Hiking Food Supply
Food Weight Calculator
Hikers normally consume from 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food a day, plus water. During that day, 10 to 30 miles may be traveled.
How many days' worth of food are you comfortable packing and carrying?
Here's a calculator to figure out how much food you need.
The Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy a body needs just to exist every day. It is based on your age, height, and weight.
Moving weight over a distance requires energy as well. Your pack weight, distance to travel, and elevation gained take more energy.
The more calorie dense your food is, the less food you need to carry.
If you cover more distance in less time, your body is sitting idle less so your energy needs go down. This calculator is for walking - powerwalking or running will consume more energy.
As the calculator shows, food weight adds as you hike farther or hike for more days. A 100 mile trip, such as a section AT hiking trip, in a week is reasonable. Carrying 14 pounds of food and hiking 15 miles each day would be a strenuous trek. Much more than that will be too much for most folks.
At some point, your pack is too heavy to carry so there is a limit to the length of trek possible without resupplying food.
When hiking long distances, be sure that you:
- Have ENOUGH food
- Don't get sick of your food choices
- Stay healthy so you can keep hiking
Long-distance hikers have a few ways to supply themselves with food, each with benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your style, personality, and needs, and the trail you will hike, one option may be better for you than others:
- Backpack - carry everything from start to end. Limited by your strength and pack size.
- Drop Box - hiker buys food in bulk before the hike. Food is packaged, labeled, and ready before the hike starts. A support person at home mails the packages on a schedule to locations in towns along the trail for the hiker to pick up for the next leg of his trek.
This is the method used by those that like few surprises, planners, and analyzers.
Address the packages to:
XYZ Trail Thru-hiker
c/o General Delivery
City, St Zipcode
ETA: May 18, 2018
- Reliable supply with no worries about finding what you need. All the planning was done earlier.
- Buying in bulk saves money. Costs at small stores in trail towns can be exorbitant.
- Includes items not available on trail - special dietary items, organic foods, batteries, segment maps.
- Nutritional needs are covered and a well-rounded diet is more probable.
- Density of food and weight of pack are known before the hike starts.
- Time spent in town is minimized because food is waiting.
- Postage expense can be more than savings. May cost $15 to send a 10 or 15 pound package.
- Requires support person at home - someone reliable.
- Must arrive during post office open hours to retrieve package, or arrange other delivery location. You must stop at the town where you sent your package. Your itinerary is set, unless your support person can alter delivery locations.
- Food that sounded good 4 months ago may not be what you want now, or you may send more food than you actually need. Then, you either carry it or throw it away. If you send too little, you'll need to purchase more locally.
- Faster or slower hiking speed requires you to change the shipping schedule with your support person.
- Home becomes a supply depot before the trip with piles of food and materials. Shopping for food on sale, dehydrating, repackaging, sorting/labeling/packing food, organizing/dating/addressing packages all take time and effort. This is actually a fun part of the trip for some people, so it may be a Pro.
- If, for whatever reason, you need to stop your hike part-way through then a couple packages in transit will be wasted and the stockpile of food at home will need to be addressed.
- Small town post offices may be closed over the next few years. This means regular resupply points may become much further apart. Carrying another 3-day supply of food just makes for a heavier pack.
- Shopping - hiker purchases food as needed at trail towns.
- No preplanning of food required.
- Supports those small towns along the trail that make the long trail hiking possible. Helping the local economoy, often in small, remote towns is being a better steward of the trail.
- Most flexible food schedule. You can hike any speed, arriving in town at any time that the store, gas station, 7-11, ... is open.
- Purchase only what you need, not what you though you'd need months ago.
- If pop-tarts, Snickers, crushed Fritos, and ramen noodles will keep you going for days on end, then this is for you. Hiking the AT trail can be done this way because it has many trail towns.
- Smaller towns may only have a gas station or convenience store, with their limited selections.
- Very expensive food - $.75 Snicker bars, $1.00 ramen noodles, ... - paying for the 'convenience'.
- Takes up valuable time that could be spent hiking, or relaxing.
- Bounce box (bump box, drift box) - hiker mails this package from point to point ahead of him on the trail. It might simply contain segment maps, extra batteries, and other items needed farther down the trail, but food might make sense too.
- Shipping costs are lower in a single zone than sending a package across the country.
- Send maps, extra or alternate gear, and items only needed in town (like a clean shirt, toiletries) to your next trail town.
- Buy a lot at a larger, inexpensive store and mail half of it ahead to an expensive smaller town with few options.
- Eliminates need for support person at home and makes the hiker more self-sufficient.
- Allows flexibility in food choices along the route.
- Include daily vitamins to supplement limited food choices.
- Must arrive during post office open hours to retrieve package.
- Package could get delayed in transit. Should bounce ahead at least 5 days down the trail.
- What you eat for the next segment depends on what you buy and ship.
- Caching - hiker drives to trailheads along the trail and stashes supplies. When that point is reached on the hike, the food is picked up.
- Least expensive method - No shipping costs nor convenience store prices.
- Can have support person deliver caches on a schedule.
- Easy to plan and set up.
- Gives opportunity to get familiar with the layout of the trail before the hike.
- Can hike an entire trail without stopping in any civilized locations, or possibly leave caches with businesses in towns.
- Only practical if you are driving to the trailhead and can carry all the food caches.
- Animals or vandals may destroy your cache. The AT trail is too popular to expect caching to work. More remote trails would be better.
- Disposal of remote cache container requires a second visit by car to each cache location.
- Hiker Box - well-worn, high-traffic trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, may have discarded gear and food containers at popular resupply locations. Hikers that don't need an item drop it off and it's free for anyone to take.
If your hike plan has you on the trail towards the rear of the normal mass of hikers, these hiker boxes may be crammed full of great treasures. If you're the first out of the gate, they'll probably be empty.
- It's all free!
- No way to know what you'll find, or not find.
- No guarantee on the sanitation level of the food you find.
- Hybrid - do some maildrops, shopping, and bounce box resupply.
- Ensure a base supply of healthy, specific, or expensive food.
- Flexibility in supplementing your base food with what sounds good at that point on the trail.
- Minimize shipping costs to only that which is not found on the trail.
- Reduces number of shipments needed.
- May need to carry shipped food for longer distances to minimize the number of shipments. Trade off pack weight for fewer resupply stops.
- Postage costs
If you ship anything to yourself on the trail, remember these tips:
- Carry photo ID in order to retrieve them!
- General Deliveries will normally be held for two weeks. Don't send them too soon.
- Post offices along major trails, such as Appalachian or Pacific Crest, will recognize the package label and set it aside. When hiking other less trafficked trails, call the post offices you plan to use and check that they'll hold packages.
- If you're flying cross-country to the trailhead, carry your bounce box or first couple supply packages with you. When you arrive, mail them since the postage will be much less locally.
- If you can communicate with your support person, don't seal each package. As your trek progresses, call home and ask to have specific items added or removed based on what your needs have been.
For the Arizona Trail, I have enough food purchased for the entire trail. I'll be doing another hike later in the summer so the food will be used then, if not on the AZT.
I have one large container packed and labeled - it's a plastic paint pail, 18" tall X 12" diameter. It contains 25 evening meals, 50 breakfast bars, 50 peanut butter crackers, 3lb dried fruit, 5lb sunflower kernels, and 2lb gatorade mix. It also has extra batteries, memory card, and other tidbits. That is a 31lb package.
I'll parcel post mail it to the town of Oracle which I estimate is 11 days down the trail at a cost of $27.00 from my home. (I could carry it on the plane and mail it when I land for $16.00, but I figure the $10 is worth the convenience.)
I will start the hike carrying 7 evening meals and 4 days of breakfast, lunch, and snack foods. At the first large town 3 days into the hike, Patagonia, I'll purchase snack and lunch food for the next 6 days. I'll eat a big meal and plan to have another trail town meal in 3 days and 7 days, so I don't need to pack those meals. I'll also have the opportunity to pick up more junk food in 3 and 7 days, if needed.
When I get to the post office in Oracle, I'll retrieve my container, pull out the food I need for the next days, and then reship it 6 days down the trail.
Doing this, I have access to foods I really want and don't think I'll find easily. Plus, I minimize shipping costs and get varying junk food that sounds good at the time.
When I'm hiking the AT trail, I expect to do a Hybrid resupply using more trail town purchases shipped ahead to low-quality stops.
Apr 23, 2012 - Ray and Debra
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