The 4 Rules to a Perfecting your Thru Hiking Resupply Strategy

Buying the right food and the exact amount needed for a hike can be challenging, but different procedures and rules can be put in place to try and get it right every time.

I have resupplied way to many times and have come up with a basic method to buy food. I wanted something simple and easily duplicated from town to town, even if one was a Walmart and the next was a gas station. It needed to work in every town with different products available.

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11 days worth of resupply that I posted to 3 different towns, CDT 2018

This method also had to adequately address the 3 backpacking food requirements in order to make it sustainable.

Lightweight

A light pack makes it hiking easier and more enjoyable. Food is the one area that even avid ultralight backpackers don’t put in the same amount of research as their gear, but can have the same impact. I want to limit the weight of food that I carry, and the best way to do this is by reducing the amount of water (aka dehydrated food).

Easy

I want food that does not take effort to make for dinner and lunch. Lunch and dinner are my two meals but the majority of my food is consumed while walking, so I need to make sure that I bring plenty of finger food that I can eat while walking.

Nutritious

Hiking is never going to be good on the nutrition aspects, but I want to get as much as I can into each day. The food that I take needs to balance out the fat, protein and sugars, along with providing some vitamins and minerals.


The Rules

Here are the 4 rules of food resupply. I find that these rules are easier and quicker to resupply from then the conventional “I need breakfast, ‘X’ amount of snacks, lunch and dinner for each day” as there are times in really small stores that I cannot get the food that I regularly purchase.

Rule 1: Keep a high calorie to weight ratio around 130 kcal/oz or 460kcal/100g

Rule 2: Start with a set amount of weight (eg. 1.65lbs / 750g).

Rule 3: If you were hungry on the resupply last leg add 1.5oz / 50g each day (the equivalent of 1 Snickers bar @ 200 kcal). If there was a lot of food left over, subtract the same.

Rule 4: Eat a balanced diet

  • 20% is dinner. (eg. Couscous, Pasta Side, Ramen, Instant Potatoes, etc..)
  • 20% is lunch (eg. peanut butter or cheese and pepperoni wraps)
  • 10% is some sort of dried fruit
  • 30% is mixed nuts or granola / granola bars
  • 20% is sugary crap of any variety. Or any other things that I feel like or is cheap (eg. apple pie, donuts, chips, sour patch kids, candy bars etc..)

Rule 1: Keep a high calorie to weight ratio around 130 kcal/oz or 460kcal/100g

In order to keep it light I try to aim high on the calories to weight ratio. It takes a few trips to work this out, but I buy fairly similar items each time and don’t look at the calories anymore.

Below is a breakdown of 11 days worth of food that I mailed out to post offices at the start of my Continental Divide Trail hike. As you can see, not all the food is around the 130kcal/oz but overall it works out very close to this mark.

Total Days 11
Total Weight (kg) 11.23
Total Weight (lbs) 25.06
Total Cal 51792
Average cal/oz 129
Average cal/100g 461

I have incorporated a variety of foods to both keep me interested in food that is easy to eat and has a high calorie to weight ratio.

Item Total Weight (oz) Total Weight (g) Cal / Oz Cal / 100g Total Cal
Flavoured Cous Cous 47 1312 95 339 4451
M&M Peanut 39 1088 140 500 5440
Crunchy Granola Bar 18 506 127 452 2289
Oreo 14 405 132 471 1906
Newton 10 283 97 345 976
Breakfast Essentials 13 360 101 361 1300
Granola 28 793 115 412 3265
Cliff Bars 17 476 103 368 1750
Pop Tarts 15 416 108 385 1600
Tortilla 39 1091 85 317 3246
Tortilla 15 411 89 317 1303
Sour Patch Kids 14 397 105 375 1489
Deluxe Mixed Nuts 74 2060 170 607 12507
Idahoan Loaded Mash 8 227 110 393 892
Peanut Butter, Extra Crunchy 49 1362 166 594 8087
Peanuts 16 454 160 571 2594
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My 11 days of food repackaged into Ziplock bags

Another method of reducing the weight of food is to remove all the packaging and repackage into ziplock bags. These are convenient that they resealable and are very light compared to standard packaging that you find at the store.

Rule 2: Start with a set amount of weight (eg. 1.65lbs / 750g).

At the start of a hiking adventure I begin with a set weight of food that I’ll bringing each day. It varies person to person but I have found that I start around 1.65lbs (750g). If you are a small person you may want to start with a little less and the opposite it true for a larger person.

Rule 3: If you were hungry on the resupply last leg add 1.5oz / 50g each day (the equivalent of 1 Snickers bar @ 200 kcal). If there was a lot of food left over, subtract the same.

As mentioned above, I start at about 1.65lbs of food when I start a hike, which equates to about 3,400 kcal. However, my body slowly adjusts to the additional work that it has to do and the amount of calories that I need increases accordingly. I add about 1 candy bar per day if I get into town hungry.

I have found that I max out on food around 2.3 pounds per day (1kg). This equates to 4,700 kcal per day.

Per Day
Weight (kg) 1.02
Weight (lbs) 2.3
Calories 4708

There are a few outlier situations where I find that I eat more food. For example, when I was hiking through the Sierras on the PCT my appetite increased. It was colder, at higher elevation and it was harder walking on snow. I ended up eating around 6,500 kcal during this stretch and was still losing weight.

Rule 4: Eat a balanced diet

  • 15-20% is dinner. (eg. Couscous, Pasta Side, Ramen, Instant Potatoes, etc..)
  • 15-20% is lunch (eg. peanut butter or cheese and pepperoni wraps)
  • 10% is some sort of dried fruit
  • 30% is mixed nuts or granola / granola bars
  • 20-30% is sugary food of any variety or any other things that I feel like or is cheap (eg. apple pie, donuts, chips, sour patch kids, candy bars etc..)

I break Rule 4 down into 5 sections to balance out getting some nutrition and also some junk calories (that are often cheaper and more enjoyable to eat!). It is not really a hard and fast rule, and I take it as a guideline  to aim for.

The size of the town tends to change what I buy. In bigger towns I can get mixed nuts for a decent price, but at gas stations I revert back to peanuts and will add chocolate for variation. I also tend to eat more sugary items from a small town and incorporate more nuts and dried fruit from the bigger towns.

The other thing I try to do is pack out a healthy first dinner. It is a good opportunity to do this as I won’t be carrying it for long. My personal favorite is smashed avocado with 4 hard boiled eggs.