you or your hiking partner has an open injury you don’t want to start out with taking minutes to wash your hands. If you are encountering a 3rd party you might want to protect yourself as well. I am thus carrying 2 pairs of surgical gloves.

Elastic Bandages
I carry elastic ACE bandages in 2 sizes (1x small and 1x medium), with clips, in order to stabilize joints, or fractures. I chose the once with clips since the clips can be reused, even if the bandage needs to be cut.

Triangular Bandage
This is also a great multi-use item, similar to the elastic bandage it can be used for anything from holding a gauze in place, to help splint broken bones, as slings for broken arms, broken collar bones, or dislocated shoulders and in the worst case it can also be useful as tourniquets, which can stop severe bleeding if really necessary.

Butterfly Wound Closures
If there are any deeper cuts to cover - I carry 2 of these small closures, they are super light weight, and might save the day.

Sterile Pads
In case of a strongly bleeding wound or it a blister exceeds the size of the bandages mentioned above, I do carry 8 sterile pads (4x 2′’x2′’ & 4x 3′’x3′’). These can easily be cut to size to work cover wounds and be hold in place by the elastic bandages mentioned above, or the triangular bandage or make for a custom size adhesive bandage when combined with the athletic tape.


For headaches and altitude sickness, as well as pain pain relieve in case of a major injury I carry ibuprofen. In contrast to aspirin it does not affect the blood coagulation. It also helps with inflammations.

For severe cold symptoms/fever - I carry the content of 3 bags, assuming that after 3 days I should be getting better.

If you encounter something you did not know you where allergic to:
Diphenhydramine HCI 25mg

Skin Irritations
To cover for allergic skin reactions, unexplained rashes, and even poison oak I carry 3x 1g of Hydrocotisone cream 1%. In the future I will also take some skin ointment.

All drinking water should be filtered (I prefer a water filter over chemical treatment) but you will be washing yourself in lakes and creeks, and at the edge of civilization there are some rather suspicious water sources…
Loperamide HCL 2mg

I know this is somewhat controversial, but I carry ciprofloxacin in my “first” aid kit. It can help in cases of severe urinary tract infections, lower respiratory tract infections, and animal bites. All of which are probably reasons to head for the the next exit. But if this is 5 days away better start early and not let an animal bite fester for 5 days.

Cranberry Extract
For minor urinal track infections I am also carrying some cranberry extract capsules. There effectiveness is controversial but at 5g for 14 capsules they are worth the extra weight.

Athlete’s foot
If the pure thought of staying at a Motel (even one as perfectly clean as the Dow Motel in Lone Pine) makes your feet itch I suggest you carry something against athlete’s foot - Undecylenic Acid tincture is probably the lightest you can get.Especially in a 5ml eye dropper.

Tools and Parts

Of course you also need some basic tools:

When you buy tweezers, make sure you get pointed tweezers that close tight and allow you to grab really tiny things. You might use them to grab dirt out of a wound, or pick a tick (probably not on the JMT), or extract a splinter.

If you carry a swiss army knife you don’t need separate scissors, the tiny pair in those knifes works great for cutting bandages, athletes tape, etc. But I would not reply on the tweezers included there.

Duct Tape
A small role of duct tape that can be used for anything from fixing clothes, raingear and tents can also be used to attach bandages and splints, so it ended up in the first aid kit. I would not use it on hot-spots or even blisters, athletic tape is designed to go on skin, duct tape is not. i

Zip Ties
For backpack repairs and other emergencies I am carrying two small zip ties in my first aid kit.

Sleeping Pad Repair Kit
The sleeping pad repair kit includes alcohol pads and rubber stickers and I have decided to also carry it in the fist aid kit. In the future I would leave the alcohol pads at home, and carry some rubbing alcohol instead.

Lessons learned

Not needed
Dr Scholl’s Moleskin will not be included in my pack in the future - athletic tape, pro glide and small bandages seem sufficient and have more uses than moleskin.

I will also take fewer blister bandages.

What worked well
We have decided to store the sunscreen in the first aid kit, since it needs to be readily accessible, like the first aid kit. 3 FL OZ of SPF 30 worked well for 2 people and 10 days and would probably have lasted another 2 or 3 days.

and I will fill the tinctures above in 5ml eye dropper bottles to reduce weight.

In order to keep the information for the different drugs at hand I scanned those and put them as PDFs on our amazon kindle. This worked very well.

We packed everything in a bright orange eagle creek bag which was always very visible, and much more robust than a zip-lock bag.

What else to include or do

  • 5ml surgical alcohol
  • 5ml skin healing ointment

I hope this pack list helps you identify what you might want to take on your next trip.