Postcard from the Appalachian Trail

by Matt Ficke

Greetings from Fontana Dam, North Carolina! Or, 164 miles into a 1,000-ish mile backpacking trip. Which means I’m about sick of the same food day after day.

A quick rundown of my daily menu: 3 packets of instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast, a burrito with peanut butter for lunch, same for afternoon snack, and various Knorr-brand Pasta Sides dishes mixed with foil packet tuna for dinner. Condiments are salt, pepper, and tabasco.

Not all that bad, actually, and it’s cheap as hell (I think my daily food cost is around $5), but it’s already starting to wear on me. So I turn to you, the internet, for help: do you have any ideas for backpacking food that’s lightweight, cheap, and easily available at grocery stores in the rural south?

12 responses to “Postcard from the Appalachian Trail

  1. Have you considered bark? Deer seem to think the stuff from younger trees is the tastiest.

  2. I don’t have any ideas for you, but I’m extremely impressed that you blogged from the fucking appalachian trail.

    Also, don’t you need, like, some vegetables?

  3. Just some brainstorming:
    – Lentils or split peas – don’t take that long to cook, good with some hot sauce and some greens if you can forage for em (with caution, of course)
    – Dried fruit, esp. dried apricot
    – Almonds
    – String cheese or cheese in wax – something with enough preservatives to handle the heat
    – Peanut M&Ms for a dessert
    – Try instant grits – you should be able to find them and it’ll be a switch from oatmeal. Add salt, pepper, tabasco, maybe some cheese if you have it; get some powdered milk for your breakfast for more calories/some calcium
    – Cous cous for dinner if you can find it

  4. Do you have a whisper lite or other alcohol cone style stove? If so, Bisquick is useful. Pancakes with dried fruit is one of my favorites. So, too, is fry bread, which is just flour, dried milk, sugar, salt and baking soda. I’ve been known to make a soup kind of think with onion, beef jerky, water (bouillion is optional, but is mostly salt) and couscous. I also sometimes use instant rice. Basically, dry grains are your friend.

    But from what you mentioned, it doesn’t sound like you’re using a whisperlite. If so, it gets tougher.

    If you’re going without cooking, gorp and jerky are things I consider essential, or, at least, pretty close to essential. Of course, I don’t know if you’re a vegetarian. I’m also big on chocolate bars and peanut butter for an easy, filling, calorically dense afternoon snack.

    If you are a pescetarian (eats fish), you can get salmon jerky, but, I’ll be honest, I’ve never tried it, and don’t trust it not to come from farmed salmon, which is a very bad fish for the environment. Smoked trout is frequently available in the south, sometimes in pouches, and is AMAZING if it’s local. So, too, are sardines. The biggest problem with sardines is that you have to pack out the can. I don’t mind the weight, but I resent packing out the can, and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter how many times you wrap it, it can smell. I usually only get them on my side trip into town, and eat them in the parking lot, getting rid of the can at the store.

    I will usually try to buy a dry salami if I can find one. These can be kept without refrigeration for a long time. If you can’t find one, look for slices from a country ham. Very salty, but that’s not a problem for me when I’m hiking a long way, as I need the salt. In its favor, it doesn’t need refrigeration and is very light for the calories.

    Cheddar cheese is nice, but you only want to buy enough for one day. (It’s fine for one day without refrigeration, but I don’t want to try more. Perhaps it’s fine, but I just don’t know.) On the other hand, if you can find a hunk of parmigiana regiano (sp?), you can keep that in your backpack for a long time. A little dried salami, some parmesan, some good multi grain crackers, some dried fruit and a ton of water is my favorite lunch when hiking, and, except for the water, doesn’t weigh much.

    About that water… All of these require water. A lot of it. I hope you are using a micropore filter instead of bottles of water, since those bottles get heavy.

    Finally, vegetable matter. I like veggies. But they’re heavy. They have a lot of water content. I still try to eat some carrots, some bell pepper, and some other veggies every day. Green beans are great raw, and can be eaten while you hike, and tend not to go bad very easily.

    Enjoy! I wish I was hiking with you!

  5. Lembas bread!

  6. Cous cous is a great backpacking carb. It’s lightweight and dense and absorbs all the cooking water, so you don’t have to find a way to dispose it. And you can buy it in a variety of flavors. I like to mix the tuna packets into the cous cous for dinner.

  7. If you ever find dehydrated veggies, those are great with a packet of ramen for dinner.

    Dehydrated refried beans and some rice make a great backpacking burrito.

    Goopy indian food packets (Trader Joe’s brand or Kitchens of India brand) are a little heavy, but are delicious over rice.

    And anything from Fantastic Foods, which is available in more grocery stores than one might expect, makes a delicious dinner backbone: http://fantasticfoods.elsstore.com/view/category/1967-traditional-vegetarian-meals/

  8. If you ever find dehydrated veggies, those are great with a packet of ramen for dinner.

    Dehydrated refried beans and some rice make a great backpacking burrito.

    Goopy indian food packets (Trader Joe’s brand or Kitchens of India brand) are a little heavy, but are delicious over rice.

    And anything from Fantastic Foods, which is available in more grocery stores than one might expect, makes a delicious dinner backbone: http://fantasticfoods.elsstore.com/view/category/1967-traditional-vegetarian-meals/

    Finally, I like me a box of mac and cheese with some tuna and/or sun-dried tomatoes.

  9. Cardinal Fang

    Cheddar cheese will keep for days without refrigeration. It gets a little oily, but still tastes good. I always carry some along when I’m bike touring.

    Dried tomatoes are yummy and light, as are dried pears and dried apricots.

  10. On the Long Trail a long time (nine years, sheesh), we loved:

    Trader joe’s foil packets of Thai tuna. Better than sardines, full of protein.

    Cans of bacon and nacho-cheese flavored cheese whiz with Ritz crackers and salami. By the end we could eat so much we would just shoot the whiz down our throats – surprisingly light, and doesn’t go bad.

    Instant mashed potatoes – add olive oil, powdered milk, salt, pepper, Tabasco.

    Pepperoni sticks (the real stuff) and dry salami is the best.

    And a pack of hot dogs – buy in town, wrap in foil. Eat four for dinner the first night out, four the second night. Best on sticks over a campfire, but you can boil them in water just fine in a camp stove.

    And before anyone on here complains about healthiness, the point of through-hiker food is calories. He’ll burn it off.

  11. AEROSOL NACHO CHEESE. Yes. Packets of this stuff became a sort of prison currency for us on the trail at Philmont.

  12. I would to be taking a 1,000 mile hike. Having hiked the whole AT and PCT, what people eat varies wildly. here I what I eat on long hikes. I generally eat a bagel with cheese and salami/ peperoni for breakfast and lunch I hit gas station condiments hard mayo is awesome! Snikers is my snack of choice. Peanut M&M’s work well. Dinner is Lipton sides with foil fish. Sometimes foil chicken. Idahoan mashed potatoes are pretty tasty. Knorr sides with veggies are nice but more expensive. Ramen thickened with mashed potatoes and cheese. Parmesan is your friend. Cheddar keeps well, the sharper the better. Although you may want to avoid Cabbot’s seriously sharp but I doubt you will encounter that in the south. I find if I need fast energy Gummy candies will get the energy in you fastest. Try sour patch varieties, lots of vitamin c. You can claim they are healthy. Gas stations have an unbelievable amount of different convenient travel size snacks. Fig newtons.

    One more idea if you put gorp on your peanut butter burrito it then becomes a Gorpito.

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