While hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) you will quickly see that you will be eating very different than you are used to in society. Your diet will change drastically and you will lose weight. In fact you will be using more energy than you will be taking in so you will need to be eating high protein foods. Foods that are seen as fat contributing and usually unhealthy are seen on the trail as very important foods. Foods such as candy bars and high powered energy bars are very necessary on the trail.
Fortunately, on the Appalachian Trail, you will never be without food no matter whether you bring it with you or not. All along the trail you will find what the hiking community calls hiker boxes. In these hiker boxes hikers will drop what they do not want to carry anymore and pick up what they want or need in exchange. It’s sort of like a trade system, hikers will trade off for what they need or want. But it is also common practice to grab what you want from the boxes whether you have anything to put back or not, just be considerate of others and don’t take it all.
There are hikers that have said that they can live off of hiker’s boxes during the peak hiking months which are from about April-August. You can use them to supplement your food stash. Another place along the trail that you will find food for free is at the AT shelters where trail angels have hiked up the trail and left boxes or bags of food for hikers. These people are usually trail veterans themselves and care a lot about the hiker community and trail. So compassionately they will leave food, drinks, gear and medical supplies for the taking. Again be considerate.
All along the trail you will find hostels as well, these are sort of like a hiker’s hotel where hikers can pay to stay the night and get a good night’s sleep, wash clothes, access the internet and get fed. For around an average of 12-15 dollars a night a hiker can stop in and take a shower and get fed a good home cooked meal at the hostel as well. Most of the time you will hike along the trail and dream about pizza, ice cream, beer, huge hamburgers and hot French fries.
Other times you will be able to stop off at one of the many trail towns that the AT either runs right through or runs real close to. After being on the trail for a week straight or two it is a real treat to stop off at one of these towns and get yourself a big, warm tasty meal. Usually all along the trail in these towns you will run into other hikers. You will also always find a warm welcome in the towns that dot the AT, most welcome the hikers community with warm open arms.
Taking a night off the trail to get a good bite to eat might be a treat and just what you need to curb the craving but you will quickly find that after eating “trail food” for so many weeks your body rebels against this “new” food. Still the trail towns along the Appalachian Trail such as Alpine Helen, Georgia, are a treat to behold and a great place to get a tasty meal and a much needed grocery resupply.
Other food sources along the AT might surprise you and will take a bit of knowledge. But it is nothing that you cannot prepare for over a few days. But there is a very large variety of natural food sources all along the trail. If you are the adventurous type you could live off the land around the trail. From edible flowers to edible tree roots and bark, there is an abundance of natural food one could harvest along the trail.
In the month of August alone, the strong odor of wild garlic and spearmint will permeate the trail. If you know what wild garlic and wild peppermint or spearmint looked like you could have a warm cup of peppermint or spearmint tea every night with your meals and never have to buy it. Wild garlic will definitely come in handy when you cook your nightly meal over an open flame of soups and pasta dishes.
There is so much natural food along the trail that it would actually be beneficial of you to bring along a book that shows you what you can and cannot eat along the trail. Purchasing a book that teaches what edible plants grow in the area you will be hiking in is as easy as it gets and could be part of your trail preparation. No matter how far you will be hiking on the AT you are sure to never run out of food.