“So what do you eat?!”
“Do you like hunt squirrels and stuff?!”
“How do you know which mushrooms to eat?!”
“So you carry like a bow and arrow or something?”
Food is one of the most common questions we get when people find out that we did a long distance hike. My favorite part of the question is the confusion-meets-disappointment when I tell them we really just eat like poor college students.
Alas, trail diet is not quite the incredible foraging adventure most want it to be. Have you seen Into the Wild? Yeah, I’m not looking to die in a bus, thanks. (is that insensitive?)
In all seriousness, we did forage, but I’ll get to that in a different post.
So. Food. I do all of the cooking and carry almost all of our food. Dylan carries his own snacks and, especially when we are at our heaviest weights, our lunch bag. Let’s get to it.
I make an oatmeal for us, because Dylan didn’t feel like the instant was enough; however, instant is the easiest to find in the little trail towns we have hit so far, so that is at least the starting point. If you like this idea, feel free to use it and alter it in ways that fit your dietary restrictions or preferences; there’s kind of nothing we won’t eat so keep that in mind.
Trail Oatmeal, as I make it, is a completely eyeballed mixture, to be honest. Like I said, I usually start with instant, ripping all the packages open and adding them all to a gallon freezer bag. When I can find it I substitute an entire container of Quick Cooking Oats. To this I add five packets of Carnation Vanilla Instant Breakfast. Many hikers will use just whole milk powder, but I prefer the added sweetness, flavor, and protein of the breakfast shake. From here you get crazy with the STUFF. Through this endeavor I have become a HUGE fan of the Salad Topping aisle, which is where I can find smaller sized containers of dried fruit and nuts to add. I also add shredded coconut and, when I can find it, chia and hemp seeds
The best part about this is that, when you hit a new town, you just add all the new stuff to whatever is left.
Tortillas. Condiment Packets. Flavored Tuna Pouches. Pepperoni. Sharp or Aged Cheese.
That’s it. Nice and simple. Combine to taste.
Aged cheeses like sharp cheddar carry pretty well along the trail. Velveeta is popular too, and sometimes I buy the sauce pouches instead. When the price difference isn’t too crazy I will even buy the individually wrapped pieces of whatever kind of cheese so there’s less issue of a mess. As for the condiments, honestly we just walk into gas stations and ask if we can have some, most say yes and don’t care how much we take. We also are sure to ask for extra any time we eat at or get food from a place that has them.
Dinner: Hodge Podge
This is where I really get to be creative. Weeee, using that CIA degree! See, mom! All that student debt was not for naught!
The base is always some combination of two of the following: Instant Mash, Ramen, Pasta Sides, or Rice Sides. From there I add two portions of protein; usually flavored tuna, sometimes spam or summer sausage or pepperoni. I also carry a small travel sized bottle of Olive Oil for added flavor and calories, and I can of course use it to make things interesting by pan frying the spam or other ingredients before adding everything else.
Then comes the fun. I keep an assortment of dehydrated sauces and gravies (the mixes you can find in the pasta aisle), the occasional actual spice (usually lemon pepper or one of the McCormick Blends like rotisserie chicken seasoning) to shift the flavor of the food. Then, of course, my favorite section again – the salad toppingsssssssss. Fried onions, tortilla strips, bread crumbs (I toast these with olive oil when I have access to an oven or extra time at camp), croutons, cheese-its, cheetos, I mean pretty much anything. Just chuck it all together.
If you’re feeling really crazy, check this: Because we each carry a small knife, sometimes we will hike out a whole onion or other shelf stable produce to use one of the first few nights out. I know. Bonkers.
Cooking On the Trail
Many people on the trail are leaning more towards Freezer Bag Cooking, which is where a freezer bag is used as the cooking and eating vessel, just adding the water directly to that, often keeping it in an insulated pouch (often made from a sun visor or padded envelope) to keep it hot while the food rehydrates. The idea here is fostered by the trend towards Ultralight Backpacking, the benefit of less waste on trail (one bag instead of multiple components’ pouches), fewer objects to carry (one small pot/cup for water, teensy stove), and the portion control that it allows.
Since I am the one who does the cooking for us, I find it easiest to apply the same method, but in our pot. I boil the water, shut off the stove, add the food, and then walk away from it for a bit while I busy myself around camp. The benefit to this is that I can prepare both portions of food at once, and the timing works out well with the timing of the dogs’ food too. The lid that came with the pot doubles as a plate, so I separate the food into two portions instead of having us eat from the same vessel. I choose not to repackage because ziplocs are an added expense I just can’t justify when there’s nothing actually wrong with what it comes in and I’m buying and cooking for two.
Dylan read an article shortly before we left last year that convinced him that we would break up if we ate from the same pot because we’d get resentful or something.
Yeah, whatever. He carries the pot and dishes so it’s no skin off my nose. 😉
You can find several pictures of the food I have made on trail on our Instagram, if you’re interested. You can also always reach out to us through this blog or through Facebook if you ever have questions!
What kind of food do you take on the trail? DIY? Or are you more a Mountain House kind of camper? There’s no wrong answer!