Food is a constantly evolving issue when deciding what to take on a long hike. Most hikers have to decide if they are going to send themselves resupply boxes, buy food along the trail, or a combination.
From my experience, buying food on the fly takes much less forethought, but turns out to be much more expensive and less nutritious.
I have hiked with many people who lived on total junk food for months and still successfully finished a trail. Food is only one cog in the wheel of thru-hiking success, but putting some thought into eating nutritiously will amplify your chances of staying healthy, and finishing strong.
My personal journey continues to push me into trying new varieties of food. I want nothing more complicated than adding hot water to a meal. I continue to experiment with “No-Cook” options. It has to be so appetizing that I look forward to eating. This may sound strange, but I have carried many meals in the past that were nothing more than fuel, entrees to be forced down, with little or no enjoyment. Those days are over. Everything that goes in my food bag today has earned its right to be there.
When I say buying food on the fly is expensive, you might argue the point. Sending resupply is not cheap, but wait until you see the price of food along the trail in small convenience stores with few choices.
Making a town stop is already busy enough. You want restaurant food, a room, a shower, laundry, gear repair and replacement, and probably beer. If you have to add shopping, it is just another chore you could to without. Plus, you will never find the same things you are used to eating. Every store and local will have different brands, selections, and pricing.
Filling a resupply box with exactly what you want and picking it up at the local post office is one-stop shopping at its best. Whatever you have paid for shipping has been more than paid for in content priced savings. Finding items at home in big box stores, especially on sale, beforehand is a huge saving.
At this point, I only have one hot meal per day at the most. The majority of those meals are freeze-dried entrees. I constantly shop online and brick and mortar shops for bulk freeze-dried meals in #10 cans. These cans typically have a dozen single serving size meals in them. I also buy #10 cans of freeze-dried meat, vegetables, cheese, and fruit. Example of a typical dinner for me: A single serving portion from a freeze-dried entree can. To that, I would build a second portion using meat, veggies, and cheese from the additional cans. To that, I would add Nido powdered milk, spices, extra pasta or rice. I also freeze 1-ounce packets of olive oil to add to each meal. Just fill your ice cube tray with olive oil, each cube will be approximately an ounce. It freezes to the consistency of wet soap. This will allow you to vacuum seal the oil. Another method that has evolved for me is to make up the vacuum seal packets, add the olive oil and prop them up in the freezer. This method eliminates the messy step of placing each oil cube into a packet before sealing. It only takes a few minutes at room temperature for each packet to become liquid again.
I am not big on “cold soaking” food. Most hikers tire of this method quickly. So before you plan a whole season around this food prep option, make sure you experiment plenty.
A better option is to mix and match food and methods. Finding “No-Cook” favorites will save you time and fuel weight.
You could never have convinced me I would love cold coffee before I hiked the PCT, but it turned into a routine I still look forward to today. Not a straight shot coffee, but a mixture. Before turning in at night I add a package of Carnation Instant Breakfast (Strawberry) and one packet of Starbucks VIA instant coffee to a one-litre bottle of water. In the morning it is cold and delicious. My hiking habits consist of getting up a half-hour before the sun and hiking into the dawn. When the sun pops over the horizon, I sit down and have a Poptart and drink my breakfast coffee. I then hike for another couple hours and eat breakfast, which consists of a Ziploc bag full of Bear Naked granola, freeze-dried blueberries, and Nido powdered milk. Add water and eat. Doesn't get much simpler than that.
Snack during the day consist of tortillas with PB2 and bacon jerky or cheese and pepperoni or refried beans, Trader Joe dried mango, almond/M&M trail mix, Clif Bar, Propel, and string cheese.
All these items come close to meeting the dense caloric mark of 100 calories per ounce. I only carry about a pound and a half of food per day. I more than makeup for the shortfall when I reach a town stop. Although I carry less food per day than many hikers, I am usually carrying more food than they are. How so? I do much fewer town stops than the average hiker. I town has to be very convenient to reach from the trail for me to give it any consideration. On the PCT, for example, many hikers would get resupplied at Kennedy Meadows, then Lone Pine, and some even Bishop. I resupplied at Lake Isabella, CA. and carried enough food to reach Mammoth Lakes. Everyone thought that was insane. But I thought hiking out over a pass and then a long hitch to town was insane. While they were expending all that energy to reach a resupply and BEER, I was making forward progress. Every day my food weight was dropping, I ate like a pig at VVR and ended up at Mammoth Lakes with food to spare.
One mistake most new hikers make is carrying too much food. Your eyes will often be bigger than your stomach. You won’t starve to death if you run out of food occasionally. If you carry food that turns out to be unappealing, you won’t eat it. You will be carrying dead weight. You may be slower than anticipated and run short of food, or you may run into a lot of trail magic and have too much. Just concentrate on planning the best you can and everything else will fall into place.
Put a lot of time and study into food prep, budgeting, and experimenting. It will pay off handsomely in the long run (hike).