Food has admittedly been my biggest hurdle when planning my hike. I’m fine with nature, bugs (not spiders), hot, cold, relieving oneself in the woods, walking hundreds of miles–but my worry has long been food. My primary concern is getting sick of things on the trail and then not having enough variety to keep full.
For hikers, food = fuel. Hikers opt for very high-calorie foods rich in fats, oils, and carbs. It’s basically the BEST DIET EVER. Once a hiker gets up to speed and drops between 15-20 miles each day, their bodies change physiologically from obese American to millage machine. On average, hikers plan for about 2-2.5 lbs of food each day just to maintain their body weight. The problem here is food = pack weight as well. Most thru-hikers take approximately 160-180 days, which adds up to between 300-500 lbs of food! I’m clearly not carrying this all at one time, and that brings me to my next point.
Where do you get food?
There are two primary ways to resupply with food while on the AT: local stores and mail drops. Mail drops are simply packages of whatever food you like (that keeps well) that you bought in massive quantities and placed in boxes and shipped to yourself at various checkpoints along the trail. Post offices, hostels, and hotels are kind enough to hold onto boxes for hikers during the season, which makes this a nice option. There are some drawbacks, but the two primary reasons I’m not using this method are A) I don’t know what I want for lunch today, let alone four months from now, which makes planning hard; and B) Businesses have business hours. You don’t want your supply box sitting in a post office when you roll into town at 12:05 p.m. on a Saturday not realizing many small-town post offices close at noon. Now you’re stuck in town until Monday morning, or you go without food if you decide to leave it and ship it forward.
I’m opting to resupply locally. Not knowing what I’ll want to eat far in advance helps me cater to my current tastes. Food tastes can and do change while hiking, and that chocolate chip Clif bar you’ve been eating twice a day for two months will suddenly trigger your gag reflex, and you need to be able to adapt. This is my primary worry about getting sick of the foods I like and being left with few options. I don’t want to be the guy that goes back on the trail with a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and 12 boxes of SlimJims. Side note–SlimJims dipped in peanut butter is MUY DELICIOUSO.
The big drawbacks to local resupplies are price variation and variety/availability. Prices vary by region as we all know. Small towns often will have a smaller variety of options, which may make for slim pickings, and hikers can and will buy out stores making them look post-apocalyptic.
What’s in my pack?
Starting out at Amicalola Falls, I have to trek 39.9 miles to my first resupply at Neel Gap. I have about four days of food weighing 8 pounds.
I’ve found I need to get a little creative since I have no access to conventional means of food storage like a refrigerator. I obviously can’t bring things like milk, as it becomes cottage cheese by noon. I do have powdered milk, which serves its purpose as my milk substitute. I don’t drink milk anyway, so the taste doesn’t matter when it’s getting mixed into various kinds of pasta. I also found powdered butter! It is…strange to say the least. There is no way it is natural and almost certainly will give me cancer or cause a 3rd arm to grow. An alternative is Ghee, which is clarified butter or butter that has all the water boiled out and is then scraped into a bucket. It tastes fine but weighs more than the powdered form. I do hope to try this once my current supply runs out.
Here is what I have for the first few days to eat.
I am admittedly not a big breakfast person, so this meal will undoubtedly be a struggle. To start I’m keeping things as simple as possible to get used to the rest of my routine. Enter the oatmeal packet….mmm….so uh….tasty.
Lunches don’t get all that exciting either. Many eat their lunches cold or at least something uncooked. Through the colder weeks, I’m hoping to stop a bit to rest and cook a small and quick lunch. I am mostly pushing towards dehydrated meals or soups for lunch to start.
Dinner is probably my most exciting meal of the day. I’m starting with some dehydrated meals but will not rely on these much while hiking because they are pretty expensive. Knorr meals and a protein like fish/chicken tossed in will be a common occurrence.
I plan to fully indulge when I go into towns on food. Towns are also a great time to hit what’s been missing from my diet while hiking like fresh fruits and vegetables. Thankfully some can be packed out but a balanced diet while hiking is sometimes difficult to maintain. Most hikers opt for a multivitamin to help fill the void as best they can. Town helps a lot to break up the monotony of a hiker diet. Fortunate hikers will even come across the occasional oasis–“All you can eat buffet,” which is truly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.