|Trying to pack just the right amount to eat…|
Food planning has been one of the most difficult parts of all my long-distance backpacking trips. I’ve tried mail drops, I’ve tried grocery shopping, I’ve tried combining the two. It never seems to work out perfectly– there are different disadvantages to all three methods.
With mail drops, you tend to get sick of the food you thought you’d love, you miss packages by arriving at a post office on a Saturday afternoon, you end up with too much or too little food, shipping costs negate the savings from buying bulk foods. With grocery shopping, you take up precious town time by trying to plan and organize your food supplies, you get stuck with the selection wherever you happen to be, and you might end up paying more for certain items than you’re used to. With the combo approach, you have to hit a grocery store as well as your mail drop location, you still have to figure out how much you’ll need to buy, and you still spend a fair bit of time doing your town chores.
Sounds like a lose-lose situation, doesn’t it? The good news is that it seems to work out fine, if not perfectly, most of the time. When I have the time, I usually prefer the grocery shopping method, but for this trip on the Long Trail, the variables are all pointing toward mail drops. I have a limited amount of time, so I hopefully won’t get sick of my food too quickly, and I don’t want to spend that limited time wandering around town trying to find just the right foods.
To deal with the question of how much food to send, I’m using a food-planning technique that worked out pretty well at NOLS, combined with a little bit of my own slightly OCD style. NOLS operates on a “pounds per person per day” rationing system, and for summer hiking tends to ration between 1.5 and 2 pounds per day. Once I get going on a long hike, I develop a hollow leg or two, so I’ll plan on two pounds per day. But just to be sure that will be enough, I’m keeping track of the food amounts on a spreadsheet with the amount of food I’m putting in each set of supplies, the caloric density of each food item (calories per ounce), and the total number of calories in the ration. I like to aim for 3000 to 4000 calories per day while hiking long distances, or more once I’m a month or so into a hike. For two weeks, though, I think the 4000 calorie per day diet should be more than sufficient.
What about nutrition, you may ask. I don’t worry about it too much, but I certainly don’t neglect it. Rather than focusing on how much protein I’m getting or which vitamins and minerals, I just try to keep a good amount of variety in my diet, including lots of dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, and relatively little junk food. Many long distance hikers swear by snickers bars and pop tarts, but I don’t much care for that diet. It’s not necessary, although a huge amount of candy and junk food can help out on really long hiking days if you can’t get enough energy otherwise.
So what’s on the menu for the Long Trail this month? Let’s have a little look:
-For breakfasts: granola, dried berries and full-fat milk powder. Call me a hippie, but I actually enjoy granola for breakfast. With the milk powder, a small portion of berries, and the fatty granola, I can easily get a tasty 900-calorie breakfast to get me going in the morning.
-For dinners: Rather than subjecting myself to ramen and lots of prepackaged meals, I’m going more with the NOLS dinner plan. I’ve got a few bags of staples, like couscous, orzo, macaroni, and potato flakes. Then I’ve got a kit of additions, including powdered butter and cheese from Packitgourmet.com, bacon bits, tuna packets, seasonings, and dehydrated vegetables. Ordering bulk veggies from Frontier foods is a great trick– about a pound of veggie mix will last for dozens of hiking dinners, and it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) than drying your own.
-For daytime snacks and lunches: I spent a lot of time at Trader Joe’s, the local food co-op, and the grocery store for this. By far, the largest part of my diet is daytime snacks, which I try to split between dried fruits, nuts, some candy and chocolate, and a few odds and ends. For this trip, since I’m expecting hot weather during the day, I’m taking very little stuff that can melt– just one bar of dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s. After that, it’s a lot of nuts and fruit, some energy bars, and some cookies and red licorice. I might throw in some Barbara’s Fig Bars (way better than Newtons or Newman’s), and ginger snap cookies, too.
I’ll try to put the full list on the blog in a few days when I get the last of it packed up.