Food

If you’re thru-hiking, you are probably packing light and hence carrying dehydrated, lightweight food and not hauling some pot-and-pan cookset with you. So, most “cooking” on the trail involves boiling some water and pouring it over a dry meal to rehydrate it. Not exactly gourmet. A kit that only boils water, obviously need to be lightweight.

If you’re thru-hiking, you will need to pack food with a high calorie-content per weight. Some talk about food items with at least 100 calories per ounce, but that’s likely to technical and nerdy for most of us to calculate. Here are a list of popular food items among thru-hikers, in case you haven’t planned a full resupply of your own precooked and dehydrated meals:

  • Nuts and trail mix (especially peanuts as they are cheap)
  • Instant rice
  • Instant pasta or noodles, such as Top Ramen
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Tortillas (they pack easy, last long, go well with most meals, high calorie)
  • Peanut butter
  • Chocolate bars
  • Candy (this becomes a great subject as everybody turns kids: I love jelly beans! No, gold-fish rocks!)
  • Raisin and trail-bars
  • Tuna in pouches
  • Vegetables, fruits and meats are a no-go. Take revenge on these dietary item when you reach a resupply town.
PCT0083

The hiker box

At most resupply towns, there’ll be a big box of things that people have left behind and are up for grabs. Mostly food. As most have large food shipments arriving, they are simply dumping their surplus calories into this box. Hike 2 weeks behind the main northbounding pack of people and you can likely live off their left overs, as some apparently have done. If you’re southbounding, you will love this phenomena for the 2-3 weeks that you cross the northbounding wave of hikers and then love the serenity once the pack is behind you.

Resupply strategy

On the PCT, you can roughly divide your options of resupply into 3 categories: Full shipments, buy-as-you-go or hybrid (highly underrated and hence underused).

Full shipment

– means that you have your entire food resupply planned before you set off on the trail. You will need a “logistics manager” at home who can send out the packages on your request to post-offices and various resorts. It is likely the most common option and a fairly attractive one.

Advantages:

You can prepare a great variety of dehydrated, healthy and fairly delicious meals at a very reasonable cost. You just need a dehydrator and some vacuum-packaging.

You can meet any dietary requirements you might have.

You can pick up your resupply at a resort close to trail and don’t have to hitchhike to the nearest supermarket or poorly-stocked gas-station.

Since you are receiving lots of packages, you can ask for certain non-food items to be shipped out as well: gloves, new shoes, paper-maps, personal medicine etc.

Disadvantage:

You will need lots of preparation time in preparing all the meals, though many find this process interesting.

You will have to plan how much food you need for each section, and will likely prepare way too much food.

You are dependent on some one else to ship you food. As in, maybe, your parents. Yes, admitted, it’s an ego thing.

You might get tired of the 40 meals of chicken-curry that you shipped out to yourself, but you have little options for changing your meal-plan as you go.

You will be dependent on irregular small post-office opening hours (as in, you have to make it to Town before Friday 3pm and will get stranded with nothing to do at an expensive hotel in a village until Monday when the post-office opens again).

Buy-as-you-go

– means that you just walk and figure out your resupply from dot-to-dot. I did this, as I had no time to plan a resupply and don’t live in the US. It is doable but not optimal.

Advantages:

No months of meal preparation: cooking, dehydrating, packing.

No need for “your mom” to send you food, no support team needed.

You can adapt your food choices, according to your taste (if you get very tired of eating mac-n-cheese, then buy something else)
No worries about post office opening hours

Disadvantages:

Many resupply options along the trail are very limited in options (gas stations, resort shops) and you will be eating some sad food along the way (surviving on snickers, peanuts, chips and beef jerky).

The small resupply shops are expensive, but you save money on shipping so it is probably comparable in cost to a full-shipment plan.

You will have to hitchhike to each resupply town, as you can’t simply pick up a box from a resort along the trail.

Since you don’t receive packages, it is a little more difficult to replace your gear or receive new shoes. However, you can easily order things online and just have it shipped as general delivery to a post office or a resort along the trail (shoes etc)

Hybrid

You buy as you go, but for some sections where there are poor resupply options you shop-ahead in the local supermarket and send a couple of packages ahead to yourself (post offices and most resorts will hold your package for 30 days). I met very few people who did this, but when you talk with thru-hikers about a food-resupply strategy, everybody seems to agree that this model would be the perfect middle way. I would certainly do this, if I were to hike again.

Advantages:

No planning ahead

No cooking ahead

You support the local towns along the trail

No dependency on your mom to ship you food

You can skip a bunch of hitchhikes as you’ve shipped a package ahead to a resort close to the trail.

Probably the cheapest of the 3 options

Change your food choices along the way and don’t get stuck with your preplanned mac-n-cheese

Little dependency on irregular small town post-office hours. Out of the 6-10 packages you will be sending, at least half will be picked up at resorts with more flexible opening hours.

Disadvantages

A little bit of extra work in 3-5 resupply towns as you shop, pack and send your food ahead.

No option of receiving non-food items during your hike (say paper maps, new gear, medicine etc)

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