Meal planning for extended backpacking (no resupply)

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Meal planning for extended backpacking (no resupply)

Post by teachpdx » February 23rd, 2021, 6:47 pm

After an unsuccessful attempt at a 9-day, 100 mile hike in Yellowstone NP last September, I am reaching out for some advice. While the main reason for bailing on day 2 was the incoming smoke from the PNW wildfires (and not wanting to be 3 days from a trailhead in unhealthy air), we also ended up with an uncomfortable amount of weight on our backs... primarily because our itinerary didn't allow for any resupplies and we were equipped for temperatures below freezing.

I got really nerdy about meal planning for the trip... I made a spreadsheet that took my health stats along with the trail length and gain, and calculated that I would burn between 3200-4500 Calories each day (I packed 2700-4000 depending on the day). Each day's food fit within a gallon Ziploc and weighed in at or just below 2 lb. And I didn't think that was unreasonable, since my research pointed to so many long distance thru-hikers consuming 4000+ Cal/day.

But in the end, it just seemed like SO MUCH FOOD. 17 lb. Like there was no way to eat it over 9 days. But my nerdy math said I needed it, so I was very hesitant to leave any of it behind.

We are now looking at a thru-hike of the Uinta Highline Trail (Utah) this coming summer, which is a 100-mile trek with no opportunities to cache a resupply. And I want to avoid carrying every bit of excessive weight possible. I already have a pretty lightweight (not ultralight) kit, and since I will again need to pack for high elevation and potentially below-freezing nights, food seems to be the easiest place to trim the weight.


1. What's a good target Cal/day range (around 13 miles, +2500'/day, 8 days)? How many days can I run a Calorie deficit before it catches up with me? Will I run out of food if I only pack my daily value (~2300 Calories) over 8 days?

2. What are some of your go-to high-Calorie, low weight backpacking foods, especially low/no prep?

3. Any other advice for long distance hiking with no resupply opportunities?
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Re: Meal planning for extended backpacking (no resupply)

Post by leiavoia » February 23rd, 2021, 8:05 pm

Every body is different, so you won’t get any hard answers here.

I actually lose my appetite when I hike. I get about 1800cal a day on backpack trips. Some of that is force feeding myself granola bars in the morning. At home I get about 1600 working a desk job. I went partway around the Wonderland Trail last September and also had to bail. I got 7 full days in eating normally and came back having neither lost or gained weight and feeling fine. I don’t have your body, but looking at your suggested calorie schedule I would say that indeed you are packing way too much food.

One option you might consider is not cooking. You can then dispense with fuel and cook kits. I know it’s not as much fun but that’s a good 2+ lbs you can dump right there. Plenty of foods don’t require cooking.

For high energy foods: solid homemade fudge, cheese (with salami and crackers), fruit leather, gummies, dates, any kind of nuts but especially walnuts. However if you want lower glycemic high energy foods (for slower burns) then start thinking about lentils, quinoa, and good old fashioned oats.

If you are not absolutely sure about your personal caloric intake, then I suggest a 4-5 day trip as science experiment. Log literally everything you take and compare to what you actually ate versus what came home with you, and weigh that against how you felt on trail. We all want a hamburger at the end, but you need to focus on the middle.

When I go on longer trips I budget 2000 cal per full day absolute max, minus a half day for the start and another for the end. I must be strict about not packing more than that “just in case”. I know what I eat, even if my eyes tell me otherwise.

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Re: Meal planning for extended backpacking (no resupply)

Post by Aimless » February 23rd, 2021, 8:35 pm

Your questions have answers that vary so much from person to person and hike to hike that it is the equivalent of no answers at all, at least answers coming from other hikers.

I have done many hikes where I needed to carry a food supply for six or seven days. Nine days would not be particularly dissimilar. For my own needs and tastes I have found that I get by fairly well with an average of about 28 oz./day that amount to about 2800 to 3000 calories per day. My own experience is that during my first several days I do not eat up my entire allotment for the day. As the hike progresses I soon eat my allotment each day. By 8 or 10 days in, I am capable of eating more than I allotted per day, but I begin to eat the excess I did not want during the first few days, but which are still in my pack.

Because I have cited such precise numbers, all of this sounds very scientific, but the caveat is that it is all based in my personal tastes, my own metabolism, my digestion, the sorts of trails I choose, my mileages. and how much hunger I am willing to endure (a little, but not much). Your 17 lbs. for 9 days pencils out to 30 oz. per day -- not far off from my 28 oz. personal standard -- so it is not far off what I've discovered works for me. You might be able to prune that down a bit, but you are likely in the right area. Experience is the best teacher. Keep careful records and refine your system as you continue to attempt 7 day hikes or longer.

btw, I am approx 5'11" and 160 lbs. My long hikes tend to run 10 to 12 mile days. 2500' elevation gain sounds about average for me. too Have fun!

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Re: Meal planning for extended backpacking (no resupply)

Post by AlpenGlowHiker » February 24th, 2021, 12:53 pm

For my 9-day 122 mile trek last summer, I utilized the recipes from Andrew Skurka and just went with it.

At the end, I was carrying too much food; but only because I didn't eat as much as I thought I would. For a week long hike, the high-calories don't really matter. What does matter is ensuring you can fuel your body, and that of course is up to the individual's needs.

I have extra weight to lose, so it didn't matter if I only had an intake of 1200~ cals per day, even if was burning 4-5000.

In the future I would certainly ensure that I had plenty variation of Sweet, Salty, Crunchy, Savory foods, as eating mushy foods all the time gets old fast.

Also, I don't really feel hungry the first few days; exercise does that to me. So take that into account as well. It's easy to look at numbers and what you "should" be doing, but what you actually do in the field is different thanks to known-unknown variables.
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