Planning Food and Meals for a Thru-Hike
With a 4,000 calorie a day intake, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers still lose on average 10-20 pounds when all is said and done. Given this deficiency in calories, hikers are known for their off-trail feasts in towns crossing the trail. When not in-town feasting, hikers have their own preferences for nourishment on the trail. Mostly every hiker will have three meals, but what they eat and how they plan and prepare it varies. Impractical to eat off the land, all hikers should plan to stop in order to resupply.
Food required for one day weighs approximately two pounds, and with everything else a hiker carries, hikers typically resupply anywhere from every six to ten days. Resupplying can be done in two ways, hikers can either purchasesupplies from convenience stores and general stores in towns crossing the AT, or they can pick up care packages sent from home via mail drops. Either way, getting to these places will take additional time and effort.
The Appalachian Trail Data Book and the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion both include listings of directions and distances needed to go from roads crossing the AT to groceries, supplies, lodging, restaurants and post offices.
The majority of hikers will buy half the food they’ll be consuming along the way, and they’ll have the other half mail-dropped to them. Needing food that is lightweight, high in calories, resistant to spoiling, and fast and easy to cook, peanut butter, noodles, canned tuna fish, sardines, nuts, instant oatmeal, coffee and tea, gorp, etc… are all popular staples.
Freeze-dried food is available at most grocery stores and even in the remote country stores along the trail. Only taking a pot, a stove, some fuel and 5-10 minutes to cook, freeze-dried food is quick and easy. Cooking and eating out of one pot will cut down on pack weight, and a pocketknife will generally work for food preparation.
Another option is home-dried food. Though home-dehydrated food is generally healthier, tastier and less expensive than other options, this takes much pre-planning. In addition to preparing the food, this method requires hikers to carefully plan when and where to mail drop the care packages.
Mail drops can be done through businesses or post offices. An advantage of using a business as opposed to the post office is that businesses are often open seven days a week, including some holidays. Post offices are required to hold care packages for AT hikers thirty days, and many will hold them longer for you, though using mail drops alone will most likely require some assistance from someone at home to send the packages to the right mail drop and at the right time.
Nearly all thru-hikers will use a stove and fuel. A stove and fuel for one week will add about two to four pounds to your pack’s weight. Minimalist hikers may omit the stove altogether and eat mainly cold food, with the occassional fire-cooked food. However, hunting for firewood, building a fire, and so on, all take time and energy; and in addition to this, many camp sites are designated “no fire areas”.