We have been food heavy on the content lately haven't we? Two food related blogs in a few days. Well just because we are not currently out on trail, does not mean we do not think about food, in fact we probably think about food more off trail. What should we pack out differently for next season? What food worked for us this season? Is there something in our hiking arsenal that we have burned ourselves out on? Should we start dehydrating food now for a trail a few months in the future?! Also, how do we fit a full cake in our pack for our next hike? You know only the important questions here.
Hiker food comes in all varieties on trail. People's preferences and dietary choices usually dictate what they will pack out for a section. The length of the section matters as well, whether it is 50 miles or 180 miles it will also dictate your food choices. You cannot be as luxurious on the longer sections as you would be on the shorter sections. Not only do you need the necessary calories for a longer section, but the main part is you need to fit all of it in your pack. This means for longer sections, bulky items such as bagels, multiple bags of chips, and the 2lbs of cereal you want to carry usually go by the wayside. Instead they are replaced with compact food such as bars, bars, and probably more bars.
Yet even with all these factors that go into food choice, you usually can bet that within a hikers arsenal you will see a few recurring themes. The go-to's of every hikers grab bag. The food that no matter where you are, even if it is a small remote trading post in the backcountry, 9 times out of 10 you will be able to find. Over our years on trail, we have come to realize that there are some base items that a thru-hiker usually does not leave town without. We created a list of the Top 10 Food Items of Thru-Hikers - foods that no matter the diet, no matter the distance, no matter the hiker, you will see time after time around a campfire as you break out the food bag for dinner. The Top 10 list is also in descending order of frequency that you will see it, number 1 being every hiker everywhere to number 10 being if they are not currently packing it out, they have in the past. Here we go:
TOP 10 THRU-HIKER FOOD CHOICES FOR TRAIL
1. RAMEN - if you have spent any time in the backcountry, without a question you know this would be first on the list. It may be the ramen that has been in your pack for 200+ miles as the emergency ramen (emergency meal) or it may be that you packed out a 6-pack of ramen because it is going to be your diner every single night...ugh. No matter the town, no matter the store, you could be on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, somehow ramen is going to find a way into your pack. Cheap, decent taste, decent calories (usually 250-300) depending on the ramen brand, and a staple of the hiking community. If you see a hiker without ramen, please for the love of everything holy (Ramen) back away slowly and do not make eye-contact, because they are in a dark dark place, lost within the woods and themselves.
Yes we even have a shelf dedicated to Ramen Off Trail. Being prepared is a virtue not a problem!
2. Knorr Pasta Sides - this classic hit began its ascent to a thru-hiking staple on the AT (Appalachian Trail). The origin story is a mystery. Nobody knows when and, more importantly, nobody knows why and how this started. Yet it remains high upon our list and in every thru-hiker's heart because it's consistently available and easy to cook. Simply boil some water, throw in a pasta side or rice side, and presto you have yourself a meal. No need to add extra seasoning or flavor (unless you want to) because the variety is built right in! These meals can fluctuate anywhere from 400 calories to 700 calories, so they are very calorie efficient for the weight of a full meal. Once again, another huge factor in its high popularity is the price tag. Depending on the store, it is usually within the range of $1. It can be found at a Dollar General, Walmart, Corner Store, Campground, and anything in between. It continues its ascent to power on the thru-hikers food list, but sadly will never be number one. No matter how much it continues to climb in popularity, it cannot un-seat the permanent champion. It will, however, always remain a close second. Pull up a log around the campfire and unpack a Teriyaki Rice Side (our favorite flavor) for dinner, as we fantasize about this side-dish-turned-full-meal actually having some fresh veggies or a Pork Chop Roast to accompany it. We can dream can't we?!
Transport yourself to a world of flavor, pull up a seat in your favorite Asian restaurant, dine in elegance!
3. Snickers - how one single word and one single brand can bring up so many emotions, we cannot possibly begin to comprehend. Always stay true Snickers, always stay true to yourself, we love you, every hiker loves you. You may see this bronze metal food item hanging out of a fellow hiker's hip belt, shoulder pocket, or even their mouth as they continue to hike down trail. You also may ask yourself in that same instance with a tiny bit of envy and drool, why did I not pack out more Snicker Bars?! It hits all the cylinders: fairly cheap, compact, high in calories, and oh so tasty! Weighing in as a heavyweight contender on our list with 250 calories, it is a "protein bar" in disguise. You can rationalize to yourself on your 3rd Snickers of the day that you are in fact fueling your body with healthy food, because it has oh so many peanuts. The chocolate, nougat, and caramel are just a small part, just for flavor... So, when your Snickers has melted during an especially hot day on trail and you find yourself licking the chocolate off of the wrapper, do not be embarrassed. Remember, you need the calories, you are doing this for fuel! The price range of this item can vary depending on the resupply point that you find yourself in, but we have had them cost as high as $2 a piece and also seen them as cheap as 4 for $1. The town is what always limits the base weight of Snickers in your pack, not your desire to have more Snickers.
Also hard to hike without Snickers
4. Tortillas - or as we like to call them, the imagination plate of the woods. Pack this item with some cheese and hot sauce, sprinkle it with some tuna, or if you are a real masochist put some peanut butter in there.... we will get into that later. The tortilla is your canvas and the paint is your imagination. This food item sits high upon the thru-hiker's food list because of its versatility. You can make yourself a breakfast wrap, a snack wrap, a lunch wrap, a post-lunch wrap, a dinner wrap, and a midnight wrap, or just eat it plain, we do not judge. An average tortilla can range anywhere from 100 - 200 calories. It can be corn, flour, jalapeno cheddar (YES), sun-dried tomato, veggie, so many options. The opportunities are truly endless. The price tag also helps this contender, usually weighing in at anywhere from $2 to $5 for a pack of 10. Most of the time they will be on the cheaper side however. Much of the time at a lunch break, as a hiker is unpacking their goodies, you will see the tortilla flag flown as it billows in the wind.
CAUTION: Making a tortilla on top of 8,000ft peaks in wind is not advised, you will most likely cry as your tortilla goes off the edge of a cliff and your hopes and dreams of satisfying your hunger go with it.
Burrito Blankets Off Trail, Imagination Plates of the Woods On Trail
5. Peanut Butter - here we go. It hurts us physically and mentally to put this on the list, but we will not be biased in the rankings, only biased in our words around this item. Peanut Butter or what we like to call it Satan's Spread. If there was a black hole of nothingness that items could go to disappear from creation, we would gladly offer Peanut Butter to this void. Okay, you have heard enough about our feelings around this "item", so lets get into it shall we. This item weighs in in the middle of the list because for many hikers it is a staple. It's extremely high in calories and can be eaten with a combination of many other food choices, or just as a spoonful. This weighs in on our calorie counter with anywhere from 2,000 - 3,000+ calories a jar. People also say its "good for you", or at least a healthier alternative to high-calorie food, but that does not mean it is good for our souls! An average jar of peanut butter will cost a hiker anywhere from $1 - $3. If the beginning part of this description did not express my feelings around peanut butter enough, here is another comment. I actually ignore peanut butter so much in the grocery stores or resupply points that I've blocked out all peanut butter-related facts in my mind. I actually had to look up the average prices and calorie content per jar. My brain space will not be used for peanut butter's evil ways! Okay, we may have gone off the topic slightly again, so yea...peanut butter. If you like to support chaos and destruction, it is a good choice for your food on trail. Fine! Peanut butter: high calories, compact, low-ish cost, that is as ringing of an endorsement you will pull from us for this item*.
We will not even disgrace this post with a picture of this item. The light going to the black hole is because we threw the Peanut Butter with all our strength and it created a trail of light.
6. Candy - this is a general term, because there is so much variety out there. Even coming in at number 6, almost every hiker you pass will have some variation of candy. It is not so much for the calories or the price that hikers choose to pack out this item, but just the treat for a hard day. Since it is so varied, the average calories and average price associated with this can be anywhere from $2 - $10 per resupply, as well as 250 - 2,000 calories. Oh the candy! Believe us when we say that we have looked into somehow creating dehydrated candy, so we can pack out more each section. It may be heavy as a food item, but when depriving yourself of creature comforts on trail, we have found a little sugar boost at the end of the day or before a big climb is what we hikers need. There may have been a time or two that we packed out 4+ LBS of JuJubes and still wished that we had sacrificed the extra base layer for more candy. You know what, we would sacrifice our tent for extra candy. Who needs a shelter system when you have JuJubes to keep you warm at night?
DISCLAIMER: Candy may keep your heart and soul warm, but not your physical body, DO NOT pack out candy as a shelter system!
Yes, that is 4LBS of JuJubes. Pure Happiness before Pure Sadness when they ran out.
7. Protein Bars - there will be variation in this food item as well, but bars are a hiking staple. Compact, condensed energy blocks to push you up and over that mountain. You can choose to go with the generic versions in bigger stores and spend anywhere from $2-$4 a box, or go with the name brand versions such as Clif Bars and Quest Bars and spend $2-$4 a bar. This option can become pricier at smaller resupply points, and while extremely satisfying and calorie efficient, it has to be weighed against the budget for your resupply. The calories in each bar can also have huge fluctuations, but we have found most will hover anywhere from 200 - 500 calories. This is why it is further down on the thru-hiking staples list - not because it's not an amazing choice for healthier and more quality food while on trail, but because the price tag is extremely high for one bar. I have even sustained myself on the last 3 days of a 180+ mile sections by only eating one protein bar a day. Yea, not the ideal situation, and my body might be wired a little weird, but it speaks volumes to the efficiency of this food item (or the efficiency of my stubbornness, one of the two). Great for calories on the go, most of the time you will only notice a hiker's passion for protein bars in town. You may not catch them eating it in the wild, but when emptying out the hip belts into the trash, you will find the evidence of the crunch n' munch in the trash can of a hostel or motel. Not an item that brags about its popularity on the trail itself, but one that nonetheless makes this list, because somewhere right now if you listen hard enough you can hear a hiker out there crunching and munching loudly as they inhale protein bars!
Was going to go for something funny.... instead, see our favorite protein bars. We want others to experience the joy we do with these bars!
8. Chips - no surprise here. Once again, hikers like high calories, and what is more high-calorie than crispy fried potato goodness. You can usually see this evidence in the wild, hanging off the back of a thru-hikers pack or strapped in to the top. Easy access means more chips consumed per mile. Most of the time if you are camping with others and you wake up around 1 or 2 A.M. and hear a sound like something is stepping on crisp leaves around your camp, most of the time it is not a bear but a fellow hiker that woke up for some chip munching. The price tag on this item usually falls within the $2-$4 range for a large bag of chips. The calories, depending on the flavor and brand of chips, can range from 2,000 - 3,000 per large bag of chips. There has been many a day on trail that all we ate from our food bag was chips, not because there wasn't more in there, but because that's all we craved. A very popular form of chip on the trail is Fritos and Doritos. Doritos in a pinch are even a good fire starter, due to the high oil content being flammable. Be warned though, you will lose some of your chip stash if you choose this route, so make sure the fire is really worth it, because you might find yourself in the situation of a warm fire and no chips, a very sad situation indeed.
Our favorite chip. If you find us in the wilderness, ask us about our chip game. If we shed a tear, know we had loved and lost already in that section. It was a flame of a love, burned quick but strong!
9. Trail Mix - not as popular as you may think. Mix and match freedom, but it comes with a heavy toll (the toll being that it always ends up in the bottom of your food bag, sometimes pecked upon, but more frequently carried with you from town to town). As the food continues to grow around trail, and the food choices become more compact and easily accessible, this staple seems to have fallen from popularity. Not to say that we don't still see many hikers tossing back a handful of trail mix at a break, but the frequency has definitely decreased. You can get a pre-made bag of trail mix usually for around $5-7 and a handful or two can be about 200 calories. So it's a contender in the price and caloric value rings - there does not seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why it's losing its flare, but it continues to drop. It's possible that many beginner backpackers use this as a go-to, since there's so much assumption around trail mix being the perfect food (also the name TRAIL mix, it has the name of what you are doing baked right into it!). So, as hikers continue to grow they have possibly burned themselves out on trail mix by the time they start to tackle longer and harder miles? That is at least our thought, but it could be many factors. We know many people that still love trail mix, but as for popularity around the entire thru-hiking community, it is not as prevalent as it once was. Maybe that is why the name has stayed Trail Mix and not Thru-Hiking Trail Mix? We will continue to be as puzzled by this contender as you are.
Bowl does not come included, also do not pack out the bowl, maybe that is why its losing popularity?
10. Oatmeal - does anyone actually eat this? We had to put this food item in the list because you will ALWAYS find oatmeal in hiker boxes. Even if there is absolutely nothing else in the hiker box, you can guarantee that there will be a lone packet of oatmeal staring back at you as the cobwebs continue to grow around it. This leads us into wondering if people actually eat it on trail? We know for a fact people carry it, because we see the evidence in hiker boxes - but with how much is in hiker boxes, would that not mean that no one is eating it on trail? The price point on this continues to be cheap, usually around $2-3 for a box of 8 packets. The oatmeal companies must love the thru-hiking community, because their product is still being sold even if not eaten. The average calories around a packet of oatmeal is 160 - 200 calories. Oatmeal, while valid in concept by being a healthy food choice on trail, is just more of a headache than it's worth. When thru-hiking, many hikers do not want to take the time to boil water in the morning and then make oatmeal. It's impractical when there are miles to do. We have also tried to consume the oatmeal dry while walking, and if you refer to our Rating System for Gear, you will see it is a 1-star experience. Choking, if not frequent, is always possible. It does not taste that great either, you will usually get smacked in the taste buds by a pure sugar bomb after chewing the bland oats that were at the top of the packet. This is why this contender squeaked by at the tail end of our list at number 10. Oatmeal is abundant on trails - we're just not so sure how much of it is consumed...if any.
Even we are fooled by the oatmeal's promise! Literally, just a bag of oatmeal that we have around from thru hike planning. Did we eat any? NOPE!
So that's it. These are the 10 most popular food choices that you will see in a thru-hiker's pack. Of course, there are many food variations and items that are built around these, but you can almost guarantee that on any given section a thru-hiker will have at least one if not multiple of these items bouncing around in their pack. You can also guarantee that you will NEVER see us out on trail carrying Peanut Butter. We would love a hello while out on trail, but if you offer us a spoonful of peanut butter, more likely than not we will embrace you as a brother or sister of the trail and cry as we walk away, knowing that one of our fellow comrades is now lost to the grips of the Satan's Spread.
Do you like Peanut Butter? Have you ever liked Peanut Butter? Is the grip of Peanut Butter too much to bear and you are looking for a way out?
If you answered yes to one or any of these questions, please reach out to us at our toll-free email:
You are not alone, we are here for you, help is right around the corner. We will get through this together. There is strength in togetherness and we will be there with you the entire way. Please, please do not try to fight the Peanut Butter alone, reach out to us, there is hope.
With great compassion and love
*please note that this does not reflect the values or opinions of all ElevenSkys staff - in fact, the editor of this piece would like it to be known that she frequently enjoys peanut butter with no regrets, and that she thinks the author is a weirdo.