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Preparing for a Thru-Hike: Planning Meals and Snacks

Preparing for a Thru-Hike: Planning Meals and Snacks

Your Thru-Hiking Meal Guide


When you're on a thru-hike, like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, you need to choose meals and snacks that will fuel your body well enough to tackle some serious mileage. Here's how to ensure that you get plenty of nutritious, lightweight food during your thru-hike.


Make a Plan

Food is one of the most complex planning challenges for thru-hikers, who need to balance convenience, flavor and their need for calories against the urgency to maintain low weight. 

Some hikers preplan meals for their entire trip, mailing each section's food requirements ahead of time. Others choose to buy at least some of each section's food at resupply towns along the route. Still others prefer slack packing, in which they hike with minimal gear, while a friend transports the bulk of their supplies ahead by car. Whatever you decide, make sure you have some sort of plan for how you will replenish lost calories every day of your trip.


Avoid Waste

Thru-hiking can be a costly endeavor. Not only will you have to take off work for quite a while, you will have to pay for a number of supplies and other expenses. Make sure you understand the financial costs of thru-hiking and then take steps to minimize your expenses. 

Since thru-hiking can make a dent in your finances, you don't want anything to go to waste. When it comes to packing food, it's important to bring lightweight items that won't go bad in extreme heat or a raging downpour. Freeze-dried foods are a great option because they don't contain a lot of water weight and remain edible for long periods of time even in harsh conditions.


Planning Your Meals

Caloric needs on a thru-hike will vastly exceed your normal requirements. Depending on the terrain, mileage and pack weight, the average thru-hiker will need between 3,000 and 4,000 calories every day just to avoid a caloric deficit. 

Experienced thru-hikers tend to develop their own go-to eating plans over time. If you're not sure where to start, however, consider the following sample meal plan:

Morning meal: Kick off the day with three servings of instant oatmeal fortified with powdered milk. If you're running a caloric deficit, supplement your breakfast with some Backpacker's Pantry granola, which packs a whopping 620 calories per serving. 

During your hike: Keep your blood sugar steady by regularly consuming five to seven energy bars and gels throughout the day. You can also supplement this with nuts, seeds and trail mix, which contain lots of healthy fats, protein and fiber which will prevent your body from crashing. 

Evening meal: After a full day of downing nuts, seeds and energy bars, you will probably be ready for a hot meal. One or two of Backpacker's delicious freeze-dried entrées provides all the calories you will need within a matter of minutes. With so many available options, you can also stagger your meals to add some diversity to your meal plan. 


Things to Consider

Whenever you're on a thru-hiking adventure, it's generally best to fortify every meal, using powdered milk, brown sugar and high-calorie olive oil. You should also be on the lookout for communal boxes at resupply points where hikers can take or leave unneeded food and gear. You should also be sure to bring plenty of water purification tablets to stay hydrated and help prepare your meals.


Backpacker's Pantry provides a variety of nutritious, ready-to-eat, lightweight backpacking for your thru-hike. Browse our nutritious, gourmet food for the trail.