Food Prep 101

…or ‘How trying to figure out how to feed myself in the woods almost broke my sanity (and bank account)’.

So….my vacation here in the US isn’t just for kicks and giggles, it is actually the prelude for my hike this summer. I have some wonderful friends who are willing to act as my ‘command central’. They have been accepting and hoarding packages of all the stuff I ordered over the last few months (mainly so I could avoid German customs and sales tax and shipping costs) and are even willing to ship out resupply boxes to me on the trail – making sure I don’t starve.

Well, in order for boxes to be there to be sent out, someone has to assemble them. Which brings me from Las Vegas to Billings, Montana – a whopping 40 degree drop in temperature ( or 65 for you imperially inclined).

After a horrid flight on Allegiant I got in Friday night really late. Thankfully B. was there to pick me up and he was kind enough to immediately feed me dinner 🙂

By the time we got home and I said hi to everybody (including Socks and Ringo, kitty pals deluxe) it was almost midnight and I just fell into bed. Actually…..the same bed I slept in for almost a year exactly 15 years ago as an exchange student….how time flies.

Saturday started with an amazing Breakfast Burrito in a diner that is so typically American it is almost cliché, except it’s not….it’s just Montana. Twice the size of Germany with a total population of 1.3 million. And in some aspects, it feels like going back in time about 2 decades.

But there’s a humongous Walmart where the inclined thru-hiker is likely to find all the nourishment needed to sustain a hard pace. It just takes some effort and a lot of patience.

We went out shopping on Saturday and strolling along all aisles I managed to fill an entire shopping cart (and they’re about 1.5 times the size of German carts) with all the essentials. Pasta and Rice Instant packets, instant mashed potatoes, Ramen, tuna and chicken packets, oatmeal, granola, and lots ot candy. And also: powdered peanut butter…cause you know…the reall stuff is just too heavy.

I thought I was doing pretty good and staying on my budget….. until we came to the register. When everything was said and done I was out 400$, and narrowly avoided a heart attack.

[Looking back, I am pretty sure i bought enough food to last me not only for Washington, as planned, but also for at least half of Oregon. That makes the expense a little more easy to handle]

The afternoon and most of the evening was spent taking over the kitchen and dining room, assembling and sorting meals. How, you ask? Well…..

  1. arrange all purchased items in categories for easy overview
  2. set up an assembly area with ziplocks, measuring cups and a marker
  3. get a general idea on which combinations you actually might want to eat ( 😛 )
  4. label the food bag you are intending to fill
  5. pick out a ‘base’ – like a packet of instant mashed potatoes –  repackage it into a quart (or liter) sized freezer (!) ziplock
  6. add dehydrated veggies, switching out combinations as much as possible for variety
  7. close ziplock, squeezing out as much air as possible – if you are packaging food for a hike that’s a long time away, you might want to add a dessicant
  8. repeat ad nauseum

You then have to carry out this process for breakfasts, lunches/ dinners, condiments.

Some examples of my breakfast items are oatmeal with added dried fruit. Granola will be added once the oatmeal is cooked in the morning for some texture. I will also just grab a cereal bar or protein bar (KIND, Lara and Luna bars, etc) so i can get up and go without having to heat up water. Oh, and I will NEVER, EVER eat a Cliff bar again; those things make me wanna hurl just thinking about them.

Lunches and dinners for me are interchangeable and will mostly consist of mashed potatoes, pasta or rice sides, ramen or couscous with various veggies added in for variety and nutrition. This will be eaten with either a tuna packet, cheese and bacon or pre-cooked chicken.

Snacks are everything from candy bars to beef jerky, smoked almonds, corn nuts, candy bars, chocolate, gummy bears, candy bars, peanut butter in various incarnations (I LOVE peanut butter M&Ms) and of course….candy bars.

Condiments are mostly parmesan cheese, bacon bits, string cheese (bought later), tortilla strips and garlic crispy onions. For texture, there are cheetos, tortilla chips, etc.

I also have several kinds of drink mixes, because in my experience there’s nothing more disgusting than drinking lukewarm plain water. And of course….coffee! And hot chocolate. And tea.

Once you have bagged all the dinners and breakfasts and stuff, you need to get boxes to put them in. The USPS (United States Postal Service) has these flat rate priority boxes, which are a pretty good deal. You pay by size, not by weight.

The medium boxes, in my experience, are good for holding up to 4.5 days of food, while the large box can fit up to 7.5 days. And believe me….you do NOT want to have to carry more than 7.5 days of food at the time. As a reference, a resupply for a week weighs about 15 pounds. Cause you know….calories…

Also, what’s really important is to get as much variety in your boxes as possible, because you WILL get sick of your food. And while it is possible to hike the trail on a diet of ramen and candy, I don’t recommend it.

When you’ve crammed all your food in each designated box, you just have to add a shipping label and depending on the location you send it too, add some additional info on each side of the package. It’s also a good idea to add some stickers or colored tape to make your box easily recognizable. Because when a location gets around 300 hiker packages a year, it’s easier for them to find your box if you can tell them to look for the one with the ‘pink unicorn duct tape’ on it.

Of course, not only food needs to go into a resupply box. Don’t forget maps, hand sanitizer, toilet paper or tissues, wet wipes, maybe some spare batteries…anything you might need.

All in all, it took me almost a full day to prepare meals for about a month of hiking. But i think it was worth it. I love the dehydrated veggies, they just make a real difference in actually making me want to eat the stuff I have in the boxes. I actually can’t wait 😀 .

So what’s in your resupply box, what would you add? Anything you can’t even think about eating anymore? Let me know in the comments…

Coming up: FINALLY some actual hiking.

Keeping you posted…


4 Replies to “Food Prep 101”

  1. You really sound like you know what you are doing right down to hating Cliff bars (I had the misfortune of trying one on a century bike ride). I can identify with growing tired of the same food when eaten day after day (except for Snickers, thise are always good). On the 1th straight morning of oatmeal for breakfast, I declared to all animals within hearing distance of my campsite that I was completely done with oatmeal. Wishing you the best of luck on completing your hike and more importantly a hike you can look back on with the fondest of memories.

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