What on earth are you talking about (a trail glossary).

If you are new to backpacking in the USA (and in general), trying to decipher some of the common terms used can get pretty confusing. Some of these terms are unique to the John Muir Trail, but some are more general backpacking terms.

Bear locker/ bin (see bear canister, bear/s)

Bear bins can be found in a few campsites along the JMT, particularly at the start and towards the end. They are sturdy metal containers that you use to store your bear canister and any items that don’t fit in the canister, overnight. Where there isn’t a bear bin, you are supposed to keep your canister about 50 yards (paces) from your tent. This made me quite nervous as I’d worry that I’d forget where it was, and had visions of bears rolling my canister off a cliff! Luckily it was always there in the morning…

Bear canister/can

A bear canister is required to hike the JMT. It is a large container that you keep all of your food and scented items in, to stop the bears being attracted to campsites. They’re a bit annoying as they tend to be heavy and take up a lot of space. But it would be a lot more annoying to have to get more food after a bear pinches yours.

Most importantly, bears that get used to finding and eating delicious, high calorie human food can become dangerous and are often killed – ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’.

Bear (see bear locker/ bin, bear canister)

Well, you obviously know what a bear is. But when used in relation to the JMT, it means black bears. They are the smaller cousin of the brown (grizzly) bear and are the most common type of bear in North America. No brown bears remain in California (well done, humans). Black bears are not to be feared, but you do need to know what to do if you see one.

Not a real bear
Not a real bear

Break camp

To take down your tent, pack your bag and prepare for the day.

Cat hole

What you will need to dig (6-8 inches deep) for your number two’s!


A woman hiking on her own (apparently; I lost track of how many times I was called this)

Hiking the John Muir Trail alone

Hiker bin/s

Hiker bins are buckets of food and other items donated by hikers after they have sorted through their resupply buckets. They can be found at popular ‘resupply’ stops including Muir Trail Ranch. People often send themselves way too much, so the contents of some of the bins are pretty spectacular. I found a couple of nice treats (including whiskey – boom!), but I wouldn’t advise relying on them completely, as you could end up eating a lot of dried oatmeal.

Hike out

To leave the trail.

Mountain lion

Also known as cougars, panthers, or pumas. They are rarely sighted on the JMT, although I did meet someone who saw one and there was a rather nerve wracking sign at my first campsite warning people to be vigilant, following multiple sightings. However, whilst the thought of a mountain lion is pretty scary, in reality they pose little threat to humans. Here’s what to do if you see one.

mountain lion

Mount Whitney 

Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States , with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m). It’s the official end of the trail if you go south bound.

Muir Trail Ranch (MTR)

MTR is a working ranch close to the half way point of the John Muir Trail. They accept hiker resupply packages, and have a limited amount of accommodation.


Going ‘north bound’ along a trail. In the case of the John Muir Trail, heading towards Yosemite Valley.

Pass/ passes

A pass is a navigable route through a mountain range or over a ridge. There are 8 major passes on the JMT: Donohue, Silver, Selden, Muir, Mather, Pinchot, Glen, and Forester.

Red’s Meadow/ Reds

Red’s Meadow Resort and Pack Station sits just off the trail, at around the 60 mile point (SoBo). It has a campsite and accommodation and facilities including a great shop, showers and restaurant, which can be used by all. They accept hiker ‘resupply’ packages.

Section hike/hikers

To section hike, or be a section hiker, is to complete a trail in separate sections over a period of months or even years.


Going ‘southbound’ along a trail. In the case of the JMT, heading towards Mount Whitney.


A fairly sharp bend in the trail, usually on a steep uphill or downhill. There are many many switchbacks on the way down from Mount Whitney. Too many!

Thru hike/hikers

To thru hike, or be a thru hiker, is to complete a trail end to end in one go, rather than in sections.


The access point to a trail and where you will begin, or end, your hike.

Vermillion Valley Resort/VVR

VVR is a resort located a few miles off the trail. It’s a little tricky to get to (involving a hike and ferry), but visitors are rewarded with cold beers, food and a shower. They accept hiker resupply packages.


A book. Did you read it? Is that why you’re doing this?

It gets old

Zero day/s

A zero day is a day that you hike no miles. It’s usually used to rest, do laundry, or check out an area off the trail.

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