The Food Diaries of a PCT Thru-Hiker


Every day of the previous 5 months, as I’ve made my approach via 2,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve been in a relentless state of starvation.

Besides the variety of miles I’ll cowl in a given day and the place I’ll sleep at evening, I put essentially the most thought towards what I’ll eat throughout the journey from Mexico to Canada. I continually surprise if I’m getting the suitable nutrient stability and a adequate variety of energy, as any shortcomings in these areas might imply much less power, dramatic weight reduction, or sickness.

But discovering the right combination of meals to gas mountaineering 30-mile days whereas nonetheless becoming it right into a backpack is past troublesome. Only now, with lower than 600 miles remaining, have I discovered an excellent system. Although it could be virtually too late for me to profit totally from this data, I’m right here to move alongside my classes.

For me, the largest problem was discovering the suitable ratio of energy to weight. It’s powerful, since you transfer via areas with various terrain and levels of problem, and your gear and calorie expenditure differ fairly vastly from part to part. The common male wants 3,500 to 4,000 energy per day relying on the ruggedness of the trail that day, whereas a girl must eat 3,000 to three,500 given the identical concerns. To cope, I attempted all the things from overloading my pack with greater than per week’s price of backpacker-friendly meals to counting on luxurious objects like cheese and salmon packets for only a five-day provide (which labored significantly better for me).

Here’s what I discovered.

In the morning, I stick to 3 objects: a Clif Builder’s Protein bar, a Kind bar, and beef jerky. (Courtesy Matt Vasilogambros)


Many thru-hikers swear by oatmeal, however I’ve discovered an easier option to eat within the morning. As I break camp at 5:30 a.m., I chug water and eat a dense protein bar. I change between Pro Bars and RX Bars. While expensive, they’re full of fruit and nuts, have loads of flavors to select from to keep away from taste fatigue, and hold me full till the primary water and snack break a pair hours later.

Why It Works: When Matt begins with a Pro Bar or RX Bar within the morning, he’s placing the suitable stability of carbs, fats, and protein to offer sustenance till his subsequent snack break, says Brenda Braaten, a retired registered dietitian and thru-hiker.

Somehow, I weened myself off espresso and don’t want a caffeine hit within the morning. But Mio iced espresso squeeze is an effective substitute once I determine I actually need a repair.

As I journey earlier than lunch, I exploit each stream or spring to refill on water and eat extra meals. Between breakfast and lunch, I stick to 3 objects: a Clif Builder’s Protein bar, a Kind bar, and beef jerky. Once the jerky runs out, which tends to occur within the first 2 days of my most popular 5 days’ price of provides, I lean on additional nuts packed for backup. I used to eat Welch’s Fruit Snacks, that are scrumptious, however I switched these out for a clementine at lunch. While it weighs extra, there are few higher pick-me-ups on the path than contemporary fruit.

Why It Works: Of all his snacks, Braaten likes Kind bars the most effective as a result of they’re good sources of shortly digested glucose that your physique burns as gas. “Keep the sugar coming in a pretty steady stream all day long so you don’t deplete glycogen stores,” she says.

Tuna in a tortilla is the right hiker lunch. (Courtesy Matt Vasilogambros)


A staple of the hiker lunch is a flavored StarKist tuna packet on a Mission tortilla. Filling and protein-heavy, it’s additionally unbelievably straightforward to assemble. When we keep over in a city, I’ll pack out a block of cheddar cheese from the final retailer so as to add to the tuna. Cheese, whereas heat towards the tip of the week, received’t spoil. In the larger cities with higher supermarkets, I’ll swap the tuna packets for an avocado or summer time sausage. For extra taste and energy, I drizzle olive oil and scorching sauce on the wrap.

After the tuna, there’s at all times a dessert wrap lathered up with Nutella or peanut butter and sometimes some dried banana chips. I’d warning towards dehydrated peanut butter—it simply doesn’t style good.

To actually make lunch filling, I usually complement the wraps with a Snickers bar, a number of handfuls of Goldfish or Cheez-Its, that clementine I discussed, and a liter of water with 4 squirts of Mio electrolyte supplements.

Why It Works: These wraps present fats, protein, and carbohydrates in a single sitting, making them an important selection for path lunches, says Braaten. The tortilla is very key as a result of it’s manufactured from carbs that shortly convert to sugar to assist gas muscle tissues. Since the physique doesn’t have to achieve deep into its glycogen shops for power, the protein and fats aren’t used till later, offering larger sustenance and aiding muscle constructing, she says.

After a considerable lunch and with fewer miles to hike for the remainder of the day, I solely want 2 snacks to carry me over via the afternoon. I stick to a different Kind bar and both a Nature Valley Sweet and Salty nut bar, a Bobo bar, or a pack of Keebler cheese crackers.

Why It Works: Planning for a number of snacks post-lunch is a good suggestion. “Small, frequent meals are much more efficiently digested than only two meals a day,” says Braaten.

Adding a salmon packet is a good way to get extra protein. (Courtesy Matt Vasilogambros)


A Mountain House dinner is your tastiest wager, but it surely’s cost-prohibitive. A dinner pouch can run you upwards of $9. And although many hikers advocate for Knorr-brand sides and instantaneous mashed potatoes, I shortly bought sick of them.

Eventually, although, I discovered 2 meals that serve me properly. The first, Near East couscous, is simple to make and filling and is available in many flavors, like broccoli and cheese, Mediterranean curry, and mushroom and herb.

The 2nd got here on account of my speedy weight reduction within the Sierra mountains: precooked quinoa, mushroom, and rice pouches offered in Safeway. Then I add a salmon packet for extra protein. For taste, I throw sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, scorching sauce, and taco seasoning into the pouch.

Why It Works: Timing of the meal is essential. Hikers ought to eat dinner inside 20 minutes of finishing the day’s mountaineering to replenish their glycogen provide, says Braaten. While precooked meals make getting ready dinner simpler and faster, be conscious that they’re usually greater in carbohydrates than protein. Braaten suggests supplementing these meals with a high-quality supply of protein, just like the salmon packet Matt makes use of.

I often high the evening off with a handful of peanut M&M’s, a half-liter of water with a Nuun hydration tablet, and a cup of inexperienced tea.

Why It Works: Staying hydrated on the path is significant. While the quantity of water a hiker ought to drink varies from individual to individual, Braaten says hikers can use what number of rest room breaks they take as a information to whether or not they’re ingesting sufficient water. Ideally, hikers ought to go to the toilet instantly after waking up and take no less than 5 breaks all through the day. If they select to have espresso or tea, each of which each comprise caffeine and have a small dehydrating impact, hikers want so as to add a further cup of water to their hydration plan to make up for water loss.

—Additional reporting by Colette Harris.

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