Ultralight backpacking meals…. but are they ultralight for your bank account?

What are people eating on trail? We have read and watched so many people say how much money they saved to hike the AT. It seems preposterous. Maybe I do not fully understand how this thru hike thing works. To have to save $1,000 per month, per person, seems CRAZY… That would mean I would need to save $12,000 for Chicken and I to enjoy our time on the trail. I can not comprehend this. What is everyone eating? Do they even sleep in a tent anymore? Where are people getting funds like that? Thousands of people attempt an AT thru hike each year. I understand thousands don’t make it… Is this why? How can walking day after day cost so much money?

I understand the cost of gear. Seriously, gear is expensive. But once you have your gear (not including gear needed on trail), where is all the money going? I have seen so many of the YouTube hikers resupply at places like Dollar General. So, why is so much money needed each month for trail food?

The truth, so help me God, and nothing but the truth!

Chicken and I currently have a modest budget for food, hostels, etc. The plan is to stay in our tent for most of our journey. I mean, we cannot necessarily rule out the random hostel/hotel visit. I am sure there will be times that we just need a good shower. There may also be times that the weather is just too hazardous for us to stay outside. But for the most part, staying out on the trail, IN A TENT, is part of the experience we want to enjoy. Learning how to live our life out of two backpacks seems like the ultimate way to declutter life!

Our current budget limits are sufficient. If God sees fit to provide additional provision, we will not turn it away. He knows what we need and when we need it. After all, part of our personal journey is to trust God to provide what we need, when we need it, and learn to stop looking to ourselves as the source of our lives. He owns everything…

The wisest way to save a huge amount of money on the food budget is to make pre-dehydrated meals at home. In reality, it’s not only about money it is also about the quality of the meals we will be enjoying.

Each name brand pre-packaged freeze-dried meal cost about $8-$10 each. For fun’s sake, lets do some math! Let’s just say that Chicken and I had one store bought freeze dried meal a day for the entire trip. If it takes us 26 whole weeks to make it from Georgia to Maine, at $10 per meal, per day, per person, we are looking at about $1820. I’m no math geek, so if I just presented a crazy wrong number… forgive me.

Honestly, I will give those freeze dried meals their due credit but they are not $1820 worth of yummy. In my honest opinion, which is worth just about nothing, the price you pay is for convenience more than taste.

So, how can we cut that budget by half or more?

First, I will be pre-packaging dried soups that we can add to any meat/carb combo that will taste like a homemade meal grandma makes. I am continuing to do extensive research into food dehydration and I have found so many recipes for pennies on the dollar, like for instance, biscuits and gravy and Mexican beef and rice. In addition, because my husband loves to hunt and fish, we have access to a large quantity of “free” lean meat, which dehydrates very well. I will not only be dehydrating ground venison by itself to add to meals on the trail but I will also be pre-flavoring some of the meat for easy rehydration. Once dehydrated, I will vacuum seal each pack and throw it into the freezer until it’s time to be shipped.

Just a few meals I would like to experiment with:

  1. spaghetti
  2. lasagna
  3. chili
  4. clam chowder
  5. venison burritos/tacos
  6. biscuit and gravy
  7. chicken and dumplings (LOL ~ pun intended)
  8. chicken pot pie… and more

Not only will we save money on food, we will be eating food that has familiar ingredients.  Because of wonderful details in The AT Guide, written by David AWOL Miller & Anti-Gravity Gear, I will be able to pre-plan each re-supply box’s shipment location. My husband will then be on standby, ready to mail each box as needed, as we walk further and further north.

But the cost to ship….

Well according to the USPS website, it will cost about $7.50 for my hubs to ship a Priority box to us as long as it weighs under 70 lbs. I think we got this. Even with the cost to ship, I still believe we can get well below the cost to fully resupply on trail. In addition, we will have a lot less face to face interaction with town people. All the pandemic fear cats will love that!

We have a little over a month before we are wanting to hit the trail. Lets see how much food I can get together before we head out. I hope all the preparation made will pay off. I am not normally much of a cook, but this is such a good cause, I am willing to sacrifice myself in the kitchen. Pray for me!

To God be the Glory!

Psalm 24:1 (NIV)- The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

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Comments 14

  • Ancaeus : Jan 18th

    You might want to take a look at this book: Recipes for Adventure by Glenn McAllister.

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 18th

      Awesome! Thank you!!!

  • dottie ".com" : Jan 18th

    lots of info on the internet about dehydrating & rehydrating food for long-distance hikes. freezerbagcooking.com is one.

    i section hiked the whole AT, spending several years. it was a great way for me to complete the AT. i dehydrated all my own food, made my own granola for breakfasts, and practically anything goes on a flour tortilla. i mailed resupply boxes for myself to outfitters, hostels, & post offices along the AT. as a section hiker, this worked very well. i did phone ahead to each address where i was sending boxes to ensure this worked.

    i ate very well on the Trail, it was important to me to eat as healthy as possible.

    good luck on your hike!

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 18th

      Thank you so much! This is exactly how I want to handle our thru hike. It’s good to see others who succeeded at what is in my heart to accomplish!!

    • Jack Layfield : Jan 18th

      I thru hiked in 2019. You are so right about store bought Freeze dried meals being very pricey. I bought one occasionally as a treat. Blessings to you and Dumplin!
      Chappy Jack
      Opelika, Al.

      • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 18th

        Thanks Chappy Jack!!!

  • Dennis A Turner : Jan 18th

    DMFINO here, Spaghetti is my favorite. I make it to eat then use leftover for my section hikes. Dehydrate then use meat hammer to break it into small pieces. Line the vacuum bag with paper a paper towel to keep the broken spaghetti ends from puncturing the bag – learned this on the internet somewhere and it works. Good luck.

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 18th

      OMG that’s genius! Thank you for sharing!!!

  • TicTac : Jan 18th

    I know you stated that “you are no math geek” but your figures are off concerning freeze dried meals. Instead of $1820, the total would be more like twice that: $3600. Though those freeze dried meals say they feed two, in reality, a hungry hiker will eat the entire thing and want more. So one meal per person per day. You will be shocked at the quantity of food a thru-hiker eats, trying desperately to make up the 5,000 daily calories you are burning

    And in reality, the enormous cost of shipping, and the fact that your schedule will be held hostage to operating hours of small town post offices, argues for resupplying at Trail towns rather than depending entirely on food you prepare beforehand.

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 18th

      Ah huh! I knew I probably didn’t get that math right! LOL! We are going to prepare as much as we can. If after several hundred miles we don’t like it, we can always change it. No worries 🙂

  • Andrew : Jan 18th

    One meal I like is curry: instant rice, dehydrated chicken (from a can), dehydrated veggies, and a curry block (golden curry is my favorite)
    Also instant mashed potatoes (with powdered gravy, veggies, and beef jerky)
    Same dehydrated veggies with cous cous or quinoa is also nice. And Easy Mac with beef jerky is the only pasta I’ve done. I haven’t tried dehydrating it myself. I bet beans would also be worth looking into.
    There are also these dehydrated soup packets that I think you can get from any grocery store for a few bucks, and they really awesome to have as a meal or even a starter course while you wait for your other food if you’re really hungry.

    On my last weeklong trip I only spent $5 per person per day on food, and I think the one before that was $7. There are so many options that are cheaper and better tasting than freeze dried food that I wouldn’t consider any freeze dried unless I had to plan last minute.

    I also got some tips for dehydrating from backpackingchef.com

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 19th

      Oh I love backpackingchef.com! Such good info! I agree on the freeze dried situation. I would rather have 3 blocks of chili ramen and a can of chili mixed up than a freeze dried concoction!

  • Spike's Mom : Jan 19th

    Have you seen the ebook put out by The Trek called How to Afford a Thru-Hike? That might give you a better idea of what people spend money on and how to save money. My experience was that only a small fraction of my trail costs was the food I was eating on trail. Trips into town were where most of the money went. A hostel bunk, a restaurant meal, laundry, and shuttle could get up to $100/person for only 16 hours off trail. I also got an infection while hiking — a trip to Urgent Care + prescription medication was about $200. You’ll also need to replace things like shoes, stove fuel, and toiletries.

    • Chicken & Dumplin : Jan 19th

      See those things I can understand costing money. We have money saved for things like laundry, shuttles, an occasional hostel. As far as town food, I suppose that we will indulge at times but in the first 500 miles or so, we will get a better understanding of what our expenses will be…. until hiker hunger hits!!! 😂


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