HIKING & CAMPING

What’s in a Record-Setting John Muir Trail Speed Hiker’s 4-Pound Pack?

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Packing for an unsupported attempt on a fastest known time can feel overwhelming. Once the FKT attempt begins, the gear, food, and clothing can’t change: Pick up anything but water, and you invalidate it. For my unsupported John Muir Trail FKT, I packed, unpacked, and repacked multiple times out of fear of forgetting something important. An hour before starting, I dumped out my entire Gossamer Gear Backpack and repacked every single item as a final gear check. My total base weight was a hair over 4 pounds; with food and water added in, I carried 7.86 pounds.

The Strategy

When I was drawing up my gear list, I asked myself one question: What is the least I can carry and still be successful in temperatures ranging from the 30s to the high 90s and altitudes up to 14,505 feet? I initially planned to carry a lightweight down blanket but discarded it at the last minute. My only extra layers were a down jacket, gloves, a beanie, thin running sweats, and a rain jacket. I had an emergency blanket stuffed deep in my backpack if things went very poorly, but there was little room for error. 

Still, the minimalist strategy did not mean I didn’t have strategies to combat the cold or exhaustion that would set in. If I needed a substantial nap, I would empty my backpack, slide my legs into the empty compartment, and cover up my core and shoulders with the emergency blanket. If my hands needed more warmth than sun gloves could provide, I could use the Ziploc bags that my food was packed in as mittens. Rain was not in the forecast, but the lightweight and pocketless Enlightened Equipment Visp would cut the wind and help retain my body heat. Most items could be used for multiple purposes, especially in inclement weather or emergencies. 

Stick to What Works

The JMT would be a hybrid of trail running and hiking, which my gear would reflect. I used a prototype backpack from Gossamer Gossamer Gear, similar to their Kumo. The pack has larger front pockets, which gave me the versatility of carrying my water in front (similar to a running vest) or in the side pockets like a traditional backpack.

Initially, I considered bringing foldable trekking poles that would stow easily when I wasn’t using them, but I eventually settled on the LT5s from Gossamer Gear. They were my choice for races and training this year, and changing them for this effort felt reckless. From socks to shoes to clothing, I used what I had relied upon for thousands of miles leading up to this attempt, even where there were slightly lighter options available. 

Mentally, things as simple as knowing my Coros watch would last over three days without a charge gave me one less concern. An FKT is about eliminating potential issues or stressors, and the strategy begins when packing for the attempt. Janji Sweatpants were the final addition to my pack: Mt. Whitney had a forecast of 30 overnight, and one thin extra layer offered the peace of mind to worry less about what time of day I climbed above treeline. 

Lights

I carried two headlamps, rotating them throughout the night as they needed a charge. The Nitecore NU25 is rechargeable and uses the same micro USB cord as my Somewear GPS device, which eliminated the complication of bringing another charging cord. The nighttime headlamp rotation system worked seamlessly, and an electronic or charging malfunction never caused downtime. 

Did it Work?

Combined with a solid weather window and a consistent effort level, my clothing and layering system proved perfect. One hiccup: I started with one of my external batteries at less than a full charge, which is why I took a second, heavy portable charger. Failing to check the battery levels was the only glaring issue in all the planning, packing, and preparing for the trip. 

What I Would Change

Regrettably, this trip did show me that there may be a better-performing athletic shorts choice than the generic, cheap ones I wore. But other than my aversion to spending money on actual performance wear, I would show back up at Happy Isles with the same gear list again. 

JMT gear
The gear that Jeff Garmire brought on his fastest known time-setting hike of the JMT

Gear List: John Muir Trail Unsupported FKT

*I don’t know if I believe in charged crystals, but I don’t not believe in them.

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