• 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
  • 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.