As I tell people about my plan to thru-hike Washington I invariably get the same assortment of questions:
“Like in Wild?”
“All by yourself??”
“What about bears!?”
And after those are out of the way….
“Do you have to carry all of your food??”
I’m quite patient with my answers as I’m happy to help inform the unknowing public about the logistics of a longer backpacking trip.
However the answers to the last question are a bit more detailed, and are certainly things I never realised before starting in on my first thru-hike last year. I thought I’d share some of my meal planning strategies here in order to help others who are hoping to head out on week-long (or longer!) adventures.
1) How many calories will you need?
This isn’t necessarily the easiest calculation. First it depends on your age, weight, and metabolism. Then you have to increase the calories for more miles, major elevation changes, and for colder conditions.
For last year’s thru-hike of the John Muir Trail I packed around 2500 calories a day, and I didn’t always eat my full portion. I ended up feeling pretty hungry by about halfway through. Thankfully our last food supply had extra calories, which allowed me to comfortably complete the trail (also the most challenging part!)
For the PCT I’ve decided to increase my calorie intake to closer to 3000 calories a day. While the terrain isn’t going to be quite as challenging as the High Sierras, I expect to do more miles every day, and will likely be in slightly colder conditions this year.
2) How well-rounded a diet do you want/need?
Backpacking food is not normally the healthiest. Of course pretty well everything is dehydrated or freeze-dried, which strips a lot of the nutrients away. Plus, the extra intake of calories is pretty counter-intuitive to our current food culture. Being vegetarian I’ve faced some extra challenges for maintaining calories as well as protein levels on the trail. One particular exception I’ve made is to have fish on the trail. Last year I packed salmon jerky for nearly every lunch. This year I’ve got different flavours of white fish jerky.
I made the decision a few years back to invest in a great vegetarian backpacking cookbook. It completely changed the way I prepped for trips, and expanded my repertoire of meals.
3) Do you have a dehydrator?
Many backpackers ultimately end up investing in a dehydrator. It’s a larger investment initially, but drying your own food and creating your own meals will end up saving you tons of money. A pre-packaged backcountry meal will run you about $10 per meal. I’ve got mine down to only a few bucks with the use of my dehydrator, plus I can mix in the flavours I want!
4) How often can you get a resupply?
An average hiker carries about 2 lbs of dehydrated food per day. The fewer days you have between food drops allows you to carry a wider variety of foods (including fresh!)
I’ve tried to plan my food resupplies every 6-7 days. I’m also lucky enough to have my husband and friends bringing me my resupply boxes, which saves me from a trip into town and also saves me money in shipping and package pick-up fees. One great thing about resupply boxes is stashing extra treats for yourself, like a fresh pair of socks, a small bottle of liquor, or motivational letters from home.