Thru-Hiker Deliciousness

I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days, mostly because I am waxing nostalgic on the Appalachian Trail since March is around the corner, peak time for thru-hikers to start. And it will be 2 years since we left Georgia for Maine. Seriously, where did the time go?

Food is important on the trail and if we aren’t thinking about it, we’re talking about it. While I have been eating fairly healthy (with nice doses of cheese at restaurants) and mostly vegetarian for almost a year, my mind does wander to the junk food and not so healthy items that only people burning 5K+ calories a day can eat.

Typically people think about backpacking food in the manner of oatmeal, some variety of nutritional bar, and a dehydrated backpacker meal. Sure, there is a lot of that, but after awhile it gets old and the taste buds need some variety. Pair that with having to resupply in weird places like a gas station, you have to get creative. Some of my favorite backpacking foods aren’t what you might think about.

My favorites:

  • Cheddar Waffle Crackers: I ate these some growing up but then they seemed to disappear from shelves in Texas. I found some at a Fresh Market in Florida but still have not found any in Texas. On the A.T. once we started hitting northern states I started seeing these crackers. Yes, they are probably not ideal because they can crumble, but sometimes that is all the better.
  • Pringles: Probably not a good long term item to carry, but for three days, sure! The tube fits great in the outside bottle netting on packs so you don’t have to worry about crushed chips. Cheddar flavor is my favorite.
  • Goldfish Crackers: preferably flavor blasted cheddar.
  • Tortillas, bean dip, and cheese dip. Do you sense a cheese theme with me? Ounce whores will not appreciate these because they are ‘heavy’ and the tins are kind of annoying, but really, at some point you don’t care and you just want enjoyable food. Again, if it is a short stretch, why not? It gets you out of the peanut butter rut.
  • Breakfast cookies: I think my dad got us started on these when he came to hike for a few days in Virginia. Best. idea. ever. Oatmeal: check. Other goodies like chocolate and raisins: check. You don’t have to cook it, you still get some filling oatmeal and fiber, but it isn’t nearly as hard to swallow after eating packets of oatmeal for weeks on end.
  • Corn Nuts: Chris started these and after I had a few of his then the bug hit me. They offer a crunch you might be wanting but also give you back salts that have since leeched off into your shirt from sweat. Oh, we had some good salt rings on our shirts! I know a few other hikers who had it even worse!
  • Gummi Bears: or worms, whatever. I like some sugar and I like chewy and this is a great combination. Again, ounce whores won’t appreciate them. Chris carries other candy like Mike & Ike’s. We met many hikers who had never thought about carrying candy other than the obligatory Snickers bar. It is a great addition if you don’t mind some added weight.
  • Instant Refried Beans: We met a southbound thru-hiker in the White’s at the Crawford Notch General Store. He’d just received his maildrop and had too much of a resupply and handed off a package or two of beans to us. He also gave us taco seasoning to go with it, and we had some Taco Bell sauce (maybe Taco Casa?) in our drop as well, in addition to tortillas, so it worked great. We ended up eating our first meal of it at lunch at the Lake of the Clouds hut the following day. The beans will last several meals and if you have a block of cheese, it makes it even better.
  • Macaroni Grill meals: or similar meals—even good old Hamburger Helper would work. This just breaks you out of the ramen or Knorr side rut. It works well for us because we used a pot cozy and didn’t have to boil our water constantly and waste fuel or have it really stick too heavily on our pot. Repackage into baggies after buying the box at the store.
  • Cheese. Cheddar is ok in winter but will turn oily in hot weather and not do so well, stick with hard cheese in warmer weather and eat relatively quickly. Asiago, parmesan are great choices…though they tend to be a bit more expensive in the specialty cheese section.
  • Backpacker Meals: We relied on these about half the time, having pre-purchased some of them for our drops but also buying them along the way. We did have our favorites and while some people turn their nose up at them, they really aren’t that bad. Although most hikers don’t have much good to say about the breakfast ones. Some of our favorites were… Backpackers Pantry: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, Santa Fe Chicken, Mountain House: Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Alpine Aire: Summer Chicken, Garden Risotto. I know we have had other Alpine Aire meals, but I think, at least in my opinion, they are one of my favorite brands of backpacking meals. Someday I want to try Mary Jane’s Farm brand. We haven’t before because they are quite a bit more expensive.

I think I miss whoopie pies the most. When I went back to look up this post about whoopie pies I didn’t realize I’d semi-covered this before, but not in such detail. I should have done that then. That was a pretty good day, but I wish we’d sidetracked for a bit to the Gulf Hagas.

Backpackers, what are your favorite atypical backpacking foods?


  • Chris

    Whoopie Pies…in western PA they call ’em Gobs. I’d never heard of them before. They sell them in gas stations like crazy up there. Kinda gross, but kinds yummy depending on your mood! I sure hope to start doing some hiking once we move up to PA, but it won’t be anything hardcore with the 7 year old tagging along. Plus, I am terrified of bears.

  • Dennis Blanchard

    You didn’t mention Cous Cous. Ounce for ounce, I don’t think anything packs as much energy. I used to always have it the night before any mountain bike race I entered. It was a legal performance enhancer.

    The other advantage to Cous Cous is it’s very low cooking energy requirement. Bring water to a boil, add cous cous, remove from heat, cover, and let sit five minutes. I add some olive oil and a flavor seasoning or two. You can add almost any dried or fresh meat (cooked), or veggies.

    In cooler weather, I also found cream cheese, in the plastic containers, carried well. I would carry a bag of mini-bagels and have them with either the cream cheese, or peanut butter.

    Your suggestion of the instant refried beans sounds good, I hadn’t tried those.

    Good suggestions!

    Dennis, “K1” 2007/2008 AT
    Author of Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail

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