It’s crazy to think that 10 months ago I was writing out our Food Resupply Strategy for our Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. For those of you planning a thru-hike of your own, I wanted to write a little article about how our food strategy actually played out on the trail. You can check out the original article here. (For the record, we completed 2400 out of 2650 miles and will be finishing up the section we missed later this year.)
Over 5 months and 2400 miles on the PCT, we stopped to resupply for food 20 times averaging 120 miles between resupplies. Of those 20 times, 10 times were from boxes we made before hitting the trail.
Our pre-trail plan included 12 boxes tentatively to be shipped to the following locations:
In the end, only 10 boxes got sent out and only 6 (with an asterisk) of the locations listed above were used for mail drops.
From my experience on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, I have learned that mail drops seem like a good idea, but in reality, they often are more trouble than they are worth. For example, there is nothing more annoying than realizing you will be arriving in town early Saturday evening meaning you will have to wait until Monday morning to get your box from the post office. Even worse if it’s a long holiday weekend. Also, if you are planning on buying in bulk for your boxes, you will most definitely be tired of the food you packed by box 3. Sure, buying ahead of time helps put some trail expense behind you and saves you time at the grocery store on your precious Zero Days. But, there was never really a time that a mail drop was absolutely necessary. My suggestion? If you don’t have a specific diet and are not dehydrating your own food, make 10 or less boxes ahead of time. Leave them open and without an address that way you have total flexibility. If you don’t have anyone at home to ship them out for you, you can always mail yourself a box from a bigger town to a stop you know will just be a gas station.
Before stepping foot on the trail, I stressed out about what exactly I would be eating in the backcountry. I searched and searched for new ideas only to find the same old things – nuts, granola bars, candy bars, tortillas, peanut butter, poptarts, pasta sides, ramen, instant mashed potatoes, etc.
And guess what?
That’s what I ate on trail for about 5 months. So much bleached flour and sugar/ high fructose corn syrup. Blech. I will say, my on trail diet is one of my least favorite things about long distance hiking. The only perk is that you can eat as much as you want whenever you want without much consequence. Like, you know, a half gallon of ice cream when you get to town…
Here’s what we typically ate on trail:
We were looking for the lightest weight, least bulky, and most calorically dense foods on the market which translates into a a diet of high amounts of calories yet low amounts of nutrition. Also, affordability is key for us. Sure, I’d love Mountain House meals every day, but at $9+ for maybe 700 calories, I’ll stick to Pasta Sides. It is absolutely possible to eat way healthier than I chose to, but it will likely cost you financially and in weight on your back. So, of course, food is up to you! But unless you are making your own dehydrated food, there’s no need to waste hours searching across the internet for “backpacking food ideas” like I did. Some of your stops will be a gas station or a very small grocery store. You’re very likely going to eat a lot of the items I listed above.
We did the entire desert section (700 miles) of the PCT without a stove or pot to cook in.
Here’s what we liked about it:
I will say, when we got our stove back, we were glad to have it and did use it most every day. I will go stoveless in the future when backpacking where water is scarce. If water is not an issue, I will likely carry the stove. Going stoveless is very doable, saves you weight, and makes a lot of sense in the desert.
Lots of people overpack their mail drops and food sacks and ditch their unwanted items in hiker boxes. If you’re in town, check the hostel / hotel / gas station for a hiker box for some free food! A lot of the time it’s oatmeal, unlabeled dehydrated ???, gallon size bags of nuts people didn’t want to carry, etc, but I’ve also scored tuna packets, full peanut butter jars, and Mountain House Meals. Check the boxes before you hit the grocery store. Thank the suckers that overpacked their mail drops 😉 (Note – hiker boxes aren’t just for food. I’ve seen every imaginable piece of gear, toiletries, shoes, etc.)
If you’re not on a limited diet, plan and stress less. You don’t need a mail drop for every (or even many) stops along the way. You do not need to pre-plan every meal or know every town stop you will make before you leave home. Assuming you have a guide, you will know how many miles between resupply points ,and you’ll continuously get better at estimating how much food to bring. Once in the backcountry, the trail life will become so routine you’ll wonder why you ever worried about resupply.