Below are some examples of food that hikers carry on the Appalachian Trail along with some helpful considerations about the foods you pack:
1. Pack foods that are high calorie and as lightweight as possible
A single food item should not take up a big amount of space and weigh a lot unless it’s high in calories. Bagels would be worth the bulk because they contain 300 calories each and can still hold together when squashed in your pack. Peanut butter would be worth the weight because 1 tablespoon is about 100 calories. Ramen noodles are popular because they are lightweight, high calorie, and super cheap.
2. Pack foods that need just a little fuel to cook
Food items should not need a tremendous amount of fuel to prepare it. Foodstuff that takes longer than 10 minutes to cook should really be worth it.
3. Pack foods that won’t spoil
You can get by with packing out cheese during the colder months, but for the most part, you want to have dried goods that won’t mold. For special treats, pack out a fresh meal (e.g., sub sandwich) that you can eat the day you leave a town.
4. Pack foods that don’t easily squish or crumble
Grapes, apples, and bananas sound good, but unfortunately, these items get squished pretty easily on the trail. Additionally, they don’t have a whole lot of calories which hikers need. If you do pack out fresh produce, eat it the first few meals out of town. Potato chips, snack cakes and other delicate foods will crumble quickly on the trail. Try out a few things and see what you can tolerate.
5. Pack non-canned foodstuff
Dinty Moore Beef Stew and other canned goods sound like a good idea, but these items are too heavy and will require you to pack a can opener and to pack out bulky trash. Lightweight, freeze-dried backpacking meals are delicious, but are often expensive ($4-5 per meal), so many hikers opt for cheaper alternatives like Ramen noodles or Knorr sides.
6. Pack foods that are easy to cook
Save yourself some time by packing foods that don’t need a lot of prepping to cook. Simple one-pot meals are best for easy clean up and the tired hiker.
…be careful not to stockpile food since you might not crave what’s in your stockpile later on.
As you venture down the trail, your body will crave what it needs. Listen to it. Also, think of meals simply as CARBS, PROTEINS, and FAT. If your meal contains enough of these, you’ll give your body fuel it needs.
Vegetarians and healthy eaters can find many options in grocery stores along the trail. However, picky eaters or people with dietary concerns (e.g., diabetes) might opt to freeze dry their foods and have it shipped to them.
For the new backpacker, your food habits might change the longer you are on the trail. For this reason, you want to be careful not to stockpile food since you might not crave what’s in your stockpile later on. Additionally, your cold weather cravings might be different from your warm weather cravings.
Generally, thru-hikers carry similar foods. Below are some classic options.
Breakfast (quick meals)
- Granola Bars
- Cereal Bars
- Nutrition Bars
- Honey Buns
- Bagel + Peanut Butter
- Coffee, Tea
Lunch (snack-type foods)
- Nuts or trail mix
- Chocolate Bars
- Granola Bars
- Nutrition Bars
- String Cheese
- Cheese and crackers
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Bagel + Peanut Butter
- Bagel + Nutella
- Sports Powder with water
Dinner (meals that use pots)
- Knorr Sides (formerly Lipton)
- Ramen Noodles
- Mashed Potatoes
- Mac-N-Cheese Plus + Tuna Packet
- Mac-N-Cheese Plus + Salmon Packet
- Tortilla + Knorr Side + String Cheese
- Sandwich Thins + Cheese Slices + Butter
- Hot Chocolate
Other foodstuff seen on the trail
- Quinoa – It cooks just like rice. It’s the only grain that’s a complete protein.
- Avocado – Although it’s tricky to cut in half, this fruit has 250 calories with 20 grams of fat.
- Condiments – Salts, squeezable butter, and other spices can really add flavor to bland meals if you’re willing to carry them.
- Sausages – Sausages or other meats are heavy but packed with calories. It might be ideal for a couple.
- Microwave Meals – Meals like Uncle Ben’s Rice or a pasta meal that you just have to heat is nice. It is heavy though since it contains a lot of liquids. This would be a good meal to eat the first night out of a town.
- Most thru-hikers resupply every 3-4 days at grocery stores or convenience stores near the trail. Some hikers might get a few homemade goodies from home in their mail drops. However, it’s far easier to go to the grocery store in towns than to plan mail drops.
- Hikers usually pack enough food to get to the next town plus a little extra just in case they travel slower than expected.
- Pack a little extra food when going into the Smokies just in case. It’s usually cold and you will burn extra calories trying to keep warm.
- When packing your food, get rid of the boxes and excess packaging. Organize your food into large ziplock bags.
- When in town, eat your fruits and vegetables.
- When you leave a town, consider packing out a delicious sub sandwich to have for lunch that day.
- Initially, you will not have a thru-hiker’s appetite. For the first few days, your appetite might be similar to what it is now. You might not even feel like eating the first few nights because you will be tired. Don’t skip meals and always eat a little something no matter how tired you might feel.
- On the trail, eat your heaviest foods first.
- Consider packing your lunch in a separate ziplock bag the night before or in the morning. Then put your lunch bag in an easy to reach place in your pack like an outer pocket. It’s a pain to have to pull out your big food bag in the middle of the day. Also, this will help you to ration your food better.
- Some hikers carry blocks of cheese during the cold weather and eat it within a few days of leaving a town. Caution: Too much cheese causes constipation.
Disclaimer: This list contains items that worked for some thru-hikers. Experiment and find what’s right for you.