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Food Planning Math

Planning food for five months is challenging. We don’t want to be hungry, but we don’t to lug around a lot of extra food either. Because we’ll be mailing ourselves food, we need to calculate ahead of time exactly how much food to put in each box. This could make for a difficult shopping trip. Luckily, math is on our side.

In our post on Thru Hike Nutrition, we determined the duration and intensity of our hike would require each of us to consume about 4000 calories per day. However, grocery shopping and packing food boxes based on calorie counts would be excruciatingly time consuming. To speed up the process, we will pack food based on weight. On average, our food will have 120 calories/oz. That equates to roughly 2 pounds per person per day:

(4000 calories/person/day) ÷ (120 calories/oz) ÷ (16 oz/lb) = 2.08 lbs/person/day

Anna works on PCT food spreadsheets

Using the NOLS Cookery book and our personal preferences, we split our daily food allowance as follows:

  • Breakfast = 15%
  • Lunch and Snacks = 50%
  • Flavored Drinks = 5%
  • Dinner = 25%
  • Desserts = 5%

Snacks are key because we will spend most of our time walking, and frequent snacking sustains energy. We will use these meal percentages to pack the right amount of each food in our boxes. For example,

(2 lbs of food/person/day) x (0.15 breakfast food) =0.3 lbs of breakfast food/person/day

Using this formula, each of us will eat 1 pound of lunch and snack food, 0.1 pounds of flavored drinks, 0.5 pounds of dinner food, and 0.1 pounds of dessert every day.

To determine how much food to buy, we multiply daily food weight by number of hiking days, then double that number since there are two of us. For example, when we are grocery shopping, we will multiply by 73 days because that is the number of hiking days we’ll eat shipped food (see Food: Mail or Buy?). This means we’ll need to buy 292 pounds of food!

Now everyone knows how much we love spreadsheets and math! :-)

Chris assembles PCT food boxes

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kit #

    You both look so ridiculously happy!!! I’m so glad you outed your love of spreadsheets:) Best in the continued planning. -Chinchilla

    February 8, 2012
    • Thanks Chinchilla! As you know, we aren’t faking the happiness, haha. I would add that although I enjoy assembling boxes, Anna enjoys spreadsheets far more. Probably more than she would care to admit — until now! She said you guys had some pretty wicked spreadsheets too…

      February 9, 2012
  2. Jan #

    Interesting post, and great photos that really DO show how much you like math and spreadsheets. :-) Wow that is a lot of boxes!

    February 8, 2012
    • Thanks Mom! Anna was the art director for the photos, but they do reflect reality for sure. It will be really exciting to take a photo of all the food laid out. Hopefully we can do that a bit later.

      February 9, 2012
  3. Margaret #

    Once again, I am impressed, but also can understand the importance of having accurate calculations!! But you 2 are such different heights, I would think you would need different amounts of food. Not so?

    February 8, 2012
    • Jan #

      Good question, Margaret. I’m looking forward to the answer!

      February 8, 2012
    • It is true that we don’t consume exactly equal amounts of food. I (Chris) get a bit more due to my increased size. However, the chocolate gets split evenly!

      February 9, 2012
  4. You guys are intense. In a great way of course. My strategy…I just cram as much of my favorite calorie dense foods as I can in a quart size zip lock, then call that a day’s worth of food. Works. Guess what? it always seems to weight about 1 1/2 pounds. Go PCT!

    February 9, 2012
    • If you think that is intense, you should see how many PCT-related spreadsheets we have in Google Docs. Or maybe you shouldn’t…

      Anyway, your technique seems like a good one, and simple. Do you find you need a lot of variety in your food choices to avoid getting sick of things?

      February 9, 2012
      • This is my 3rd summer thru-hiking and every year it is different. So the answer is yes you can get sick of some things. After last year, I will probably never eat another Snickers again. On the other hand, many things I ate and are still my favorites. I do know that in planning my resupplies I like leaving room for fresh food from any source I can find: apples, hunks of cheese, carrots, whole loaves of bread, deli meat, bagels, Nutella, peanut bread, tomatoes, avocados, chips, salad in a bag etc.
        BTW: the quart bags do work and I should add that dinner is not included in that bag. Fun stuff.

        February 9, 2012
        • Cool, we are definitely planning to supplement with fresh food whenever we can. Thanks for the tips!

          February 10, 2012
  5. I love learning about the nitty gritty aspects of your planning. We’ve been running into other couples traveling contintents and what a trip! What a load of planning! Great photos of you in action :-)

    with love from Belize, Mags

    February 10, 2012
    • Hi Mags! It is a lot of planning, and we can’t wait until we can just be out hiking, only thinking about where to sleep that night and how far to walk. We’ve been selling tons of stuff on Craigslist just like you guys did before you left. We’re enjoying reading about your adventures. Hugs to you both from Cali.

      February 10, 2012
  6. Chris #

    Cool post. Really helpful way to think about the food issue. My wife and I are also planning our thru hike and we’ve really benefited from your posts. Are those the standard large flat rate boxes you are using? Do you think you will get away with one per drop — seems like it might take a couple, no? That is what I am thinking, but not as far into the process (need to assemble and order more!) Cheers. -Chris

    February 14, 2012
    • Yay, glad the post was helpful. The boxes are regional rate boxes, which you have to order online. The shipping is cheaper using those rather than the standard flat rate boxes because we will be shipping from California. You can do some price calculations on their website. As for how many boxes, it will vary for the length of time until the next town. We found that you can roughly fit five days worth of food for one person into a box. Thus, as a couple there will be many places we are going to ship two boxes.

      February 14, 2012
      • Chris #

        Ahhh, yes. Regional would be nice. We will be shipping from the East coast so the standard large flat rates are going to be the way to go.

        February 14, 2012
  7. mark #

    Nice post. Could you make your spreadsheet available? It’s sounds very useful. My lady and I are very behind schedule!

    April 15, 2012
    • Thanks, Mark. I just shared the google doc with the email address associated with your comment. I hope it helps! Good luck with your preparations.

      April 16, 2012

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