Early in the PCT research I had been wondering what people ate while on the Trail. After reading going to an REI class on hiking the AT, reading blog after blog, PCT-L postings, books, and looking at people’s prep pictures I have come to the realization that they eat in way that is counter to everything your health teacher taught you. Most of the suggested foods are high in fat, carbs, salt, and are highly processed. For a person who has been on and off Paleo or Whole 30 for a while, they are a carbohydrate/sugar nightmare (or a carb dream depending on how you feel about Whole 30 or Paleo.)
But there is a reason for this. You want as much calorie and fat content per ounce as you can get while hiking. As Yogi’s Pacific Crest Tail Handbook 2015-2016 states, “Fat has 255 calories per ounce. Carbs and protein have 113 calories per ounce. You carry all your food. You’ll get more calories per pound from calorie-dense foods then from calorie-light foods” (p. 183). Yogi also notes that once ‘hiker hunger’ kicks in “You’ll carry about 4000 calories (2 pounds) of food per day” (p.183). Luckily ‘hiker hunger’ takes about two weeks to develop so I have about two weeks on the trail where I might be able to carry less food and more water, since water will be the bigger issue when I begin.
There are some ways to add vegetables and ‘good’ fats to your food. Some hikers carry olive oil with them and have it resupplied in their packages. Others buy a dehydrator and make their own meals and send themselves their own dehydrated meals while on the Trail. Those who do that are very dedicated and spend hours dehydrating meals, fruits, veggies and their own beef jerky. But most of the time it appears that light-weight and fat-heavy are the way to go. I am still doing research to see if there is a better way to eat while on the PCT, but so far I haven’t found any helpful suggestions.
The foods that are most often suggested are those that are in my picture. The Idahoans were, by far, the most highly recommended food, followed by the Snickers, the Knorr, and then the Ramen. What is not pictured here is Nido, a just-add-water milk mix, Granola and trail mix, and the small packets of Gatorade (I will probably be using Nuun tablets) that people suggest. Also not pictured is the Mountain House meals that I have been hoarding.
The irony is that most people lose weight on this kind of diet. However, this weight loss is not something to be proud of, rather it is something that can take you off the Trail. If you lose weight you want to make sure that you’re getting the calories to replenish what your expending. People who the lose weight and can’t put it back on often end up feeling tired and sluggish. This, I was told by the women during the AT class at REI is a sign that you needed to increase your caloric intake. If you can’t get enough calories it will effect your performance and subsequently your enjoyment of the experience.
How one tells if you’re feeling tired and sluggish from the heat, hiking all day, or your diet is something I will need to learn in the next few months but knowing your body is the best way to deal with this.
Given that I am not a fan of Whole 30 or Paleo, despite the fact that it makes me feel and perform better, part of my mind is exuberant at the thought of eating nothing but fat and carbohydrates for three months while still losing weight. But then the cautious side of me wonders what these kinds of foods will do to my system out there on the Trail. I suspect that despite preparation, its a process of figuring out what works ‘on the go.’ As a planner, this is a little scary. However, what is the PCT adventure without a little of the unknown thrown in? (And I would rather it be my food and not some navigation snafu or water issue.) So, I will get a dehydrator and prep veggies, fruit, and other meals while still plan on consuming a lot of fats, sugars, and carbohydrates and hope that my experimentation is limited to likes and dislikes and not my entire digestive system.