Trail food and resupply strategy on the PCT can be a big deal, or not a big deal. Some folks will wing it, and others will meticulously plan every stop and box. Next to gear, it's probably the thing that most aspiring thruhikers stress about the most during the planning phase of their hike. What a thruhiker chooses to eat and how they resupply is a very personal thing, and it definitely evolves as they gain experience. What tastes good to you now may taste horrible to you even on day one of your hike. Like oatmeal and I. I loath instant oatmeal on trail.
In my normal life I eat pretty well. I avoid gluten and raw dairy, and aim to eat whole unprocessed foods that are green, organic and free range as possible. I don't eat fancy, just mostly meat and veg. I knew that monetarily speaking, it would be hard to translate my current non-hiking diet over to the trail. I accept that I will eat and crave junk food and be prone to things like Little Debbies and potato chips of any and every flavor. So, I aimed to do my resupply with core items I know I'll eat and get the macronutrients that I am most likely to have a hard time getting while hiking, primarily animal based protein.
I've spent the past like, 2 weeks sleeping and waking up next to my resupply boxes. They're still there. It's still a giant looking mess. I just finished up all of California and now I'm working on Oregon.
I have three main areas of focus when buying resupply food:
So for protein, this resulted in buying 20lbs of whey protein, hemp seeds, hemp seed bars, meat sticks, tuna packets and nut bars. My body dislikes relying on too many nuts as a primary protein source. It fucks my bowels up, so I emphasized whey and meat sticks.
I've been weightlifting for about 6 years, with the occasional lazy gap. So, I have a sort of weight training athletic brain about protein. I like to have it at most meals. I average probably 120-160 grams of protein a day in regular life. It helps stabilize my blood sugar and keeps me nice and even when I am doing anything strenuous. It's also going to help me not lose all of my precious gainz I've worked on these last few months while I'm walking my butt off on trail!
Breakfast is no cook and really simple. I blended this up while I was on the Oregon Coast and never really got tired of it: whatever granola you've got (I like high fat gluten free stuff. Living Intentions makes some really cool granolas with adaptogenic herbs in them!), hulled hemp seeds and a scoop of vanilla whey. Add some water and mix it all up. It's super good. Add in an instant coffee packet and you're going to have a very well fueled morning hike. All of this is also easy to assemble as a lunch or snack.
What kind of whey? Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey is probably the best bang for your buck in terms of quality and taste. It isn't grainy or chalky, just give it a good mix and shake and you're good. French Vanilla Cream and Double Rich Chocolate are my favorites. Vanilla is for mixing with granolas and chocolate is for drinking. I didn't get paid to say that (or anything on this website, fyi) I've just been using it for years and it's really reliable.
For dinners it's simple and predictable for me: Annie's Boxed Mac and Cheese with tuna. Nong Shim Ramens (MSG free) in regular flavor, spicy kimchi and spicy seafood. Dehydrated Curried Lentils and Rice, which is a new addition for me. I picked up the curried lentils at Taste Adventure in the 10lb size. I plan on adding taco seasoning packets to these and extra salt to dress them up a little. Flavor on trail is a huge moral booster.
Meat sticks and bars fall under this category. I bought a LOT of meat sticks ($400 worth). Epic bars were hands down one of my most favorite snack foods to eat on my last long hike. Sadly, they're very expensive, as most preserved meat products are. So, I opted for the thin meat sticks made by Vermont Sticks and Wyoming Gourmet Beef. They average about 6-8 grams of protein per stick and I gave myself three to eat each day, for 120 days of hiking. This was my most expensive food investment, and I'm glad I did it.
Since my work is located conveniently near a Grocery Outlet, I would stop by at least once a week to check up on what they have available. They have a really great selection of organic and natural foods on sale, that are usually 2-6 months from their expiration date. I added in organic cheese crackers, hemp seed bars and other nut/seed bars for super cheap. I did have to put them in my boxes according to their expiration date (eating a rancid nut bar is gross) which can be a little more time consuming but saves money. Fred Meyer almost always has Lara bars on sale for $10 for 10, so I loaded up on those too.
I mostly just wanted to cover my protein snack base. I'll fill in my craving gap when I roll through towns and the like. It's really good to leave yourself some room for whatever you're craving. Being stuck with trail food you hate is well, shitty and depressing.
supplemental food items
This! Is where I am experimenting. Allow me to introduce to you, if y'all haven't met already...
Ghee is butter with the milk solids and water removed. It's shelf stable, delicious and full of calories! And Trader Joe's has them in 8oz jars for only $3.99! This is going to up my mac and cheese game, exponentially.
It gets better! They also carry Buffalo Ghee FILLED WITH SPICES. This spice list is just beautiful from an herbalist perspective. Good for digestion, gut health, warming to the body and your circulation, inflammation and flavor. I was so excited to find these! Ghee will be mixed in with mac and cheese and my lentils.
I have also crafted this food item.
This is raw coconut butter that I bought in bulk and added in ashwagandha infused coconut oil, maple syrup, salt, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon and ginger to taste. These jars will be rationed out for the Sierra and Washington. What's good about these? Well, I will do a separate post about that later! But, I can say it's really good stuff for a person who is hiking a lot.
Vitamins & other supplements
Considering what I am about to put my body through, I figured I could help myself with additional supplements.
- Fish oil, joints and stuff.
- Glucosamine with MSM, joints.
- Magnesium, recovery.
- Multi-vitamin, to stay healthy-ish.
- And caffeine pills, to be motivated.
Yes, caffeine pills. Do you remember that episode of Saved by the Bell where Jesse is addicted to caffeine pills? It's actually kinda sad, because I do think she was dealing with a drug problem at the time. Anyway. This is my no heat and not having to worry about instant coffee sticks method of waking up and powering up when I feel like a turd.
putting it in the boxes
This my friends, is where it gets tedious.
My personal strategy was to resupply from a mailed box every theoretical 10 days. Which I calculated with Craigs PCT Planner. I say theoretical because there are a lot of elemental and physical considerations to make when hiking. I could hike faster than I think, or slower, or I could be slowed by snow, rain, wind, elevation, injury, sickness, etc. I laugh when I say snow because that's what PCT 2017 is all about: SNOW. Sigh.
Anyway. Each box has 5-8 days of food in them depending on location. Sierra boxes get extra food due to reported increased hunger and bail out food, if I find conditions too extreme for my abilities and I need to turn around for safety (this is a record snow year).
Instead of sorting my food by each meal each day, I just bagged them by how much I assume I'll use. So for example, three meals worth of lentils and rice goes into one gallon zip lock. All my snack bars and meat sticks are in one big ziplock. Granola stays in it's original packaging. Mac and cheese and ramen are already in individual servings. You save on zip locks and waste this way.
Sending them off
Using a combo of Half Miles Resupply Notes, Craigs PCT Planner and the 2016 Resupply Survey done by Halfway Anywhere I was able to estimate where and when are good places to send boxes. Or I was able to determine where I could just resupply out of a town (preferably with a natural foods store).
Since my old job and work place is basically a mail order business, my co-workers agreed to help me send my boxes for me. So, I've got a rack where all my boxes will be stacked for them to send out.
Each box is labeled with an ETA of my arrival and will be somehow uniquely marked so that they'll be somewhat easily found in the depths and piles of other hikers boxes. I still need to do that part.
That is that, in the realm of my resupply. I hope I eat all my food, I hope every box arrives as planned and I hope rats and mice stay away from having a nibble on my foodstuffs.