Just a few more weeks to go and I’m going to start my White Mountain Challenge hike, a 230 mile unsupported, un-resupplied hike over all 48 of the AMC White Mountain 4000 footers, and everything in between. (see The White Mountain Challenge Guidelines and FAQ)
An 18 Day Backpacking Food Menu
Planning this hike has been far more challenging than I’d anticipated, especially the food plan. The amount of food I will carry required changes to my route, the pace in which I can expect to travel, even which backpack I selected for the trip. I took me months to figure this all out and test it in the field, so hopefully this writeup will benefit you if you’re planning a long unsupplied trip of your own.
For example, I decided early on to carry all of the food I need for this hike, start-to-finish, because I want an immersive, wilderness hike in the White Mountain National Forest without the distraction of town resupply stops. I plan to walk the entire route, end-to-end, (without hitching rides to and from towns along the periphery of the National Forest) and because setting up food caches is illegal on Forest Service land.
Once I decided not to resupply during the hike, I was forced to consider:
- How many miles can I average per day?
- How does a heavy pack affect route selection?
- What is the maximum weight I can “comfortably” carry?
- What’s the best backpack for this trip?
- How much training can I do ahead of time to prepare physically?
- How will my pace change as a function of a heavier weight pack?
- Am I willing to lose weight by carrying fewer calories than I actually need?
- How can I keep my food interesting over an 18 day period?
- What is the best food preparation method for this trip?
- What is the best way to protect 18 days of food from bears?
Most of these issues are easy to decide or moot if you go ultralight and resupply every 4-5 days in towns, but doing that breaks the spell of having an immersive, wilderness experience lasting multiple weeks. I’ll go into more depth about these issues more in subsequent posts because the process of working through them was so novel and fascinating.
My White Mountain Challenge Food Plan
When designing a backpacking menu for a long trip, it’s important to optimize the following factors:
- Food should be caloricly dense, so its takes up as little room in your pack as possible.
- You should pack foods you enjoy, so you’ll eat them.
- Bring a variety of foods so you don’t get bored eating the same thing every day.
- Eat salty foods or bring extra salt to replace salt lost by sweating
- Minimize the amount of extra packaging weight you haul by carrying food in bulk and measuring out daily quantities instead of pre-bagging it.
- If you need to hike big miles, carry meals that require little preparation and cleanup time, in order to maximize the amount of daylight you have for hiking.
- Bring a combination of salty and sweet snacks so you don’t get bored.
- Bring foods that will make you feel full and satisfied, especially if you can’t bring all of the calories you need or want.
- You’re probably not going to starve do death on your hike. Don’t bring too much food.
- There’s always a trade-off between the amount of weight/food you carry and the number of miles you can hike in a day.
Finally a couple of notes about the food plan, shown here.
- The average calories per ounce is 141. That’s pretty high.
- The total weight of my food list is just over 24 pounds.
- I expect to lose a little weight on this hike. The subtitle of my forthcoming book will be “The SectionHiker Diet.” Just joking.
- Bouillion cubes can be used to make a hot and very salty recovery drink. Gradma Gatewood used them on her three AT thru-hikes. Ramen soup packets are comparable. Both have MSG.
- Olive oil is included to add calories to meals that don’t already include a packet.