Hiker Hunger: Planning Five Months of Food

Have you ever thought about what five months’ worth of food would look like? Maybe. What about five months’ worth of BACKPACKING food? Not only does this food need to meet your caloric needs (which are much higher when you’re hiking 20+ miles each day), but it also has to keep without refrigeration, fit inside your pack and be lightweight.

Most people end up burning far more calories per day on the trail than they do in their everyday lives, and therefore end up losing weight. That is great for some people, but many hikers eventually begin looking emaciated and become unhealthy if they are not consuming as many or more calories than they are burning along the trail. So how many calories does your body need per day while backpacking? According to Mayo Clinic, I would burn about 438 calories per hour hiking. Livestrong adds that carrying a pack increases that burn rate by 50-200 calories per hour, depending on pack weight. My pack will (hopefully) be relatively light for a thru-hike, so I’ll guesstimate an additional 100 per hour. They also mention that intense hiking can increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR), meaning you’ll burn more calories than usual while sitting, sleeping, etc., but I’m no math whiz so I’m just going to ignore that. All these extra calories burned are on TOP of your BMR, what your body needs for a normal day that DOESN’T include hiking. According to BodyBuilding.com, my BMR is about 1500 calories/day.

bmr

That’s a lot of numbers, and we still don’t know how many calories we need because we don’t know how long we are hiking each day. Halfway Anywhere’s 2018 PCT thru-hiker survey found that successful thru-hikers averaged about 20.5 miles per hiking day, and averaged 133 hiking days to complete the trail. My personal average pace is about 2.25 mph, so 20.5 miles would take me 9.1 straight hours of hiking to complete. That pace will increase on flat terrain and decrease in the mountains, but we’ll stick with the average. So ANYWAY, crunch the numbers and… (drumroll) I will need to consume an average of 6400 calories per day in order to maintain my current body weight. And that’s not including the BMR boost from the intensity.

OMG, that’s a lot of food. That’s 11 Big Macs. That’s 2 WHOLE large Hawaiian pizzas from Dominoes. That’s 18 blocks of tofu, more than 5 whole boxes of rotini pasta, or 14 cans of chickpeas. Obviously I can’t carry that much food on my back, especially if I have to carry 7 days’ worth at a time. Dehydration and freeze drying significantly reduce the weight of most foods, making them much more manageable, but it still is not a perfect solution. The general rule of thumb is that you want any food that you carry to be very calorie dense, at least 100 calories per ounce after dehydration, and you generally don’t want to carry more than 2 lbs of food for each day on the trail. If I am only resupplying once a week, that means I will be leaving town with a full 14lbs of JUST FOOD in my pack. But wait, there’s still a deficit. 2lbs= 32oz, which is only 3200 calories by the backpacker rule of thumb. That’s only half of what I need, meaning I need to carry the most calorie dense foods I can find, more than 100/oz.

snack
A calorie-dense snack while climbing Gray’s Peak!

 

One ounce of fat contains 240 calories; one ounce of carbohydrates or proteins contains just 100 calories. So, the fattier my diet, the less food-weight I need to carry, as long as it remains palatable. Olive and coconut oils, nut and seed butters, etc are great additions to meals. I’ll still end up with a deficit, but it is much more manageable. I can make up a decent amount of that deficit when I stop in town and gorge myself on whatever is available.

food
Starting to dehydrate and package meals!

ow I just have to make and dehydrate approximately 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners (each), and find or make 750 snacks that are all as calorie-dense as possible. Should be simple right? Right??

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