May 25 , 2021
During and after I backpacked from Canada to Mexico in three trips on the Pacific Crest Trail, a common question posed to me by friends and strangers alike was: What do you eat along the way?
Like many long-distance hikers or "thru-hikers," I shipped small resupply boxes of food to locations near the trail: post offices, homes of "trail angels," country stores, a gas station, etc. Every 3-8 days of walking I re-entered civilization and hiked or hitchhiked to these locations. Opening these packages gave me a Christmas morning-type excitement. I was thrilled to see more chocolate, more sardines and bummed about more oatmeal. I would empty my box containing all my snacks, breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next 50-100 miles of PCT single track, repack it all into my food bag and load the fresh weight into my backpack. Some hikers opted to buy groceries along the way instead of planning resupply boxes, which is fine when you're in Ashland, OR or Truckee, CA but several resupply stops are just a dusty gas station in the middle of nowhere. And so some hikers end up just eating gummy worms, candy bars and potato chips for miles of hiking. I gather that some long-distance hikers think that since they're putting in a marathon-worth of miles with a heavy pack plus elevation every day that they are justified in wolfing down junk food and candy as their sole fuel. Like, if you burn off all the calories anyway, why does it matter what you put into your body? Well, the idea that you are what you eat still holds true when you're crushing miles in the mountains. There was a recent article this last Spring 2021 titled, "Junk food and big miles may not add up how thru-hikers hope: CU Boulder researchers' study suggests that thru-hiking, as on the Pacific Crest Trail, might decrease vascular health." The author, Clay Bonnyman Evans writes..."the implications for thru-hikers are clear: It is important for individuals completing a long-distance hike to be aware of the potential deleterious changes associated with large volumes of exercise and consuming a high-calorie, low-quality diet."
When I backpack, I prefer clean, healthy, organic and calorie-rich foods. I've also been on a budget when those pre-made backpacking meals (Mountain House, Backpacker Pantry, etc.) seemed too pricey, like buying a town meal at $11 a pop with too much packaging per meal plus excess sodium. In our Backpacking collection on The Earth Online Catalog, we have curated packaged foods that we think are excellent foods to backpack with. Not to say that you must eat them only when backpacking...they can work for a quick meal at home or on day hikes or even whether you're cycling, climbing, rafting, motorcycling, sleeping in hammocks mid-way up a granite face, etc. These foods are lightweight so you can carry them distances easily and can be cooked quickly on a lightweight stove so you're not using too much fuel.
When planning for a multi-day trip, I try to estimate the number of days I'll be gone and I go through all the meals and snacks I'll want for each day. Usually, I'll start with planning dinner...Some of my favorite trail dinners are instant ramen or thai noodles: Like Mike's Mighty Good Vegetarian Kimchi Ramen Soup, Thai Kitchen Spring Onion Instant Rice Noodle Soup or any of Lotus Foods Ramens with Miso Soups with unique organic rices and grains. Koyo ramen is solid too. I usually eat two packets of noodles per dinner, add some fresh garlic and when really calorie-deprived, I'll add in TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) and instant potato flakes and maybe throw in some jerky like Primal Strips Vegan Jerky, Biltong or Epic beef jerky even some dried seaweed. I also love hearty polenta with Bela-olhao's Sardines or Cole's Mackerel or Rainbow Trout mixed with all the oils in the can. Another backcountry fish option is tuna in a pouch. I also enjoy couscous with an instant black bean or curry lentil soup mix or mixed with Edward & Sons instant miso soup packets.
For breakfasts, I ate so much oatmeal every morning on the PCT that I can hardly eat it any more...But I would get a large amount and put it in baggies for each resupply box from bulk or tubs of oatmeal. I also mixed baggies of oatmeal toppings like with shredded coconut, chocolate chips, pecans, raisins, cranberries or cherries. Now I tend to just use packets of Nature's Path organic instant oatmeal. Mount Hagen makes fantastic Fair Trade organic instant coffee; no fancy aeropress needed.
For snacks: I'd eat granola, and a trail mix of nuts and dried fruit. In my hip belt I would munch on fruit bars like Soley Fruit jerky and heavier bars like Bobo's Oat Bars, Clif Bars, Gomacro, Larabars, Patagonia bars, Probars, etc. I ate lots of chocolate, honey and peanut butter, often all together. I liked fresh bread and fresh fruit when and if available but bread wouldn't last in my resupply box so I often relied on rice cakes to spread my nut butter and honey. You rarely regret packing some cookies. All the jerkies are lightweight and salty-delicious. Tanka and Epic have some fun options and all the biltong is great. Louisville and Primal Strips offer vegan jerky options. And I always like to pack some heady ginger chews or crystallized ginger as after meal digestifs/desert. That should give you some ideas! As many of our grocery selections are sold in cases, this is perfect for a long-distance hiker planning on buying 6 or more packages of noodles, chocolate, nuts, etc! And you can take 10% off your Backpacking Foods from The Earth Online Catalog by using coupon code Backpacking10 before July 4, 2021.