The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Trail Foods
Eating right is an absolute necessity for a
thru-hiker. Planning and experience can help you maximize nutrition and
calories while minimizing cost and weight.
Probably nothing you carry on a thru-hike
represents your personality and style more than your food bag. Here's an
example of a typical day's food during my last thru-hike.
|1 cup granola
|2 oz peanuts
|4 flour tortillas
|4 Tbsp peanut butter
|1 box Mac-n-Cheese
|4 Tbsp Parkay
|1 oz TVP
Let's Break It Down
My diet for the day broke down to about 49% calories from carbohydrates (4 cal/g), 33% calories from fat (9 cal/g), and 18% calories from protein (4 cal/g). This ratio is close to the diet recommended for
long distance hikers by Dr. Brenda Braaten* (see sidebar).
3260 calories was sufficient
for me to neither gain nor lose weight during my hike.
$4.14 seems like a lot to
spend on a day's food. I generally spent about $20 for a five day
resupply, though, so it agrees with my last hike's expenditures.
27.1 ounces is about 1.7
pounds. Again, this agrees with my approximate food bag weight of
about 8 pounds (+/- 1 pound) for five days.
As you can see, I prefer quick
and easy to prepare, calorie-laden foods. None of the items on the
sample food list are exotic or expensive.
Five Things You Should Know
About Backpacking Food
Nutrition Facts panel on every food item sold in the United States is an
excellent source of objective information for the backpacker. Compare and contrast
your favorite food items to figure out what packs the most punch for its weight
and cost. Don't forget to consider the ratio of calories from carbohydrates to protein
to fat: shoot for about 50% calories from carbohydrates, 15% calories from
protein, and 35% calories from fat. Take a clipboard to the local supermarket
and write down the nutritional information for all the foods you think might
work during your hike. If you're thinking about buy-along-the-way, go to a
small market and then a convenience store and try the same thing. It can
be fun to try and fish a resupply out of a very limited selection.
really hard to get enough fat and protein in your diet. Many of the foods
sold today are the dreaded "low-fat" variety; I avoid these
foods like the plague. Parkay Squeeze Margarine is my main source of
fat. It does not contain the trans-fat that has been linked to arterial
plaques and comes in a bottle convenient for trail use. For protein, I eat Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) when I can
get it to supplement the protein in my diet from other sources. Some carry tuna fish, but I can't bring myself to carry
anything that comes in a can. Were I to find a can in a hiker box, I'd be more
apt to eat it right on the spot than to put it in my food bag.
of the pasta and rice dinners contain dried vegetables. Often I can find
dried tomatoes and other dried vegetables in the supermarket. These really help add variety,
and there are some vitamins and nutrients as well. Unfortunately,
though, dried fruits and vegetables have lost much of their nutrition due to
oxidation. Fresh vegetables are a much better source of vitamin and
nutrients. In addition, taking a multivitamin every
day can help ensure that your diet isn't lacking in some essential vitamin or
mineral. Don't overdo it, though; shoot for 100% of the USRDA, not
more or less.
simple. Every food I buy can be cooked by the boil and soak method.
Stay away from non-instant rice and uncooked beans at all costs; they're both
incredibly fuel intensive and will take forever to cook. At the end of the day,
most thru-hikers are interested in eating quick to prepare, calorie laden foods.
Dried Meals are very expensive. The manufacturers
take advantage of people's inexperience when it comes to backpacking food.
You can buy two whole days worth of food for the cost of a single freeze dried
your nutritional needs to be the same as mine. I weigh 125 lbs, have a
fast metabolism, and carry a very light pack. Your caloric needs are particular to you; do your own research and figure out what works for
you. The information in this article can help to point you in the right
direction but should not be considered a blueprint for what to buy.
|This article discusses the food items I have carried on long-distance hikes. I tend to be very tolerant of food, preferring that it be light and calorie laden rather than interesting. Also, I usually buy my food at small stores in trail towns, so exotic items are not included.
I'm not a doctor; the thoughts presented on this article are personal opinions based on my hiking experience.
|*Nutrition for Long Distance Hikers
|The information in this article comes from years of experience on the trail and several thru-hikes, but I am not a doctor. However, Dr. Brenda Braaten, an avid long distance hiker and registered dietician with a PhD in Biochemical Nutrition, has written a great series of articles on nutrition for long distance hikers. Many thanks for allowing Thru-Hiker to link to your work, Dr. Braaten!
|Have some fun with your food, too! I like to carry foot long submarine sandwiches for my first night out of town. Pulling a giant sandwich out of your pack is like a crazy magic trick. It can be a real morale booster to have one odd food item to spruce up a special meal out on the trail. Check out Asian groceries for some very interesting dried foods. You can even buy a dried octopus. Fun!
Be wary of food marketing tactics. A good example is the different pricing for different Kraft Mac-n-Cheese products. For example, "Spirals" are now 5.5 oz while the "Dinner" is 7.25 oz. Both are $.99, but the "Dinner" has 33% more calories. This is a prime example of why you should look carefully at the Nutrition Facts label of anything you buy.