Ever wonder what you would eat if you had no access to refrigeration, cooking was limited to boiling water, and you had to carry all your food and cooking materials in a backpack with you through the wilderness?
Glad you asked. The answer is simple, friend: your diet closely resembles that of a poor college student (a lot of ramens, pop-tarts, and miscellaneous food items wrapped in tortillas).
The culinary experience of the Pacific Crest Trail is not something that will get you excited to be out on the trail in the first place, but it is something that will make you appreciate having readily accessible food at a nearby market (it will even get you excited for things as repulsive as McDonald's).
When I was hashing out my food situation I read a number of hiker blogs and was admittedly confused.
People were actually calculating how many calories they intended to eat each day? Were these people crazy? They had every meal and snack meticulously organized, and pre-planned. How could anyone ever expect to accurately do this? My conclusion? These people are dumb. Post-PCT, my opinion has not changed.
Planning every calorie for every day of a five-month thru-hike is an embarrassing waste of time. Unless you have some serious dietary restrictions or health issues, then forget planning your food.
So how did I decide how much food to put in my resupply boxes? Easy. I just filled each box with as much food as I could. Better too much than too little, right? It was always too much.
Planning beyond my next resupply was rarely necessary out on the trail, and I would recommend that future hikers not worry about having their food planned to the tea (HA! GET IT?! Yeah, I guess it was a bit of a stretch). Unless you have thru-hiked before, then trust me, you have no idea what foods you will end up hating, what you will end up loving, or how much of it your body will need over the course of your hike.
During the planning stages of the PCT, many people sort out their food into “meals” and “snacks”. An honest mistake.
As my time on the Pacific Crest Trail wore on, I found myself no longer caring what was a “meal” and what was a “snack”. When I was hungry, I ate. If I was taking a long break, then I ate more. It's simple. I do not understand how people turn something as complicated as “when you get hungry, you eat” into something it would appear you need a degree in nutritional science to figure out.
I laughed whenever anyone asked me how many “breakfasts”, or “lunches”, or “dinners” I was packing out from town. “I have this much,” I would say pointing to my food bag, and that was the end of it. It becomes easy to predict when you will be arriving at your next resupply, and whether or not you will need to ration your food. Stressing about every resupply is not necessary.
Some days I ate cheese and tortillas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; some days I ate macaroni for breakfast, three Snickers for lunch, and cereal for dinner; and some days I ate only Clif bars. Regardless of what I ate at what time of the day, all that mattered was that I was putting calories in my body (and hopefully they would come out the other end without issue).
SNACKS! I love snacks.
Perhaps the greatest indulgence of the Pacific Crest Trail – you get to eat as many snacks as you want.
As far as I'm concerned, that's enough incentive to hike the PCT right there. Get your permit now!
Should you find yourself slightly less enthused when presented with the prospect of infinity snacks, then just imagine: your most favoritest of foods, guilelessly at your fingertips at all times of the day, every day. Unless of course, you run out. Or your favorite food is hamburgers. Or sushi. Or salad (really, salad?). Or really anything that isn't candy or trail mix. But let's not lose sight of what's really important here: snacks.
Snacking on the trail became easier as my hiker legs came into form, and my body's demand for rest become less frequent. By Washington, I was taking just a few short water breaks and one longer lunch break per day (with the exception of my daily poo break, which of course remained as long, and therefore, as enjoyable as possible).
CARRYING IT ALL
My backpack was accessible via a bottom zipper opening to the sleeping bag compartment, and for the first 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, this is where I kept my food bag.
I had no idea what I was doing.
Not only did this smash my precious pop-tarts, but it exploded my olive oil, and it meant that I needed to remove my sleeping pad each time I wanted to get at some snackage.
When I got to Kennedy Meadows and had to begin carrying a bear canister, this strategy was no longer acceptable (the bear canister would not fit into said pocket). My sleeping bag moved to its rightful compartment, and my bear canister sat upright on top of it. This system was far superior to the one I used for the entirety of the desert.
When the bear canister finally got ditched north of the Sierra, the food storage arrangement remained the same. I am sad when I think about how long it took me to figure this out.
Everything that was not individually wrapped was stripped of excess packaging and put into quart-sized Ziploc bags. I never had any problems with food leakage from Ziploc bags (not even my Gatorade powder – also in a Ziploc), and they were reusable for at least a couple of resupplies (also good for packing out trash and toilet paper).
BUT WAIT, SO WHAT DID YOU EAT?
I guess I managed to skip over the specifics, didn't I?
What follows is what I ate (aka what you can expect to eat) on the Pacific Crest Trail (ordered from approximately most eaten to least eaten):
- Snickers Bars
- Clif Bars (coconut chocolate chip is best)
- Cheese (packed out 2 pounds at a time)
- Flour tortillas
- Power Bars (mixed berry is best)
- Pop-Tarts (quite fond of cherry)
- Peanut butter
- Beef jerky (why so expensive!?)
- Ramen (mostly chicken or oriental flavored)
- Nature Valley Bars (Oats & Honey)
- Dried fruit
- Lemonade (True Lemon packets)
- Trail Mix/Gorp
- Mac & Cheese (blue box)
- High calorie muffins
- Fiesta Sides (they're OK at best)
- Bear Creek dehydrated meals (heavy but delicious)
- Cereal (Cheerios of the honey nut variety)
- Idahoan mashed potatoes (all varieties are equally disgusting)
- Assorted chips
- Freshly caught fish
- Mountain House
And that's it! Simple enough, right? I think so.