T Nation

Prepping for JMT Thru Hike


So I want to thru hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in 10-14 days, and I'm trying to figure out a good way to condition myself to handle this hike. I will be carrying about 25-35 lbs on my back, and I will be walking 20-30 miles a day. Half of the trail is at 10 thousand feet or higher altitude. I live pretty much at sea level.

Right now, I'm running and swimming 5 days a week, and I'm day hiking 5-10 miles on the weekends at 7.5k or higher altitudes. I'm evening doing Zumba to mix up the cardio, so I don't get bored. Exercise-wise, I'm just doing push-ups, flutter kicks, pull-ups, and dips.

Here's are two sites with some more info, so you can guys can see what I want to do.


How would you guys prepare for this? I'm not trying to get ripped or bulk up. I need to develop the endurance to be able to handle walking that many miles per day at high enough altitude that I could potentially get acute mountain sickness while on the trail.



Seriously??? You seriously need to be told what to do to prepare for a hike? Have you maybe thought about loading up the backpack you will use with some weight (more than you plan on carrying during your trip) and fast walk with it for extended periods of time each day?

Tomorrow I'll be giving a seminar on breathing. The highlights will be "Good Air In, Bad Air Out".


Have you ever gone backpacking before? I ask because your suggestion would require me to change footwear. If I increase the load in the backpack beyond what I intend to carry, I'll need to switch from trail runners to hiking boots, which I won't be using for this trip. Do you understand the effects of heavy loads on the feet and why I would have to make the change? Do you understand that your suggestion to do fast pace walks with more weight at sea level makes no sense because of this problem?

Seriously, I'll be hiking over two hundred miles in ten days, which includes going to the top of Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the 48 states) either at the end of the hike or at the very beginning, depending on which direction I decide to hike.

This is hike has me doing the equivalent of walking a marathon every day. Have you ever done anything remotely like this?

If you know nothing about backpacking, please say so.


@Tweaker, I live in Harpers Ferry West Virginia, practically live on the Appalachian Trail, and hike 20-40 miles most weekends. I've also ssectioned most of the trail, so I'm definitely no stranger to distance hiking. However, as far as high altitude backpacking is concerned, my experience is limited.

Now since you've posted on a bodybuilding/strength training forum, you're going to get responses from those familiar with bodybuilding and strength training protocols. Most people won't understand the nuances of distance hiking. Especially where gear is concerned.

Look, if I were you, for the time being I'd cut back on the swimming and running. From my own experience (as a runner) and from anecdotal evidence (checkout the forums at Whiteblaze), I've found that apart from providing a base of general conditioning, the carryover to hiking, especially on a trail such as the JMT, will be far less than ideal. I'd suggest taking your pack, hitting a gym, and doing some extended sessions on a stair climber. That will simulate hiking better than just about anything else.

As far as acclimating to higher elevations, that can only be done by spending time in higher elevations. Continue to hike whenever possible on the highest trails that you can find. That's really all you can do.

Lastly, you can't take what you might consider bad advice on here to heart. Most people here haven't walked 20 or 30 miles a day for two weeks, even fewer have hiked it. Remember, this isn't traditional cardio/conditioning, not by a long shot.

For future reference, I'd suggest getting hiking advice on a hiking forum.


Tweaker -

Rucking, particularly training for rucking is very hard on your body. It will break ppl down faster than many other training modalities. You also want to consider "peaking" for your trip, not running your self into the ground en route to it. All that being said I ran into the same issues and prob a lot of the same questions when I was prepping for my first trip to Mt. Rainier. What I found was a few good resources who specialize in the prep of Mnt athletes as well as Spec ops preparing for deployments in mountainous Afghanistan.

A trainer in Jacksonhole Wyoming has some very good material that I used to prep for my first summit climb. I liked it so much that I also incorporate a lot of his methods into my everyday training. He preps people to be "sport specific", so your sport would be rucking essentially.

He also places a high value on strength it is not just cardio fluff. Strength/Work capacity/Long Stamina sessions/Durability

you can subscribe to his site to get workouts or buy off the self programs. His Big mountain program is 12 weeks to prep ppl for a non technical mountain climb. His Ruck based selection program is to prep people for... you guessed it Ruck based selections. (i.e. The Green Berets, Delta, Rangers etc.) How long do you have to prep for the trip?

Both programs are intense - the ruck based program is a motherfucker fyi. How much vertical gain are you looking at doing?

Pulling from my experience from living very close to sea level and climbing above 14k - over prepare. It def catches up to you.

Id love to help you some more, just give me a shout. Lastly def train in the gear you plan to use, gear will wear you down just as quick if not quicker than altitude.

Below are the goals for the Ruck based selection program if you interested:

This program is built around 4 distinct physical goals:
1) Ruck: 18 miles @ 50lbs in 4.5 hours if traveling the road or 6 hrs if traveling cross country.
Several selections involve and require extensive rucking. We believe the best way to train for rucking is to ruck. The
problem is, extensive rucking can and does break the body down. We?ve tried to design a progressive rucking
program which limits rucking to 2x/week, and will build you up but avoids over training, and sends you to selection
strong and ready. Note that you?ll need to carry an 8# piece of metal pipe or a 10# sledge hammer for each ruck.

2) Running: 8 miles in 64 min and 2 miles in 14 min.
Many selections involve extensive unloaded running. Further, running will help build an aerobic base <----- Important for the JMT

3) 10 rounds (unbroken) of 5x pullups 10x dips 15x pushup, 20x situps
You can expect to do many pushups, pullups, situps and other body weight calethentics at selection. This simple
circuit is a way to build upper body cals endurance.

4) 55 reps of Sand bag get ups @ 80# in 10 min.
The sandbag getup is our favorite core exercise. A strong midsection is key to durability. The goal here is to build a
strong core to protect your back and vulnerable limbs from the tests and trials ahead. It?s preventative medicine. <--- great exercise

This program includes these less distinct physical goals:
- Build the athlete?s mode-specific aerobic base (running and rucking)
- Prepare the athlete for selection unknowns (we use intense work capacity circuits to accomplish this. On the first
session of weeks 2-5 you?ll repeat an intense, heavy training session will prepare you mentally and physically for
the unknown which comes at selection.
- Build durability - through rucking with a heavy pack, sand bag get ups, and strength training. <--- durability from injury over your trip and "career"


Now the goals for the Big Mountain program:

Our goals with this program are three fold:

(1) Strengthen your legs and lungs for miles and thousands of vertical feet you?ll be hiking up and down during your
climbing trip.
(2) Build your core/midsection strength and overall strength so your body will be able to perform well with a loaded
backpack, and be able to recover from long days in the mountains.
(3) Make you physically strong and mentally tough so you are "harder to kill."

This is a progressive, very intense, 12-week, gym-based training program. You will train 5 days/week for a total of
60 training sessions. The intention is that Monday through Friday are are training days. Saturday and Sunday are rest

This training program is designed to be completed in any commercial gym, with basic equipment. None of the
exercises or routines described here are complicated, nor are they easy.

The first 6 weeks of the program (Training Sessions 1-30) are designed to train and develop your overall strength,
work capacity and stamina - what we call ?Base Fitness.? During this six weeks, you will be training strength and
power in the weight room 2-3 times a week.

The second six weeks (Training Sessions 31-60) will develop your sport specific fitness for hiking up and down
steep slopes, under load. Your strength training in the weightroom will be reduced to a maintenance level of 1x/
week. We use body weight to build the eccentric strength in your legs for climbing down hill, and a simple, but
brutal exercise called stepups to build your legs and lungs sport specifically for climbing uphill.
During this second six weeks, you?ll be running at moderate and threshold paces weekly, and you?ll also be doing
dozens of sandbag getups - our favorite exercise for developing overall core strength.

BTW the websites are:


I have done both programs, both a great, just a bit different.


Here is a snapshot workout from the Ruck based selection program: This is all Rob Shauls property, but you can find this on the web already. He has deemed this Ultimate Driving Machine:

*****************WEEK 2******************
Warm Up:
4 Rounds
!10x Swing @ 20kg
10x Pushups
10x Goblet Squat @ 20kg
10x Situps

(1) 15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
Dead Lift @ 185#
2- handed Kettlebell Clean & Press @ 20kg
GHD Situp
Back Squat @ 135#
Scotty Bobs @ 25# (each pushup counts as
one rep)

(2) Run 2 miles, moderate pace.

To me the weights are slightly lighter/easier in the Mnt program.


Thanks. I'm going over the information to make sure it makes sense for what I'm doing. I'll never be carrying more than 35lbs since I'm going ultralight save for using a tent, which will at most weight 3lbs.

As for ascent/descent, this varies across the hike. The biggest ascent is up Mt. Whitney since it's part of the hike. There are also river crossing that I will have to do some mornings. I hope to run into other JMTers along the way to help me through some of these.

I do plan to train in the gear I'll be using, and I'll be packing my pack like I would for the hike.

Check out this graph for some rough ideas as to the elevation changes I'll be doing:

A lot of the backpackers I know are either marathon runners or bikers. I'm definitely not going for a buff look since I don't want to carry the extra weight, but I do think I'll probably have to put on some weight before the hike. Folks that I have talked to that have completed it have lost up to ten pounds.

I'm also looking at the backpackinglight.com site to get some ideas for nutrition. I'm pretty sure T-Nation isn't the best place to go for long distance hiking nutrition info. A lot of the long distance hikers I have spoken to eat stuff during a hike that folks here would frown upon such as Big Macs.

But I have received a lot of great advice here such as using Nike Frees for running. Now, my knees never bother me. I also learned about HITT long before it became popular. What I like about this site is that most folks here take a functional rather than aesthetic approach to training. My functional needs are long distance hiking, and I absolutely need to improve my cardio and lung efficiency.


I hear you on the pack weight ie your training weight. I was in the same boat, but opted to train with a heavier weight so my normal weight was not a problem on the mountain. My pack weighed about 35-40lbs on the mountain but I used up to 60lbs for training.

I will say though my boots were set up for heavier loads so I see your thought process on not wanting to switch footwear. having both programs you still can tailor them to the amount of weight in your training pack. You would just use smaller jumps in weight from week to week and cap it at your goal trip weight.

Looking at the graph and the two training program the big mnt program is prob the best fit for you in my opinion.


Ever hiked at 10 000 feet? I live at 4500 and hike regularly. It will be damn hard, especially coming from near 0 altitude.


This is interesting.

I trained up to thru hike the jmt about 10 years ago, went out to do it but couldn't complete because of trail fires in the muir ranch area.
I have also done a load of moutain hiking both here (uk) in New Zealand and in'around Yosemite--so yes i am familiar with the problems.

Here are few thoughts. :

Carrying load through high mountain country is incredibly tough on the body, equally it can be mentally gruelling as well. 20-30 miles is almost certainly unrealistic unless you are already a complete mountain goat !.
Hiking that far is a huge working day every day.

Check out Ray Jardines work (website and books) for the practicalities of long distance hiking.

Go as light as you can..in fact this is crucial learn to go lighter than you feel currently comfortable with and that means getting out into similar terrain and practicing with the kit.

Physical training--there is absolutely no substitute for hard and fast loaded hiking other than actually getting out there and training with load and over distance.
Specifically i trained by building up 2 things : speed and distance and secondly load, i got myself up to a decent distance first and then added in load progressively.
A few exercises may have carry over these being : loaded 'stair' walking--i trained in a 14 floor hospital with my full ruck just repeatedly going up and down the stairs. also deliberate over loaded rucking with significantly more weight than you will actually carry.

Altitude--isn't so much of a problem if you start at the northern end (yosemite) although the first 2 days are brutal if carrying full load--actually unecasary as you van either cache or re supply at tuolomne meadows, . As i think about it the usual day 3 over the donohue pass is pretty tough as well usually due to carrying full load at that point.

Major issues : dehydration will really cause you a problem--we were drinking around 5l a day so fast water prep is essential-also our appetites plummetted.
It needs a very high carb diet to get through--something in the order of 5000 cal/day too,


Yep. Hiking up by Snow Bowl in Flagstaff puts me around 9-10k feet. While I didn't get altitude sickness, I did find myself hiking a lot slower, and this was going straight from nearly sea level to 9k feet the same day. When I hiked around 7k feet in Yosemite earlier this year with a full day to acclimate, I had no problems at all, but I still wasn't hiking as fast as I did at sea level.

I'm going to start another thread about improving lung strength. I heard that swimming is good for this, but I'm curious if folks have read any new research on the topic.


I'm sure I'll be hiking 10-15 miles a day during the very grueling parts of the trail, but I expect to be hiking around 8-10 hours a day.

I plan to take a NOLS lightweight backpacking class, where we hike for two weeks (about 60-90 miles) with 25 lbs on our backs. I'm hoping to pickup a lot of great tips from this course. If I can go from 35 lbs to 25 lbs, that would be a huge win, but I've heard a lot of nightmares from folks using tarps.

Definitely. I hike every weekend at around 7k altitude, but as winter approaches, I end up doing more hiking at sea level. What did you do for joint health? I don't want to blow out my knees on stairs. Did you use trekking poles?

I'm hoping to do one resupply. But I plan to section hike parts of it before committing to doing the whole thing at once. Really, I see myself making a thru hike attempt in two years.

That's what I've heard. I'm experimenting with diet right now at high altitude. Since the higher I go up, the less hungry I get, so I'm trying to get into the habit of just eating as I go. I just wish there was the equivalent of a camelbak for food:)

The other piece that I'm working on is the mental aspect. It's so easy to give up when worn out.


If you can--beg or borrow a tarp and go out and experiment with it, from a bushcraft (instructor) perspective it's one of the main ways of shedding weight, the trick is to have one that is slightly larger then you would think ie using a 2 man as a 1 man etc.

When i hike with my partner we regularly carry the integral designs 3 man as our main shelter--in bug country we add a silnest underneath. In just about any situation we back up our shelter/sleep system with a very light bivvi bag. My current ones are from Rab and Integral designs.

Weight--concentrating on the big 3 is key ie stripping weight off rucksack, shelter system and sleep system--after that keeping a close eye on extraneous rubbish (just in case stuff).
Have you decided on key kit yet ?

Section hiking would be a great start eg take a look at a couple of the harder days at the northern end like the climb out of yosemite and the day over the donohue.

Food--does need discipline to keep eating, lots of calorie dense snacks works a treat, for some reason we found yoghurt coated nuts and raisins to go own well !.
Knowing what i know now i suspect that i wasn't eating anything like enough protein and would seriously consider carrying a supplement now.

Great trail though..

Gotta dash..out for a fasted trail hike
catch you later.


Hey Tweaker...its killerDIRK from MAMMOTH LAKES, ca. let me know if you need anything..kitchen, shower, floorspace for the night. The higher elevations around here just got hammered with EIGHTEEN INCHES of SNOW !!! dont now when you are planning this trip but pack for COLD nights...good luck brother and be safe.


I'll have to look into that.