Backpacking Makes Me Not Hungry

Three weeks. That’s 21 days and we’ll be starting off our journey along Upstate New York’s Northville Placid Trail.

This is a lesser-known end-to-end in the Adirondacks High Peaks Wilderness that stretches 140 miles from Northville, NY to Lake Placid, NY. I’ll be traveling with my partner, Tarzan, and a member of our Long Trail 2022 tramily, Baby Legs. She’ll be flying into Boston from California the day before we leave! I’m super stoked to reconnect with her and reconnect with trail life. Of course, this also means packing, and packing means planning, and food too.

Baby Legs and I spent over an hour today on the phone planning food drops along the trail. How many we want and if someone will hold it for us making decisions as we cross checked the NPT Facebook Group and various internet resources. It is a lot of work and hard to judge how fast we’ll be moving. Trail is just full of so many unpredictable factors, but we do our best to prepare.

Planning your meals that go into your resupply drops for the foreseeable future is also hard. Especially ones you have to carry for miles. It’s hard to judge what food we’ll be into. How much effort and energy we’ll actually have to prepare the food we take on trail. We weigh factors like cost, deliciousness, effort, weight vs caloric content, protein, salt, and nutritional value, among other things. It’s easy to overthink it, especially if it’s your first time and you have zero comparable experience to base what your appetite will be like.

Many of us go into our treks believing we’ve packed sufficient calories and balanced choices for all three meals, even snacks. Some of us go off without a hitch in our meal plans the entire trail. Others, like me, may be surprised to learn that they suffer from exercise-suppressed appetites. This is where we feel like eating way less than usual when we should be consuming way more. This discovery has a tendency to cancel any of our hopes for excellent nutrition while on trail and focuses our attention to “what will I be able to eat on trail?”.

Trail is not an easy place for me. I literally suffer while on trail unless I’m at camp or in town and even then I might suffer some more. It’s only some sick form of masochism or twisted type-II fun that keeps me coming back for more! Given my weight, height, average distance hiked, and pack weight (roughly 35-40lbs) I burn around 5,000 calories a day. As I understand it, I should be consuming about 6,500-7,500 calories a day at that rate. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I know how to and after a few long-distance journeys I’ve learned I can’t.

Backpacking requires so much exertion from my body I physically am sick at the thought of food. When food hits my lips or it’s scent wafts into my nostrils I’m often nauseated. I don’t feel super hungry even though I know my energy is low. It’s infuriating. The less I eat, the more tired I am, the more my attitude deteriorates. The more I’d try to eat the more I’d waste and the worse I’d feel. It was a vicious cycle. I slowly accepted that all my hopes and dreams for what I wanted to eat and carry were out the window. Eventually, through much trial and error, I found successful work arounds—“appropriate”* options that aren’t all trash food or a hunger strike.

What’s In My Food Bag

Usually I try to gauge my daily caloric intake by putting all of my meals in quart-sized Ziplocs. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, individually packaged snacks. Then a few snacks/boosters outside of these ziplocs for multi-day consumption, i.e., bags of jerky or candy. These ziplocs are great because then you’ve got a fresh trash bag for every day too.

1)  Pizza – Top of the list. Pack out town food. Specifically, pizza. Pizza can be eaten for two or three days after you leave town and I learned I will eat it every time. It’s also got cheese and toppings like veggies you might not get in trail meals.

2) The Meats – You won’t catch me turning down a bag of salty or spicy beef jerky or summer sausage. These are always going to whet my appetite compared to chicken and tuna packets any day of the week.

3) Lenny & Larry’s – I actually haven’t a clue how I got turned on to Lenny & Larry’s Complete Protein cookies, but I did and they’re literal meals when I don’t want to eat anything at all. These cookies literally changed the game for me. I finally started getting some semblance of caloric intake regularly! One of those cookies is 540 calories and they’re no more than five inches in diameter and half an inch thick. They come in flavors from Classic Chocolate Chip to Lemon Poppy Seed. Luckily they come in a baker’s dozen variety pack so I don’t have to think about what flavor I want. I just throw one per day into my food bag. This year, for the NPT I’m bringing two other Lenny & Larry products: KickStart Bars for breakfast and Cookie Cremes for Lunch which have 130 calories in two Oreo-sized cookies that also have protein. Can’t wait to see how that will change the game!

female hiker wearing a pineapple patterned headband while slurping ramen noodles from a titanium pot.

4) Noodz – Top of this category is Mac N’Cheese or affectionately, “Mackachee.”** Mac N’ Cheese is simply irresistible to me and usually even more desirable when prepared by my hiking partner, Tarzan. Especially if it wasn’t originally intended for me and I had to do zero of the work. Usually he’s desperate to put food in my belly so it works out. If Mackachee isn’t on the menu, I’ll totally prepare ramen or other noodle soup—it’s minimal effort to prep and clean. Also a great source of sodium to enhance hydration. Gotta love a twofer.

5) Trash Food – Sour Gummies, Big Nerds, Haribo, Skittles, Honey Buns, Brownies, anything sure to be dangerously high in sugar and or fat with minimal nutritional value. This category is great for a quick fix of energy but nothing long term.

6) Nuun – Not exactly food, but Nuun Sport and Nuun Vitamins are not only good for maintaining hydration but also have some vitamins I’m probably not getting enough of like Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium. I’ve tried other supplements like green powders and meal replacements and that worked for one day. Not even—it was awful.

Planning Food for the Northville Placid Trail

Our journey begins in about three weeks from today. It’s not nearly as strenuous in gain and loss as the Long Trail was. Therefore, I’m hopeful I won’t suffer as much as the three years I spent on the LT and have my fingers crossed that I will have a more appropriate appetite. If not, I’m prepared and as outlined above as I have a good idea of what my go-to food items should be and what foods not to bother with. If I can manage to put it in my belly, I’m doing alright!

So if you find you struggle with a low appetite on trail, know that you’re not alone. Don’t give up, you’ll find a way to persist and put food in your belly.

Tell me about your favorite food bag scores in the comments!



*”appropriate” became a part of on-trail lingo with my tramily and regular life in 2022 after I began declaring berries along trail to be “appropriate” for consumption based on appearance. “appropriate” can be used to describe anything that passes as suitable or up to standard.

**”Mackachee.” meaning Mac N’ Cheese but also is synonymous for “dinner” and is a part of vital tramily culture in the Yellow Deli inspired chant of the Long Trail Noise Committee 2: “Mackachee, Mackachee, Goobel, Gobble, Goobel, Gobble, Mackachee, One of Us! One of Us!”

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Comments 3

  • Peter C : Aug 2nd

    I have the same issue with loss of appetite when I’m really exerting myself.
    I did the 120 mile Section K of the PCT last year eating nothing but a few sour patch kids and nibbled on a mini Snickers bar. My morning ritual was digging a hoke and burying the food I hadn’t eat the day before. What kept me going I believe was the 1/2 gallon of Gatorade I mixed at half strength each morning.

    This year I’m doing sections I & J (170 miles) of the PCT and will not bring a campstove. Instead I plan to live on dried Salami, roasted salted almonds, dried mango, peanut butter and, yes, sour patch kids. And a bag of powdered Gatorade for tge electrolytes. This amounts to about 2000 calories a day, so I will be burning body fat, but I figure I can keep it up for the nine days I’ll be out.

    One benefit is that my pack will be at least 10 lbs lighter.

    To this day the smell of tuna, which I brought with me to eat last year, still makes me nauseous.

    • Lauren "Panic" : Aug 2nd

      Wow! It’s truly brutal isn’t it? Sorry to hear about the tuna smell. 🙁

      I like your new food options! Check back and let me know how you do!

      Hike on!

  • Eforetek "MacGyver" : Aug 9th

    I had a similar experience on the first 1/4 of the AT I section hiked. The advice I got was 2-fold: get calories in in any way possible and eat small bites frequently. I ended up carrying PB and honey to make tortilla halves that I’d nibble most of the morning and then make another one or two for lunch. I picked up a hard candy I like (mint lifesavers) and would eat those thru the day and most importantly would have something to suck on at the end of my day before I stopped for dinner to get the stomach ready to think about eating. I didn’t always keep dinner down, but would force myself to eat anyways to give the calories ANY chance of absorbing


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