By Michael Lanza

Are you planning to thru-hike the John Muir Trail? “America’s Most Beautiful Trail” should be on every serious backpacker’s tick list. After hiking it in a blazing (and slightly crazy) seven days, I became convinced that—while that was quite hard—the traditional itinerary of spreading the roughly 221 miles out over about three weeks has a serious flaw: With limited food-resupply options, you’ll carry a monster pack that may not only make you sore and uncomfortable, it could cause injuries that cut short your trip.

As I write in my blog story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” thousands of miles of backpacking over more than three decades—including about 10 years as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine, and even longer running this blog—have taught me that the single best step I can take to make all trips more enjoyable is simple: lightening my pack weight.

In this article, I lay out a smart, complete, and proven ultralight strategy for thru-hiking the JMT in 10 to 11 days—and why you’d want to do it.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The John Muir Trail—definitely one of America’s 10 best backpacking trips—is ideal for going ultralight because of its generally dry summers, well-constructed footpath, and moderate grades. Backpackers who arrive with their legs in trail shape can knock off 20 to 22 miles a day—spending about 10 hours a day on the trail (including breaks) and averaging 2.5 mph, a reasonable pace for someone who’s fit and carrying a light pack.

See my stories “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: What You Need to Know,” “The Best Backpacking Gear for the John Muir Trail,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan your JMT thru-hike and any trip you read about at The Big Outside, plus my affordable, expert e-guides to backpacking trips in Yosemite and other parks.

Please share your thoughts on my tips below, or your own tricks, in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Want to hike the John Muir Trail? Click here for expert, detailed advice customized for your trip.

A hiker at Trail Crest on the John Muir Trail on Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Mark Fenton at Trail Crest on Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park. Click photo to learn how I can help you plan a JMT thru-hike.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/JMT1-205-Mark-Fenton-at-Trail-Crest-Mt.-Whitney.-Whitney-CA-copy.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/JMT1-205-Mark-Fenton-at-Trail-Crest-Mt.-Whitney.-Whitney-CA-copy.jpg?fit=900%2C599&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”599″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/JMT1-205-Mark-Fenton-at-Trail-Crest-Mt.-Whitney.-Whitney-CA-copy.jpg?resize=900%2C599&ssl=1″ alt=”A hiker at Trail Crest on the John Muir Trail on Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.” class=”wp-image-11489″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/JMT1-205-Mark-Fenton-at-Trail-Crest-Mt
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