“Do you have to carry all your food for the whole trip?!”
“What do you eat, like nuts and berries?”
“Will you be living off the land, foraging for roughage, fishing in mighty rivers and fashioning a bow from found branches, like our hunter-gatherer ancestors of yore? Or just eat, like, Hostess snack cakes.”
Almost all of these are real questions I’ve heard when I start to describe our hike plan to people. It’s understandable, really. My childhood outdoors experience was limited either to the kind of luxurious car camping where my dad would bring an electric griddle to make us pancakes in the morning, or 4H and Girl Scout camp, where daily activities were capped off by classic Americana meals at the dining hall. On our first distance hike- a five day, four night trip- I really had no idea what we were going to eat and how we could carry it all. After five years of trial-and-error, we’ve come up with a pretty good system.
In the past, our morning routine on the trail has revolved around hot breakfast. Tim usually dismantles the tent while I heat up water for cowboy coffee and Cream of Wheat or oatmeal, sometimes with Carnation Essentials and dried fruit mixed in. While delicious, this system has its downsides: it takes us for-ev-er to get going in the morning. Without fail, no matter how quickly we think we’re working, it takes one and a half to two hours from the alarm going off to setting foot on the trail. For the PCT, we’re trying something different.
We’ll mix instant coffee, chocolate protein powder, and powdered milk with some cold water as kind of an all-in-one breakfast shake, and supplement that with cold-soaked Cream of Wheat with freeze-dried berries or protein bars. It’ll be much faster than a hot breakfast and, hopefully, just as nutritious.
Tortillas! Tortillas will probably be the base for lunch for as long as we don’t get sick of them. Tortillas with peanut butter, Nutella and dried apple slices, or tortillas with rehydrated hummus and dried vegetables. Salami and hard cheese travel surprisingly well when backpacking, so we’ll probably always have that on hand to add to our lunch wraps, too.
We’ve gotten used to the Freezer Bag Method of cooking our dinners. It creates a bit more packaging waste, but spares us having to do dishes every night, which saves time and energy. In the past, we’ve made up all of these meals ahead of time- portioning out dried mushrooms and black bean flakes into some vaguely seasoned couscous or pre-mixing peanut butter, soy sauce, and chili garlic paste into a backcountry satay sauce for our ramen. This is a fair amount of labor just for a week, though, and while some industrious hikers manage to prepare every meal for the whole Pacific Crest Trail ahead of time, but… that’s not for me. I don’t want to have to pre-make 160 days worth of food, and I don’t want to stand in line at the post office in every single trail town, and I definitely don’t want to be stuck eating meals that sounded good 1000 miles ago but now I swear to god if I see another instant potato flake I’m going to violently ralph all over my hiking shoes.
Instead, we’ve planned to get resupply boxes mailed to us only in the towns where grocery supplies are limited. The rest of the time, we’ll buy everything in town. My approach to dinners will be to break down each meal into components:
-BASE: this will be the grain or starch that makes up the bulk of the meal. Quick rice, ramen, instant potatoes, couscous or orzo will probably be the usual thing, here. Anything that can be quickly cooked by having hot water added to it, basically.
-GARNISH: where the variety comes in! The aforementioned salami and cheese, of course, but we’re also ordering dried vegetables in bulk, so we can add shallots, spinach, mushrooms, black bean flakes, or tomatoes for extra flavor and texture (as well as nutrition).
-SEASONING: One luxury item I’m indulging in is this travel spice rack (or something similar), so I can bring along not just salt and pepper, but also some pre-mixed spices to add Indian or South American flavoring to any given meal. We’ve also gotten a bunch of single serving packets of sriracha and dijon mustard, along with olive oil (as much for the calories as the taste).
Oh snacks. I love you and I’m so certain I’ll get sick of you. I already find protein bars boring and trail mix drives me nuts (pun… intended?) after a few days, so I’m not yet sure what the plan will be. We’ll start with trail mix, I’m sure, and by the end I’ll likely just be strapping family-sized bags of jalepeño potato chips to the outside of my pack. I know Tim can’t wait to eat the classic hiker meal of a Snickers bar dipped into a jar of peanut butter.
By the way, if you want to mail us weird (and lightweight?!) snacks, you can check out this page and see when and where to send us things. We will cherish and devour anything you send, and hold you dear in our hearts for all time.
So, this is how we plan to feed ourselves on this trip! I’m sure we’ll be adjusting things after a few weeks, and I suspect the things that are available in town and our inevitable hiker hunger will shape our approach to meals, too. I enjoy cooking at home, and while I’ll miss the luxury of a full kitchen, I’m looking forward to being creative with the limitations of the trail.