Nutrition on the Trail

(I’ll be posting weekly updates on my preparations to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail this next April through September. I’m attempting to raise money for several organizations that help others, inspire, and even save lives. The PCT is a 2,650 mile long trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada. Join me in this journey by offering prayers, donations, or simply by subscribing to my blog and following along! )

I got hungry last night.

I had gone in to work having not eaten anything all day, and by the time I got home at about 7:00pm, I still hadn’t eaten. So I made myself a decent-sized hot roast beef, cheddar & mozzarella sandwich, augmented with a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup & a glass of milk.

Two hours later, I was hungry again!

This got me thinking about just how food fits into thru-hiking the PCT.

There are several things that concern me about this hike, and one is definitely food and proper nutrition. If I get hungry from just not eating for a little while and working as a studio photographer in climate controlled settings, what of the trail? Hiking the distance of a full marathon every day while carrying 20-35 pounds of pack weight up and down mountain grades in temperatures ranging from desert heat to mountain snow…It’s no wonder the average Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker loses 15-20 pounds of weight while on the trail. Also, I’ve read that the PCT thru-hiker thinks more about food than anything else while hiking!

I’m no expert, but it seems like eating right while keeping pack weight down is a key to making it all the way from Mexico to Canada successfully. So I’ve been reading. A lot. I’m slowly starting to formulate a plan for effectively nourishing myself while on the PCT.

On average, I’ll need about 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day. Easy, right? Well, I will be miles (and days!) from stores or restaurants, so everything will have to be carried by my pack horse, Stumpy. Oh, wait…I’m not bringing a pack horse… So apparently everything has to fit in my pack, and that pack is on my back. OK,  apparently I’M Stumpy the Packhorse! So whatever food I am bringing, it has to pack a punch and be light.

Stumpy the Packhorse

One thing I’ve come to understand is the more calories per ounce, the better. This naturally translates into less food weight I’ll have to carry. So I’ve put together a little “pre-list” of possible food items I’ll be looking at packing away at every re-supply stop. I’ll try and fill up some of my stash with items in the towns, as well as items I have pre-shipped to the re-supply stops.

[] Dehydrated mashed potatoes/stuffing. Thankfully, this may be an abundant food source along the trail re-supply towns. Light, starchy, good calories, semi-tasty (the first 10 times I eat it!) 🙂
[] My own homemade dehydrated meals. I’ll dehydrate these in my home-made food dehydrator I’m planning on building, then vacuum seal them for freshness. (Wait…can I use the term “freshness” when referencing something I dehydrated myself and will wait months to open?)
[] My own dehydrated snacks. Beef jerky, fruit, even granola. Where I can, I will be adding powdered or liquid supplements to the snacks to increase nutritional values. I have yet to experiment with this, but I have a feeling the taste will go down, but I’m ok with that.
[] Peanut butter. I’m going to experiment a little with the peanut butter angle by mixing in honey, brown sugar, chocolate shavings and maybe Nutella. Filled with needed fats and oils, peanut butter is an energy miracle food. One of the most densely packed (calorically) and most quickly & easily digested natural food sources we know of, I’ll be packing a good jar or two of this on every leg. On top of that, in a pinch it will be located in every town stop. (To save weight, I will mix & repackage this concoction into a lighter plastic jar I’ll be carrying with me).
[] Energy bars. I’ve found several that I think would work well without turning into goo in my pack, and one company has donated some to the cause already. My criteria is 120-130 calories per ounce, that will keep calories in and hunger out. Which brings me to….
[] Snickers. I love Snickers. But I had no idea until I started researching just how much thru-hikers seem to place Snickers on a food pedestal! Awesome! These too will not have to be pre-shipped, so I’ll save money on postage by stocking up in re-supply towns.
[] Water. I’ll write an entirely separate update just on water, but I’ll be adding some secret ingredients to the water to stay healthy (and also to mask the taste of the water I’m filtering). Right now I’m using Emergen-C, which is pretty good stuff, high in vitamins and even has a few calories. Same with FRS Energy Drink powder. I may make a home-mix of both powders, then include it in my pre-ship packages.
[] Oatmeal/granola. Not sure how many times I’ll be cooking breakfast (cooking = boiling water for oatmeal) but pouring some water on granola mixed with dehydrated milk powder may be the fanciest I get. I’ll be making my own granola, so if you know of a great recipe let me know! 🙂                                                                                                            [] Olive Oil: Added to meals, this will add about 250 calories per ounce. It’s liquid, potentially messy, but I think worth the effort to carry a little for those times I think I’ll need it. Dinners will be perfect times for the olive oil.

[] Vitamin supplements. I’ve found a fantastic supplement that covers the bases from a multi-vitamin angle, but is also infused with antioxidants and greens, grasses and carotenoids. Good stuff!

Peanut Butter & Clif Bars! Yum!!

So there’s a peek into what looks like my diet on the PCT. Not exactly Ruth’s Chris Steak House or even Burger King, but hopefully there will be time enough for that later ! 🙂

I hope you’re enjoying the little updates.  I will be trying to learn what it will take to hike this trail successfully, and will be sharing what I am learning with you as we go. I’m definitely not an expert. I won’t even be an expert after this hike! I know there are people that attempt a thru-hike of the PCT without much thought, but I believe they are setting themselves up to fail.  I want to be as prepared as possible. In my eyes, there’s a lot riding on my success. I’m not just doing it to have fun or have an adventure, which I’m sure there will be plenty of those aspects in spades. But there are people who will benefit from me making it the whole way. In that sense, it is crucial I get it right the first time. I don’t want to be one of the 80% that don’t make it to Canada. “Be prepared.” If I heed my Dads advice, I increase my statistical probability of making it the whole way.

Hope everyone is doing well, and again, thank you for joining me on this journey. It truly means a lot to me. 🙂



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6 Responses to Nutrition on the Trail

  1. Michael Bean says:

    This is an amazing idea Dug. Can’t wait to hear/read more about it.

  2. Cafe says:

    Hey Dug!! How’s it going? Back to doing some research on food as my 9-day hiking trip approaches in less than 2 weeks! I hope all is well! Have you been doing some hiking lately??

    • That’s awesome! Where are you hiking? I’m jealous. 🙂 I haven’t been hiking lately, I had a couple cool trips that were planned fall through because of work. But hopefully soon though. Next week will be the one year mark of when I got off the trail. Doesn’t seem like that long! How’s your research going? Feel good about your food situation?

      • Cafe says:

        Sorry to hear that your trips fell through! 😦
        Guess you know now where I’m going since you read the post 🙂
        The research is going alright, we’re lucky to have someone in the group who is taking more of a lead role in organizing the dehyrated meals, but I just need to provide some input to help him out. Think we’ll have something finalized tonight. Feeling good and also excited about trying this new dehydrating business!

      • They dehydrator is awesome for camping….I really like mine. I’m going to start prepping for my trip soon, figuring out recipes, researching nutritional values, etc. My dehydrator will be humming for at least a month non-stop! 🙂 Wouldn’t trade mine for anything!

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