Appalachian Trail Happiness: Thru-hike Food Recommendations & Recipes
A crude meal, no doubt, but the best of all sauces is hunger. ~ Edward Abbey,
So I will keep my own personal comments to a minimum tonight as I am one of the worst possible persons to talk to about trail food. Why? Well very simply a long time ago I came to the realization that I’m lazy and what I want when I’m hiking or camping is food that consists of three things. First it should be tasty enough to be eaten with great repetition. Second, it should be easy to store and make. Third, there should be minimal clean-up, I hate doing the dishes in the default world and only hate it a little bit less on the trail.
So this leads to me eating a lot of Mountain House, seriously, Mountain House folks, if you’re reading this, I should absolutely be your national spokesman. Mountain House Beef Stroganoff is good enough that if I’m being really lazy, I’ll make it at home. Other brands are good as well, a lot of it is personal preference and most of them are available at almost all of your resupply stops on the trail. Sometimes it takes a little bit to figure out where in town to find them, but I rarely was unable to find them in town somewhere. Oh, and BTW, stay away from the Mountain House Pasta Primavera, it’s awful.
I didn’t eat dehydrated food for every meal, cooking takes effort and I’m lazy, have I mentioned that yet? Lunches for me on the trail ran the spectrum from subs and sandwiches coming out-of-town, to summer sausage and crackers, to lots of tortillas with pepperoni and cheese, peanut butter, honey, tuna fish, chicken, etc… Yes, like everyone else, I ate a lot of Cliff Bars and their cousins. Breakfast is really bad for me, I have a hard time eating when I first get up, especially when I’m getting up at dawn. However, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, seriously, not eating in the morning is a huge mistake. So, given it’s importance I ate a lot of those little chocolate donuts early on and a lot of Belvita breakfast bars as things warmed up. I also while it was colder was fond of Hershey Special Dark Chocolate Bars dipped in peanut butter.
You’ll notice I did not mention the words Ramen or Knorr in my descriptions above. I ate a total of zero ramen and one Knorr pasta side the whole time I was on the trail. That makes me really, really strange compared to most thru-hikers. Again, lazy, not wanting a lot of clean-up. The trade-off is repetition and a much less exciting dining experience.
I saw a lot of people cooking a lot of great stuff on the trail. Smaller company dehydrated meals, Tasty Bite vegan meals, pasta, vegetables, Ramen, oatmeal and hot dogs (usually right out-of-town) I did almost none of this so I’ll let the resources I’m posting direct you to how to do this and do this well. There are a decent amount of wild foods on the trail once things warms up, scallions, ramps, mushrooms (but ONLY if you really know what you’re doing), the occasional fruit tree and of course lots of berries.
Snacks could be just about anything and I saw everything from the standard, energy bars, GORP, nuts, cookies, crackers, cheese sticks, all kinds of chips to the more exotic things like a can of sardines, yes that really happened. Basically if you’re willing to carry the weight it’s on the menu. Most people forego any real consideration of nutrition beyond calories and what tastes good but I did see people paying attention to the details, but they were honestly few and far between. Then of course there is town food and the gluttony filled orgy that eating after days on the trail can become, but for this post I’m focusing on resources for on-trail food. A lot of the posts will center around calories per ounce, you get that already, so I won’t explain it other than to say everyone carries too much food.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Resupply Page – Good basic information on resupply and bounce boxes
Ten Ultralight Backpacking Foods – This list is the absolute basics in the calorie per ounce competition, although they left off Frito’s corn chips, how do you leave off something that not only tops out on the calorie to weight list but is also utterly flammable to the point of being able to be used as a fire starter?
Andrew Skurka – Andrew knows his shit, and this is a good solid page of recommendations of how to eat, cook, carry and shop.
Adventure Allen’s food page – I really like this page, there is a lot of good information and suggestions as well as a small section on stove options. Given what I was doing a Jet Boil made the most sense to me but there was a huge range of stoves on the trail.
Hiking Dude’s Food Page – A general page with links to more specifics, not a lot of recipes or details but especially if you’re feeling like you have no idea where to start, this would be that place.
REI’s basics for food – If you’re an experienced hiker skip this page
Lower Gear Food Prep Page – I like this page, it’s pretty basic but it gives some of the detailed basic ideas other pages assume you already know.
White Blaze Board – Always go to WhiteBlaze.net for anything AT related there will always be a discussion somewhere about what you’re interested in learning about. The link I’ve connected to is the cooking and food forum.
From Thruhiker.com – A nice short discussion of nutrition on the trail
The AT Hiker food page – Some solid basics for people just starting out with a longer than most list of actual brand and food suggestions.
Outdoors Stack Exchange Food Discussion – Never heard of it before, me neither but in the discussion there is a nice list of positives and negatives for a lot of hiking foods and some great suggestions from other commenters.
19 Homemade Hiking Foods – A really cool list GREAT for day hikes but some of the selections might be good for making early and adding to drop boxes or if you have someone at home doing boxes they could make and add these. There are items in here I never thought of or have seen before, interesting list.
A week of lightweight meals – a nice page with a good sample week of food. Remember, you’re doing a series of 3-5 day hikes so you’d never need to carry this much food.
Five really solid basic recipes – Five recipes that are doable easy and look tasty from Erik the Black’s Page.
RECIPES & COOKING TIPS
Trail Recipes – Is probably the most extensive site I’ve ever seen about trail food. It also includes a section on learning how to dehydrate food etc… An excellent resource.
Outdoor Gear Lab’s Best Backpacking Foods – Some good ideas with recipes and some prep tricks to make some stuff you don’t ordinarily see on the trail. You’ll look like a damn trail chef with some of these.
Backpacking Food Recipes – From Wild Back Packer.com a great list of recipes for every meal and snacks with almost everything available in the grocery store.
Backpacking Chef – A ton of recipes submitted by hikers as well as the site people, huge list.
Back Packer Magazine’s Recipe Pages – I didn’t dive deep into these, the variety looks great but I’m not sure a lot of these will work on a thru-hike.
Gourmet Backpacking Recipes – Come on, you know you want to whip one of these out in Georgia and impress all the newbie hikers