I’d Like 240 Granola Bars, Please…

(The photo above of the table full of food is maybe one-fifth of the total food we’re bringing on this trip.)

There are three big projects to tackle before a hike of this magnitude. In order of importance, you will need information, gear, and food.

The first two are complex, and the Internet is full of postings about them. The last, however, is impressive in its sheer scale. The statistics work out like this:

  • 2 people, each needing to eat
  • 4,000–4,500 calories each day, over
  • 6 months of hiking
  • …means…
  • 816 meals, and
  • > 1,000,000 calories.

Only on the PCT (or similar hikes) do you really have to pay attention to these numbers. As an example: say you just “eyeball it”, and bring 3,500 calories/day worth of food, while you’re burning 4,500. Over a one-week hike, this means you’ll lose two pounds — probably something you’ll appreciate! On the PCT, this would mean you’d lose fifty pounds, which is, perhaps needless to say, life-threatening for many people. (Realistically, you’d have to give up long before you got there.) Crunching the numbers and wrapping your head around what you need is important.

It’s really an astonishing amount, and you do most of your work beforehand. We prepared boxes for 36 separate resupply points, sending 12 of the earlier ones before we left home, and leaving another 24 with Clare’s parents in Louisiana. They’ll send them to various inns, stores, restaurants, and post offices along the way, timing them to arrive well before us, but not too far before us.

This is what allows us to keep only 2–6 days of food with us at all times — which is still 8–24 pounds. (Apparently some hikers get asked “so, do you just carry all your food for the whole trip with you?”. Even eating the most calorie-rich foods possible, that’s something like 195 pounds of food. Um, no.)

The logistics that go into this are themselves impressive:

  1. We’re going to need spreadsheets. Lots of spreadsheets. This is the only way I could wrap my head around the sheer quantities needed. Foods broken down by calories per ounce, calories per dollar, fat/carb/protein fractions, quantities available, convenience (even a 1-pound jar of peanut butter is way too big for out there; packets are far better), and so on.
  2. Order all the things. Amazon, and Amazon Prime, are a complete lifesaver here. Is it possible to do this with trips to your local Costco, Safeway, natural-foods store, and so on? Sure. Will you spend an incredible amount of time making trips? You bet.
    Amazon tells me I’ve placed 84 orders in the past 6 months at this point, and, honestly, that feels low, if anything. Our apartment was completely full of Amazon boxes…even nested and partially broken down.
  3. Organize, organize, organize. If you’re not methodical and ruthlessly organized, you absolutely will make an important mistake. I had everything laid out in rows, organized by meal…
  4. Compose your meals. The prepackaged freeze-dried dinners that you can buy are incredibly expensive, and not nearly enough food. (A typical prepackaged dinner “for two” will have roughly 700 calories. You’d be really unhappy eating 350 calories for dinner after a long, hard day sitting in an office chair, staring at a computer. Ours have 2,000.) We built ours out of components. A typical dinner might be (using a half-cup measure as a “scoop”):
    1. Three scoops of boxed cornbread stuffing.
    2. Two scoops of freeze-dried ground beef, chicken, or sausage.
    3. One scoop of butter powder or sour-cream powder.
    4. One scoop of cheddar-cheese powder or freeze-dried cheddar-cheese shreds.
    5. One packet of gravy mix.
    6. One tiny baggie of Bacos. (Make sure to get the fake kind that have nothing to do with any actual animals; the real ones spoil way too fast.)
  5. If you’re nice: label your meals. (I went full nerd with Avery shipping labels.) It will make you so much happier when you’re exhausted and wondering what that baggie is — and if you have too much food and leave some in the free “hiker boxes” that are ubiquitous at every resupply point, the next folks will know what’s in them. (There is a story floating around, possibly apocryphal, of someone who happily made up the instant vanilla pudding they found in a hiker box…only to realize a few spoonfuls in that they were eating foot powder for dessert.)
  6. Divide up your meals among your resupply boxes — which you have carefully labeled, figured out how many days’ worth of food need to go into each one, and laid out all over your apartment.
  7. Go back and double-check your counts. You really don’t want to go hungry out there.
  8. Now you’re done with dinner. Repeat steps 2–7 for breakfast, then again for dessert. Now do them once or twice more for the vast quantity of snacks you’re going to want.
  9. Do literally several days’ worth of full-time work organizing all the information for your resupplies, calling each drop to make sure they’re still around, seeing if they need you to send USPS or UPS, getting their exact address, finding the right size box, weighing the finished package, entering information into the computer, printing a shipping label, sealing the box, and stacking them up.
    Also, postage gets expensive at this scale. We’ll probably end up spending nearly $1,000 just to ship ourselves all these boxes.

All told, this was honestly about a month and a half straight of nearly every weekday evening and weekend day. It’s an enormous amount of work, but, in a weird way, it feels really good — because for six months straight, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to eat, ever. You just hike and eat whatever you  have with you. It’s really kind of awesome.

The End Result: what ends up in all those boxes? Well, a typical three-day resupply box for us might contain:

  • One breakfast each of Soylent, Carnation Instant Breakfast with whole-milk powder, and a combination of Tang, instant vanilla pudding, and whole-milk powder that tastes like drinking an Orange Dreamsicle
  • Three breakfast pastries
  • Two Kind bars, one Clif bar, one LARAbar
  • Four packages of Annie’s bunny snacks (think Gummi Bears)
  • One package of Annie’s bunny grahams
  • Three Stinger Waffles (quick carbs for the trail!)
  • Four baggies of: almonds, cashews, or trail mix
  • Three individual packages of Fig Newtons
  • Two individual packages of Oreos (yum!)
  • A baggie of dried mango
  • Two packages of fruit leather
  • Two high-end chocolate bars (treats!)
  • Two baggies each with a half-bag of Trader Joe’s PowerBerries
  • Nine tortillas
  • Six individual-size packets of nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, maple peanut butter, vanilla almond butter, honey almond butter…anything for variety)
  • Ten tiny packages of Nutella
  • Three quart-size packages of Gatorade powder
  • One dinner with cornbread stuffing as a base, one with instant rice and dried refried beans as a base, and one with instant mashed potatoes as a base
  • Two desserts of different flavors of instant pudding, and one of no-bake cheesecake
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, batteries (for GPS, headlamps), toilet paper, liquid biodegradable soap, Purell, toothpaste, and/or insect repellent.

 

2 Comments

  1. John Cartersays:

    Amazing, I’m reading through these posts one by one. Thanks for posting!

    • Andrewsays:

      John — thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoy it. And thanks for reading and commenting!

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