What I’ll Be Eating on the Trail

When I attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this year, I’ve estimated that I will be burning between 4,600 and 6,300 calories per day while hiking. With this in mind, the three to five days of food that I’ll be carrying for each section of the trail I hike will need to be lightweight, nutritious, and calorie dense. Most thru-hikers resupply at towns along the way, but many towns have no more than a gas station convenience store or something like a Dollar Store where the selection of food is limited and, in some locations, overpriced. For 18 such places, I have decided to have my resupplies mailed to me. I might save some money on food items, but the cost of mailing will probably even it out so that there is really no cost savings. The advantage is, I’ll get some food that I know I like, I’ll get some variety, and the food I send myself might be a little more nutritious.

It is said that thru-hikers will, on average, lose around 30 pounds during the course of their thru-hike. Some report losing in excess of 100 pounds. Much of the weight loss occurs at the beginning due to a loss of appetite. Eventually this thing called hiker hunger sets in and thru-hikers  begin their “see food diet”—see food, eat it. Because of this “problem” with excessive weight loss, priority will be set on making sure I have high-density food items included in my resupply boxes like peanut butter, olive oil, and Snickers bars. Incidentally, many women report that they actually gain weight as they lose fat, but gain muscle mass and become trimmer during the course of their thru-hikes.

For the past year, I’ve been testing out food items and recipes. I have a number of my own dehydrated dinner entrees that I came up with and a number of store-bought items that I portion out and combine into serving-sized meals. I also will be sending myself breakfast, lunch, and snack items that I like.

Most of my meals will be uncooked. I might boil some water for oatmeal or a hot morning drink occasionally, but typically, I will only have a hot meal for dinner at the end of the day. Even my dinners will be simple just-add-water type freezer bag meals – meals that have the dry ingredients placed in a Ziploc freezer bag and you add hot water to it, close it up, and place it in a cozy to let it rehydrate for 20 to 30 minutes. The plan is to do this when I first get to camp at the end of the day, and then do all my other camp chores while my dinner is rehydrating. That way, when I’m done with my chores, dinner will be ready to eat.

Every three to five days I’ll be stopping at a hostel or trail town where I will usually be able to eat real food, take a shower, get resupplies, and maybe even take some time off. In thru-hiker lingo, it is called taking a zero if you take an entire day off the trail, and a nero when you take part of a day off the trail. There is practically an entire language in thru-hiker lingo that maybe I’ll talk about in a future post.

In another future post I plan to go over, in more detail, some of the gear that I will be taking, and also the layering system of my clothes, so stay tuned for that. And then shortly after, I should be on the trail providing updates of my journey.

So, until next time, happy trails!

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Comments 2

  • Bruce Hall : Feb 23rd

    How about posting on exactly what foods you are sending yourself. I am planning a thru-hike in 2020 and have essentially the same food strategy. I only plan to cook for dinners. I would love to get some food variety ideas. Lack of variety and lack of nutrition are real issues on trail.

    • Karl Halvorson : Feb 23rd

      That’s a great idea, Bruce. I’m still putting all my food together and figuring all the details such as nutrition facts. I would like to do exactly as you suggested and will try to do that at some point.


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