AT Meal Plan: Week 3

There is nothing wrong with being a Type A thru-hiker, as the Sierra Club pointed out this week. But, it is important to keep yourself in check and recognize when your OCD trip planning may have gone too far … hopefully before you waste too much time and money in the process. Fortunately, I had that realization this week. Since I am just over 3 months from departure, I started buying many of the groceries with longer shelf-lives: dehydrated fruits and veggies, freeze-dried meats, non-perishables, etc. What I realized quickly though, is that there is no point in trying to be perfect.

According to my baseline Hike Plan, some resupply boxes need 3 breakfasts, some need 5.  Some need 4 dinners, some need 2.  And we all know that plans on the trail will change. This planning was meant to make things easier, not to make it perfect, so trying to count pennies and portions will really just end up wasted effort and added stress.

Light bulb moment!

Since the Hike Plan breaks down sections in 4-5 day increments, the best resupply box plan is to have ALL boxes portioned out to 4 days of food.  Some weeks I’ll have too much, some weeks too few.  If I have extra, I’ll save it for the next week (or drop in a hiker box).  If I need extra, I’ll pick up some supplemental items in town.  This prep change is going to make it significantly easier and allow for more flexibility on the trail. So with that, let’s look at the Week 3 meals. Hello Neiman!

Week 3 Meals.

Breakfast 3.  Mr. Tipton kept me from enjoying these Quaker Oats Instant Grits for far too long. Delicious, flavorful, and hearty when you add a couple condiments; in this case, 2 packets of bacon bits and honey. Supplemented with a Costco brand breakfast bar and 2 packs of Taster’s Choice Hazelnut Instant Coffee.

Elevensies 3.  This week’s elevensy snacks are a Twix Bar (I show no favoritism to left nor right Twix), 1 cup of Trader Joes Trail Mix (any variety), and a Pressed by Kind Fruit Bar.  Oddly, the PB Twix shelf-life (3 months) is significantly less than the standard Twix (9 months) … why are the PB ones so darn difficult for resupply packing in advance?? Oh well, I’ll buy in bulk the week before I depart.

Lunch 3.  I’ll be honest, not sure how I feel about this. I planned these as tortilla wraps, but those are too perishable for pack-ahead. If I can find tortillas in town, I’ll swap out the 3 Sailor Pilot CrackersDrain drink 1 can of Swanson Chunk Chicken, pour over 2 packets of BBQ or Buffalo Sauce, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, and you have what could be a good mid-day chicken snack. Paired with TJ dried pineapple rings for fun.

Snack 3. I wish they still made the old-fashioned PowerBars that hurt to chew. They had this great wild berry flavor I loved. Nostalgia will get you nowhere, but and Protein Plus bars have way more calories anyway, so it’s a good way to still enjoy the power bar brand that started the energy bar movement.

Dinner 3. You ready for this homemade wonder? I call it Walking Tacos Supreme, a lovingly twist on the original from your youth. Boil up 1.5 cups water, add to FBC of 1/2 cup Refried Bean Flakes, 1 cup Freeze Dried Beef (or sub chicken), 1/2 cup Freeze Dried Cheese, and 2 tbsp Dehydrated Onion.  After 10 minutes, mix in 2 tbsp taco seasoning and 1/2 ounce Olive Oil.  Lastly, mix in 2 snack size bags of crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos chips. Mmm, Mmm, good.

Treat 3.  Last but not least, a bit more fruit. Well, sort of fruit. Not sure ingredients include any actual fruit. Really, more sugar than fruit. It is fruit flavored at least. Regardless, these are fun to eat for a tasty treat. Target’s Simply Balanced Twisted Fruit Ropes round out the day’s meal.

AT Meal Plan: Week 2

Week 2’s meal plan is brought to you by JJ’s Bakery! The big differences this week are the simplicity of a store-bought freeze-dried dinner, the introduction of Pilot crackers for lunch (which have a hugely high calorie-to-weight ratio – I seriously don’t know why I never knew of these in the past, they are a great addition to any backcountry meal), and the aforementioned JJ’s Bakery in Erie, PA, which has graciously donated a dozen fruit pies for my high calorie Treat each day. Discovered on Prep Hike 1, these “gas station” pies are my new fav.  I am eager to enjoy – thanks JJ’s!

In total, this meal will provide 3946 calories a day, weighing 33.9 ounces and costing $18.77*.  Only 2 Tablespoons of alcohol (1 for breakfast, 1 for dinner) are needed for cooking again.  *Unless you are a Mountain House hoarder like me … Hello Neiman!

Breakfast 2: Instant Oatmeal

560 calories, 4.7 ounces, $2.06

A couple of maple & brown sugar oatmeal packs from Quaker Oats or Trader Joes, spiced up with 1/4 cup of Harmony House-Freeze Dried Berries and 1/4 cup AF Raw Almonds.  For this week’s morning cup-a-joe, two Taster’s Choice House Blend Instant Coffee in 8 ounces of hot water.

 

 

Elevensies 2: Snickers, Fruit Wrap, Trail Mix

916 calories, 6.7 ounces, $1.97

Again, these are meant to be snacks on the go (unless a nice vista view opportunity presents itself for a long break). This time we get a tried-and-true Snickers bar, a leather fruit wrap from Trader Joes, and 1 cup of Trader Joes Trail Mix (any variety). For those who questioned candy bars as healthy trail food – there is nothing better for hike energy than peanuts, caramel, and chocolate … so, yeah, gimme a Snickers!

Lunch 2: Tuna Crackers

880 calories, 10.2 ounces, $5.64

Sailor Pilot Crackers are pure genius. GENIUS!  At 100 calories each, they are tasty, dense, and big enough for a meal.  I liken these to LOTR’s Lembas Bread, which “keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labor”.  Ha, not quit, but damnit if I won’t be thinking about that on the trail. Pairing them with a couple Starkist Creation packs, some Cheddar Goldfish Crackers, and Trader Joes mangos will make for a tasty lunch.

Snack 2: Cliff Bar

380 calories, 2.5 ounces, $0.85

Sticking with the idea of bars I know I won’t get sick of quickly, this week introduces the Cliff Bar. You all know em, and I’ve been loving them since the 90’s when I packed a case of them for snacks at summer camp. Sticking with the fruit-is-best theme, there are some good ones like Blueberry Crisp, Berry Pomegranate Chia, and more to indulge.

 

Dinner 2: Freeze-Dried Mountain House

810 calories, 5.8 ounces, $7.25

I have some Mountain House Freeze-Dried meals in storage from past trips, as well as an emergency case we bought for a Zombie Apocolypse Earthquake Emergency kit after moving to the West Coast. The shelf-life is somewhere around 927 years, and although expensive on their own, are already sunk costs for me, making them free dinners to use. So I guess … winning?

 

Treat 2: JJ’s Fruit Pie

400 calories, 4.0 ounces, $1.00

As mentioned above, a HUGE shout out to JJ’s Bakery. This type of pie is very popular on the trail, as they pack 400+ calories for each $0.99 item.  I love the apple, chocolate, and lemon flavors (stay away Cherry, you suck) from Hostess or Little Debbie … but JJs introduces some much more FUN options: Blackberry and Peach! Only available in select stores, so I’m very grateful to the fine people of JJs for sending me a couple dozen for the trip. Hello Neiman!

AT Meal Plan: Week 1

As mentioned in the Meal Plan intro and page, the goal is to carry 3-5 days of food at max, with each day giving approximately 3800 calories in under 2 lbs and $20.  All meal plans follow the same rubric, but the Week 1 grocery list is the cheapest and lightest of all the plans.  And looks mighty tasty all the same. Here’s a closer look at what will be pre-packaged and sent to me as a mail-drop for pickup 3 times while on this trek.

In total, this meal will provide 3835 calories, with a combined weight of 30.1 ounces and total cost of $16.84.  I’ll need an additional 2 Tablespoons of alcohol (1 for breakfast, 1 for dinner) for cooking, and that’s it.  Bon Appetit and Hello Neiman!

 

Breakfast 1:  Granola with Coffee

755 calories, 5.7 ounces, $2.61

Well, a bit more than granola – as it’s more of a complete meal then just oats. Take 1 cup of AF French Vanilla Almond Granola, add 1/4 cup of Harmony House-Freeze Dried Berries and 1/4 cup AF Raw Almonds. This could be enough on its own, but for bonus calories, add 1/4 cup of Nestle Powdered Milk and 8 oz cold water.  And since every morning starts with a warm cup of coffee, 2 Taster’s Choice French Roast Instant Coffee in 8 oz hot water.
 

Elevensies 1:  M&Ms, Fruit Bar, Trail Mix

960 calories, 6.8 ounces, $3.05

Every Elevensie meal consists of a protein-packed candy bar, fruit bar, trail mix.  For the week 1 plan, we get to enjoy 1 package Peanut (or Peanut Butter) M&Ms, 1 Pressed by Kind Fruit Bar, and 1 cup of Trader Joes Trail Mix (any variety).  These are meant to be snack foods, as one is likely to be constantly snacking throughout the morning.  That is until hiker hunger takes full control and a full lunch break is required.

 

Lunch 1:  Beef Stick Snack

930 calories, 7.1 ounces, $4.62

Packaged meat, cheese, and carbs – everyone’s favorite lunchtime treat. For this meal plan, we go with three 1 oz packaged beef sticks (after sampling a few, I like Wyoming Gourmet). Add to this 1 package of Market Pantry Cheese Sandwich Crackers and 1/2 package of Trader Joes Soft and Juicy Mandarins.  When it comes to dried fruit, it doesn’t get better than TJ’s, though I prefer the fruits without added sugar.

 

Snack 1:  Bobo’s Bar

360 calories, 3.5 ounces, $2.50

There is no shortage of options nor opinions on “bars”.  I’ll likely try every style under the sun when resupplying in towns, but for the ones I package in advance, I’ll go with the kind I know are tried and true.  For me, nothing beats a peach flavored Bobo’s Bar.

 

 
 

 

Dinner 1:  Fancy Chicken Ramen

750 calories, 6.1 ounces, $3.81

Ramen can be a pretty decent meal if you mix it up a bit. Instead of just the basic powder and noodle, I like to spice up life with much needed calories. Boil 2 cups water for 1 Maruchan Ramen, add 1/4 cup freeze-dried chicken (Honeyville or Future Essentials), 1/4 cup Harmony House dehydrated veggies and 1/2 ounce Olive Oil.  Garnish with 4 saltine cracker packs and you have a soup for woodland Kings!

 

Treat 1:  Fruit Snacks

80 calories, 0.9 ounces, $0.25

Nothing fancy here, just a small Welch’s Fruit Snack pack to finish off the day. But let’s be honest, I’ll probably eat this sometime around 9:30am when I’ve already eaten everything else for the day in a fit of starved Hiker Hunger rage. Grr…

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.