Archive for the Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning Category

Anything and Everything: Trail Foods

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning, Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by J.K.o

Here’s a list of foods that I really enjoyed (at one point or another) while hiking the trail. I tried to break them down between breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner. Remember, when in doubt, think high calories and high fat!


My favorite breakfast items:

  • instant coffee
  • peanut M&M’s
  • cake frosting (my favorite breakfast/snack on the trail!)
  • Reese’s Cups
  • Pop Tarts


Some lunchtime deliciousness:

  • pepperoni (pre-sliced in the pizza prep section)
  • peanut butter, Nutella, and butter sandwiches… yum!
  • summer sausage
  • Parmesan cheese wedge
  • Triscuits with cream cheese
  • Tahini sandwiches (straight-up sesame tahini on a flat bread…yes!)



  • homemade trail mix including Gold Fish crackers, dried sour cherries, honey roasted peanuts, and butterscotch chips
  • Combos snack crackers saved the day!
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Sunbelt granola bars (available at Dollar General stores near the Little Debbies) like coconut fudge and chocolate chip!
  • peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Little Debbie snack cakes (taste great, lots of fat, be careful how you pack them)
  • sandwich flat bread (available on the bread isle; they keep nicely inside the pack)


Favorite dinners:

  • Pasta Sides from Knorr (all of them were delicious and they cooked really easily)
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Kraft Mac’n’Cheese
  • Bear Creek Soup–these are dried soups; potato is the best!
  • Old El Paso Tortilla Stuffers– SO AMAZING, HEARTY, and DELICIOUS! Who doesn’t want to eat steak on the trail?
  • Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • Stove Top Stuffing (mix it together with mashed potatoes, so good!)



  • Gatorade G2 Single Serve powder mix
  • hot chocolate packets
  • Mio drink mix, really any powdered drink mix is a blessing!
  • McFlurry spoon from McDonald’s…yes a McFlurry spoon. Don’t waste money on stupid trail spoons–they all break and are expensive!
  • butter- yes, sticks of it! (This is dependent upon the weather–use caution in summer months)
  • cream cheese-                               ”                    ”                   “


Just Plain Desperate (Foods I started to carry towards the end of my hike…just because I could!):

  • McDonald’s McDoubles keep nicely for up to 3 days.. a nice hamburger on the top of a mountain summit is amazing.
  • frozen pizzas cooked in town or leftover pizza from dinner; these keep very nicely for a few days.

What other hikers were eating:

  • Lilly, my hiking buddy, carried a wheel of Vermont white cheddar. Lilly is a vegetarian and this was a major source of protein for her.
  • Tuna; the stuff in the aluminum packets (I just hate tune!).
  • Quinoa was very common on the trail to be mixed into lots of different meals.
  • Hummus mix, just add water!
  • oatmeal; I never really craved this though
  • Jelly for PB&J sandwiches

A Long Distance Eating Contest: Food Logistics on the Appalachian Trail

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by J.K.o

Logistics & Resupply

Planning food for my AT thru-hike was quite overwhelming. It was probably the most challenging thing I had to deal with in the planning phase. So many questions arose. What food should I take? How do I pack it? Where do I get food from? Should I dehydrate meals? Should I live off mail drops? Yeah…overwhelming was the word that ran through my mind most.

My approach to food on the trail evolved quite a bit throughout the entire process. Trail food was dependent on many factors like the weather, the distance between towns, the hours of the local post office, and what resources were in the town.

Initially, I planned to rely on mail drops with dehydrated meals that I had made before the hike. In Georgia and the the first sections of North Carolina, there aren’t a lot of trail towns. It actually worked out quite well to package food and send it ahead to post offices and outposts located along the trail. The dehydrated food was okay, but it sure took a lot of effort. I bought quite a few frozen meals (the ones in bags; stir fry and pastas) and dehydrated and sealed them. They tasted just fine, but each morning I had to place the contents of my dinner in a Nalgene bottle with water. The dehydrated foods had to be reconstituted all day long if you didn’t want to eat leathery, hard foods.

We also carried some perishable items in the beginning. I liked to carry butter as it was a great source of calories and fat and it just tasted SO good. Cream cheese was another great addition to the food sack. The cream cheese traveled well until the temperatures started to climb, then it just began to sweat. It was not uncommon for us to carry pizza as well; we often bought pizza or cooked the frozen ones in town. We gladly carried the leftovers in our pack to break up the monotony of trail food. Yum!

Still, I relied on the mail drops and always had an abundant source of food. However, another problem arose. We started arriving at towns on days when the post office was closed. It was really frustrating to roll in on a Sunday and not be able to get your food. This trend continued on and eventually I decided it was best to put an end to the mail drops. Starting in Virginia, there are a plethora of grocery stores, Dollar Generals, and Wal-Marts available. The whole concept of resupplying at the grocery store was great! You could pick and choose the foods that appealed to you at that time and didn’t have to rely on eating the same foods  you packed at the beginning.

The grocery store resupply was our mainstay for food resources and it never failed us. There were some places in Pennsylvania that did prove difficult to resupply. In quite a few towns there were only gas stations–no grocery stores for miles! Gas station resupply was so annoying! Sure, they had all the candy and soda a kid could want, but they lacked the high calorie, high fat foods we could obtain at a market. I hated the gas station resupply with a passion! It always meant slim eatings for a few days.

Fortunately, New England was the land of delis! Every street crossing had a deli available. There were many days where we would feast on delicious sandwiches and subs. New England really had the best selection of quick foods available. We were never starved for options!

By the time I arrived in Vermont I was so over the trail! I was so sick of the food I had been eating. There were times when we’d come to a town with a McDonald’s or Burger King; I would go in and purchase 10 hamburgers and pack them out for a few days….They were SO awesome! I remember chowing down on a McDouble after I summitted Mt. Lafayette. We continued to pack out pizzas and a host of other fast foods; they always kept well for 2-3 days.

The Whites also provided a new source of food four us. The AMC runs Huts throughout the whites; huts are large lodges with bunk rooms that people pay good money to stay in for a night. The staff at the huts prepare a large dinner feast each night and a hearty breakfast for all those who stay till morning. It is customary that the huts will not only provide lodging to a few (3-4) select thru-hikers, as well as, 2 free meals. This means they will let you set your sleeping pad up in the dining room and give you some food in exchange for a simple task like sweeping, cleaning the bunk rooms, or just talking to the guests after dinner about your journey. Even when we were just passing by a shelter at lunch time, they would provide us with the leftover soup or pancakes from breakfast. The huts were really a nice treat in the midst of the treacherous, exhausting, and fog-laden whites.

Storage & Protection

So as you can see, trail appetites are constantly changing. The best thing is to stay open-minded on what you carry and don’t be afraid to try carrying a little fast food from time-to-time. As for carrying food, I used a Sea-to-Summit dry bag. This was the standard method of carrying food among most hikers. Some used stuff sacks or Kevlar mesh bags, but all that really matters is that your food sack is waterproof.



When I first arrived on the trail, it was very clear that I had overlooked or not anticipated some crucial things. For instance, keeping your food in a safe place so that mice and other critters can’t get to it. What I tell every person that is planning any kind of overnight backpacking trip is that you need to plan for the practice of hanging your food bag every night. At many of the shelters there were pre-installed bear cables and bear boxes. However, there were a few occasions when we had to hang our own bags and needed a decent amount of line to accomplish this. Always be ready to hang a bear bag!

For detailed information on how to hang a bear bag and what items you should place in said bag, please check out my entry: Let’s Hang a Bear Bag!

On a side note, it’s always good practice to remember to hang up your hiking pack in the evenings while staying at a shelter. The shelters are inundated with mice and they will stop at nothing to sneak  into your pack in search of tasty treats. Most shelters have lines with mouse baffles to hang items on. Use them! I had my pack raided on 2 occasions and I was less than thrilled.

Backcountry Medicine- AT Style

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning on August 26, 2011 by J.K.o

Before I embarked on my thru-hike I sat down and put some serious thought into trail emergencies and first-aid. I pulled ideas from my EMT training and wilderness survival courses. I hemmed and hawed, unsure of whether or not I should carry a full-on med kit. I am a trained Wilderness EMT and carry a set of skills that allows me to care for the injured in the back-country; however, hiking the AT is not a job, but rather something I elected to do. I felt that carrying a full med kit for myself and others would be way too much extra weight. I also thought that if a hiker wasn’t responsible enough to carry first-aid supplies for them self, why should I have to carry it for them? So I decided, against my conscience, to only carry the necessary med-kit for myself.

It didn’t take long for the guilty conscience to take over. It felt contradictory to be a W-EMT and not carry the stuff to help others on the AT. It didn’t become an issue until the day I needed to pull out my skills and provide care to an injured hiker.

Trekking poles wreaked havoc on the trail this year. I know of 3 situations where a hiker’s trekking pole got stuck causing the hiker to fall. I came upon a hiker that split their head open from a trekking pole induced fall. That was the first time I got to break out the gloves; it was pretty exciting. I won’t go through all the boring details of their treatment. I was on the lookout for evidence of head trauma and spinal injury. Once I ran through my standard protocols and such, I treated the laceration on the hiker’s head. The butterfly strips did the trick! I also insisted that the hiker stay at our camp for the night so that I could monitor them for any delayed signs of head trauma.

Right before I completed the trail I came upon an injured day-hiker in Maine. They had fallen on some wet rocks, separated their left a/c joint and fractured their left humerus. The weather was getting really bad and we were about 6 miles from the nearest road. I assisted the two medics that were on seen until the remainder of the rescue team arrived. I focused on keeping the hiker calm and comfortable, covering him with a warm sleeping bag and immobilizing his spine.  I worked with the medics for about 45 minutes until the rest of the team got there; I then moved down trail to assist the rescue team. We prepared to carry-out the patient in a litter. Due to the patient’s intense pain and anxiety, medications were administered and it was another 2 hours before we were able to start moving the patient out.  Meanwhile, it started raining, hailing, and lightening. It was all very exciting and I was glad to be able to help.

After the first situation, I beefed-up my med kit with additional items for others. I carried a few extra gloves and a lot more butterfly strips. Albeit, these extra items were unnecessary for just me, but I felt a strong moral obligation to be prepared to help others. Should all hikers carry big med kits? No. But, all hikers should carry a few first-aid supplies.

Keeping in mind the principle that everything you carry while hiking should have at least two purposes, these are some essentials I recommend for a thru-hiker’s med kit:

  1. butterfly strips/steri-strips- lots of them, one box of strips doesn’t even weigh an ounce. These are quite versatile and if you get into a really bad situation, needing stitches, the strips do a pretty good job of holding it together-temporarily. Remember this is not a front-country protocol nor an official back-country protocol (per SOLO Wilderness Medicine or Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS), but this is a great tool for any thru-hiker who is focused on carrying the lightest weight possible.
  2. gloves- at least 1 pair. I know this sounds ridiculous! You should carry a pair of medical gloves; they weigh less than one ounce. If you aren’t an EMT like myself and don’t plan on treating any injured people, consider the fact that the person helping you will probably want to wear gloves; consider the fact that if you have a gaping wound, you too will probably want the person treating you to wear gloves (you don’t know what kind of junk is on their hands while they are out there in the woods).
  3. iodine- one 2 ounce bottle will do; this can be used to clean out shallow cuts or abrasions. Remember that “double purpose” thing I mentioned- iodine can be used as a water purifier. The standard recommended ratio is 3 drops of iodine per liter of water. Using iodine for water treatment is fine for short periods of time; however, if you hike all-the-time you may consider an alternative water treatment as ingesting large amounts of iodine can affect your thyroid function.
  4. gauze pads- just a couple 4×4’s; can you see the theme I am going for here? Items 1-4 are for situations where blood and broken tissue are involved. This is because these situations will require sterile, clean bandaging. Remember–we are going for light-weight here!

In total, these items placed in a ziploc baggy only weigh 2-3 ounces. That’s pretty good for a thru-hiker. Don’t waste space with bandaids; you only use them for little things and trust me, they won’t stick to your dirty body. I carried some sort of pain reliever (acetamenaphine or NSAID like ibuprophen). I didn’t include that on the list for a few reasons. I carried a bottle of tylenol; my feet hurt, my joints ached, sometimes I got headaches, whatever. When you start hiking your body is going to hurt! So do yourself a favor and just carry the bottle. I didn’t keep mine in the med kit, but on my hip belt for easy, quick access. By the time I got to Maine, I popped tylenol around-the-clock just because my body had taken so much abuse.

I feel I should reiterate the fact that I am writing this with thought to thru-hikers. If you are some sort of outdoor trip leader or wilderness guide, follow your company protocols. When I work on the river, we carry a full-on med kit with all sorts of goodies. Also, I mentioned the items that I used the most frequently and carried the most value. There are many other things you could carry out there on the AT. The key word there is *carry; remember that you have to carry everything that is in your pack, so don’t go too crazy packing unnecessary stuff.