Food. Thoughts of it will consume your mind on a long hike. When will you eat next? What will you eat next? How soon is it acceptable to stop for lunch after stopping for breakfast? How can I fit as many calories as possible into my body during one sitting? How can I make the instant mashed potatoes that I have for dinner tonight somewhat bearable?
A fairly typical resupply.
When I was researching and preparing for my thru-hike, I really enjoyed and found it very helpful to read posts where people laid out the kinds of things they ate on their own hikes. This year’s class of thru-hikers are currently feverishly preparing to set off on their journeys, so I decided to try and be semi-helpful and write a food post of my own. Plus, I just really like talking about food. Below, I’ll write a blurb about what I typically ate for each meal, as well as my final thoughts on my food strategy and if I would eat the same shit on my next hike.
A taste of the horrors that lie ahead: this is a tortilla with peanut butter and mayonnaise.
I had my breakfast routine pretty well dialed in within the first couple weeks of my hike, and it did not change much at all over the course of the trail. I am a creature of habit, and have willingly eaten almost the exact same breakfast every day for the past five years. I would eat a bar while taking my first few steps out of camp. Almost every type of bar very quickly became essentially inedible to me, so I didn’t have much variety here The only flavours I could really stomach were lemonzest Luna bars and mint chocolate chip Clif bars. At some point, I discovered these almond butter biscuit sandwiches by Nature Valley that changed my life in the mornings. So. Freaking. Good. I also liked Belvita breakfast biscuits. Occasionally, I would have Poptarts in place of a bar, or even fruit pies during one resupply.
Coffee shake with a view!
After walking a few miles, when my stomach couldn’t take it anymore, I would stop for a break and eat some overnight oats that I had soaked in an empty peanut butter jar. Every night, after dinner, I would soak a couple packets of instant oatmeal (fruit and cream flavours are the BEST) with some chia seeds and water. At my morning break, I would mix in as large a glob of peanut butter as my rations allowed. After finishing my oatmeal, I would rinse out my jar and then mix up a concoction of instant coffee and a chocolate-flavoured Carnation breakfast essentials shake. This was an easy way to get caffeine without having to use the time and fuel to boil water for coffee. Plus, it actually tasted pretty good.
First day out of town. Packed out a banana to add to my bananas and cream oatmeal. Pure luxury.
This was my breakfast routine every single day of my PCT thru-hike, and it made my morning almost every single time.
Quick List of Faves
- Instant oatmeal (fruit + cream flavour)
- Chia seeds
- Peanut butter
- Instant coffee
- Carnation Breakfast Essentials (chocolate)
- Lemon Zest Luna Bars
- Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuit Sandwiches
Lunch was almost always some combination of food items wrapped into a tortilla. Most days I would create one or two savoury tortillas that usually consisted of a flavoured tuna packet (Thai chili is the BEST, with sweet & spicy and honey BBQ being other favourites), with toppings of mayo and cheese. I also liked to add chips sometimes for a bit of crunch. Sometimes, when life was sad and my food bag was light, I would have a tortilla with just chips and some mayo inside. I also often created a sweet tortilla, which would consist of peanut butter, chocolate candy, and cookies. As I’m sure you’re quickly realizing, my diet was not the epitome of health. I typically followed up my tortillas by stuffing my face with so much candy that I felt ill while hiking out from my lunch break. Self control is something I do not have much of. I usually mixed myself up some Gatorade powder or Mio drops at lunch as well.
A pretty typical lunch spread.
Quick List of Faves
- Flavoured tuna packets (Thai chili is bae)
Dinner was a pretty simple affair most nights, and usually the only meal I ate that was warm/cooked. My “cooking” technique consisted of boiling water, dumping in a packet of dehydrated something or other, and waiting until it was soft enough to eat. This was most often a rice side or ramen noodles, but also sometimes pasta sides, mac & cheese, or instant mashed potatoes (bleh). I learned to get creative with some of these items to make them somewhat more interesting. One of my favourite dinners was what I dubbed “elevated ramen”, which involved combining a packet of ramen with a Thai or sweet & spicy tuna packet and a healthy glob of peanut butter. I also loved mixing a large scoop of peanut butter into a teriyaki noodle pasta side. So. Freaking. Good. If I was feeling extra hungry and I had some extra tortillas, I would sometimes wrap my dinner in a tortilla and create some kind of monstrous burrito. My parents mailed me a couple of care packages along the trail that contained dehydrated veggies and some kind of curry flavoured vegetarian ground “meat”, which I used to create a mouth-watering creation called a “currito”. Most of my meals ended up slathered in mayo, in a desperate attempt to add both calories and flavour. One night, my hiking partner and I tag-teamed dinner and made burritos with two actual ingredients. He made rice and I made refried beans and it was glorious. If you can organize shared meals with the people you’re hiking with, I totally recommend it. (On the other hand, I totally do not recommend eating an entire package of refried beans by yourself in one sitting. Trust me, there will be gastrointestinal consequences.)
One of my burrito monstrosities. Yes, a lot of our meals looked like diarrhea and/or vomit.
Quick List of Faves
- Teriyaki noodle pasta side
- Peanut butter
The beginnings of elevated ramen!
This is where shit is going to get really scary. Snacks are your main source of sustenance throughout the day while hiking, and what I used to fuel my body on my hike would make any nutritionist scream out in horror. My typical snack stash consisted of: chips (Pringles are the BEST because you can shove the can in some pocket and they won’t get crushed), candy (sour patch kids, mike & ikes, jelly beans, you name it), chocolate (peanut butter M&M’s and whoppers were my go-tos), and cookies (God bless double stuf Oreos). Near the end of my hike, I was so desperate for calories that I would down several large spoonfuls of peanut butter a day as a snack. This is what I mostly subsisted on for over 5 months. Every time I would try to add something moderately healthy to my food bag (dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, weird shit I found in the bulk section at the grocery store), it would end up sitting in there for weeks until I finally forced myself to throw it out or chuck it in a hiker box. Nothing appealed to me unless it was highly processed and chock full of sugar and salt.
A classic pre-dinner snack binge.
Quick List of Faves
- Peanut butter M&M’s
- Jelly bellies
- Sour patch kids
And a classic post-dinner snack binge.
So, when it comes down to it, would I recommend my food strategy to others? Well, the pros of this strategy are that it’s quick, easy, convenient, cheap, and delicious. The cons of this strategy are that by the end of my hike, my body felt like it was falling apart. Now, I cannot say with certainty that eating more nutritious food would have prevented this. But, I’m pretty sure the human body does a lot better when it isn’t made to go through 12+ hours of physical activity every day for 5 months while being given precisely zero nutritional content. For the last month or so of my hike, I struggled with chronic exhaustion, nausea, and just generally feeling like crap. So no, I probably would not suggest this exact strategy to others.
But I would suggest packing out pizza whenever possible.
But realistically, what would I change? For shorter trips, I would absolutely love to prepare healthy dehydrated meals in advance, but to me, that just isn’t realistic for a thru-hike. Before you start, you have absolutely no idea what kinds of things you’re going to want to eat once you’re on the trail (Everyone says this, but trust me, it is the truth. My first couple of resupply boxes that I ordered from home were a complete disaster and most of the contents ended up in the hiker box). I would still resupply out of the grocery stores in town whenever possible, and easy, nutritious meals can be hard to come by out there. I might at least try to bring along some vitamin pills or something. Maybe more dried fruits and veggies. Force myself to eat at least one semi-healthy snack per day.
I HIGHLY recommend packing out some fresh produce for the first day or two out of town. Avocados, apples, bananas, and peaches were some of my favourites. I wish I did this more. (Another great thing about the first couple of days out of town is that your cheese hasn’t gone all sweaty yet!)
In the end, a thru-hike is a great opportunity to indulge your wildest food cravings. You’re burning so many calories that whatever you put into your stomach is almost instantly burned up by the fiery inferno that is your metabolism. It’s all well and good (and fun!) to read what other people ate on their hikes, but you really won’t know what’s going to work for you until you get out there and start trying things. It took me several weeks to dial in my routines for my meals, but once I figured out what worked for me, resupplying in town became a breeze, and I honestly did enjoy most of my meals (but it’s hard not to enjoy food when you’re constantly in a ravenous state of hunger). So get out there, have fun, take inspiration from others, but find what works for you!