What does a thru-hiker eat?

What will I eat during my thru-hike?

I get asked this question often.  Simplicity tends to outweigh variety for a thru-hiker who has over 2,100 miles to cover on foot!  There’s not a lot of time to break out the camp stove multiple meals a day , although a quick cup of coffee was always worth it! For “real” coffee on the trail, try Folgers Singles. In the beginning, I alternated Poptarts and oatmeal for breakfast.  As I got acclimated to the “normal” thru-hiker schedule, I opted for the ease of Poptarts as a daily breakfast, and though I never ate Poptarts back in my “real life”, I liked the smores flavor enough to eat it every day and never tire of it.  Hikers often joke of our “second breakfasts” as it doesn’t take long to burn off two high-carb toaster pastries.  My second breakfast was always something I could eat on the go, usually a Zone Perfect protein bar stored in my pocket for easy reach.  Try the Apple Gingersnap or the Salty Cashew Pretzel flavors!

Lunch usually occurred on a 20-30 minute break at a vista or on a sunny rock in the woods.  My lunch alternated between pbj tortillas and tuna tortillas.  One tortilla per meal was about all I could stomach, honestly.   These days, Starkist tuna makes delicious Mexican, Mediterranean, and Thai tuna flavors that come in pourches.  They weren’t too bad!  My favorite way to carry peanut butter was in the individual cups sold by Jif.  In towns when at a restaurant, I would collect a few extra packs of jelly or honey to go in my tortillas.

Dinner was the time I allowed myself time to cook and enjoy a relaxing meal.  Dehydrated meals like those from Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry are a breeze because they require nothing more than boiling water which can be poured directly into the package.  There is no mess to clean!  As a cheaper alternative, Knorr pasta sides could also be cooked by pouring boiling water into their foil bag, but they require a solid 17-20 minutes to cook this way.  Not only does bag cooking save mess, but it saves fuel when simmering is not required.  One can’t live very healthily off carbs alone, so plan to pack out some cheese or summer sausage to add protein and taste to the pasta.  Cheese keeps for days, even in warmer temperatures.  The sharper and drier cheeses work best. Remember the restaurants where you got that jelly for your PBJ tortillias? While there, ask for a few salt and pepper packets as well to add to your supper.

What you want the most of are snacks, things you can eat all day on the go.  Lance crackers are the highest calorie/lowest weight per ounce snack you can find.  They were not my favorite, but they did offer a quick energy boost.  Clif Bars, Cheeze-Its, Trail mix, Snickers bars, Oreos, beef jerky offer easy snack alternative.

Ok, saving the best for last, the A.T. goes through TOWNS with REAL food often enough to keep you food and beer happy!  Coming soon is an article on the best places to stop for food or drink, but rest assured, about ever y 4-5 days, you’ll walk close enough to a town to stop in for a burger or two.  Just wait for that hiker appetite….


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