Prepping to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) can be daunting, there are so many things to take into consideration: permits, which direction to go, transportation and logistics, gear and equipment, and elevation. The final thing that needs to be considered, but probably will consume the most time and is the most labor-intensive part of the planning process (in my opinion, other than training), is the food. Unlike the Appalachian Trail (AT) and most of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), resupply locations are far, and few between, so careful planning is needed to sustain you for long stretches. Depending on the pace you plan to hike, days between resupply points can be as far as 9-10 days for the longest stint.
In addition to determining how much food to buy, what food to buy, and how the food will be prepared, you will need to consider how much the food is going to weigh. Seriously, who knew food could be so complicated?
I began my planning with the painful permit process (more on that in another post), which in turn, determined where I would start my hike. I would be starting in the south, hiking up the PCT to where the trail meets the JMT. I would then hike east on the JMT to summit Mt. Whitney and then turn around, hike the same segment I just hiked, and then continue north on the JMT.
With a conservative hiking pace in mind, I estimated the number of days I would have to hike before the first resupply…8 days! I then took a look at the rest of the trail and where the resupply points were located and calculated the distances I would have to travel between them, and then how long it would be to each one. The second resupply point turned out to be a stretch of 9 days! Eeks!
So then, I needed to calculate the number of calories required to eat to maintain energy levels and not drop dead of exhaustion or waste away to a bag of bones. I bought this book written by Inga Aksamit, a long-distance and high altitude backpacker I found on Facebook, called ‘The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning.’ When reading this book, I could tell that Inga put a LOT of work into this effort and it proved to be immensely helpful. Anyway, in the book, she tells you how to determine the number of calories you will need to nourish yourself on the trek. She also goes into balancing your meals to include the proper amounts of carbohydrates and proteins…she really gets into it!
A recommendation to minimize the weight of food carried is to choose meal and snack items that are calorie-dense, or containing the most amount of calories per ounce. Depending on your body size, weight, and metabolism, the amount of calories needed varies; however, most people require around 2,500 to 4,500 calories per day just to keep them going during intense activity. The general rule of thumb is to pack about 1.5-2.5 pounds of food per day. Yes, that’s POUNDS of food PER DAY!!!!
I calculated my caloric needs per day and determined that I will need around 2,700 calories worth of food or else I would fall down on the ground from exhaustion and die of starvation (just kidding…maybe not). To choose the food, I created this elaborate Excel workbook with spreadsheets as follows:
- A master food list that contains the nutritional information for every single food item
- A meal schedule where I would select my meals and snacks for each day, cross-referenced to the master food list, calculating the nutritional information
- A food shopping list
Yes, I’m a planning fanatic and organizational freak. I just can’t help myself.
UPDATE!!! You can now download a copy of my comprehensive ‘JMT Hike Planning Workbook’ here!
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
So, I now have the food chosen that I’m going to bring with me and I end up with an average of 1.8 pounds of food per day. To determine the amount of food I need to carry at the longest stretches, I do some math and say I need to haul 9 days of food at 1.8 pounds per day, which totals to 14.8 pounds of food! I need to drink too, so I will need to carry 2 liters of water, which totals to 4.25 pounds (luckily it’s been a heavy snow year, and water should be plentiful). Now we have the containers that the food and water need to go into…a bear canister is required for food carried in the High Sierra and of course, water needs a container as well. My bear canister weighs a hefty 2.6 pounds (over 2 pounds for a friggin’ container….grrr), and my water bottles weigh about 4 ounces each (that’s about .3 pounds).
What does all of this amount to? 22.25 pounds! Really? Are you kidding me? If I weren’t going to waste away from hauling all the crap I need, I’d probably come back from the trail with some impressive muscles. Maybe I’ll ditch the gear and just carry the food. :/
(If you’re interested in seeing all the ‘crap’ I have to carry, click here)
For your viewing pleasure, here are some images of the food prep madness. Not only did I have to figure out what to bring, but I also had to repackage every single item so that it all fit into the bear canister (oh, bear canister, my foe…how I loathe thee). It was crazy I tell you…absolutely maniacal!