AT Meal Plan: Introduction and Strategy

Planning for my backcountry meal plan is pretty fun, and probably the most important area to research in advance. Failing to prepare correctly for meals can cause some pretty frustrating issues on the trail, where your options are limited to only what you chose to bring – no Uber Eats here to bail you out my friends. Plan wrong and you’ll hate your food, run out of food, carry extra food, or worse.  So what should I eat, when should I eat, and how much should I eat? To know that, we need to know my 4 important rules to backcountry meal planning:

  1. Know which foods you like, and make sure you’ve eaten the meal before
  2. Know how many calories you burn hiking per hour, and how many hours you’ll hike
  3. Know which foods have the highest calorie-to-ounce-to-dollar ratio
  4. Leave No Trace, Carry No Waste

First, one of the learnings from my father years ago was to always try out a meal before taking it back-country. The worst thing you can do is bring an exciting new one-pot meal that you read about somewhere, only to find out you can’t stomach it in real life. Nothing will drop your moral faster than having that hot meal you anticipated all day be just too gross to eat.

Second, although not that big a concern on normal trip-planning, a thru-hike requires long-term planning for body mass gain/loss.  On average, I can assume I will burn 450-500 calories hiking per hour, hike an average of 2 miles per hour, and hike 17 miles per day. These averages put my estimated calory burn at 4000-4500 calories per day. That’s a lot.

Next, the beloved “calorie to ounce to dollar” ratio. I won’t bore you with the nutritional research on this, but certain foods simply provide more calories for their weight and cost: nut butters, oils, nuts, dried fruits, dried meats, etc. (check out this great list if interested in specifics). The bottom line is that I want to have each day’s meal-plan cover my necessary calories for approx 2 pounds and 15 dollars.

And lastly, a personal twist on the hiker mentality of Leave No Trace. I am passionate about LNT, and therefore don’t want to plan meals that could leave trace, such as excess starch water from cooking pasta, or introducing strong meaty odors to the area. In addition, I don’t want to carry excess trash (waste) – canned beans sound great, but carrying the can for 4 days after eating does not.  So, LNT and CNW.

With those rules in place, I produced a meal plan that I think will work well.  Each “week” is defined for a specific 4-6 day section of the trail, and each week will only be repeated once. This is on purpose so that I don’t get sick of the same foods and can be confident in my plan to pre-prepare meals and ship them to myself at key places along the trail. And for days where I will resupply in town (e.g. buy supplies for a couple days before getting another mail drop), there is a standard rubric I’ll follow as well – I may not know which rice/pasta dish I’ll find for dinner, but I know that is the goal.

Future Meal Plan posts will break down each week’s meals, talk about what I like about each and why I think this plan will work.

4 thoughts on “AT Meal Plan: Introduction and Strategy

  1. Pingback: Meal Plan: Week 1 | Hello Neiman!

  2. Fascinating stuff! I didn’t think about it, but the math you laid out is pretty clear – you’re going to burn a lot of damn calories! Out of curiosity, are you planning to come out of this with any weight loss? Not that you need it, but in burning that many calories every day, the balance of nutrition will be really key to you not losing a bunch of weight. Is that something you plan to track at all? Or will your excellent meal plan have you covered? 🙂

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    • Yes, some weight loss is inevitable. On average hikers lose 15-30 pounds! I’m not looking to drop too much weight though, as that usually comes in the form of depleted upper body muscles. Hopefully I can eat enough to only lose 10-15 and come out healthy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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