Backpacking Nutrition

On average, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers burn about 4,000-6,000 calories a day. Our goal is to eat the amount of calories required, as well as pick the most nutritious, calorie-dense, delicious, and affordable options. We’ve also decided to schedule mail-drops rather than purchase our food from local grocery stores, mainly because it is cheaper to buy in bulk/ahead of time (in small towns off the trail, a pack of Ramen can be $1 a pack!). I admit, it has been slightly overwhelming to plan our food for the next five months–who knows how long it will take for us to tire of trail mix–but I believe that variety is key to a happy hiker stomach.

After reading the NOLS Cookery book and various websites, I have determined that I will require approximately 4,000 calories a day, while Lucas needs about 6,000. I have also concluded that a diet consisting of 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 15% protein is ideal for our daily hiking mileage and trip duration. Fat is the most calorie-dense food, so a diet high in fat allows us to reduce our pack weight while maintaining our high calorie count. It is important for us to be aware of our consumption of non-nutritious foods while thru-hiking. Although Poptarts provide a high amount of carbohydrates and fats, they do not contain sufficient nutrients and minerals needed to function optimally (not to mention, they’re highly processed). Therefore, we will take a multivitamin, carry Emergen-C packets, and try to eat as healthy as possible.

Here’s the equation I used to determine how much food I will carry per day:

(4000 calories/person/day) ÷ (120 calories/oz) ÷ (16 oz/lb) = 2.08 lbs/person/day

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organic bars, 4 cal per g, and just 41 cents a bar!

Using the NOLS Cookery book, here’s our daily food allowance in percentages:

  • Breakfast = 15%
  •  Lunch and Snacks = 50%
  •  Drink mixes = 5%
  •  Dinner = 25%
  •  Desserts = 5%

I used these meal percentages to determine how many grams we can carry of each (Yes, GRAMS. Lucas bought a scale… the scientist in him wants us to be as accurate as possible). For example,

(2lbs of food/person/day) x (0.15 breakfast food) =0.3 lbs (136.2g) of breakfast food/person/day

Using this formula, I have determined that I will eat 1lbs (454g) of food for lunch and snacks, 0.1lbs (45.4g) of drink mixes, 0.5lbs (227g) for dinner, and 0.1lbs (45.4g) of desert every day.

Phew! Now that the math part is out of the way, next time I’ll discuss the actual food we will carry.

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One thought on “Backpacking Nutrition

  1. Pingback: Appalachian Trail Food |

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