Ultralight Thru Hiking Gear List

Note: This post is a work in progress

Gear used on the 220 mile John Muir Trail, 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail, and 93 mile Wonderland Trail. It turns out I don’t photograph my gear on the trail, so I don’t have photos for lots of items. This is also a fairly extensive list for a single post, but for now it’s pretty lightweight without photos. I’ll continue to update this post as I use more gear (such as the terrific 49g Olicamp Ultra Titanium Stove I brought along on Tahoe Rim Trail).


Clothing | Shoes | Big Three | Food


Some people say to only bring clothing that, in your coldest moment, you could don all at once. This is a good trick to help remove redundant, unnecessary clothing. The one exception to the rule is socks, so I’ve started the list with base layers, working up from socks. No matter what, you’ll want to bring two pairs as one will always be getting wet on your feet and you’ll be drying your other pair on your pack. Dry socks are critical to good foot care and if you’re extremely prone to blisters, test out a pair of liner socks as well, which relocate the friction from skin-sock to sock-sock.

Base Layers

2 Pairs of Socks | SmartWool Phd Medium Crew. $24 per pair. Purchase.
These socks are the best, I have a couple pairs that are 3 years old and still in my daily sock rotation. For this trip I bought two new pairs and wore each pair once to ensure no defects (both pairs were perfect) before the trip. What’s so great about these socks? Their design very effectively prevents bunching or wrinkles, while they still have plenty of cushion in the toebox and heel area. I’ve tried many other brands of socks, but always return to these for trips like this.

1 Pair of Underwear | Exofficio boxers. $23. Purchase.
A good pair of underwear for long periods without bathing. They’re very comfortable and dry quickly, so it’s easy to wash them on the trail. I’ve tried others, and want to find a good merino wool pair, but thus far I’ve come up empty handed. Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite wool boxer.

1 T-Shirt | Basic Ibex merino wool t-shirt. $95. Purchase.
Merino wool is my favorite base layer fabric since it’s odor resistant and incredibly comfortable. I generally stick with Ibex or Icebreaker due to their superior construction quality and fabrics. Choose a shirt that has raglan sleeve construction (seams in front and behind the shoulder), rather than a single seam on top, to prevent backpack straps from pressing the seams into your shoulders. This is an issue when backpacking on long hour, multi-day trips, and can become quite irritating.

1 Long Underwear Top | Ice Breaker Everyday Long Sleeve Crewe. $90. Purchase.
Again, same as the short sleeve shirt, buy a merino wool shirt with raglan sleeve construction. I’ve had this Icebreaker shirt since 2009 and it’s still the shirt I bring on every trip. In fact, I’m going fly-fishing south of Lake Tahoe tomorrow and I’m already wearing this shirt in anticipation.

1 Long Underwear Bottom | Patagonia Capilene. $40. Purchase.

1 Buff. $23. Purchase.
Buff’s are thin, stretchy, seamless, polyester neck gaiters that can be worn scrunched as a single layer, doubled over, or pulled up for a full face balaclava. Lightweight and versatile. I originally purchased this balaclava during my gear up for climbing Mt. Rainier in 2009, but continue to use it on any trip that’ll involve snow.

Mid & Outer Layers

1 Pair of Shorts
UPDATE: I’ve converted to wearing running shorts and don’t even bring a normal pair of pants, since I have my long underwear bottom and rain pants, which provide all the warmth required. Running shorts are pretty generic, so just find a nice light pair.
OLD THOUGHTS: Convertible pants can be annoying, but it was nice to be able to turn my shorts into pants at the end of the day, or vise versa and start the day in pants and quickly turn them into shorts. The question is, do you really need pants for the JMT in June if you also have long underwear and rain pants? It is possible to wear them all at once, but it’d have to be some fierce weather. Most of those on the PCT wear short running shorts, however if you’re going to try to reduce your exposure to sun, I think the weight savings will be negated by having to carry a large supply of sunscreen with which to lather your thighs.

Wool Pullover Sweater | Ice Breaker 320. $200. Purchase.
For the weather on my trip this layer wasn’t necessary, so I only wore it on the ascent of Mt. Whitney during the final morning to at least wear it once before the trip ended. I really like this sweater, it’s actually the only sweater I ever wear, because it’s both stylish and high performing. Be careful though, they seemed to have changed the sizing in their latest batch.

Insulating Jacket & Pillow | Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer w/ Hood. $320. Purchase.
I wore this excellent jacket almost every evening and morning while setting up and breaking down camp. If packed into it’s sleeve it also turns into a great pillow. It also packs into its pocket, but that ends up too firm to sleep on. When I first bought it I thought it was impractically delicate and was going to rip immediately, but I’ve now worn it all over, and have only torn it twice: once with a zipper snag and once hooking myself fly-fishing. I’m certainly cognizant while wearing it that I should be careful, but that doesn’t impede my abilities or actions. If I’m going through thick brush I layer my hard shell on top as protection.

Rain Jacket | GoLite Shell circa 2005.
There was some form of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet) on 7 of the 10 days I was on the JMT so, while I didn’t expect to use this much, it was in constant rotation. Perhaps GoLite went out of business because their gear didn’t stay true to their name. Or maybe their expansion plans were too ambitious for the market size. Regardless, I’ve been debating replacing it with one of these ultralight shells that are half the weight: Marmot Essence (6.3 oz), OR Helium II (6.4 oz), and Patagonia Alpine Houdini (6.6 oz).

Rain Pants | GoLite pants circa 2005.
Basic rain pants. Not very breathable, but only worn when it’s cold.

Gloves | OR Catalyzer Liner Glove. $30. Purchase.
These are super light weight. I originally purchased them to wear as liners while taking photographs in the alpine environment, but they also turned out to be perfect for this trip. They’re a little hard to put on and take off, and feel like they might rip, but thus far have held up for my purposes. Note that they aren’t very warm, especially if it’s windy, but they worked well when my hands began to go numb from cold rain on the south side of Mather Pass and were also useful for the alpine start on Whitney.

Shoes | I wore La Sportiva Bushido in size 13.5 on the JMT, but have since tested and recommend Altra Lone Peak 2.0 ($120). The Bushido’s were very grippy, and had what I was looking for: trail running weight with a rock plate, but the heel capture is a hard piece of plastic–I tried on the Bushido’s in the same size at two different stores to try to find a pair that would have a more comfortable heel (thinking it might be a manufacturing issue, rather than design), but they’re just made of stiff material. Predictably I got a blister on the back of my heel even though it was preemptively taped from the start. The Altra’s meanwhile have a great heel capture that’s soft and secure. They also have a strong rock plate, zero lift (equal thickness sole from toe to heel), and a velcro patch in back that perfectly attaches to the Dirty Girl gators, negating the need to add your own velcro to the shoes. What you’ll notice first is their very wide toe box, which feels like your foot’s flopping around inside a huge shoe, and looks almost comically wide, but once you’re used to them there’s no going back (and no issues with tripping or rock hopping either).

Gators | Dirty Girl. $20. Purchase.
PCTers swear by these. I didn’t know about these before I started, but I wish I had, since I had to empty my shoes of debris every 2 hours, sometimes even more frequently if the trail was particularly sandy or gritty. This becomes incredibly frustrating and no doubt led to extraneous blisters. I’ve since ordered a pair and am currently testing them and, thus far, on my first couple hikes they’ve performed perfectly, keeping my shoes free of debris.

The Big Three: Pack, Tarp, & Sleeping System

Pack | Gossamer Gear Mariposa Pack. $255. Purchase.

This pack worked well, and everything found it’s place, but it always felt like my organization method wasn’t quite right. This is likely due to the water bottle location and asymmetric side pockets. My tarp and sleeping pad would go in the long pocket with one water bottle and on the other side I’d have my toiletries and a water bottle up top, with my dslr down below. This allowed me to grab the camera quickly without taking off the pack, but not my water. The solution is probably to buy the little ties that keep a water bottle on the front of a shoulder strap, but I have yet to find them or make my own. I also had an issue with the back pad mesh capture seam, which rubbed on my vertebrae until it was quite sore and I had to unhook the pad from the bottom capture. The rubbing was partly caused by the bear canisters shape, which doesn’t lend itself to comfortable packing. The canister is a heavy item so I wanted it against my back, but when I tightened the pack straps it would change the shape of the pack, pushing out in the middle where the rubbing was occurring. The solution was to roll some clothing up and put it on either side of the canister to prevent the center pressure. I’ve ordered a new canister and will continue to test to see if this is an ongoing issue.
Besides that, the design of the pack was good, the waist belt and shoulder straps were comfortable, with the pockets in the waste belt lending themselves well to snacks or AquaMura. There were times when it felt like the waist belt wasn’t holding as much weight as it should, but I think I just had the bear canister located too far off my back, creating a moment that would pull the shoulder straps no matter what the waist belt was doing. The outer mesh pocket was great for quick layer adjustments or drying socks and the ‘head’ pocket built into the flip-down flap also worked reasonably well – a bit annoying, when the pack wouldn’t stay open because the weight of the pocket was too much, but it’s a good combination for weight savings.

Pack Liner | Garbage bag. $0.25
I used a normal trash bag, but a trash compactor bag is more durable.

Tarp | Gossamer Gear Q-Twinn Cuben Tarp. $315. Purchase.
This 47 sqft catenary Cuben Fiber tarp has an incredible coverage/weight ratio. It can be self-supporting with poles and has lineloc adjustment buckles that work really well to adjust the tension of the guy lines. That said, it suffers from the fact that it’s a tarp: it’s a pain to pitch and makes a f*** ton of noise in the wind. If it’s too windy it’ll begin to flap like a flag, both making a racket as well as tugging on the stakes, eventually pulling them out if the soil is weak. It’ll also move rocks the size of bowling balls (but obviously less spherical) which adds slack in the pitch, only making it louder and the tugging stronger. It’s just not great above tree line if it’s windy, which it frequently was. On calm nights in the forest, it created a dreamy, large, waterproof lair. When the gable guy lines are attached to tree trunks it’s super secure. It includes reflective orange guy line & a small stuff sack.

Tarp Stakes | 4 Gossamer Gear Titanium V-Stakes. $12 ($3 per). Purchase.
I got four v-stakes for the center gable-peak guy lines as well as the corners near the larger opening (which theoretically might catch more wind and benefit from larger stakes). I also had four generic round stakes found on a previous trip for the remaining guy lines. If I were to do it again I’d get 8 v-stakes for the added staying power, but even those might not always hold. It’s likely that the Fatty’s would be better in such poor soil, but frequently I’d just resort to tying the lines to rocks, although even that didn’t always hold down the sail of a tarp. All I know for sure are that the V’s were definitely better than the standard round stakes for sandy soil.

Sleeping Bag | Sierra Designs Zissou 12 in size Long. $320. Purchase.
A basic 700-fill warm & light bag. The zipper design is excellent for preventing the zipper from catching on fabric and the long length provided proper length for my 6’6″ body. It’s unclear if the DriDown actually did anything as the bag did get damp and I couldn’t dry it during the day, but it did dry out the next night.

Sleeping Pad | Regular Z-Lite & Regular NeoAir Xlite. $43 & $160.
This combo is usually reserved for winter camping, and is probably the least ultralight aspect of my gear choices, but it provides great comfort by allowing for back or side sleeping, which I switch between throughout the night. The combination is also still lighter than my previous XL Prolite4. And the Z-Lite protects the NeoAir, so the setup is durable and redundant.

The Rest of the Gear

Poles | BD Ergo Cork w/ Fliclock. $91. Purchase.

I used these poles for the duration of the trip and have also used them for backcountry skiing. The cork is very comfortable and the shape is great for being able to change up grip position. Likely due to skiing I’m also a fan of the wrist straps when descending, so they got lots of use and are also very comfortable. The cam Fliclocks are very effective at preventing slip, however I have had to tighten the adjustment screws a couple times (although not during the JMT). The poles were re-adjusted every night to erect the tarp, which required inverting the poles and placing the handles on the ground. That wasn’t ideal, since it resulted in wet handles for a few mornings. On my final descent off Whiney I slipped and fully weighted my left pole, bending both the mid and lower section. I continued to use the bent pole for the rest of the decent, since it was only about a 10 degree bend and after returning home it was possible to bend the pole back to nearly perfectly straight. BD makes some lighter poles that a friend of mine uses, but I enjoy having adjustable length poles.

Water Bottles | 2 1L Smart Water Bottles (nice and light) & a 2L platypus bag (most frequently used as a knee pillow at night, but also useful for larger batches of aquamira).

Water Purification | AquaMira. $12. Purchase.
Chlorine Dioxide isn’t quite tasteless as claimed, but it is subtle, especially compared to the old iodine days. The biggest issue is that 7 drops from each bottle must be combined in the cap for 5 minutes before adding to the water for an additional 20 minutes. I ended up keeping the AquaMira in my backpacks waist belt so I could mix the drops on my approach to water, hoping to have the 5 minutes complete by the time I filled my water bottle, to skip that step and then just have to wait the 20 minutes. As long as the water is clear it’ll kill all the bacteria and virus’s (if there are dirty particles in the water it won’t be able to clean the inside of them). I’ve also used it in the tap water in Ecuador to prevent the need to buy bottled water.

Bowl | 16oz Nalgene w/ screw top lid.
Good for mixing protein and “cooking” (soaking) dinner.

Spork | Blue Vargo Titanium. $9. Purchase.
The spork is a camping classic for good reason.

Headlamp | Black Diamond Revolt. $45. Purchase.
Lasts a long time, is nice and bright and focused for spotting, or dim and diffuse for reading, and recharges with a MicroUSD.

Bear Canister | Garcia, rented from Yosemite NP for $5.

DSLR | Canon 760D + Canon 10-22 lens + UV Filter.

DSLR Neoprene case | Op/Tech USA. $23. Purchase.

My Dopp Kit for the JMT

Dopp Kit

Joshua Tree 18 SPF Chapstick
Copper tone 30 SPF Sunscreen for arms
Badger 35 SPF Sun Stick for face
Toothbrush & travel size Tom’s toothpaste
Purell hand sanitizer
Dr. Bronners liquid soap, 2oz travel size. Works for hands, body, and clothing.
8 J&J Bandaids. These stick like no other.
Metolius Cloth Tape to tape heels. Designed for climbing, this tape sticks really well.

Left At Home

Change of clothes


Meal planning is critically important for performing on the trail, however it’s probably the trickiest part of planning due to the variability between individuals and the natural tendency to bring more food than necessary. Any food left over at the end of the trip was unnecessary weight in the pack. With this in mind I still packed way too much food, having a full 3 lb of trail mix left over at the end of my 6 day stretch on the JMT. Thus my pack was 3lb heavier than it needed to be every day for the last six days. I created my meal plan based on the goal of 50% Carbs, 35% Fats, and 15% protein suggested by Dr. Brenda Braaten at 5000 calories per day. I’m 6.5′ tall & 175 lbs with a very fast metabolism and couldn’t find good data on what my needs would be, but with a revised meal plan I expect it would be possible to consume 4,500 calories per day and maintain weight. Without a body-weight scale in my home it’s not clear if I maintained weight on the trail or lost weight due to the difficulty of eating so much trail mix every day. If my weight did change it was by an insignificant amount. The biggest lesson I learned was that, as delicious as trail mix is, it’s still loose trail mix, and when compared to a Probars or Snickers bars it takes far longer to consume the equivalent calories with the combination of delivery method and excessive chewing. That might sound crazy, but I got so tired of chewing trail mix. I created an excel spreadsheet before going to determine the proper mix of ingredients, but it immediately broke down on the trail when I couldn’t eat as much coconut flakes as I thought I’d be able to and instead picked out all the chocolate and dried fruit.

Food Resources

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