The Appalachian Trail meanders along the Appalachian Mountain chain from Georgia to Maine, some 2100 miles. Along the way it crosses roads, some just Forest Service dirt roads, some country lanes, and several times Interstate highways. Many of these roads lead to towns where it is possible to go to a grocery, laundry your very dirty and stinky hiking clothes, and get a proper bath. These towns will also have a post office. Usually the towns are 4, 5, maybe 6 days apart so the hiker only carries enough food to get him/her to the next town.
The amount of food carried depends on the hiker. On the average, one pound of food will deliver 1600 calories. Gene needs about 3000 calories per day to walk 10 miles carrying a 30 lb pack. I usually eat about 2000 calories per day for the same pack weight and distance. He takes about 2 lbs of food per day and I take a little over 1 lb. So for a 5 day trip, that is 10 lbs of food for him and about 7 lbs for me. For us, that amount of food is made up in breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus 4 snacks per day. For breakfast we may have an “oatmeal on the go” bar, instant oatmeal, pop tarts, or cereal. Lunch is usually cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers plus dried fruit. I usually take 1 pouch of tuna for 1 lunch in a 5 day period. The pouches are too heavy to carry for the number of calories contained in the tuna. I do it because it is a great change from peanut butter or cheese and is a great source of protein. I burn the pouch to get rid of the left over oil, the smell, and the outer coating. Only the foil is left to carry out. For dinner, we are fans of Lipton noodles, rice, instant potatoes, stuffing and couscous. I like Ramen noodles, but throw away the seasoning pack and put in an instant soup such as black bean or split pea. We bump up the calories for all these meals with squeeze butter. I like salty snacks; Gene likes sweet snacks. He often takes a bagel or two for a snack. What you take is you own personal preference. Some hikers like to cook and really enjoy the challenge of a more gourmet meal on the trail. We also have friends who don’t want to cook at all and will even do without coffee in the interest of saving time and weight. It is all up to the individual. One of my most relaxing times on the trial is to have a cup of coffee, hot tea, or chocolate when I get to my camping destination for the night. This of course, means carrying extra fuel to boil the water. You can almost justify it with the 100 calories in a cup of hot chocolate, but with no nutritional value in coffee, it is just for the simple pleasure gained.
Town is the place to re-supply the food bag. If you are not a picky eater, then most towns will have a grocery or market that will carry a sufficient amount of nonperishable foods to do a hiker for several days. There was only one time on our second section that I had to resort to a very heavy CAN of spaghetti. That was a rough week food-wise. I think Gene actually ate angel hair pasta for breakfast. But this was an unusual occurrence and was partly due to the fact that we were hiking in September rather than then in the high hiker season of spring. Most hikers use the local groceries and markets to re-supply.
|In our mail drops we had guide books, journal paper, vitamins, prescription drugs, powdered milk, and toilet items|
Some hikers rely on the US Postal Service and mail to themselves at General Delivery boxes containing the food they will need for the next section. By doing this the hiker is assured of foods he likes to eat. There are two major drawbacks—post offices are not open 24/7 and it can be fairly expensive to mail food for a 6 month journey. However, this may be the perfect option for hikers on special diets or who want to save time by not going to the grocery and repackaging all the food.
|Drop boxes ready to be sealed and mailed.|
On our third section hike we used a combination of mail drops and groceries. We sent drops only to the towns where we would be starting a new guide book. The guide books and maps are heavy so we only wanted to be carrying the one we were using and the guide books are not available at every trail town. We also put in those drops our prescription meds and vitamins and a few other things we wanted but felt might be more difficult to find in a small town. And it is always exciting to pick up you box at the post office and find that the person responsible for mailing it has included a dozen fresh baked cookies.
So “yes”, we carry our food, but not all of it at the same time.