Care Package Preparation from A to Z
On trail, we received everything from gallon bags of granola to this amazing framed picture of Paul Ryan pumping iron.
In light of our awesome friends and family, we decided to pay back some of the trail karma that we accrued.
Since we are living vicariously through our friends who are hiking the PCT this year, we are beginning to make our first care package attempts. As we assemble what we are deeming ‘trail gold’, we are trying to remember what was truly fantastic to receive (by assemble, I actually mean ‘run through the aisles with complete abandonment, greedily throwing whole shelves of food into our carts like we are on the hiker version of Supermarket Sweep’.)
Here is the breakdown of what we are sending them, and why our residual inner Thru-hiker drools at the thought of these packaged treats.
Whiskey is a very versatile item that has many known trail purposes:
- Natural pain and inflammation reliever
- Social lubricant around the campfire
- Part of a balanced breakfast
Since your friend will be hiking through multiple states with a menagerie of strange alcohol laws, it is a true kindness to save them the trouble of trying to locate this trail necessity by sending it to them. If they don’t drink, they can even barter with other hikers. It is a highly valuable trail item.
There are probably a few exceptions to this rule, but the idea that we could add water to powder and create food was world shaking to us. If they don’t want what you sent, your friend can trade with another hiker. But dehydrated food is not extremely common in the grocery stores along the way. We received everything from yogurt powder (surprisingly good) to instant mashed potatoes (very good) to powdered eggs (not good). No matter what, we were always glad to get a meal that weighed a few ounces and resembled the food we used to take for granted.
I would like to say, as a coffee drinker, that it is really hard to find instant coffee that doesn’t taste like watery, bitter cat pee. However, having that cup of hot, coffee-like substance in the morning can go a long way towards making you feel human again.
Since those little coffee sleeves weigh about .02 ounces, it’s worth carrying them for that rainy morning when you have to crawl into wet underwear and hike. Folgers makes pretty passable ones and so does Starbucks. No matter how you feel about the Starbucks chain, their instant coffee actually tastes like coffee. (Individual packets of hot cocoa are pretty great too!)
Jerky – the good stuff. There is no shortage of beef jerky in trail towns, but the leathery, peppery taste of cheap Jerky gets old quick. Why not send some gourmet jerky bars? Our friend sent us spicy buffalo and deer after months of boring meat and we were blown away by the flavor. In Maine, our friends’ grandmother brought us Moose Jerky from a Moose she had just shot outside her house. It was so amazing. Hikers need a lot of protein and seldom are able to get enough from carbohydrate-laden trail food, so send some trail meat!
Musical Fruit: Dried hummus mix or dried refried beans. Again, there aren’t a ton of options in small towns for food. If your friend is a vegetarian, or just leaning towards the healthier side, they probably miss beans a lot. I know I did, and I’m a true carnivore. They’re an awesome source of protein and any time we found food that was quick cooking and not pasta or rice, we were ecstatic. Unfortunately, anyone who has to share a shelter or enclosed space with your friends will not enjoy this item as much.
Salty Chocolate – Hikers are a sweaty lot. That means they are losing tons of electrolytes every day. And that means that the most delicious thing in the world is food that is both sweet and salty. Sure, they can drink Gatorade and feel good – but where’s the fun in that?
Snack Bars (Other than Clif) – There are two things that got me through hard days on the AT. They were: 1. Lying to myself and 2. Snacks.
Mixing up someone’s snack options is huge. There are only so many items that can withstand rain, freezing temperatures, and burning hot sun for days at a time and still taste like food.
Unfortunately, the variety in a hiker’s snack diet is primarily between different flavors of Clif Bar. They aren’t bad, but after eating two a day from Virginia to Vermont, anyone will get sick of them. So why do hikers keep eating them? Because they are so calorie efficient.
Calorie efficiency is something hikers strive for; it means that what you are carrying is worth carrying it. Dense, high calorie, light items are popular (I have seen hikers eat butter). Most other granola bar options have a calorie / weight ratio that makes them inefficient to carry (especially because so many granola bars are marketed as ‘healthy’, ‘low-fat’, or ‘low-calorie’ – the worst thing to see on the box you just purchased.)
Options like Probar and Big Sur bars are high calorie and actually tasty, but they are sort of ‘gourmet’ hiker items that aren’t easy to locate in small trail towns. They’re also more expensive than the extremely economical Clif, and so hikers are less likely to treat themselves to these when they do happen upon them. Shopping around and looking at the calorie count on snack bars is a great way to ensure that what you send your hiker buddy will be well appreciated.
Spice it up. Anything zesty, spicy, or garlicky that you can add to your food is pretty great. Between instant rice, pasta, ramen, tortillas, and oatmeal, the hiker palate is pretty bland. If the hiker you are sending stuff to is any kind of Foodee, they will be dying for something that adds flavor to their milquetoast dinner options. We found some pesto spread in a recloseable tube at Whole Foods (they also carry a pretty passable tomato paste), but even making your own spice blend and putting it into small ziplocks or old film cannisters / pill containers would probably be very much appreciated.
Ziploc Bags. That’s right; you knew it was coming. Hikers are not a complicated people and they delight in the simpler things. Like name-brand, sealable plastic vessels. Fact: the hiker you know keeps 95 percent of their food in dirty, horrifying Ziploc bags that they acquired a couple hundred miles earlier because they don’t want to buy a gigantic container of ziplocs and leave two thirds of it in a hiker box. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but sometimes, when we got packages, the thing we were most excited about was the Ziploc used to contain the food people sent.
This is my own A to Z, but I’m sure there are a lot of things I didn’t think of, too. Please leave your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions below to generate more ideas for delicious hiker care package additions.
Of course, the best things that we received, honestly, were the words of encouragement people scrawled on the sides of boxes or napkins. We got handmade cards, crosswords, newspaper clippings, and pictures from the people we missed.
Just knowing that our friends and family took the time and energy to send us something and recognize our feat was really validating. So send your friend a homemade puppet and some bubbles, if you want. Or even a postcard. They might very well carry it in a dry sack and read it when they are feeling alone.
The communities we build are a big part of who we are as people and sometimes the weight of a letter can lighten our packs.
Now for some Buzz-Marketing:
Uke’s AT Blog (he’s currently on the PCT but mostly posting pics on Instagram. Find him by searching for Uke on the PCT a.k.a. the notorious Lloyd Fink)
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.