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Food on the Trail: Homemade and Ultralight Options

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

As we lighten our kit, food soon becomes the heaviest thing in the pack, this is all the more true at ultralight pack weights (as an example, one day of food weighs about the same as a single down quilt or a one-person tent). So here are some of our strategies for handling this issue on multi-day trips.

Our approach to food focuses on total food consumed in a day rather than set meals, instead, we just carry snacks, which we eat throughout the day, and dinner. We find that grazing throughout the day means we maintain energy better, rather than having a big meal at lunchtime.

Typical thru-hiking meal plan

Personally, I carry about 6-8 snacks per day, each of approximately 800-1000kj, and I try to have those snacks be food that is ~1500kJ/100g or more (but I don't let this ratio get in the way of eating things I want to eat). Some of the things we snack on are lollies & chocolate, muesli bars (bought or homemade), crackers/shapes, chips, soy snacks, buja mix, jerky, and dried fruit. A Snickers bar is a great example of high-density food at 1040 kJ, but don't be like Cody and try to live on them for a week straight! A little balancing goes a long way.

Shopping to fill resupply boxes on the Pacific Crest Trail

You may look at this list and think it doesn't seem very nutritious and you're right - it's pretty heavy on sugars and carbohydrates. I learned a long time ago that it is better to carry food that I want to eat on a tramping trip, rather than the food I think I should eat. I've had many trips in the past where I carried a big bag of scroggin because I thought it seemed like a good idea and everyone else seems to do it; but when it came down to it, I just didn't want to eat it. Now I only carry food I know I will eat, even if it's not that good for me. I figure a tramping trip is just a short period of time, and I can make up for it and eat all the fruit and veg when I get home.

Cody making venison jerky

For dinner, Cody always eats a homemade recipe which consists of dried chicken, dehydrated veg, instant mashed potatoes, and 2-minute noodles with a spicy chicken seasoning mix. I have a few different homemade dried meals I carry - these are mostly based on flavour packets available at the supermarket mixed into dehydrated ingredients. We have a dehydrator and keep a stock of dried chicken, mixed veggies, pasta, and rice on hand to mix together to make a meal. The top options at the moment are Thai green curry, spaghetti bolognese, and apricot chicken. We also finish the day with instant chocolate mousse for dessert most evenings.

When you're looking for dinner options, we suggest checking out the Maggi meal bases, dried curry, and stir-fry mixes at the supermarket. These all make great bases for tramping meals and you can add dried meat, veggies, and pasta/rice/couscous to bulk them out. All of our dinner options can be "cooked" by just adding boiling water and then letting them sit for 20 minutes in an insulated pouch. This is also very efficient for gas usage on the trail, and we don't have to get our pot dirty with food (no cleaning!)

For us, it's a balancing act between weight, nutrition, and the joy of eating.

For details on how to store your food, check out our blog post on that topic. We use odour-proof bags on our own trips, and we supply them through our store page which gives more detail.

You can also check out the video below from our Youtube Q&A series about the Appalachian Trail. In this segment, we discussed our food choices and resupply strategies in specific detail.

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