Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Miss Living Out Of Ziplocs

A few people have asked similar questions so I figured it would be easiest to just write an entire post as a response!

First, food. FOOD. The number one discussed topic among thru-hikers. I ate easy food. In the beginning some people cooked elaborate meals for dinner but I never wanted to deal with the hassle. For breakfast I fell into the pop tart habit along with about every other person out there. And, I never got sick of them. There are so many flavors that you can constantly switch it up so you don't get bored. Most mornings I would wake up, feel that familiar grumble in my stomach, and be excited to eat my pop tarts for breakfast. They're just a bunch of sugar, yes, but a pack is about 400 calories of deliciousness. And yes, they usually turn to crumbs after a few days on the trail, but that first morning after town there's nothing better than opening a pack of pop tarts and finding them mostly intact.

For lunches, I cycled through about 3 combinations. In the beginning I ate peanut butter on tortillas and sometimes put gorp on top (this is surprisingly good). Once my appetite really started kicking in I was eating peanut butter all the time and I would run out if I ate it as my main course at lunch, so I switched to pepperoni and cheese on tortillas. String cheese is great for the trail because it's individually wrapped, although it gets a little slimy after a few days but it's still fine. Pepperoni keeps well too. Once it got hot I was worried that these wouldn't keep, so I started packing out packs of cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers. These things are lightweight and usually held up pretty well if I kept them together in a ziploc in my food bag. I would eat a pack of crackers and supplement with gorp or peanut butter. When it cooled down again, I alternated between eating those and pepperoni on tortillas again (I forewent the cheese to save weight), but toward the end all I could find in town were the cracker packs so I ate those every day for a few weeks.

Obviously I brought a stove with me and I can't express how nice it was to eat a hot meal at the end of the day. I always looked forward to dinner. Knorr rice and pasta sides were my favorite (teriyaki noodles are by far the best--add a blob of peanut butter and they're even better!) because there were so many varieties. I also would eat ramen a night or two in every stretch, and sometimes carried a pack in case of an emergency. Mashed potatoes were great too and were a quick, easy meal at the end of a long day, plus they're easy on fuel because you only have to heat the water, not even bring it to a boil if you don't want to. Again, you can find these in lots of varieties and you can add cheese or pepperoni or goldfish or ramen to switch things up. These three things were basically what I ate for dinner the entire way.

I liked to have a snack in the morning and sometimes the afternoon. For the morning I always packed out some kind of bar because they were filling and easy--granola bars, candy bars, protein bars, etc. When the days got longer it was nice to have an afternoon snack as well, so goldfish or some kind of cracker were nice to have, and they are really lightweight. Gorp was always a good filler although I got tired of that toward the end and didn't carry it as often, but for the first five months I always packed out gorp, usually peanuts, M&Ms, and craisins. A jar of peanut butter was a must as well; again peanut butter fills in the cracks. Just supplement each meal and snack with a couple of spoons of peanut butter and you're good to go. I wish I'd counted how many jars I ate out there. Candy bars are great too...I always craved something sweet after dinner so packing out cookies or candy was a nice treat.

I think my heaviest food bag was about 14 pounds coming out of Hot Springs, NC. By this time my appetite was in full swing and I think I had 5.5-6 days of food? After a few months your appetite goes back down a bit so the food bag got a little lighter; plus I was more conscious of the weight I was eating because it's really difficult mentally to hike out of town with a monsterously heavy pack (and it's always uphill out of town). I've read that a good estimate is 2 pounds of food per day, but I think that's a pretty generous estimate. You can get away with less than that, as long as you pack out food that's light but high in calories. Honey buns weight just a few ounces and the ones with icing have like, 700 calories. Peanut butter is kind of heavy but it's loaded with calories and as I mentioned earlier is a great filler.

Okay, now money. Not including gear, I would estimate I spent about $5,000 on the trail. But keep in mind all the zeros I took and the hotels I stayed in...if you stay in hostels or just stop in town instead of staying, you can go way cheaper. Food in town is another big expense; you want to eat as much real food as you can while you have the chance. And, let's face it, who has the willpower to eat a pack of pop tarts for breakfast in town when there's a McDonald's right down the street? Obviously you will spend money resupplying in town, but if you're on a tight budget just be mindful of what luxuries you can and can't afford. And always carry some cash because up north (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine), you may have to pay to camp somewhere (this is crappy and can sometimes be avoided, but often pretty inconveniently).

I used Carhartt brand coolmax crew socks the whole way and I loved them. I found them at a bargain store for like $4 a pair and stocked up. They were thin but tough and I didn't get my first hole until New Hampshire I think. I did not wear sock liners; I didn't find them necessary and the extra bulk and weight would have been a hassle. I only got two or three blisters the whole way anyway. I saw a few people wearing Injinji toe sock liners and they said they really helped with blisters. I never used them but I heard a lot of people praise Darn Tough socks. Smartwools didn't hold up to the abuse.

Someone asked about hiking in the snow. I had waterproof boots in the beginning and I liked them. When it did snow, I was glad I had them at first, but my feet still ended up cold and wet; I think the boots just delayed it a bit. I would have been in the same situation in trail shoes. In a light rain boots will keep your feet dry but at some point they are going to get wet and they are going to take forever to dry out. It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear; your feet will get wet. When the weather got warmer I was having trouble with my feet sweating inside my boots all the time, and the skin was rubbed raw from never drying out. That's when I switched to trail shoes that breathed a little better. I wore these the rest of the way and there wasn't really ever a time I wished I'd had my boots back. Again, your feet are going to get wet no matter what; waterproof boots just might delay it a few hours. Oh, and waterproof shoes STINK, because they don't breathe at all. Waterproof breathability does not exist.

Honestly, I don't know what my base weight was. I would estimate it to be in the low twenties. My winter base weight was probably no more than two pounds heavier than my summer. I carried a pretty average-weight pack so you could definitely go much lighter, but I was comfortable.

I think I covered everything; if anyone has any more questions, feel free to ask!


  1. Great post. $5,000 is a fair price and the zero days are critical to your physical and mental well being. You did it the right way and truly enjoyed the trip.

  2. To someone who is on the fence about going for it next year, what do you have to say? Graduated college in 2010, been working since but feeling wanderlust every day without fail.

    Thanks mucho,


  3. For a German your discription of the food is a little difficult to understand. What is Goldfish? We keep them usually in water. I figured out what pop tarts are, interesting and disgusting at the same time by the way. What is Ramon, your spanish friend? Did you eat him? So many questions. :)

  4. Ha! I do know now what gorp is, thanks wikipedia.

  5. @Vollzeitvater

    Gold fish are little orange crackers that are shaped like fish.

    Ramon is a Japanese noodle that is light to carry and cooks quick, unlike dry pasta.

    Pop Tarts are the cardboard of the pastry world - better when toasted, okay out of the bag, great on the trail. For some reason everything tastes better on the trial!

  6. Sean, you probably know what I'm going to say: Go for it. If it's in your mind to do it, do it. I'll tell you this: every day I was out there I thought to myself how awesome it was to be able to do this and how thankful I was that I made the decision to do it. I felt like this a lot on bridges, especially when I crossed overtop roads. I'd see the cars speeding by below and think, they're going to work or they're rushing somewhere and I don't have to worry about any of that. All the stresses and little hassles they have to deal with right now, I don't. That's a feeling you really can't find anywhere else.
    The first step is to make the decision. You're either going to do it or you're not. You're either going to fantasize about it or you're going to make it real. You'll never "have done it" if you don't do it.

  7. Lindsey- what great words! You truly have such a great outlook on life on the AT and off. My husband and I have enjoyed your journey and your writing. Thank you again for posts, advice, and inspiration. Feel free to follow my blog for our hike next year.

  8. Another great post. The Carhartt socks and waterproof boot/shoe comments were especially enlightening. Thanks for the continued follow-ups

    Oh, and yes, your reply to Sean was great. How fantastic it must be. Your only concern is getting up and going to bed with some walking (sometimes not so easy) in between. Must have been wonderful.