Food, glorious food! Everyone on the trail looks forward to chow time, but it took me a while to learn how to properly pack the grub for my trip.
Last year, for a full day hike I’d follow this feeding pattern:
-Breakfast (B): Applesauce/fruit sauce in a pouch, oatmeal bar or breakfast bar, and of course coffee. Most of the time breakfast was eaten on the go, or gulped down right before I hit the trail. Also, coffee. All the time coffee. The little Starbucks Via packs were perfect, and I’d take a little Nalgene container & mix up my Truvia sugar blend & creamer.
-Midmorning snack (S): Usually a KIND bar or peanut butter crackers. This was actually the second half of breakfast, just eaten later. My fear is sitting down eating a huge breakfast, and then going right back to sleep. One day it’s gonna happen, I just know it.
-Lunch (L): Weather and water sources would determine if it’s a low water meal (MRE entree), a no water meal (tuna or chicken pouch with crackers, beef jerky, pepperoni & mozzarella cheese sticks), or a full blown Mountain House or prepackaged & dehydrated home meal.
Afternoon snack (S): Snickers bar or KIND bar or those “organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, hoity-toity frou-frou hippie type” nutrition bars. By around 2-4 pm I’m usually hitting “the wall” & need extra energy to make it to camp for the night.
Dinner (D): this is when I’d go all out with a Mountain House or other dehydrated entree OR a bigger MRE meal. Sometimes I have a few Starburst or Peanut M&Ms as dessert.
I figured for a two half-day, one full day hike, I’d need a lunch/snack dinner for day 1, a breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner for day 2, and a breakfast/snack/lunch for day 3.
Since my trips are only 2-3-4 days, I’m going to plan for a calorie deficit each day and shoot for around 200 calories per mile. Once I build up to my longer hikes I’ll bump it back up to 300. By that time I’ll be packing olive oil again as well. For all my hikes this year I’ll add a photo or list of food I’m taking, (along with my packing list for that particular hike).
For now, here’s an example of what I would have packed for my Roan Mountain Trip.
As you can see, even though at first glance it seems like an ample amount of food, it’s only really providing HALF of my baseline caloric needs, even considering the Mountain House Chili Mac is TWO servings per pouch. Although enough to get by for a long weekend hike, this wouldn’t be enough for a thru hiker or even for the average person after the 5th day on the trail. This is why it’s pretty important to gague your daily food intake, and for me, finding the balance between being able to drop a pound or so on the hike, and still being able to climb any ascent on the way.
Also, I always always always bring an extra 300-400 calories or so of food that doesn’t need to be prepared, just in case I get hung up somewhere due to weather, injury, or unforseen silliness that sometimes happens on the trail. I know the mantra of many a hiker is “carry just enough water to get to the next source, and just enough food to get to the next resupply”, but one time I didn’t pay attention to the cooking directions on a breakfast entree (it had to be cooked on a skillet, not just re-hydrated!) and ended up a meal+ short. That caused a circuitous hike back to my truck and, well, with that unplanned detour, I didn’t have enought daylight to hike back to camp, so I slept in the back of my vehicle. It could have been worse. Lesson learned!
An even more challenging situation is hiking on a Keto diet. Keto is short for ketogenic, a type of diet that is based around making your body switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat as fuel. While on keto, the normal staple of carb-rich “hiker food” is supplanted by meat and fat. Lots of fat. LOTS. In fact, about 55-65% of your daily intake is supposed to be fat (but the good kind), limiting yourself to no more than 20-30 grams of carbs.
I was on keto during my November 2014 hike around Davenport Gap & Snowbird. Let’s just say my food bag consisted of cheese, bacon, pepperoni, chicken, tuna in olive oil, salmon, nuts, jerky, and a metric shit ton of olive and coconut oil. By then I’d been on the diet for a month (lost 6 pounds by then), and honestly, I didn’t feel like I was hitting a wall, BUT, I had to force myself to keep eating. My appetite just wasn’t what it used to be, but I knew if I didn’t eat all that bacon & cheese for breakfast I’d be hurting later on.
One day I’ll post more about the Keto diet & hiking, but for right now the goal is to put some thought into packing the food bag.
I never thought of tracking my calories like that, nice layout to that spreadsheet. Great idea!
See this is something that would fit a thru hiker more than a weekend warrior like myself. If I ever get to the day where I can attempt a thru or do a long section, I’ll have an idea as to what foods I’ll need. As for now, my goal is maximizing the fitness and weight loss part of it. Since I’m going to be out there anyway, might as well get as much as I can out of it, right?
I’m much more on the “make sure you get enough calories” end of the spectrum, I’m not looking to lose any weight at all. So this would be useful to sense check some menus to see if the calories are plentiful enough to make sure I don’t shrivel up and blow away with the wind on the trail.
Last year in planning a 21 day end to end LT with no resupply I found it really useful to create a spreadsheet to work out balanced caloric intake of fats and carbs while trying to minimize weight. Your mention of olive oil is a good one. You can add a squirt to a dehydrated meal which makes them slide down easier as well as boosting the fat content 🙂
At first I bought a store-brand botle of olive oil that tasted pretty raunchy. I bought a better brand that seems to go down a bit easier now. I know some LD hikers go to great lengths comparing calories-to-weight trying to optimize their load.