Sunday, March 29, 2009

MealPack Bar Review

Bear Valley MealPack bars are a different kind of bar than you might expect. They are made of exclusively healthy, natural ingredients and are very dense. Each bar weighs about 100 grams and has a little over 400 calories. They are block-shaped and packaged in a thin transparent wrapping.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to eat these day in, day out, but I think I am going to try a few dozen of them first before ordering a ton. The ones I liked were the Fruit 'N Nut Pemmican and the Coconut Almond bars. I ate just one of each. They have lots of nutrients, but not as much protein as some of peanut bars you can get in stores. The price of these bars depends on the quantity you order and seems very reasonable. They are considerably less pricey than, say, Probars, which are tasty but expensive. 

The salesperson confirmed over the phone that orders may be sent to General Delivery, so hikers can have these sent directly to the post office to pick up. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hammock Test Night

Last night I went out with my bike to go spend the night in the woods in my hammock. I took exactly the clothes I'd be wearing in the beginning of the PCT, and exactly the same sleep system I'd be using, which included enough Gossamer Gear sleeping pads to keep me warm in my hammock -- or so I thought. 

At first I hung the hammock too slack, and I couldn't find a comfortable position to sleep in. Either my feet were way up high (sleeping down the middle) or my feet slid off the hammock (trying to sleep at a diagonal. I recognized my mistake and got up and hung the hammock tauter -- but perhaps not taut enough. The second time I could get a decent sleeping position. The Gossamer Gear pads are better than most in "sticking" to the hammock fabric and actually don't slide around too much. However, the temperature soon dipped to -3 C (27 F), and I could feel a chill on my back and sides of arms. After a while contemplating what would happen next, I got up again to move one of my thin pads (I'm using three, of different shapes and sizes) to my torso region). That helped a little bit, but it didn't seem like enough. I fell asleep anyway, though, and woke up a bit chilled at 2 am. Had to get out to pee, and my back was cold. Out of the hammock a third time. Ate a few nut bars, but the water in the nozzle of my bladder had frozen, and I could drink. Got back in hammock, but did not fall asleep, or just dozed off, reluctant to do anything about the cold. Near 4 am, I mustered the resolve to do something about the cold, realizing I would otherwise not sleep anymore tonight. The temperature was now -4 C (25 F). Time to look for a spot on the ground. After 5 minutes of wandering around, cold, I found a decent spot right behind the tree my hammock was tied to. I got the sleeping pads and quilt out and settled into a decent sleeping pose a few minutes later. This time my pads were sufficient for the leaf-covered ground, and I was not cold after that. 

I woke up, not exactly refreshed, at 7:30 am. Packing up at -5 C is not always fun. I quickly opened the velcro-secured hole in the center of the quilt ("Jacks R Better Rocky Mt. No Sniveller") to convert it to a coat, or "serape," and put it on immediately. It did help keep me warmer, but cold advanced up my body from my legs. Luckily, my hammock setup requires no knots, and several minutes later I had packed up and set off on my bike, my teeth chattering. 

My sleeping pads are sufficient for temps roughly above freezing in the hammock. If it looks like it will be colder, I'll switch to a ground setup, where I should be able to manage fine to about -7 C (19 F). If It gets colder than that, I may get cold. Moving from the hammock to the ground during the night is no fun (especially if it's raining!) and should be avoided at all cost. 

I expect many nights near freezing on the PCT in April to early June and maybe a couple nights as cold as -5 to -10 C in Southern California (you never know). The nights I have to sleep on the ground, I will not need to set up a bug shelter, because at those temperatures the bugs are not active anyway. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

ADZPCTKO Registration Open

Registration for the annual ADZPCTKO PCT kick-off event is open. I have just registered for it here, and arrangements are being made with some regular trail angels and former thru-hikers in San Diego whom I found through the ADZPCTKO ride board to pick me up at the airport and take me to the trailhead at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.  

I'll be walking into Lake Morena on my first day of the hike in the evening. It'll be a 20 mile walk on the very first day in potentially warm to hot weather. It could be a challenge. 

I have gotten a spreadsheet from the trail angels picking me up in San Diego with contact information for all the hikers who are going to be passing through their homes in April and May. Talk about highly organized altruism! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

efoodsdirect 3-Day Responder

I got my package with a 3-day supply of food in the mail today from Starting tomorrow, I'm going to try eating the food for exactly 3 days and see how I like it. I'll be adding olive oil to the dinner recipes for more calories.

The packaging is resealable mylar bags with several servings per bag. There is a bit of air in the bags, but not much. They seem to reseal securely. The bags weigh on average 20% more than expected going off the packaging information, including the weight of packaging itself. 

Caloric content
Going by the info on the bags, here is what I get.

1. Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal: 368 cal. / 100 g
2. Tropical Fruit Medley: 228 cal. / 100 g
3. Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole: 276 cal. / 100 g
4. Vegetable Beef Stew: 350 cal. / 100 g
5. Instant Potatoes: 179 cal. / 100 g
6. Cheesy Potato Soup: 311 cal. / 100 g

1168 calories per day is built into the meal plan, with 40 grams of protein. Assuming 20% more food than what is declared on the packaging, that makes 1401 calories per day and 48 grams of protein. Perhaps another 400 calories could be added by using olive oil liberally with the recipes. 

Cooking instructions
The cooked meals require adding the mixture to boiling water and simmering for 20-25 minutes. I think the same effect could be achieved by taking the pot of boiling liquid off the stove and letting it sit in its "pot cozy" for the same amount of time. The water will slowly cool, but it should still be hot enough to do the trick. 25 minutes is a long time to wait for dinner, though.

I will report on my opinion of the food in 3 days...

Taste test
Oatmeal -- really tasty; I could imagine eating it for days on end
Tropical fruit medley -- pretty good
Casserole -- really tasty
Vegetable beef stew -- didn't like it much
Instant potatoes -- good
Potato soup -- decent

Since I will have only one pot to use during my hike, I can't pour soup over the potatoes.

I liked much of the Responder kit, but not all of it enough to use it to supplement my rations. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Current Food Ideas

I've been reading a lot about backpacking food and general nutrition lately. I now understand the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates, the importance of fats, and the Glycemic Index. The reason I'm so concerned about this is because of a failed food strategy during last year's hike through the Colorado Rockies (which I've mentioned before). So here are my tentative food plans for the PCT.

I won't know until a few weeks into the hike, but I think I can expect to be consuming 6000 calories a day, or nearly 3 lbs (1360 grams) of food at 460 calories per 100 grams of food. 

General meal plan
Large cold breakfast, large hot dinner (probably on Caldera Cone alcohol stove) with large dessert. Mostly bars as snacks during the day. If necessary, can switch to 2 hot meals a day or do dinner in 2 stages. 

The information below assumes a food drop strategy. I am fairly certain I can eat all the food below day in and day out. I like it all and have eaten it on hikes, albeit not for this long. I would not have to buy the entire supply of food at once, so there would be chances to adjust my diet.

Breakfast either right as I get up or within a half hour or starting the day's hike. Hot dinner about half an hour to an hour before stopping. Dessert at camp (unless in bear country, then with dinner).

Breakfast (tentative)
1. 200 grams Quaker Natural Granola (Oats, Honey & Raisins) + 60 gram Nido whole dried milk and water.
Total 260 grams, 1140 calories, 40 grams protein, about 30% of calories from fat. 

Snacks (tentative)
(I'll aim for bars with comparatively less sugars and more complex carbohydrates.)
1. 200 grams Mealpack Pemmican Fruit 'N Nut Bars
850 calories, 34 grams protein, 28% of calories from fat.
2. 210 grams Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut Bars
1000 calories, 24 grams protein, 45% of calories from fat.
I'm going to aim for 40% of my calories from fat
3. 110 grams Snickers (or similar bar) >>> these are not as good because they have too much sugars
540 calories, 9 grams protein, 45% of calories from fat.

Total 520 grams, 2400 calories, 67 grams of protein, and nearly 40% of calories from fat.

Dinner (tentative)
Dinner might be a dehydrated dinner from or a similar producer, with plenty of vegetables and different kinds of tastes, possibly with some dehydrated meat thrown in. Or, I may boil buckwheat (kasha) with dehydrated carrots, onions, and meat. In either case, I will drench my dinner in vegetable (olive) oil. Over time, I might have to make myself 2 dinners (or one hot lunch) to keep myself satisfied, and for variety.

200 grams, ~700 calories, 20 grams protein, ~40% of calories from fat.

Dessert (tentative)
100 grams Oreos + 60 grams creamy peanut butter
850 calories, 17 grams protein, ~50% of calories from fat.

Total for dinner + dessert: 360 grams, 1550 calories, 37 grams of protein, 45% of calories from fat.

Total for day (tentative)
1140 grams of food, 5300 calories, 144 grams of protein, ~40% of calories from fat.
Cost: should be about $12/day of food, not including food in town.

Food in towns
Eat different stuff for variety, especially fruits and vegetables, and things with tasty sauces, maybe picking up some snacks to take on the trail with me. 

Andrew Skurka's Eating Habits

Now we'll look at the eating habits of another well-known long-distance hiker -- Andrew Skurka. Excerpts from articles are given below.

His daily diet consists of two Balance Bars and a Clif Bar for breakfast; a snack every two hours for the next 12 hours, alternating between Snack A, a Balance Bar and a candy bar, and Snack B, exactly three ounces of Pringles and three ounces of mixed nuts; and a dinner of instant mashed potatoes rolled up in a tortilla followed by three ounces of Hershey's Dark Chocolate. The rationale? It's light and easily packable. To offset the caloric deficit he builds up in the wilds, he gorges on eggs, bacon, cookies, and peanuts whenever he reaches a town, usually every few days. 

2. Notes from "Nutrition and Cuisine" article from Skurka's site

  • Eats energy bars during the day and has one easy-cook meal in the evening, cooked on an alcohol stove. 
  • The best energy bars are high in calories, favor complex carbohydrates over sugars, contain adequate fat and protein, and are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
  • "Breakfast and snack bars [i.e. not energy bars designed for sports performance] can be another healthy staple in a backpacker's diet. I say "can be" because it entirely depends on the bar. Many contain over-processed granola and sugars; and they offer few vitamins/minerals and little fiber. Instead, look for bars with whole grains, nuts and berries, and good sugars (e.g. honey, not corn syrup). Particularly avoid Pop-Tarts and Milk 'N' Cereal bars, which set you up to crash-and-burn."
  • Candy bars "are heavy in fat, which helps to mitigate the crash-and-burn effect of their simple sugars; and some contain a fair amount of protein, particularly those that contain peanuts or peanut butter. All candy bars are not well suited to the backcountry: some are thin (and break too easily) or awkwardly sized; others cannot be eaten on-the-go; and some come with cardboard sleeves that create more trash for you to carry. My favorites are Fast Break's, Kit-Kat's (but only the Big Kat bar), Nutrageous,' Baby Ruth's, Pay Day's, and Snickers'. I avoid thin chocolate bars (like Hershey's chocolate, Krackel's and Kat Kit wafers), bars with cardboard sleeves (like Mounds and Take5's), and chocolate candies (M&M's and Whoopers)."
  • Hot dinners include: "angel hair pasta, coos-coos, dehydrated and freeze-dried meals, and instant mashed potato burritos. These meals strike a good balance between simplicity and sustenance." 
  • Eats about every 2-2.5 hours during the day, starting with a breakfast of about 600 calories. Each snack is 300-500 calories. 
  • Daily caloric intake is roughly 4000 calories a day, which maintains energy, but is not enough to maintain body weight. So he binges in town.
  • To maintain vitamin and mineral levels, "make energy bars (almost all of which are fortified) a regular part of your diet; eat dried fruits and legumes if you are willing to accept their inconveniences; and take a multivitamin, which can't hurt, though they might not help much either, as most studies have shown only marginal benefits. In trail towns, stock up on fresh fruit and produce, ideally before you hit up the local burger joint and lose your appetite."
  • Says that the cost of "fattening up" before a hike usually outweighs the gains. 
  • Apparently recommends getting about 35% of one's calories from fat. This is consistent with other sources, which recommend 35-40%.
  • Recommends aiming for 125 calories per ounce of food (440 per 100 grams); other, somewhat more "liberal" sources recommend aiming for 100 (350 per 100 grams)
Now compare that information with his actual meal plan for the Great Western Loop

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hiking Clothes and their Care

This post is about what clothes I'll be wearing on the PCT, and how I'll be caring for them and avoiding thru-hiker stink. 


Most of the time on the PCT I'll be hiking in shorts. I have black (unfortunately) polyester running shorts (unfortunately, black) with pockets on the sides. They dry extremely quickly and rarely need more than a few rinses and squeezes to get them "clean." 

I'll have with me just one pair of synthetic underpants from ExOfficio. They are comfortable, dry quickly, and I can go without them for several hours as they dry. Rinsing and squeezing is often enough to clean them and takes just a minute, but a bit of scrubbing -- with or without soap/shampoo -- is sometimes necessary. These will need a rinse or wash on an almost daily basis. 

I was initially planning to wear my thin Golite polyester shirt, but it develops a slight stingy smell after the first day of use that is almost impossible to remove. Wishing to avoid thru-hiker stink, I've decided to switch to the Icebreaker superfine 140 Tech T, made of merino wool. It weighs about 150 grams in size L. I know from experience that this fabric stinks up very slowly if ever. When it does need more than a rinsing, shampoo works on it much better than, say, Dr. Bronner's soap (after all, wool is a hair). 

Actually, much of the time I'll be hiking shirtless to keep cool. I'll be protected from the sun by my Golite chrome dome umbrella. I'll be sweating less and drinking less water with the umbrella. 

Wind layer
I have a complete wind layer, including hooded jacket, that weighs 200 grams in total. I'll be wearing this in cooler weather, when it's very windy and not hot, and when I want to protect myself from flies or poison oak. These can be sufficiently cleaned by rinsing and squeezing, and do not stink up in my experience.

Sleeping clothes
I've been debating what to sleep in -- a silk bag liner, or a set of clothes that covers my whole body. If I don't sleep in some extra layer, my down quilt will get very soiled over time. The silk liner is obviously the lighter option, but slipping that on and then trying to enter my hammock will be a difficult feat. That means some sort of long underwear-type layer, which also doubles as hiking clothes for cooler temperatures. If I wear these on the trail, I should try to make sure I have my wind layer on top to keep the dirt out of them and keep them clean for sleeping. 

I'll probably end up taking my Icebreaker merino wool: 150 weight leggings, and Mondo 200 zip long-sleave shirt. Together these weigh 400 grams and will probably be my only insulating layer. These will almost never require washing. If I switched to a capilene top and bottoms, that would only weigh 250 grams, but I think I'm hooked on merino wool. I think it will provide better insulation, as well (which I might or might not actually need).

I'll have lightweight and warm possum-down gloves from I love these, but some people complain that they are not durable enough. If you'll be using them with trekking poles day after day, these might not hold up.

I also have a pair of Event rain mitts from I will probably carry these all the time, because they double as bug mitts. 

I'll be carrying just a Golite visor over a moist bandanna (which I'll pick up at ADZPCTKO) for sun protection when I can't use the umbrella for some reason. 

For insulation, I'll have a very handy $1 fleece headband and a hooded wind shirt. For very cold conditions I can use the down hood that I use with my Jacks R Better down quilt. I doubt this will happen often.

I will probably try out a couple Walmart nylon dress socks early on, but I'll have a couple merino wool socks as well. I have some Smartwool socks to use up and expect them to develop holes after 20-40 days of use. Then I'll probably switch to Darn Tough socks, which are supposedly much more durable. If the nylon socks turn out to work best, then I'll have some more of those mailed to me. 

For parts of Southern California and all of the Sierra, I'll be carrying Integral Designs vapor-barrier socks. These keep my feet dry and warm when hiking through snow or constantly wet trails. I have tried gore-tex socks, but they seem to stink up over time. Nylon can be washed more easily, and the warming effect seems greater. 

Socks will require regular rinsing and squeezing and just occasional washing. Shampoo is best for merino wool. 

If I feel I need more insulation for the Sierra or Washington, then I will choose either my Montbell UL down vest (160 grams) or backpackinglight Pro-60 parka (~350 grams). The second is a much better choice for cold, windy, and rainy conditions, while the first is greater as an additional layer in dry conditions. 

Also, my Jacks R Better Rocky Mt. No Sniveller quilt doubles as a "serape" and can be worn around camp. It's generally not that practical to hike in, though (only in emergencies when it is not raining/snowing).

Clothes washing summary
To sum up, I can expect to be rinsing out socks and underwear on a daily basis, and two or three other items (shorts, shirt, windbreaker) about once per section. That's not too much work, and should be enough to keep me from getting stinky. Of course, they say that after a while on the trail you can't smell yourself anymore :)

Bug Net Completed

I made a video of my hammock with bug net. I think it's pretty nifty. The net weighs about 200 grams (7.4 oz). The zipper along the side was clearly a good idea (I was considering not having one at first, and entering through the end of the tube).

To hold the netting above my face, I use a thin rope with a line tensioner. The hammock used is the inexpensive Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock. It weighs about 400 grams, including the tree-hugging ropes. Materials for the bug net were ordered from

Why all this trouble? Why not just get a "Skeeter Beeter" hammock from the same company (Grand Trunk) and enjoy the built-in bug net, saving quite a bit of time and money? Because it doesn't fully enclose the hammock, and I'm not sure that the hammock material is mosquito-proof. I don't want to get bitten from beneath. Actually, come to think of it, the weave probably is tight enough that bugs can't bite through it, but this is still unconfirmed. I didn't want to risk it. Another reason is that I wanted to be able to use the bug net by itself when forced to sleep on the ground. Of course, I could get into the Skeeter Beeter on the ground, and the effect would be about the same. Oh well...

Monday, March 9, 2009


Buckwheat is one of those rare foods that I can eat day after day without getting tired of it. It is a bit of an acquired taste, and I ate it for years in Ukraine and Russia. Buckwheat sold in the U.S. is generally of a lower quality and turns to mush when boiled, so I recommend heading down to the nearest Russian foods store to buy the real thing. A bag of 1 kg of dark brown buckwheat groats imported from Ukraine or Russia ("grechka" in Russian) should cost between $2 and $3. 

Buckwheat is not a grain like many people think. It provides a high amount of complete protein (13 grams per 100 grams) that's supposedly better than that of soy or even fish and packs over 300 calories per 100 grams. At $2.50 for a kilo, that's a really good deal on a prime protein source. I personally just boil it and eat it with butter and vegetables, cheese, meat, or beans. 

Buckwheat takes about 10 minutes in boiling water to cook. You can also soak it in warmish water for half a day and just bring it to a boil, and it'll be ready. 

I'm considering making buckwheat a staple for my hike and eating between 150 and 200 grams a day for lunch or dinner. That's 20 grams of protein and lots of complex carbohydrates.

More Dehydrated Food Options

Here is another site I have come across that has good prices for dehydrated foods: As opposed to the previous site I mentioned that focuses on meals, sells cans of many different kinds of dehydrated foods. Some of the things that have caught my eye (all dehydrated):

  • butter
  • meat
  • refried beans
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • granola

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Getting to the Campo Trailhead from the San Diego Airport

Believe it or not, there are people who can help you with this for free! See the ADZPCTKO ride board. Hopefully, I can find a ride and possibly a supermarket stop with one of these people.

Otherwise, one can taxi to the border (very expensive) or take a combination of bus connections described in Yogi's guide. 

What My PCT Thru-Hike Means to Me

"What my hike means to me" is probably something I'll think about nearly every day on the trail and frequently discuss with other thru-hikers. People will compare motivations and personal values and try to clarify their own views of their hike after hearing others'. Inevitably, one will be influenced in subtle ways by other hikers in the community. Some influences will seem positive, some negative. By formulating some of my thoughts beforehand, I'll have something to come back to later on and compare my expectations with the reality of my experience.

I'm 31 and have settled into a certain lifestyle, personal values, and worldview that I'm very comfortable with. My hike is not about "coming of age." It's not an epic journey, a momentous challenge, or a search for self. I'm not at a major crossroads in life, because it's normal for me to pretty much always be at a crossroads. 

I don't expect to look back upon my thru-hike as being a singular event in my life, but rather as one adventure of many. I would like to integrate these adventures into my life to the point that the adventure never leaves. I want to always be looking forward to and preparing for something exciting and challenging. 

I think a major goal for my hike is to achieve sustainability within the context of a major adventure. In other words, to be able to maintain a certain lifestyle with limited ill effects for an indefinite period of time. That means learning to maintain a healthy body and state of consciousness for a long period of time as I'm doing my hike. I will try to avoid sacrificing well-being for more than very short periods -- for instance, letting hygiene and nutrition slide, overstraining my body, and not getting enough rest. I don't want to view my hike as a one-time adventure where I can put important things temporarily on hold as I sprint to the finish line. I want to finish the hike in good shape and good spirits. 

Part of sustainability for me is remaining mentally active and productive. If I don't, I'll crave mental activity that I can only get "in civilization." If I could take along a lightweight, solar-powered laptop, that would be ideal. I can simply practice writing by hand on whatever topics come to my mind, and do some writing or typing in town. I would like to be thinking seriously about some topics during my hike -- topics related to lifestyle, philosophy, and the natural world. I would like to integrate my adventures into my work rather than having them be a break from work. 

I also want to get to know the thru-hiking community and make new friends while still "hiking my own hike" -- keeping my own pace and pursuing my own goals. Almost everyone else is going to be stopping in towns and spending money, and I think I can avoid that without feeling bad about it. In fact, being forced to do my own thing will be a positive factor, I'm sure. I feel best when I am close enough to people to form connections, while not being tied up in a group.

I also want to use this opportunity to learn about the nature of the American West -- the ecosystems and landscapes that I pass through. I'll be taking lots of pictures and probably making some videos along the way to share with other people. I'm excited to be surrounded by nature (again), and I want to be learning about it as well as basking in it. 

As I hike this long distance, I want to hone my backpacking skills and learn how best to deal with the challenges I encounter. For instance, I'd like to consistently roll out of bed early and quickly and rest more during the heat of the day. I'd like to learn to deal effectively with all the challenges of hiking on the PCT. I'll be thinking about my gear and what best works for which conditions.

Since any random accident or combination of events can put one off the trail, I don't want to be too emotionally attached to the idea of finishing the hike. Only 50% who start actually finish the PCT. A month on the Colorado CDT made me aware of my potential weak spots when hiking for weeks on end: bruised feet and malnutrition. The second I think I can do much better at this time, but I still don't know how to avoid bruised feet except by trying shoes with a bit more cushioning. And I don't know if that will help. On the CDT, the bottoms of my feet began feeling bruised after about 200 miles and fully recovered only after a couple of weeks off the trail.

If I get to the border early and still have plenty of time left, I'm not averse to the idea of turning around and hiking back through Washington, hiking a section of the Northwest Trail, or taking the Amtrak to Glacier National Park and hiking south along the wild and scenic CDT as far as I have time to go. If I could see Olympic National Park, the Montana Rockies, or Yellowstone and the Wind Rivers in the same trip, that would only add to my experience.

Some of these wishes may well turn out to be naive. We'll see how it all pans out in the end!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Permits Received!

Today, just three weeks after sending in my applications to the PCTA and the Canada Border Service, I have received back both permits. 

The envelope from the PCTA included the permit itself, a letter from the PCTA (talking about food storage, bears, fire, border crossing, and completion certificates for $4), a handout on Leave No Trace principles, and a broschure on volunteering for the trail.

The envelope from Canada contained only my entire application form with a fresh stamp and signature on it.

PCT Videos

See a selection of videos from the PCT here. Some are quite interesting/exciting/funny.

Maybe I'll make some videos from the trail and upload them to YouTube.

Scott Williamson, PCT Thru-Hiker Extraordinaire

Scott Williamson began hiking on the PCT over 15 years ago and has now thru-hiked over 10 times. He's done a couple yo-yos (there and back in one season) and in 2009 will be attempting to beat the current speed record of 66 days (41 miles/day) for a one-way journey. That means I will probably see him along the way. Here I will list some places where one can find out more about his experiences on the PCT and his approach to hiking it. I'll also make note of some of Scott's more important gear, food, and logistics practices.

Now you can read all about Scott Williamson at Wikipedia.

Scott's hiking style
  • no trekking poles
  • no-cook food; organic diet
  • mails food to himself; eats out in towns
This is also the style of well-known long-distance hikers Ray & Jenny Jardine and Francis Tapon (and probably some others), both also over 35 years old. Younger hikers such as Andrew Skurka and Matt Hazley (under 30) tend to eat less nutritiously, and each of these (I think) also uses trekking poles.


Gear lists
Note the following interesting gear choices:
- very thin pad (1/8'')
- unusually sized tarp (7 x 12')
- 3 pairs of thin nylon dress socks (wool socks for Sierra)

Articles, with selected quotes

On the importance of the "right pace":

I have found out that hiking someone else’s pace, which is significantly different from my normal pace, actually tires me out more than if I were doing my normal pace. Recently, when Michelle sat out for a few days to rest her feet, I opened up to 40-mile days and was shocked to find myself feeling much better than I did hiking 25 miles in the same 12-14 hour period. This makes me think that the amount of time spent on the feet plays almost as much of a role in fatigue as does the number of miles done.
On food:

He ate about 2.5 pounds of food per day and resupplied with caches every 3-4 days on average. During some stretches he carried up to eight days of food and water, and his pack totaled 35-40 pounds. He didn't bring a stove. Dinner consisted of dehydrated refried beans soaked for three hours while hiking along the trail, topped with tortilla chips and olive oil. For breakfast, he had a protein shake. And for lunch, he snacked on dried fruit, nuts and organic raspberry fig bars. After leaving towns, he'd supplement his diet with fresh fruit. "To me, a good diet on the trail is very important. I focus a lot on organic or more natural food. Other people are able to do the PCT on Top Ramen and Snickers bars. I avoid sugar on the trail because sugar highs and crashes affect my hiking rhythms. But in towns I pigged out on junk food and ate whatever I wanted: candy bars, pastries, burgers."
More on food:

He doesn't pack a stove, but instead eats a mostly organic diet of protein shakes, dried fruits, crackers and refried beans. He augmented his diet by foraging for tidbits like miner's lettuce, wild onions and various berries along the way. His typical dinner was to mix dehydrated refried beans with water in a plastic container and add crumbled organic corn chips and olive oil. He ate two to three pounds of food each day, stopping in towns occasionally to “pig out” on junk food and salad bars.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Article review: "Budget Hiking on a Short Schedule"

Good article! It raises once again the tricky topic of food and resupply. Eating junk food may require you to consume more calories, the author thinks. A couple links to more bulk food stores are included.

The part about hiking when it's cold and relaxing when it's hot to save time and energy is important, as is his advice to get into town in the mid-morning, eat some food, then do one's errands and leave when the food has had time to digest. 

Food ideas
This is really interesting:

Proper nutrition is essential. Poor nurtition will make you miserable. It will slow you down, and it will give you irrational, irresistible urges to spend lots of money at restaurants.

When I thru-hiked the AT in 2006 I bought food along the way. I ate around 7,000 calories a day, hiked far fewer miles than I did on 5,000 calories a day on the PCT, and had a never-ending appetite 24/7. 

I'm certainly not qualified to give nutritional advice, but pay attention to what you eat! If you read information from past thru-hikers you can end up with some terrible advice. Thru-hiking on pop tarts, peanut butter, bagels, and mac'n' cheese is very common. Most thru-hikers on such a diet struggle to do short mileages, are constantly hungry, and get worn down and depressed towards the end of their hikes. And they wonder why!

I recommend maildrops. That is to say, you will mail yourself packages of food to post offices (care of general delivery) and businesses that are near the trail. They are cheaper, more reliable, quicker, and they provide better nutrition when compared to buy as you go. The best way to mail yourself food is to use priority flat rate boxes. You can usually fit around 4 days of food in one of these, and you can send any reasonable amount of weight to anywhere in the US for $9. The post office will send you the boxes, tape, and labels for free if you are using priority mail. Let's assume that we have 40 total packages, an average of a package for every three days for 120 days. I try to send mail drops every 3-5 days, and the 5 day packages usually take up 2 boxes. So we spend $360 (rounded up to $400) on postage.

Here is a sample of my 2007 food. I ate the same thing every day on both my 850 mile AT training hike and my 2,700 mile PCT thru-hike. A typical day for me for the bulk of my PCT hike was 37-42 miles, and I weighed around 170 during that period. I spent around $11/day on food. Plan food according to mileage and your weight. $1000 should be plenty for an AT thru-hike.

Inexpensive Dehydrated Food Option

I've been investigating some dehydrated food options for the PCT. Normal dehydrated backpackers' dinners are far too expensive to use on the PCT with my budget, but I was given a link to, which offers considerably cheaper options. 

Obviously, their year's supply of food is out of the question. These products often require lengthy preparation times, and everything would have to be repackaged for my hike. Furthermore, it's very risky to get that much food at once, not knowing in advance if I'll even like it, or if I'll be able to complete the entire PCT. 

Here I'll look at the products that could be used for a thru-hike:

3-Day Responder
$22 for 3 days of food, or $7.30/day
Approx. 1400 calories a day, according to company rep.
Conveniently packaged meals that need just boiling water and a few minutes of simmering (i.e. sitting in boiling water with the lid on).
Very easy to transport when backpacking.
Little extra air in packages, so will not expand much at high altitudes. 
>>> I have ordered this to try out at home and will write a review when I get it and try it out.

3-Day Responder 5-Pack
Identical meals to the above.
$100 for 15 days of food, or $6.67/day
Shipping just twice as much as for 3-Day Responder.

Grab-n-Go Pack
$350 for 60 days of food (200 meals), or $5.83/day
More calories per day than Responder packs, according to company rep.
Meals are not individually packaged and would need to be redistributed in plastic bags. 
Many more meals and much more variety than the Responder packs.
Same cooking style -- just add boiling water and let sit.

Nutrition Case
$190 for 6 cans of food
Contains breakfast food, snack bars, and a drink powder.
Snack bars need to be reconstituted in water, with honey added (in small plastic container).

Quick-Fix Case
$110 for 6 cans of dinners.
More variety for main meals.

Shipping the above
Company reps have confirmed that they can ship priority mail to general delivery. That means food can be ordered from the trail, directly to the trail.

Food ideas

I'm going to try the basic Responder pack to test the overall quality of food, and make a decision on what to get, if anything, after that. The Responder packs are most convenient for backpacking use, but may lack variety for long-term use. The other food packages listed above would need to be repackaged for use in thru-hiking. Either the Grab-n-Go pack alone or the Nutrition and Quick-Fix Cases together could provide an entire meal system. A mixture of these could be used to add variety, but that could start getting complicated. 

Boosting calories

Obviously, 1400-1800 calories a day is not remotely enough for PCT thru-hikers. What I like about these meals, however, is that they provide all the nutrition I would need in a very condensed form, and include lots of fruit and vegetable ingredients and adequate protein. The caloric value of the dehydrated food seems to be in the 400 calorie per 100 gram range. These regular meals could then be supplemented with lots of energy bars packing approx. 500 calories per 100 gram (e.g. Snickers, oatmeal or nut bars, poptarts or equivalent). So, a day's food supply might consist of:

  • 400 grams dehydrated stuff = 1400 calories + 70 grams olive oil = 600 calories
  • 600 grams high-energy snack food = 3000 calories
Note that adding olive oil to the lunches and dinners can add quite a few calories, and I would be getting 5000 with about 1 kg of food. 

The cost for the above day's worth of food would be approx. $10-12, not including shipping costs, which would probably amount to another $3 or so per day depending how I choose to do it. In town, I would buy various supermarket foods for variety. Oh, and eating this dehydrated food would require using a stove - either the Bush Buddy or an alcohol stove (don't like the idea of carrying superfluous fuel around with me, though). 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Saving on Food Expenses with Costco

The other day, I visited Costco for the first time ever. Seeing a number of food items that I will almost certainly need on the PCT, I figured I might be able to save quite a bit of money if I could have these sent to me on the trail in bulk. These items include:
  • olive oil (poured into 16 oz bottles or smaller)
  • Nature Valley "Sweet & Salty Nut" bars
  • whole grain poptarts
  • Nut Goodies
  • king-size Snickers
At the U.S. Postal Service website, you can calculate how much sending a package would cost. The podcasts I've listened to recommend using priority mail because of its greater reliability, and because unopened packages can be forwarded for free. Priority mail has something called flat-rate boxes, which are boxes of a certain size that cost the same no matter where in the U.S. they are sent from, or how much they weigh. This makes them ideal for sending high-density, high-calorie foodstuffs such as those I've listed above. 

Flat-rate boxes come in three sizes:

1. 8-5/8'' x 5-3/8'' x 1-5/8'' = $4.95
2. 13-5/8'' x 11-7/8'' x 3-3/8'' OR 11'' x 8.5'' x 5.5'' = $10.35
3. 12'' x 12'' x 6'' = $13.95

Oatmeal bars bought in bulk at Costco may cost half as much than the same bars purchased separately at a trailside supermarket. The total expense of sending a variety of the food listed at top in the 2nd box shown above should come to roughly $35, compared to $50 on the trail.