Stoveless Food On A Thru Hike: Mistakes I Made & What I’m Changing This Time

In my element on the Pacific Crest Trail PB&J with crushed up tortilla chips.

Oh food.

Friggin’ hose me down.

In 2016 I started with good intentions.

I really did.

There are two things to note before we get into what I ate / will eat:

Firstly, at home I eat a balanced healthy (mostly) whole foods diet. I am also a vegetarian! Yay plants! yay trees! yay self righteousness! I have been flirting with veganism for 4 months. I’m tempted this year to try this out on trail and see if I can make it work?

Secondly, I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and this causes me to not tolerate, dairy, fructose or fibre well. It also means that the nutrients I do eat are not well absorbed by my body. If I’m not very careful about what I eat I tend to get bloated and or constipated (cute) and or crap myself (not that that last one has ever has ever happened….certainly not on trail in the middle of the night in California…no…certainly not).

WHAT I DID WRONG ON MY FIRST THRU-HIKE OF THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL: 

Tom (Jansport) and his prized fresh apple melting at a trail magic stop in the desert. 

NOT ENOUGH PROTEIN:

Most vegetarian sources of protein are hard on my guts eg. certain nuts, too many dehydrated beans and dairy. With all the muscle you build on trail (especially for women – your legs get SWOL) you need to ensure your protein intake is high enough. As a plus I find it tends to make me feel more full than carbs do.

TOO MUCH CAFFEINE, REFINED CARBS AND SUGAR:

I left all my good intentions somewhere on windswept ridge line in the desert. By the Sierra the food I was eating was thru-hiking garbage and it was definitely was not dairy free. One resupply (Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth) was almost entirely Twizzler’s Pull n Peel Cherry, Skittles (taste the acidic rainbow) and Honey Mustard Snyder’s Pretzels (get that hose out again). Oh My Lanta…

CARING TOO MUCH ABOUT MAXIMISING CALORIES:

Last time I cared more about how many calories were in food, than where those calories were coming from. I will not let calories dominate my resupply this time. It’s all about finding food that will physically help my body and how it can positively affect my energy levels.

I will still incorporate high calorie, nutritionally dense foods of course, but I am OK with making my pack weight go up just a little if it means the food I’m eating is going to keep my body healthily chugging along. It all gets lighter as you eat it anyway.

WHAT MY TRAIL DIET LOOKED LIKE IN 2016:

Hiker diets come in a few different categories. Some eat cheap junk food the whole way with no obvious ill effects, some make and dehydrate all of their own food before trail, some cook breakfast lunch & dinner and some don’t cook at all.

I never cooked on my hike and I don’t plan to this year. For a majority of the PCT I did not have defined lunch / dinner / snack lines. I cold soaked my food in a Talenti jar for a while, but I eventually got rid of my spoon and the jar. I just snacked all day on the go instead.

My diet from that point onward looked like this collage I have lovingly put together for you. Food along these lines is basically what fuelled me for three quarters of the trail.

STUFF I ATE ON TRAIL (and obviously why I ended up feeling so terrible):

OH BOY. Look at the state of it.

I was a bit of a mess after all that to be honest. Please note the 5 Hour Energy shots and the caffeine pills. Not shown is the caffeinated drink mixtures and the caffeinated Mint Chocolate Cliff Bars I pounded for breakfast. By Washington, eating like this was seriously sapping my energy, but I was hooked on the sugar highs and then desperately trying to escape the crashes with more sugar. I continued like this all the way to the end.

WHAT I WILL BE EATING THIS YEAR:

I just want a small disclaimer before we get into it:  junk food is still going to make an appearance in my approach this year (I LOVE JUNK I CAN’T HELP IT). I’m not going to be walking down trail munching bag after bag of baby spinach and snorting kombucha, but this time is going to be about balance.

RESUPPLY:

I will be going for a combination resupply strategy. What I mean by that is that I will be sending myself some boxes of food to stops along the trail and also resupplying from towns with bigger stores as I go. I will talk more about this in another post, as resupply is a beast all of its own.

INTAKE ESTIMATES:

I’m estimating with my mileage this year I’ll be aiming to consume anywhere from 4,000 – 6,000 calories a day. I will be hiking anywhere up to 30 – 50 miles per day (not counting the Sierra) and will need to replace the fuel I use.  I’ll try and get close to this target, but to be honest I’m not too concerned and I have faith in my ability to catch up on intake in town if need be (mmm town food).

MANAGING HIKER HUNGER:

From my previous thru I know I will find it hard to eat in the desert for the first 150 miles or so as the heat tends to zap my hunger. Hiker hunger will follow this stage, around Paradise Café/ Idyllwild (mile 180). I’ll need to increase my calories to around 3-4,000 a day. I’ll continue to ramp up the calories from then on, especially during the Sierra section, where more food will mean ensuring my core is nice and warm at night.

So Let Operation ALL THE GOODNESS Commence!


BREAKFAST:

I’m sorry cold oatmeal lovers, you are weird – and when I cold soak it – it turns into glue. I find most instant oatmeal (like Quaker) is just WAY too sweet for me (said the girl who 100% drank Monster Energy in the gutter on town stops last time). 

So I will be eating:

OPTION ONE:

BARS!!!

My favourite bars that pass the lower sugar test for this year. I”ll miss you Luna Bars – you are one of a kind.

Oh, I do love bars for breakfast. Since I enjoy getting out of camp quick in the morning, bars are perfect for eating as I walk along with the sunrise.

In 2016 I was all about eating two Cliff Bars for breakfast, but as the trail wore on there were only about 4 flavours that didn’t make me want to hurl. I tried one again recently for the first time since trail and boy are they sickly SWEET! This time I’m aiming mainly for bars with lower sugar content.. a.k.a NO MORE SUGAR CRASHES! WOO!

Goodbye daily Cliff Bars and hello: 

Pro Bars low in sugar, full of good stuff / TJs Trail mix bars, cheap and delicious / Lara Bars These can get old for me really quickly and all the dates sometimes made my insides feel super acidic, but they are nice / Odwalla Bars They are not super popular on trail, but I’m gross I guess and I love them / Kashi Bars I can’t believe I almost forgot some of my favourites – the mocha and the dark chocolate cherry kinds are heavenly, but dry (make sure you drink water with them!).

Bars that I haven’t tried, but are on my radar: Health Warrior: Chia Bar  / Go Macro Protein Bars / Annie’s Brand Granola Bars

OPTION TWO: 

Granola w/ Protein Powder

I’m going to hit up something a long the lines of:

For a stretch in the desert I ate granola for breakfast AND lunch mmm

And basically just any varieties with lots of nuts / seeds + as little added sugar as possible. I will add even more extra nuts and chia seeds also. 

I will be using this protein powder. I am crossing my fingers it works for me as I haven’t tried it yet, but it is supposed to be IBS friendly (unlike pea protein or other plant based alternatives that make me bloated as heck).

DINNER / LUNCH:

STUFF TO COLD SOAK a.k.a things you will later in the trail top with crushed up potato chips:

Instant Re-fried Beans:

Found in the bulk bins at natural food stores/ Whole foods / at some Walmart’s (look for the Fantastic Foods brand in packets).

All you do is add water and wait until you get a creamy, salty, delicious bean mush that you can add to things or dip things in. I’m going to have to be careful (just as I was last time) as too many beans will mean hell for my belly.

Meal ideas: Scooped out of a zip-lock with tortilla chips, mixed with instant mashed potatoes or added to a tortilla with fresh avocado. Bonus if you can find those little single serve Sriracha packets to squeeze all over.

Rice noodles: 

Not many calories in these, but they are an alternative to ultra popular ramen (which I actually don’t eat on trail). They re-hydrate in very little time and are light to carry. 

Meal ideas: add peanut butter and sriracha (aka trail satay) or fresh avocado and walnuts.

Instant Mashed Potatoes:

Something I only realised I loved on the second to last day of the PCT. Let’s make up for lost time baby.

I tried Idahoans once in the desert and didn’t add enough water. It was like eating chunky sand. It tasted so bad I gagged. I didn’t finish it and packed it out instead. When you actually add the right amount of water these re-hydrate quicker than anything. They are better than people give them credit for, cheap and delicious.

Meal ideas: Instant bean stuff (above), walnuts, seeds and nutritional yeast flakes (cheese substitute, with added b12 – great for vegetarians and vegans on trail). Dehydrated vegetables (like peas or broccoli florets (Trader Joe’s)

Instant Bean Soups:

I hate instant split pea soup with a passion, but instant black bean / lentil soup is not bad at all. Again, like the re-fried beans it can be found in bulk bins at whole food markets, sometimes it can be found in single serve containers (that you can transfer into zip-lock baggies) in larger supermarkets.

Meal ideas: I liked to add stuff like nuts and seeds to bulk it out a little.

STUFF YOU CAN JUST EAT:

Tortillas / Bread / Bagels:

The mighty tortilla. There to wrap up everything you have left in your food bag. Extra points if you make plane noises as the monster burrito heads toward your mouth for the first bite.

Bread and bagels I used in exactly the same way – just whatever I could find to put between two pieces!

Add things like: Instant refried beans, peanut / almond butter, avocado, vegan cream cheese, Marmite (I just might bring some this time) – and all the chip crumbz.

resupplied and ready to go for the last two and a half days on trail (feat. chips strapped to my pack)

SNACKS!! MY FAVOURITE GENRE OF FOOD:

They are quick / easy and I can eat them while I walk. Snacking means I also have no clean up to deal with. Sometimes I just eat pure snacks for breakfast (I am so wild try and stop me).

Mostly everything I adore can be found at Trader Joe’s. It is an absolute crime that we do not have this store at home here in New Zealand. Put me in a TJ’s and watch me float down the aisles in pure bliss. They all wear vacation shirts too! Mum and Dad is that you?

Snacks are the queen on trail for me. Below are some of my favourites:

ALL THE CHIPS!!: First off, and most importantly. I have a raging love affair with chips – of all varieties. Some of my favourites on trail are: Juanita’s Tortilla Chips (hands down the greatest by far) / Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps  / Tjs Plantain Chips (all damn day)  / Banana Chips (bulk bin) / Dehydrated Vege Chips (bulk bins). I would eat only chips on trail – if that were a viable option. I have been known to take up to four varieties on one stretch if i’m feeling fancy.

Sometimes, if you listen hard in the early morning light, you might just hear me crunching away merrily on them for breakfast.

Fresh Fruit: Bananas, apples and oranges are my favourite. I limit these to heading out of town snacks, or day after town snacks since they take up a lot of space and and can be a hassle to store. You will become obsessed with fresh fruit on a thru hike – I promise you. 

Fresh Avocados: I know – it is a fruit also, but it needs it’s own entry. Just scoop it out with a spoon and eat… add chips.

Dried Fruit: My favourite is basically anything from Trader Joe’s. The greats include dried mandarins, mango, flattened bananas, peaches and prunes.

Nuts: There are certain nuts I have to avoid, like cashews and pistachios, but as long as I keep the portion sizes under control I’m fine.  I love: macadamias, walnuts, almonds, pecans and flavoured varieties – like BBQ. The queen of flavored nuts HAS to be Tamari Roasted Almonds.

Trail Mix: I feel like this post is basically just a love letter to TJ’s, but they do some incredible pre-made trail mixes. For my own mix I just get all the dried fruit from above and dump it in a bag with seeds and banana chips and I’m good to go. I’m not sick of trail mix like everyone else seems to be. Although I do pick out all the good bits first. 

Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels: Stay in my life my little loves. I adore these things. They are salty and make peanut butter taste even more amazing. You can find these in bulk bins / packets in the potato chip section. Try them, you will never go back to regular pretzels.

TJs Dark chocolate / Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (not in the desert): I must say this might be a no go again. In the desert dark chocolate made me want to puke. I’m going to try it again, as I rediscovered my love for dark chocolate briefly in Washington, but I’ll keep it to small amounts.

Oreos: Because sometimes I’m just going to want to be grubby hiker trash and eat tiny nuggets of joy. 

Fruit Leather: I freaking love fruit on trail. These are sure to make an appearance. They taste like candy, but without added sugar.

Fruit Snacks: My love of fruit snacks knows no bounds. Welsh’s are my absolute favourite, but since they use gelatin, Annie’s it will be (not a bad alternative)

Seaweed Snacks: Very low on the calorie scale, but MAN are seaweed snacks more delicious than they sound. Salty, and full of iodine mmm. 

DRINK MIXES/ CONDIMENTS / ADD-ONS / SUPPLIMENTS:

Curdling river stole my only water bottle. Drank Mio out of a ziplock for the last two days on trail.

Drink mixes: they just make life less boring. For the desert section electrolyte drinks are not only tasty, cover up the funky tasting water, but they also make me feel more way more hydrated in general.

My favourites are: Mio (PSA: Don’t drink this straight – It does not taste good!) / Emergen-C Electrolyte drink that is slightly fizzy, the orange flavour is the best! / Crystal Light (aka crystal crack) there is also a caffeinated version, but perhaps I’m just dancing with disaster there again. The peach iced tea flavour is SO good. 

CONDIMENTS:

Sriracha packets I’m trying to find where I can get these / TJs Coconut Oil Packets: Can be used in food or double up as a moisturizer. 

ADD ONS:

To ensure I’m getting all the little good things I need I will be taking some simple add-ons to boost the nutritional value of meals.

Things like chia seeds (high in omega 3), nutritional yeast (high in b12) and pumpkin seeds (iron, magnesium and for me easily digested protein).

I will also adding dehydrated vegetables to meals. Some options I have found are Trader Joe’s Broccoli Florets and dehydrated peas, from the bulk section. 

SUPPLEMENTS: 

Spatone Powdered Iron Sachets: I’m worried about my iron stores on trail this year. I will be adding powdered supplements like this to my resupply boxes since traditional iron pills tend to hurt my sensitive stomach and make me worry I’ll never poop again. I find that liquid or powdered iron supplements are absorbed more easily for me.  I have to keep my iron levels up or my energy always takes a nose dive. You just mix a sachet in with water once a day and drink. They have flavoured versions also.

Natural Calm Powder: CALM IS THE GREATEST. It is a flavoured powdered magnesium supplement that you add to water. It’s supposed to aid muscle recovery and decrease leg cramps. I mix this and drink it shortly before I get to camp or just as I get to camp and I swear by it. It tends to relax me and helps my sleep. I also I notice a decrease in my IBS symptoms when I use this. I used to give little baggies to hikers on trail since I was always carrying so much of it. HMU!

Solgar Sublingual B12 Supplement: Supplementation of b12 for vegetarians and vegans is something that needs to be seriously considered. Low b12 can cause some pretty nasty things. As with iron, I also notice a huge lack of energy for me if my stores get low. I prefer liquid drops of b12 (taken under the tongue), but on trail taking a little glass dropper bottle will be a hassle. These little tablets, that dissolve under your tongue, or between your teeth and gums work well also. Just a side note – b12 can make your pee smell a bit strange or go highlighter yellow (perhaps even glow in the dark?) – but don’t worry – I’ll be right there with you!

Other supplements: I am looking into other options for supplementation while on trail. I’m yet to find a multivitamin that I see a difference with. Green powders like Vital Greens (which I was initially very excited about) seem to wreak havoc on other sensitive stomach folk online – so I’m cautious. I may give it a try anyway and incorporate it in half portions, as I do when I’m introducing new things to myself.

Star cooking up a storm on trail and Fruitcup in the bg probably eating an entire block of cheese or something

Anndd…. that’s it!

Give or take random hiker box finds and additions I make from having food envy on trail.

I’m excited to see how much this new approach will change my energy levels and if it will actually make me fly down the trail.

Feel free to leave any food suggestions in the comments. I’m ALWAYS looking for more variety / to change things up on trail.

Author: wilderbound

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  • Thank you SOOO much for this!! Great ideas here. I’ve never been to Trader Joe’s. I need to see if we have one local. Karen’s is an option for dried fruits and veggies. Have you ever tried B-Total? Comes in a plastic bottle with a plastic dropper. I’m so excited about the refried beans. I could live on those and will be trying some kind of veggie cheese option with this in future. Of course we all want some junky goodness from time to time but I love the idea of keeping it healthy and about good clean energy on and off trail! You GOOOO Gyrl!! Can’t wait to follow along!!
    Again, thank you for sharing!! 💖

    • Aw Kimmi! Thank you so much as always. You always leave the sweetest comments for me!

      I’ve never tried B Total, but i’m going to have to give it a research now for sure!

      I’m so glad you’re going to try out the beans too – they are incredible on trail – and so easy. You’ll have to let know how they go!

      Oh gawsh! all the nice things <3

  • Super useful and thorough as per last post… but that cheese head strings logo gives me the creeps!! The US have to be given a lot of credit for their variety of snacks (significantly poorer in the UK). I mean, PB filled pretzels??? Who even knew this existed? I didn’t.

  • My usual bar diet FAILED me on a very hot august Washington Section J trip and there are some awesome ideas here. I might splurge and bring some of my favorite mexican hot sauce “Valentina.” If you see some on a table give it a try. It would totally set off those masher taters and bean dishes. Sitting here planning my 500 miles. Promise me I’ll have a huge grin from ear to ear and the animals will actually talk back to me this time!

    • Oh I went on a bar diet in Oregon and I feel your pain. I’m totally going to try that out if I can find it – I’m a total hot sauce wuss, but worth a try! Haha they will I promise you!