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White Mountain Challenge Food List

White Mountain Challenge Food Plan
White Mountain Challenge Food Plan

Click here for a printable PDF version.

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?
Lunch and Snacks - xx Calories
Lunch and Snacks – 1558 Calories

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.

Salty. Calorically Dense Foods
Salty. Caloricly Dense Foods

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.

  1. The average calories per ounce is 141. That’s pretty high.
  2. The total weight of my food list is just over 24 pounds.
  3. I expect to lose a little weight on this hike. The subtitle of my forthcoming book will be “The SectionHiker Diet.” Just joking.
  4. 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.
  5. Olive oil is included to add calories to meals that don’t already include a packet.


  1. Just curious, have you tried living on this menu at home? or on your other trips? I know my body would not like it and I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night starving and eating mostly the snacks and heading to town to fill up on something good to eat though I do notice your snacks and Meusli are where most of your Calories are coming from. I would be adding some freezed dried Chicken, Beef, and Turkey to those vegitarian dishes. I know every time I come across some young people on the trail who have been on those veggie dinners and trying to make it on a Veggie diet, and as we sit around and eat together, their eyes become transfixed upon my dinner and I feel sorry for them so we wind up trading and willing to give up their Snickers Bar and Chocolate covered peanuts and their Veggie dinner for one of my Mountain House Spaghetti with meat or my Natural High Beef Strognaoff meals and my backup rainy day MRE Chicken and Veggie stew..But to each their own. This happened a lot on my PCT trips and my Pinhoti trips, Please let us know how you make out on this..

    • Yes, I’ve been eating this menu at home for a while while training daily with a heavy pack. It’s taken a “few” iterations. If I was hiking for months, I’d probably add more meat, but this is a short trip.

  2. Chips are the savoury food that I need to include in my list, I tend to take sweeter things, so potato and corn chips will be on the menu next time. I’d like to try some of those vego dinners but it might be a struggle getting them into OZ.

  3. Just a thought couldn’t your wife meet you somewhere so that she could resupply you and make sure your still alive? That may make your trip more enjoyable.

    Also, what else are you carrying with you could you do a follow up on that? Thank you for your time and attention.

    • More posts coming. The point of this trip is to have an immersive, wilderness experience so I’d rather not resupply because that let’s the outside world of schedules and meetings crash the party. Plus, I send her SPOT ok messages daily. She’ll know I’m fine.

  4. Yeah, I think I agree with Eddie S. While the calories is not very high, and the volume looks good (after allowinf for lost air in the bagged items,) I would worry that you will be loosing some protiens. Basically, this is muscle mass rather than fat mass. Protiens are generally about 19 different amino acids(AA’s) that are not stored in your body. These need to come from your diet. The typical recomendation for 6oz of meat per day is rediculous, of course. Most of the AA’s can be had from what you have. Lentils/beans, cruciforms and nuts every day are the combination that will provide everything. Lacking this every day, and in extreme exertion conditions, a small portion of beef/pork/poultry(about 1/2-1oz every day) will let your muscles regenerate every night, rathar than to simply atrophy and be used for energy. It is far, far easier to get all the AA’s from a meat than several hundred calories of the three types of velgies (lots of stuff and exceptions glossed over, it is difficult to get all protiens from a vegie diet.) 1/2oz of dried beef or beef jerkey will maintain your muscles throughout the trip. And, of course, a vitamin/mineral tablet everyday…mostly as insurance.

    Anyway, 3 weeks is not terribly long. Most adults can go for 30 days without food so you will be fine. Do you *need* the meats? Well, no, but your caloric density would go down and packing volume would go up.

  5. Very informative post, Philip. Thank you for sharing your preparations for your wilderness journey in the Whites and for sharing your learning experience. It’s very helpful to my own long hike preparations.

  6. Phillip, it was nice meeteing you at the AMC leadership dinner the other week. Personally, for an 18 day stretch I would go stoveless the entire stretch to save the fuel weight and allow for more hiking/napping time, but that’s me and I’m nutty. You could probably rehydrate your museli cold though, add water then packup your tent and sleeping bag and it will be mushy by then. Pop tarts are also an excellent alternative if you’re concerned about breakfast variety – you can eat them as you walk in the morning.

    Have you scheduled any rest days or easy hiking days in this? 18 days without rest is going to be incredibly brutal if not.

    • This schedule includes 3 rest or foul-weather sit-in-a-tent-and-sleep days. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly hard to pin down how many days you actually need to hike the Whites because the weather is so very uncooperative.

      I eat muesli like this every day even when I’m not hiking, although not quite so much, so it’s a comfort food. Although the shredded coconut and whole milk also add a nice extra kick.

      I decided not to go stoveless because I enjoy a hot meal and because I’ll be in the mountains where it’s colder (lose 3 degreees for every 1000 feet of elevation) and because I’ve been snowed on every month of the year in the Whites. June is early spring. It can get real cold at night still. I’ll be bringing a Jetbol Sol ti mainly because its so fast to boil water with. It’s a partial luxury, but it is “my hike”. :-)

      • Makes sense but I only feel like I’m in the wilderness when I’m eating cold mush out of a peanut butter jar! (kidding)

      • I think certain climates and trails like the PCT/CDT lend themselve to a no cook style better than others. The Whites isn’t one of them though, for the same reason I would always carry a stove in Scotland. Mountain/maritime climates can be unreasonably cold in summer.

      • To me it’s all mental. I was stoveless in the Cascades with night time temperatures in the 20’s and hoarfrost on the ground every morning and I was fine because I had a warm enough sleep system and insulated jacket. I could also hike myself warm in frequent freezing rain storms (an umbrella was great too) You only “need” a stove when your insulation has failed and you can’t warm yourself up with physical activity and you cannot make a fire. I haven’t been in a situation where the three of those situations have lined up yet though it’s certainly possible.

        Now, having a stove is definitely more comfortable than not, and gives you sort of a backup plan. However the backup plan fails when you don’t carry any extra fuel for an emergency, which many don’t. I’ll still carry a stove on many trips but to me whether or not I carry for 3-season backpacking depends on the trip objective more than the weather.

      • How foul would the weather have to be to require a day sitting in a tent? What things do you try to avoid?

        Also – what was the theory behind going meatless for this trip – was it a question of caloric density versus volume or some other issue?


      • A couple of inches of rain would make walking fairly hazardous, not to mention stream crossings. Thunderstorms on ridgelines are also worth avoiding. I’ve had some close calls in the Whites that way, that I’d rather not experience again. Hail. The usual suspects. 60-70+ mile winds above treeline.

        Meatless. It wasn’t really conscious. I really like the OH dinners and they’re very “clean eating” which I prefer. I eat meat, but I don’t like to prepare my own backpacking dehydrated backpacking meals and I won’t eat most of the crap they sell at REI. I’m eating a fair amount of protein (nuts, lentils, peanut powder – those OH meals are really a powerhouse!)

  7. You know you can use Frito’s as a fire starter don’t you? Their loaded with Oils. I have to admit there have been times I have traded my Snickers, or M&M’s for a bag of Frito’s and would have killed for a Hamburger or a P&J sandwich. I do find I crave, when I crave, what I crave is Protein.

  8. Totally impressive amount of work here. Have you in an earlier post every broken down how you derive the calories per oz information? Is it as simple as reading the package and doing the math?

  9. Interesting. As your food weight reduces your millage can go up. So in effect you could lose a day, or more food weight, as later you will make those miles up travelling lighter. The lighter your pack gets, the higher the miles per day can be, and some food weight could be omitted. See Roman Dial how far how light http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/calculating_range_in_lightweight_backpacking.html if you need it and cannot access it just ask as I am sure I have it saved some place.

    • It’s hard for me to do more than 15 miles per day comfortably and sustained in the Whites. There’s 5k of elevation gain per day on this route, which is pushing it as it is. I will no doubt start slow and speed up, which is the intention. Not interested in setting a FKT here – just finishing. I plan to take my time, within limits. But it’s true. People are afraid of not having more frequent resupply stops. Not sure if it’s because of fear of starvation or fear of isolation.

    • Hey Martin, I don’t believe that is what Philip is doing. The article was more about adventure racing. I don’t think that is what Philip wants to do. But, you are correct. It shows a relationship between weight and distance (and speed.)

      • That’s correct Jim – I’m want to set the Slowest Known Time record. :-)

      • Ahhhh, a man after me ownheart

      • You gave me the idea! No kidding.

      • Well, I am a bit taken aback, I must say. But, it was only a thought. A fleeting chemical disturbance of a fairly mild nature. You are the one planning and executing the hike. Only you know what will be required of you, in solitude, in gear, in foods and in physical capability. I say you are doing great. I just wish you could drop the weight to a more reasonable 30-35 pounds. ‘Corse, that’s me I guess…no matter how light a pack looks, there is *always* room for improvement… Do you expect to die? No?? Then you will be fine. Hey, it does seem a bit binary…

      • 40 pounds isn’t that bad and I won’t be carrying that much after a few days anyway. My winter gear list weighs more. I wish it were 5 pounds lighter too, but it’s not worth the money required and I’m not really bringing anythng unreasonable extra.

  10. Hi Phillip, I will echo some of the comments that mention dehydrated meats. During the year, I buy 85/15 or 92/8 ground round, cook and dehydrate it. I can drop it into virtually any cooking meal and it adds protein and flavor far in excess of the minimal weight it represents.

    How do you manage to keep potato chips and freetos (never thought of carrying freetos, what a great bit of taste, oil and salt!) without them getting crushed into dust?

  11. Phillip,

    I’m told that many thru-hikers experience a large jump in calories needed sometime during the 3rd week on trail due to having exhausted the reserves in their body. You’re flirting with that timeframe. Has that factored into your planning at all?

    Also … are you gonna make us wait the entire 18 days to start hearing about the trek? We want to know and we want it NOW, right;-)

    • Not really. I’ll just eat a pizza when I get off trail.

      Yep – I’m not blogging live on this hike. Strictly pencil and paper and a camera and a tape recorder. You’ll have to wait until after I get back to hear about it and then you’ll probably never stop hearing about it! :-)

  12. Dennis A. Cooley


    I really like your meal plan. Simple, tasty and satisfying. I don’t like too much prep and I’ve gotten away from all the Mountain House and other freeze-dried stuff. Some of it is OK but most of it……. I’ll have to try the OH meals. They sound tasty. Now, as far as potato chips, I was hiking on the AT last Fall and found a couple of Lay’s lying on the trail. They looked fresh, so I ate them. They were crisp and tasty. Another hiker had passed us going the opposite way and dropped them. I doubt you’ll find any in the Whites. Sounds like a great hike. Looking forward to your adventure!!

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