A Thru-hiker's Pantry

Another key part of planning a thru-hike is preparing your meals and food pick ups. You don't have to carry all of your food for the entire trip. Usually you can mail some ahead to a camp or post office, or buy extra along the way. Picking what to eat is important because your body needs fuel while you're hiking. There's different estimation formulas for how many calories you burn per hour of hiking, but its a lot. If you eat 2000 calories in a normal day, plan on nearly double that during a strenuous backpacking trip. The last thing you want to do is be caught starving because you didn't bring enough food to keep your body going.

In addition to packing plenty of food, it needs to be light enough and compact enough to fit in your pack without adding too much extra weight. In many cases when you are traveling in bear country you are required to pack your food in a bear canister like the one in this picture on the top left.

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The bear canister is both a blessing and a curse. Its heavy, and difficult to pack, but it also forces you to think critically about all of your food items.

The food in the image above is everything I'm bringing for the first 8 days that I am on the trail.

1) Breakfast

The first meal of the day is always important. You generally want to eat something large to get your metabolism going. When I am hiking though I tend to bring something to eat right when I wake up, and then a few things to much on during the first few hours of the day. I find that having a constant stream of energy keeps me going longer and feeling better.

For breakfast I'm bringing a combination of pop tarts, clif bars, and various energy foods like Stinger gummies or energy gels. I'll eat the pop tarts or clif bars first, and keep the other smaller items for later.

2) Lunch

Lunch is usually pretty simple. I'm bringing plenty of crackers, and a mix between summer sausage and chicken. Getting protein out on the trail is hard, so anything like chicken or tuna that can be packed along is a great value.

3) Snacks

I want to always have something to snack on when I need more energy. Nuts are a great snack food because they're so calorie dense. So are raisins, beef jerky, and of course extra Clif bars.

4) Dinner

I'm taking a mix of cold dinners that require no cooking, and hot dinners that require you to cook or boil water. The cold dinners are pretty simple: Tortillas, Peanut Butter, and Nutella. The hot dinners are a bit more exciting. Tortillas are also an essential ingredient in making quesadillas, so that will be one meal. I'm also a big fan of Mac and Cheese and Chicken (MCC), which gets you plenty of protein and tastes delicious on a cold night after a long hike.

5) Coffee

Unfortunately taking coffee on a low impact backpacking trip is a bit of a nonstarter. You can't leave the used grounds out on the ground to attract animals, so your only option is to pack the grounds with you. Instead of worrying about that, which would be extremely messy and frustrating, I'm just taking some espresso beans that have been covered in chocolate. This'll get me my coffee fix and my candy fix at the same time. This is a great trick if you're looking to bring coffee on the trail but unsure of what to do about brewing and grounds.

All of this then gets to fit into that bear canister and into my backpack. There's an identical set of food waiting at my resupply point too. Of course, this won't stop me from buying a cheeseburger in town along the way, if I can find one, and I'll absolutely be craving a taco when I get back, but this should be enough to keep me going along the way. In the backcountry, food is fuel to keep your body going, but you can still have a little fun with it if you want to.