The Cairn Foundation Logo

How To

Itineraries and Gear: A Blueprint for Adventure

By Alison & Sarah

Some people say that planning for an adventure is the best part. Perhaps it’s because planning pushes that “someday” notion into the realm of the tangible. Yet once that happens, the excitement of the unknown begins to set in: there will always be circumstances that put your choices and plans to the test, but careful planning can make this unknown feel fun, instead of stressful.

Planning our thru-hike of the John Muir Trail has been a bit like this. It all started with a wilderness permit application. Wilderness permits for the JMT have to be reserved through the National Parks Service 24 weeks in advance, and have become fairly competitive over the past few years due to the ever-increasing interest in thru-hiking. By a sheer stroke of luck, or perhaps because we chose to plan our trip late in the season, we clinched a permit after only two rejections. Sometimes, the third time really is a charm.

With permit in hand, we proceeded to a spreadsheet bonanza of itinerary planning – there were many, many iterations before we settled on our target pace. JMT thru-trips range from supported running feats of less than 3.5 days to month-long adventures in the wilderness. Having had many opportunities over the past years to test our ability to hike long 25-30 mile days on end, Alison and I decided to attempt the trail in just under 12 days, a pace that would significantly challenge our fitness while affording the opportunity to semi-casually sip a cup of glorified instant coffee in the morning, soak our tired feet in streams mid-day, and eat our backpacker penne pasta from the vantage point of a scenic alpine lakes prior to sun down.

To make this pace possible, we need lightweight gear allowing us to keep the base weight to a minimum. We researched the newest and lightest backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, water filters, and stoves – yes, another spreadsheet opportunity! In the end, we came up with a gear list that enables us to carry ~13 pounds of base weight. Hikers on the JMT are fortunate to have the option of caching food along the trail, which we have done in two spots, so our calculation is that with food and water, our packs will never exceed 25 pounds.

Fingers crossed that we’ve packed all of the right things and the boots hold up! Stay tuned for our redux of our choices upon our return.