This is the fourth installment of Chelan Pauly’s and Hannah Kiser’s epic 2,660 mile journey to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail.
by Hannah Kiser and Chelan Pauly
How do we carry 5 months’ worth of food on our backs?
We don’t. There are a million ways to prepare your resupply ahead of time (or not), and we’re breaking it down into three different strategies:
If you have the time, patience, and a wonderful mother or other designated box sender at home, then this is for you! It involves buying, portioning out, and cramming 3-10 days of food into a priority mail box. Generally, it is discouraged since people buy and send 5 months of food in advance and end up getting tired of that peanut butter cliff bar they’ve eaten 500 times. If you have a food allergy, don’t get tired of food easy, and have a good idea of how much food you eat and what you crave in the backcountry, it’s a good strategy.
Buy as you go:
Some people choose to buy their entire resupply locally. Unfortunately, sometimes you get stuck with buying $3 ramen at an expensive tourist town or only buying ding dongs and tuna for a 5 day stretch. For the most part, it gives you the freedom to buy exactly what you’re craving. Since you’re buying as you go you’re very tuned in to exactly how much food you need.
This is the strategy we adopted. It’s great for people who suffer from indecisiveness and in many ways, this is the best of both strategies! We chose to send 15 resupply boxes and buy at the other 15 locations. We sent boxes to locations known to not have great selection (think small gas station) and/or are extremely expensive. Since Wenatchee is close to the PCT, our family has agreed to hand deliver all 5 of our Washington boxes! We also love that our family can stuff notes and extra treats into our boxes, and send gear that we need in the food packages along the way!
So, what is in these resupply packages?
Chelan’s Food (in her words):
Working up at Galena Lodge this winter my boss mentioned that I could order food through a bulk company called UNFI. I gave it some thought in terms of easy one pot meals and nutritional value but basically just decided to wing it. About a month later he put the order in and I drove down to town to pick up our combined boxes. To tell the truth I wasn’t even sure which items were mine and which belonged to the lodge. Once we sorted out which food belonged to me I was rather overwhelmed by the quantity; 50 lbs muesli, 50 lbs trail mix, 50 lbs wasabi soy beans, 50 lbs Israeli couscous, 50 lbs rolled barely, 10 lbs falafel, 10 lbs milk powder, 25 lbs lentil bean soup, 25 lbs split pea soup, 50 lbs amaranth, 50 lbs quinoa, 50 lbs polenta, and 5 lbs dried veggies. That’s 465 lbs of food! I had never actually added it up before and suddenly I realized that I couldn’t possibly eat that much. I sold 100 lbs back and settled into trying to bag things into reasonably sized 5 day portions. This time I did a little bit of mental math and made sure each days portion of food was 3,000-5,000 calorie range. I knew I would be hungry!
The result has been two types of breakfast (amaranth, milk powder, dried pears or muesli) two types of snack (trail mix or wasabi soybeans), and two types of dinner (couscous, split pea soup and dried veggies or rolled barley, lentil bean soup and dried veggies). It sounds repetitive but six weeks in I couldn’t be happier. Resupplies are simple, there is almost no trash, and with different spices I find plenty of variety. There are also towns where I didn’t send boxes so those weeks I buy different foods at the store. My biggest regret is that amaranth doesn’t cook fast enough to be useful so I have had to replace those breakfasts with hiker box items or store bought granola.
Hannah’s Food (in her words):
I spent the winter conducting a series of food experiments. I took some recipes online, whipped them up in my kitchen, adjusted spices and added or subtracted things I liked or disliked. If it tastes good at home, it will be great on the trail! I ended up with 8 different recipes. Since we were preparing 80 days of food from boxes I made 10 of each meal and mixed and matched them in boxes. I also made sure all my meals had acceptable macronutrients-focusing on getting enough fat and especially protein into each meal. In stark contrast to Chelan, I calculated the ingredients of my meals to the exact gram I needed, went to Winco and bought what I needed, and individually packaged each meal. I also vacuum sealed them to avoid having curry tasting granola. My precision and attention to detail spilled over from my job in research.
Get ready to drool, here are my meals! Tuna mac, salmon coconut curry, spicy peanut noodles, vegetable stir fry, protein pasta mac and cheese, cheesy tuna couscous, beef jerky pho, and protein pesto pasta! I also made 80 bags of granola with whole milk powder, 80 chocolate coffee protein shakes, a few dozen dehydrated hummus with olive oil and dehydrated beans for lunches. This gave me some room to add things I was craving in town.
Other Strategies on Trail:
I hiked with another hiker, Deeds, who prioritized convenience and ordered much of his food from amazon pantry and ate mountain house meals twice a day. On the opposite end of the spectrum there is a missionary hiker, Bamboo, who bought his food from a food bank and has cinnamon sugar pop tarts for every breakfast, a huge bag of mini candy bars, a few hundred slim jims, and macaroni for every dinner. He opts to trade out his repetitive meals with other hikers if they’re willing! There are as many resupply ideas as there are sands of grain on the desert!
Chelan and Hannah are raising money for an organization called Inspiring Girls Expeditions. For every mile they hike, they plan to raise at least $1 to help send a high school girl on a wilderness-science education expedition. This means each step is not only part of a personal adventure but also part of a broader purpose.
This post was originally published in 2017.