Food: Mail or Buy?

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.

Invisible Gear!

What is the lightest, cheapest hiking gear? No gear at all! A life with less stuff is a life with more room for beautiful thoughts and experiences. In that spirit, here is a list of gear we don’t plan to bring on our hike:

  • Camp shoes/sandals: no need, as we’ll spend most of our time hiking, not in camp.
  • Bowls and plates: we’ll eat straight from our pot.
  • Cooking utensils and silverware: bring only a spoon.

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: