“This cold evening bites at my skin. I start to hear my stomach making that noise I’ve heard so many times before. I’m starving, but I have no energy left. 26 miles I’ve done today, with only a spoon full of Nutella to suffice. It’s wet. Everything I own is wet. I begin to set up the only space that I call my own out here, I like to call it my room. As I lay in my spacious two-person North Face tent, I pull out the whiskey, a gift some other hiker handed me 40 miles back. Shivers running down my spine, I drink some, not a lot, and finally starting to feel my toes again. I begin to fade with only a half-eaten granola bar in one hand and the whiskey in the other. Drifting. Too tired to eat. Too tired to speak. Too tired to write anymore.”
-PCT journal entry, July 9th, 2016.
I’ve decided to write a blog post about one of my most frequently asked questions- what do I bring for food when I am out backing? Well, hopefully, I didn’t give it away too much in the title of this blog post. lol. I’ll continue to backpack by this very cheesy yet true motto- when in doubt get some whiskey out.
I wanted to share a story with all of you, about how my backpacking diet has changed over the course of a couple of years. When I think about what food I bring in the backcountry, I will always remember this one story about a funny PCT hiker dude, who literally changed my whole perspective about meals on trail-
I remember meeting a French fellow on the PCT in 2016 around mile 200 and something. He was wearing keen sandals (which I was definitely questioning his blister/foot pain level), a dull sweat-stained green shirt, and bright green crocks hanging off his pack. Already, I knew this guy was going to be hilarious, and something was going on upstairs with him. A little strange, but after thinking about it, we all were a little crazy. You can’t get away with hiking the PCT without being weird yourself. Anyways, his thick accent almost made it hard for me to understand, but he was definitely a PCT trail hoot.
One thing I remembered from this guy who I can’t remember his name, was his existential knowledge of cooking. It would be hard to deny that the French cook pretty damn good food. And I think every American knows this. Overall, this little encounter with this Frenchman changed my mind on what to put in my food sack. It led me to pack the way. Who knew this quirky yet very kind dude, had such an impact on me.
He opened his sack, and I saw nothing but the very basic ingredients, like something you would find on your moms lazy Suzan. Bottles, cans, and containers of an array of spices, flour, and basic cooking ingredients. He was making bread for heaven's sake. I couldn’t understand how or why or for what reason he would be carrying all this, as I started making my one of many mountain house meals. I remember resembling this feeling of being “underdressed” in a way, because of my very basic camp food set up- that left me, with stomach issues and irritable bowels because I wasn’t use to this many calories and carbs entering my body.
I ended up losing 10 pounds in the first two weeks of hiking because I didn’t end up eating. I was too tired to boil water in the evening, and my body got used to the very minimal nutrients I supplied it. I guess averaging 30 miles a day in the Cascades will wear you down to a point where food doesn’t even sound good.
But after my encounter with this awesome dude, it made me rethink my fragmented reality on hiking food, meaning, that I need to bring food that I WILL enjoy and that I WILL eat. Because, LOL, we won’t smile until our bellies smile.
So with that, I am going to start with what I bring for breakfast-
I’m not a breakfast person. It’s hard for me to eat something right away, so I usually pack up camp, start walking for an hour or two, then stop and make some breakfast. The first thing I eat would be oatmeal. The fruity kind. I am ALWAYS craving fruity foods on the trail, which helpful tip, usually means you’re dehydrated. Which makes sense cause stopping for water a lot throughout the day, meant I would get fewer miles in. I was pretty fucking stupid, so don’t do this. Staying hydrated is the most important preventative you can do to your body when out on the trail. So anytime I can, I’m making sure I’m drinking A LOT of water.
Anyways, I know a lot of people that make their own oatmeal (with dried fruits) from Whole Foods or something like that, but I just get the small Quaker Oats meal packets because they are light, and have plenty of calories to get you through the next couple of hours. If not oatmeal, maybe a scoop of peanut butter from my little plastic bag I re-sealed with about a cup of PB in it. Or a Luna Bar.
I don’t like to make elaborate meals until dinner time because I don’t want to waste too much gas making food on my MSR pocket rocket. I usually find myself snacking throughout the day. I LOVE snacking on cheese. Yes, cheese. Yes, I bring a whole brick of cheese. Sometimes I will get the mozzarella pre-sliced cheese, but other than that I like the Tillamook bricked cheese. If I am not snacking on that, I will find myself eating some jerky or deli sliced pepperonis. I know some of you are probably vegetarian if so there are a lot of meat alternative snacks you could bring instead. But meat has always been a huge part of my diet. Another huge snack food for me is tortillas. They have tons of calories in them, and they’re amazing because you could eat them plain, or put all of the snacks that I said above^ in them as well. Soooo good, and you could literally put anything in a tortilla and it still tastes good. Like some Snickers. I know a ton of people that bring bagels on the trail, but I bring croissants instead cause they are usually lighter bread and have higher calories and are super delicious. GoGo Squeeze is also a good snack for people that like more sweet than savory. I will also have some Ramen on me as well.
Dinner is the only time of the day where I can relax and boil some water without the fear of if I will accomplish all the miles I need to get done that day. I like to spend as little as possible cooking, so I have time in my tent off my feet reading or writing. So for dinner, I LOVE pasta. I eat a ton of Annies Mac and Cheese and tortellini. I bring a couple of ounces of olive oil along with salt and pepper to put some life into both of those dishes. I also bring some other spices like cayenne pepper (which cayenne pepper is really good for IBS and if you’re generally a cold person. It can heat you up pretty quickly), dried green chilies, and salt and pepper. I know a lot of hikers that carry siracha. I’m not a huge fan of sriracha, so that stays home. I will also pre-cook some seasoned canned chicken for chicken and cheese cassidillas or to put in the Annies Mac.
People ask me if any of this food will go bad while I’m hiking outside, and it usually won’t in a 4-5 day period. I’ve never had meat or cheese go bad when I’m hiking. Too short of a time for it to go sour.
I also bring quinoa or instant rice with dried veggies to make somewhat of a stir-fry. If I’m on smaller backpacking trips, like two or three-day adventures, I bring real veggies cause I am okay with carrying the extra water weight...
I stopped bring Mountain house or any other freeze-dried food brand because to me it just doesn’t taste good, and I think I have had enough of that food to last me a lifetime. But for safety, I might bring 1 if I get really low on calories. There is one Mountain house meal I love, which is the breakfast scramble because I can add some olive oil, cheese, and put it in a tortilla for a breakfast burrito.
Ziplocks are my friend. And vacuum pack sealers. I don’t know where I would be without these things. I repackage almost everything I pack. Annie’s Mac, I repackage along with pasta, Quinoa, and maybe even refried beans into new vacuum pack sealed bags. Much lighter, and you can bring more foods you would like to have instead of freeze-dried food. My mother who is an angel, repackaged my food for me while I was on the PCT using the vacuum pack sealer they use to make homage jerky. It was too awesome, but just remember to pack out all of your trash, because that can start to add up quickly.
For shorter trips, I like to bring heavier more conventional foods like peaches, apples, some tortilla chips, maybe salsa, or any snack foods that I love. I feel like since the trip is shorter, I can break down my body more with a heavier pack because I won’t be out there for multiple weeks or months. My body can handle it. And it’s great training for longer trips.
Let’s get this straight- I am not a cook or even the slightest bit good at cooking. So a lot of this food is kind of my basic bitch go-to. Ramen, Annies, bagels, I mean pretty basic. I wish I could make more elaborate meals, but food is not the number one thing I am worried about or worried about doing. I am more focused on taking pictures or exploring more. So the easier my food is to make, the better.
Thanks for reading.