Backpacking Food: Best Kept Simple
When you tell people you’re moving into the woods, they assume you’re going to hunt and gather everything you’ll be eating or that you’re going to be super healthy. Neither of which are true. Personally, I ate more junk food during my time on the AT than my entire life prior to trail combined.
Some people ship well-thought-out meals ahead, but a majority of those I hiked around just ate as much fast food as they could in town and filled their packs with gas station resupplies. Yes, this did mean that most people were eating candy bars and pop-tarts as their main food groups. But it kept it cheap and easy!
By the end of the trail, my daily menu was as follows (yes the same flavors every time too):
- mint Clif bar
- brown sugar Pop-Tarts
- 5 Oreos
- spicy buffalo tuna packet or BBQ pork packet (only available at Walmart)
- Welch’s gummies
- gummy trail mix (Haribo bears and Twin Snakes, Sour Patch Kids, Nerd bites, Mike & Ikes, Skittles)
- Muddie Buddies
- Rice Crispy treat
- 1 Fruit by the Foot or 1 Fruit Roll-Up
- Cheez-it (while my meal was cooking)
- chicken ramen OR Knorr Alfredo sides (main course)
- 5 Oreos (dessert)
- brown sugar Pop-Tart OR large honey bun (dessert #2)
- gummy trail mix (palate cleanser)
- Nature Valley bar (the grumbly one)
- Karl’s trail mix
- 2 packs of Welch’s gummies
- 1 Fruit Roll-Up
- Gatorade packs (preferably the ones with calories)
- Fireball (shooters are nice on cold nights)
I was not eating enough, and I’m aware of that. I was also not eating all the best foods. However, I had a REALLY hard time keeping my appetite, and gummies were one of the few things I could reliably get down.
I knew of people who had to get off trail because of losing their appetite, so this problem is more common than you think. In normal life, I have a STRONG appetite, so I never thought I’d struggle with this.
It’s odd because I was SO HUNGRY, but the minute I put food in my mouth I felt like I was going to throw up. I eventually got nausea medicine that helped me a bit, so I recommend getting some nausea medicine from your doctor before you head out on trail just to be safe. Luckily, there was a pharmacy in Damascus I was able to use but getting it all figured out was difficult with limited phone service.
I know of people that were eating 17 snickers bars a day just in snacks, and you could still count their ribs.
No one prepared me for the fact I was going to be burning 6,000 calories a day consistently. That adds up. Just make sure that you have a plan ready in case you’re one of the people that end up losing your appetite.
The number one thing I’d recommend is finding calorically efficient foods that sound good to you. Be flexible with allowing yourself to eat differently than you would in your normal life and be kind to your body. Thru-hiking is a hell of a thing to put your body through.
I never shipped food ahead as the AT is designed for easy resupplies (bearing dietary restrictions), and if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change the way I approached resupplying.
I used an Ursack with an Opsak inside it to store my food. It was expensive, but it took the stress out of hanging food. I simply found a tree and tied my food to it. The only issue I had was one night a cheeky chipmunk took my beef stroganoff.
As soon as we got into town, before showers or laundry, a gas station stop was required. It was here that I would get a slushy, orange Gatorade, large Mountain Dew, and whatever food they had cooking. A gas station slice of pizza, while deciding what else to eat, goes down too easy.
In town, I went to town! Pizza, cheeseburgers, queso, ice cream, and beer were my driving forces. I had at least one cheeseburger per town, and if there was Mexican food to be had, I was having it.
I am not ashamed to say on multiple occasions I had queso brought to me in what looked more like a cereal bowl than a queso bowl, and I used a spoon to eat it.
When it comes to beer on trail, you learn that PBR is the nectar of the hiking gods. It tastes the same whether it’s hot or cold and boy does it taste good. IPAs are also great town beers because they are calorically dense!
Your Diet Your Life
People commented on how I wasn’t always carrying the lightest food options or saying I should eat this or that. However, at the end of the day, it’s YOUR HIKE. Pick foods that make you feel like eating and foods that will keep you moving.
Some people ate all freeze-dried, amazing, healthy meals that they had shipped ahead, and then some people ate like me. Both kinds of people can finish the AT. Neither is better than the other. It’s simply what you prefer.
Don’t stress too much about the food aspect of the trail because you’ll figure it out along the way! Just have fun enjoying a new lifestyle and eating like a 12-year-old boy.
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