A guide to eating on the Appalachian Trail

When you hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) you will discover that you’re eating style changes, habits change, and you are going to be consuming fewer calories and burning more calories at the same time. Another thing to know about eating on the trail is that you will need to carry enough food for up to five days (usually) and at the same time carry as little weight as possible.

On the trail, the two heaviest items will be your water and your food and consequently, these are the two areas that you cannot cut down too much. But there are ways to cut down the weight and I will share them with you here now. The first thing is, do not plan on carrying large cans of anything, cans are heavy, bulky and you have no way of disposing of them while hiking the trail until you leave the trail for zero days and at some gaps. In fact, as technology expands, everything I carried in mini cans is being available in flat and tetra packs.

Cans will have to be carried out with you just like they were carried in and then you get into the messy residual left after eating the canned food, so cans are definitely out of the question when you can. You will want to focus on bringing food that comes in paperboard as much as possible or some packaging that can either be burned or packed out clean and without too much trouble. Weight is a big factor and some ways you can cut down on the weight of food by doing away with the foods packaging as much as possible, in the beginning.

This will also reduce waste on the trail and give you less to have to pack back out or burn. On the trail there is a saying that every hiker needs to understand, “what you pack in, you pack out”. Reducing weight with food is easy and zip-lock bags will make packing and organizing your food easier too, plus these bags will waterproof your food better than most of their packaging.

Waterproofing your food does more than just keep it dry, it also seals in the food’s scent, and this will be beneficial to you since you will be hiking in the wild where there are bears and other wild animals just waiting to smell food. An example of cutting down on foods packaging: Buy the “Easy Mac” mac and cheese and take all the small packs out of the large paperboard box and simply put these in a zip-lock bag.

This allows the food to be able to lay flat instead of stacking boxes in your pack. Another example: Buy the granola bar variety pack and dispose of the paperboard box. Take the granola bars and put them into a zip-lock bag, they will also lay flat and if they get crushed, they become a bag of granola! You can continue this and put a surprisingly large amount of food in your pack. Here is a recommended list of some great “trail foods”, these foods adhere to the rules above and can be cooked over an open fire if you desire.

But can also be eaten uncooked which comes in handy many times. It is not a good idea to bring ordinary sandwich bread along because it will always end up smashed into nothing but a mess. So, to remedy this, take along pita and other flatbreads. You can eat like you are making an ordinary sandwich using the flatbreads and using the wraps instead of sandwich bread. The whole idea is consuming some sort of bread, at times.

Sandwich style is not a necessary way of eating anything, it’s just convenient. I have found more satisfaction in using wraps and pita instead of loaf bread so much I have all but removed it from my ordinary life, even. Again, most of the mini-cans I carried in 2005 can now be found in better packaging eliminating even more cans from your pack.  This is actually the list of what I carried during my 2005 (The Sacred Journal: An Appalachian Trail Adventure) and 2015 AT hikes.

  • “Easy-Mac” mac and cheese (ziplocked)
  • pita bread
  • peanut butter packets (ziplocked)
  • jelly packets (ziplocked)
  • oatmeal packs (ziplocked)
  • sardines (flat pop top cans)
  • pop tarts (ziplocked)
  • coffee singles (ziplocked)
  • hamburger helper (you don’t NEED any meat)
  • White rice (the boil packs)
  • block cheese (ziplocked)
  • precooked/prepackaged hamburger (this is hard to find)
  • potted meat
  • ravioli mini cans
  • spaghetti & meat ball mini cans
  • chicken N Dumpling mini cans
  • nutty bars (ziplocked)
  • oatmeal cream pies (ziplocked)
  • spam (flat individual packets)
  • Tuna (flat individual packets)
  • sunflower seeds (small plastic jar)
  • dried fruits
  • raisins (ziplocked)
  • mini candy bars (ziplocked)
  • hot chocolate packs (ziplocked)
  • “beanie weenie” mini cans
  • small tortilla wraps
  • small coffee creamer canister
  • sugar packets (ziplocked)
  • herbal teas (ziplocked))
  • ramen noodles
  • snack pack puddings
  • pistachio nuts (ziplocked)
  • deviled ham (like potted meat)
  • salt & pepper packets (ziplocked)
  • trail mixes
  • salmon flat packs
  • mashed potatoes (Idahoan individual packs)
  • red beans and rice packs
  • chicken flat packs
  • granola bars (ziplocked)
  • flavored drink mixes (ziplocked)
  • Gatorade mix (individual packets)
  • variety of crackers (ziplocked)
  • hard candy (ziplocked)

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Author Spiritwalker

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