What gear did John Muir actually take on long trips?

I live in California these days, and around here we revere John Muir as a legend of the outdoors. But the legend seems larger than is possible. John Muir is said to have traveled for weeks in the back country, but he never took any food with him, and he never hunted.

What did he eat? What gear did he actually take with him?

I'd be really interested to see what a serious backpacking gear list was like before the days of nylon tents, space-age rubber approach boots, and carbon fiber hiking poles.

2 Answers 2


John Muir is said to have traveled for weeks in the back country, but he never took any food with him, [...]

Not true. There is a nice article here by John Huber about what Muir ate while on trips. Mainly bread. He dried it so that it wouldn't get moldy. He also often brought tea and sugar with him. It's true that he never brought a gun and didn't hunt. It sounds like he was often in calorie debt while hiking.

I believe the old timers in the Sierra usually slept on beds of pine boughs and kept camp fires roaring all night long. Today, that would be considered an ecological crime -- if every backpacker in the Sierra did that, the mountains would be denuded of trees. But in those days it was a method of sleeping comfortably without having to carry heavy bedding. There is a story about Muir getting stuck on top of Mt. Shasta and nearly dying of cold. He saved himself by lying down next to the sulfur vents near the summit.


John Muir traveled much, but it would be foolhardy to follow his pattern of starving while tramping unless there was a bigger reason for it. He would go days without any food, or possibly on a handful of crackers. Minimalism is what he lived, but there are healthier ways to do it now that didn't exist for him. Based off his writings, he would likely carry some food and more cover while limiting his fire if he were hiking now. A different reality brings a new praxis to the same values.

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