Thru-Hike Nutrition

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.

Lightweight Backpacking Photography

Nature photographers often carry a heavy pack containing a big full-frame camera, multiple large zoom lenses, and a sturdy tripod. The weight of the photography equipment alone can reach 30 pounds, on top of which hiking gear is added. In addition, nature photography of the traditional fashion requires substantial time per shot: to set up the tripod, attach the correct lens, frame the composition, screw on filters, and wait for the perfect light. This approach isn’t possible on the PCT, because hiking 20 miles a day over mountain passes, for five months, requires a light pack and continuous motion.

Fortunately it is possible to create excellent photographs quickly, with light, small gear. Here are some tips for lightweight backpacking photography equipment:

Tents, Sleeping Bags, and Packs, Oh My!

The “big three” in backpacking refers to your heaviest pieces of gear — tent, sleep system, and backpack. The best gear varies for each person’s needs because there are tradeoffs between weight, comfort, and price. Below we explain how we selected our big three items.

Tent

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 (without rain fly)

We love our Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It suits our weight/comfort/price mix perfectly. After removing extra stuff sacks, and replacing the stakes with 6 Vargo Titanium Ultralight hooks, this 2-person tent weighs only 2.3 pounds! This is very light, and as you can imagine, when trekking such a long way we opt for less weight on our backs whenever possible. It’s cozier than most tents, but two sleeping pads fit perfectly next to one another inside and we’d rather have the lighter weight than extra space. This is a free standing tent, which is more convenient than a tent in which you must use your trekking poles as supports.

Itinerary

We used Craig’s PCT Planner and Yogi’s PCT Handbook to create an itinerary for our entire PCT hike. Craig’s web application is a great tool and makes the planning process a lot easier. Thanks Craig!

The plan includes all our resupply points and provides dates for our arrival and departure from each. Of course, our actual dates will deviate a bit from the plan, but in general we expect the plan will be on target. We hope to visit with folks who live near the trail, so let us know if you would like to meet us at any of the towns listed!

Here is the plan summary: