Saturday, February 25, 2017

Appalachian Trail: Food Planning

I'm not sure what is harder, walking 2,200 miles or figuring out what to eat as you walk 2,200 miles.  That is what I started to look at in earnest this week.

Now, to be clear, I am not planning all my meals for the nearly six months I will be walking.  That is an impossible task.  What I am doing is planning my meals for the first stage of the Appalachian Trail (AT) along with the meals that I will have to supply by mail.  This translates into roughly thirty-seven days worth of food or about 21% of the food I'll need during my hike.  The rest of the days will be food I find when I resupply in towns along the way.

Deciding what to take is an exercise of balancing several variables.  Calorie density, weight, and size are the three most important ones when hiking.  You want food that is high in calorie density, low in weight, and small in size.  It is not easy to balance these three variables and over the last week I have learned that I will need to compromise a lot.

My plan, which will probably go out the window very early on, is to pack for essentially three meals: snacks, lunch, and dinner.  Snacks will fill in for breakfast and between meal eating.  Lunch will be around noon and be a bit more substantial.  Dinner will be the meal made once you arrive at your daily destination and will be the only hot meal that I plan to eat each day.

Snacks:  For snacks I will be carrying eight ounces of homemade trail mix (pre-packaged into daily rations), four ounces of jerky (pre-packaged into daily rations), two full size candy bars (probably Snickers), five or six pieces of hard candy (for the sugar and to help fight dry mouth), two protein bars (Clif Builder Bars), and a packet or two of nut butter (peanut, almond, etc).  One possible addition would be a packet of hot chocolate for cold mornings.

Lunch:  I'm looking at two types of lunches.  The first is a Bridgford Ready To Eat Sandwich.  I've had these before during my camps.  They are tasty, have a reasonable amount of calories, and do not need to be heated to eat..

The second, which I once thought was going to be my everyday lunch, is a tortilla, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pouch of Tyson Premium Chunk Chicken.  The problem that I ran into when I started looking close at this meal is weight.  The pouch of chicken weighs seven ounces which is a lot.  To give you an idea, the Bridgford sandwiches weigh three and a half ounces.

Because of this weight issue I will be alternating the two meals for lunch to reduce weight.  The sandwiches have fewer calories so I may add a pouch of nut butter to my lunch to bump it up a bit.

Dinner:  Dinner will be my only hot meal (unless I have hot chocolate at breakfast).  I will be carrying two types of dinners: Mountain House dehydrated meals and pasta.   I will likely eat two days of Mountain House meals for every one day of pasta.

I bought fourteen varieties of Mountain House meals.  I've eaten several varieties of Mountain House Meals and they are tasty (though salty), easy to make, and fairly filling.  Each pouch has at least two servings which in hiker parlance means one serving.  They weigh, on average, five and a half ounces per pouch.

Camp Pot Cozy.
As a slightly lighter option I will be carrying dry pasta.  I will probably add a drizzle of olive oil to add calories and maybe some chicken if I didn't eat all the chicken for lunch.  The key is to have options to mix and match.

Making pasta usually uses a lot of fuel to keep the water boiling.  Since fuel can be at a premium you need a way to conserve it.  To reduce the fuel needed I made myself a cozy for my cooking pot.  The process is simple.  Put water and pasta into the cooking pot, bring to a boil (boil for a couple minutes), and put in the cozy to sit and fully cook.  The cozy will help keep the meal hot enough to fully cook the pasta.

I didn't have a cozy but, using the universal teacher (YouTube) as a guide,  I made my cozy out of duct insulation (ReflectixⓇ) and aluminized duct tape.  It was easy to make and fairly light weight. When not in use the pot, stove and fuel canister fit inside the cozy.

These are the meals that I will be eating on the 21% of the days I will have total control over.  The other 79% is going to be a surprise.  The meals I will be packing into the wilderness will be the result of the scavenging I do in towns.  What I find will be determined by the stores that I find.  Many of the towns I will be stopping at will have grocery stores.  A few will have outfitters that will have camp food.  Others have walmarts.  All of them will likely have convenience stores.   This will make each resupply stop a challenge and a surprise.  I suspect I will be eating things that I would never voluntarily eat at home (Slim Jims anyone?).  Hunger, I suspect, is a great suppressor of taste.

Along with being resupply points, the towns that I will be stopping at will indubitably be gorging stations.  The meals I will be carrying will not provide enough calories.   I don't think I could carry enough food to maintain my weight so restaurants will have to make up some of the difference.  I foresee a feast in every town - I would guess at least two dinners, a breakfast, and a lunch (or two) along with a varied amount of in between meal snacking.  The hard part will be to pace myself so I don't make myself sick.  You hear stories of eating five or more burgers at a sitting then going back for more.  You also hear stories of people feeling sick from eating too much food and expelling it from one end or the other.  I don't want to be the subject of a bad story.

I am sure I will be posting about food along the trail.  Let's hope for not posting about being sick to my stomach.

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