Filling a long line of resupply boxes
On our Appalachian Trail thru hike, we’ll sometimes buy food at stores near the trail, and other times pick up a food box which we prepared prior to the hike. Organizing and creating food resupply boxes is time consuming, but we love the result: better tasting and more nutritious trail food. For vegetarians like us this is especially true, since vegetarian food is harder to find in tiny trail towns. Mailing food boxes also enables us to stay away from larger towns and remain in the wilderness. There’s nothing like the calm that extended time in the wild brings.
The first step in preparing food boxes is to create a meal plan. This has been an iterative process for us over the years. Incredibly, after hiking 2600 miles in 2012, we still love most of our backpacking food menu. We made a few small changes for the Appalachian Trail and have updated our list of favorite backpacking foods accordingly. You can view the list at any time by clicking the “Food” tab above.
We created our Appalachian Trail food resupply plan with two priorities in mind:
- Stay close to the trail. We prefer to remain in the wilderness away from city noises and distractions. We’ll walk to our resupply points and avoid cars and shuttles wherever possible.
- Keep it strictly vegetarian and mostly organic. We’ll buy from grocery stores where feasible and ship food boxes to areas with slim vegetarian pickings.
We used a similar resupply strategy on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and it worked very well. On our Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hike we plan to buy food at 16 stores and pick up 20 maildrops. Some sections of the AT run close to convenience stores and restaurants. In those sections we will carry less food than normal.
Here are our thoughts (and a demo video!) about the cooking gear we used while thru hiking the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Aluminum can stove
Stove and windscreen/pot stand = Trail Designs Classic Caldera Ti-Tri cooking system 2.5 oz. This incredibly light stove is made from an aluminum can. It burns denatured alcohol, available at any hardware store, or HEET, a gas-line antifreeze commonly found at gas stations. We found these fuels at almost every town we visited on the PCT.
The thin titanium windscreen is custom-sized to hold our Evernew pot, forming a wide stable base. The windscreen also optimizes airflow, increasing the the stove’s fuel efficiency.
While hiking, we packed the stove in the pot for protection. We stored the windscreen wrapped around the fuel bottle, secured with a rubber band. The stove got slightly crunched one day from packing too much food around it in the pot, but it still worked fine. Overall the Caldera system preformed flawlessly during the entire trip.
Fortunately we will not need to carry five months of food on our backs as we hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Instead we will resupply every few days at a town, post office, or small business which holds packages for hikers. This approach required a great deal of planning and preparation, which was by turns exciting and monotonous.
Chris tests out a powdered drink mix
On the advice of many previous thru hikers, we are striving for variety in our trail diet. Thus, while planning, we taste tested numerous meal options. Drawing on our knowledge of thru hike nutrition, and in conjunction with our food planning math spreadsheets, we created a massive grocery list. We have just updated our Food page with many details about our food choices. You can access the page by clicking the “Food” link at the top of our blog.
Although we were organized before heading to the grocery store, we still spent several hours in the bulk food section. Shopping for variety while purchasing a large quantity of food takes time. It was exhilarating to see our extensive planning turn into piles of food in a shopping cart. We were surprised to realize how much food we will eat over the next five months. That really hit home when we saw all the food in one place.
Many thanks to our food sponsors, who are providing us with sustenance on our Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. Please support these companies, because they produce some of the best-tasting, healthiest, and most ethically-produced backpacking foods available.
Simple Squares are organic, gluten-free snack bars made with 6 simple ingredients. Their herb and spice flavors are unique and very tasty. A number of flavors are available. Try their new Cinnamon Clove bars. We dig them!
Receive 20% off with coupon code: PCT
Outdoor Herbivore makes delicious one-pot dried meals. All their products are vegetarian, low sodium, and almost all ingredients are certified organic, from US farms. www.outdoorherbivore.com
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.
When we tell people about our PCT hike, they often ask how we will handle the food aspect of the trip. Fortunately, we won’t have to carry 5 months of food all at once. Instead we will replenish our food supplies periodically, either by buying food from grocery stores near the trail, or shipping ourselves packages to post offices convenient to the trail. Both options have pros and cons.
Preparing food for a five month journey is daunting. The photo below was taken while preparing for a one month trek in the Australian outback with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Looks kind of intimidating, right? NOLS made our meal decisions for us — we just had to repackage the food. Prior to our PCT thru-hike, we have a lot more decisions to make and work to do. We need to figure out when we will mail food boxes to local post offices (vs. buying food from a local grocery store), what food we want to eat (best nutrition, taste, and cost), and how much of each item to bring. Once we have those questions answered we will embark on a massive grocery trip. And finally, we will repackage items into smaller containers, and fill shipping boxes with our meals.
I’ve decided to tackle the food planning challenge bit by bit. Here I’ll discuss thru-hiker nutrition.
Anna (with short hair!) surveying a month's worth of backpacking food for her trek in Australia
When backpacking, as with any exercise, you burn more calories than when you are sedentary, so you need to consume additional calories to maintain a high energy level and keep a neutral weight. Reading the NOLS Cookery book and various websites, I determined that 4,000 calories per person per day is about right for our daily hiking mileage, temperature ranges, and trip duration.