How NOT to eat on an AT thru-hike IMO...
by Carol Moore, 1989 AT thru-hiker, on page 102 of Roland Mueser’s book:
On the Trail:
Lunch: Peanut butter on moldy bagel
Snack: Snickers bar
Dinner: Lipton Noodles (Deluxe: add can of tuna)
Breakfast: Left half of menu
Snack: Chocolate milkshake, any pie Ala Mode
Lunch: Salad bar (3 trips)
Snack: pint Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, liter soft drink, ½ case cheap beer
Lunch II: Pizza (large with everything)
Snack: pint Ben & Jerry’s (different flavor)
Dinner: Fried chicken, French fries, veggies, bread
Drinks: water, milk, coffee, wine, beer
Dessert: Chocolate pudding – NOT!
Note that this list of thoughts I have compiled is from the point of view of a nonvegetarian non-ultralighter who prefers to eat healthily (i.e., lots of vegetables, no white potatoes, no white bread, no celery or lettuce, no potato chips, no lard or margarine, no soft drinks or coffee) and has a fondness for Oriental food and seafood, with some special options for winter mentioned. There are some possible ideas here for ultralighters as well.
Nuts (all unmixed, shelled, raw and unsalted)
Peanut butter (no added oil or salt in ingredients)
Defatted dried coconut flakes (mix with other food items)
For variety: Brazil nuts, filberts (if can find shelled), cashews
Flax seeds: ground up (so will not pass thru system undigested) and added to other dishes; desirable due to high Omega-3 oil content
Good-quality purple raisins (stems too likely in generic brands)
Chocolate-covered raisins (not during summer heat wave)
Pitted prunes (no, they don’t affect me that way)
Pitted dried apricots
Dried mango slices (occasionally)
Dried whole figs
Pitted whole DATES (often)
Blackberry jam/preserves (not jelly, which is less substantial); look for brands in plastic jars so weigh less; get small containers in warmer weather
Banana chips (look for unsalted without added fat)
Fresh apples (not in winter, as apples are unpalatable after they have frozen, even if later thawed)
Fresh bananas (green when leave town); occasionally; spring/fall only
Frozen bananas; winter only; peel and put in plastic wrap before leaving town; especially good with peanut butter, with bite of chocolate, or added to hot cereal or oatmeal
Tangerines (spring/fall only; rot in summer, freeze in winter)
Frozen blueberries: (one pound in plastic bag standard size); mix with aspartame, water, and powdered milk (winter only); leak-prone
Frozen blackberries A/A
Frozen raspberries A/A
Canned fruits – 2nd/3rd day out maximum (weight issue)
Hard green pears (not commonly sold in groceries); in season in South U.S. only, occasionally at roadside stands or via friends with trees; eaten while still quite hard; will not smash even in warm weather when regular types of pear rapidly turn to goo
Wild berries along trail in season (blackberries, blueberries)
Homemade beef/venison/bison jerky (best made with soy sauce & ginger powder)
Dried spiced sausage (if can find)
Canned meats -- sardines, SPAM turkey, corned beef, tuna, crab, oysters, clams (NEVER regular SPAM/potted meat product or Vienna sausage – those are just lard with traces of meat); note that the small flat cans of shellfish seafood are lower water content than the larger ones (esp. oysters and clams), so pack better, but are often smoked (less healthy)
Low fat summer sausage (if I can ever find any)
Protein powders – look for ones with no milk/whey in 1st 3 ingredients (otherwise, get cheaper powdered milk/cheeses); from health food stores
Foil packs of salmon (NOT the tuna foil packs, which are much inferior in taste, Omega-3 oil content, and have higher heavy metal levels)
Sandwich spreads ala Underwood? (occasionally)
Dried and/or salted fish: (esp. herring or cod)
Dried chopped cuttlefish/squid (Oriental food stores): no fat, very low water content, high protein content, no cooking required, mild taste, eat as jerky; comes as mild and hot varieties; I much prefer the mild; you’ll have to ask a store employee which is which, as it’s not obvious on the packages
Frozen raw meats (deep winter or first few hours out of town only); much risk of leakage and nasty mess, high water content
Fresh fish: caught by stealth fishing (rarely an option on the AT) or yogied from nonhiker fisherman
Egg whites, especially dehydrated; note that while whole eggs keep fairly well without refrigeration in all but the hottest weather, they are fragile and high in water; also, only the whites should be eaten (discard all yolks), as yolks are mainly just water and fat (lots of saturated fat, at that); whites go well with noodles, in soups, mixed into casseroles, cooked as part of sandwich spreads, etc.
Brewer’s yeast: either as tablets, or used in cooking; see note about yeast at bottom
Drinks/broths (other than water)
Decaf green tea: Celestial Seasonings brand widely available [Wal-Mart carries] and inexpensive; milder taste than Lipton’s green tea; ones in Oriental food stores often adulterated with various herbs (not desirable)
Miso soup powder: Oriental food stores; is Japanese; some protein content; see comment on soy products below
Hot apple cider mixes (can make similar product from cinnamon, Tang, ground cloves, brown sugar, instant tea powder, lemon flavoring, etc.)
Beef bouillon (low-salt variety often available in grocery diet food section)
Fish bouillon (health/Oriental food stores)
Onion soup powder
Powdered milk (in cereals, cocoa)
Concentrate nonfrozen cans of nonblend grape/orange/cranberry juices
Lemonade (from ReaLemon; use plastic ½ -cup bulbs); can bring fresh from home for first day out, or longer in cool weather
Tomato/V-8 juice: best brought cold from home in thermos on first day out; palatability drops if frozen, not good warm, too high in water to carry far
Chambord (French black raspberry liqueur) – rarely, not when hypothermia a possibility
Mead (wine made from honey; prefer English brand, ~17% ethanol) – A/A
Dried tomatoes (grocery produce section)
Dried mushrooms (A/A)
Dried parsley flakes (grocery spice department)
Dried onion flakes (A/A)
Spinach powder (Walton Foods?)
Fresh bunches of watercress (dependent on weather/days out from town)
Fresh bunches of cilantro (A/A)
Fresh bunches of parsley (A/A)
Fresh bunches asparagus (A/A)
Frozen broccoli (first meal out, except during winter/near winter, then longer out)
Frozen peas (A/A)
Frozen spinach (A/A)
Frozen Brussel sprouts (A/A)
Frozen lima beans (A/A)
Cans asparagus (occasional; 1st day out)
Canned whole tomatoes; for first day out only due to high water content; ideally, keep in refrigerator until just before leaving for Trail so will be cool and refreshing to eat; if in trail town overnight in cool weather, can place can outside during night so is chilled for next day’s hike
German vegetable sausage (if can find; read about in a book on WWII)
Seaweed (black much better than green; best is from Japan, esp. sushi type); lots of minerals, extremely dehydrated so ultralightweight, lasts indefinitely
Olive oil (try to find in lightweight container)
Canned butter tubes (if can find)
Tubs of unsalted butter (nonsummer weather only)
Miniature chocolate bars (not during summer heat wave)
Grated lowfat cheeses (cool weather only)
(Nuts and some meats also qualify)
Fish oil capsules (sold for Omega-3 oil content)
Wheat germ oil (do not use for frying due to low heat tolerance) (health food stores)
Avocado --first day out only (spring/fall only)
Other cooking oils such as sunflower, safflower, peanut, etc. (limit corn oil)
Flaxseed oil due to Omega-3 content (do not use for frying)
AVOID: Margarine, Crisco and other shortenings, lard, hydrogenated oils, coconut oil, powdered coffee creamers if not nonfat, fatback, bacon, regular SPAM, potted meat products, Velveeta and other pasteurized cheese product (most sliced “cheese” in dairy section is this), Vienna sausage, cheap nonlowfat sausage (esp. if pork), pork rinds, potato chips, beef tallow, deep-fried foods (especially if grease old/heated to high temperature, as is usual in most commercial restaurants) such as fish sticks, breaded fried fish filets (such as in fish sandwiches from fast-food restaurants), French fries, hash browns, Tater Tots, etc.
Cookies (nonhydrogenated oils, no animal fats; compare fat content)
Shredded wheat with extra bran (has extra protein as well as more fiber); get the non-sugarcoated
Low-fat granola (can be eaten dry as GORP substitute, or conventionally as cereal with dry milk)
Raisin Bran/Bran Flakes (as cold cereal, or mixed in casseroles)
Fat-free whole-grain wheat/rye wafers/crisps such as Havli (usually imported from Scandinavia); have to spread dips on them, as too fragile to dip with; very low water content, so good UL food
BAKED (not fried) whole-grain corn chips (unsalted preferred); good to dip into bean and other casseroles, esp. as trail lunch
Noninstant oatmeal (add nonfat dry milk, raisins, cinnamon, molasses, brown sugar and bananas [chip or fresh] if available)
Noninstant brown rice (cooked over wood fires only due to long cooking time unless ground before trip)
Japanese polished rice such as Kokuho Rose (make sure has no talc, so no need to rinse before cooking)
100% Whole-wheat bread (not Roman Meal/Colonial/Sara Lee) – mainly for sandwiches
Whole-grain mixed hot cereal – rye, triticale, etc. (health food store)
Whole-grain coarsely-ground mixed grain hot cereal; buy, or make; I like ones with rye, wheat, oats, and triticale; may add amaranth, millet, brown rice, nuts, spices, etc. as Jardine does; I don’t think ones with soy are wise (see comment below); I normally add brown sugar/aspartame, dark cane molasses, and a bit of butter or olive oil to it
Cans nonfat refried beans (1st or 2nd day out only due to weight); good for stove meals; like all beans, eat with meat and/or rice to complement amino acid profiles
Wheat germ (bags lighter than jars); almost a meat, it’s so high in protein; ultrahigh in B vitamins, too
Whole-wheat blueberry Newtons
Whole-wheat macaroni/spaghetti noodles
Sweet potatoes/yams (wrap in foil, toss in campfire; take long time if boiled)
Wild rice (cook over wood fires only due to LONG cooking time); no-rinse kind only; like wheat germ for vitamins; may usefully grind up before trip
Mixed dried beans (wood fires only if whole); may grind up before hike; heavy on garbanzos (amino acid profile)/green split peas (vitamins); w/. rice
Lentils (cook quickly); mix with rice
Mixes such as Near East brand (lentil pilaf, etc.)
Taro root (as yams)
Cattail roots (once only, just to say you did it)
Dried garlic powder or minced (meats, starches)
Dried ginger powder (meats)
Bouillon (beef, tomato, chicken)
Small cans tomato paste
Cinnamon (hot cereal, occas. toast via foil over fire)
Dark brown sugar (hot cereals)
Molasses (hot cereals, beans)
Soy sauce (meats, beans)
Japanese powders to flavor polished rice (Oriental food stores, international markets); I like the purple and green ones best (ones with bonito are too strong-tasting)
Lemon juice (drinks, fish, on greens)
Onion soup powder (beans, as broth to drink)
Honey for sweetening (drinks, cereals); buckwheat and basswood best types
Aspartame (“Equal”) for sweetening (drinks, cereals)
Tiny packets of condiments (catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickle relish) from fast-food restaurants; note that Arby’s also has horseradish packets, pizzerias have Parmesan cheese ones, Taco Bell has chili sauce ones, and Chinese restaurants that offer take-out have packets of soy sauce, sweet-and-sourt sauce, and hot mustard; Sam’s Club sells some condiment packets in quantity (Costco may as well)
Freeze-dried whole meals (Mountain House, Alpine Aire)
FD vegetables/fruits: pineapple in particular is very good; would love to try FD figs and persimmons one day
MREs (very occasional)
1) Start hikes with 2-3 days worth of sandwiches made up; meat only in sandwiches eaten on the 1st day unless the weather is very cool; sliced poultry keeps worse than beef; no mayo/salad dressing except in first 4 hours (use butter/mustard/catsup); only peanut butter and jelly after first day unless very cool; put spinach/watercress/cilantro on meat sandwiches in quantity; no fresh tomatoes on sandwiches (they make the bread soggy); may make up sandwiches complete but short of meat, later adding canned/foil pack meat on the trail.
2) Start hikes with ½ or 1 gallon of frozen-solid grape juice; alternatives: frozen-solid orange juice, frozen-solid homemade lemonade made from scratch, or (in winter) a hot drink in a thermos such as green tea, cocoa, or hot cider.
3) Breakfast/Dinner – may prepare extra to eat for next meal, or even make a second different meal; put in Rubbermaid containers.
4) Always leave town with at least one meal purchased at the last moment.
5) In cool weather, leave town with at least one quart skim milk and orange juice.
6) Salads and sandwiches in town should include fresh spinach if at all possible (watercress, cilantro, etc., acceptable substitutes), with NO raw peas (has nutrient-blocking chemicals while in raw form) and no celery or lettuce of any kind (negligible nutrients).
7) I WANT to lose weight on the Trail; that is why I have aspartame and many low-fat food items listed.
8) Note that fried chicken from town will keep over 24 hours in almost all weather, especially if you do not open the container after you buy it, and it is cooked just before you buy it; this way is usually easier to get in fast-food restaurants than in groceries/convenience stores.
9) Nice adjunct to sandwiches at the start of a hike is apple slices with (hard only) cheese slices in between them (make at home).
10) Note that many thru-hikers have reported significant loss of lean muscle mass, especially in their upper bodies; if adequate protein is consumed every day, this may conceivably be reduced or avoided. Powdered milk, protein powder, and/or dried meats are IMO the most UL-compatible protein sources when far from resupply. (Doing a few pushups at the end of each day might help, too, but I doubt many hikers will ever do this after a long day on the Trail.)
11) Roasted nuts do not generally last as long as unroasted ones do once the container is opened; unroasted nuts are better for you, too.
12) People get more than enough salt through consumption of food, so there is generally no need even when hiking in hot weather to take salt tablets, salt shakers, or seek out salted versions of normal foods.
13) The clearest explanation of how to mix protein-containing foods so as to complement amino acid profiles (to get the most out of your food) is in the overly environmental “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Lappe (lots of vegetarian recipes in it too). If you remember to mix rice with beans, milk with grains, try to generally eat a little meat or egg whites when eating other foods, go heavy on garbanzos (chick peas) in your bean eating, mix corn with beans, and often eat some rice with other cereals (due to its high lysine levels), you’ll do OK.
14) The human body cannot absorb all the calcium it needs for one day from a single session in one day. Therefore, try to space out your milk consumption, cheese-eating, calcium supplement taking, etc., each day. Also, meat (including fish) is very high in phosphorus, which interferes with calcium absorption if eaten at the same meal during which major calcium sources are consumed. Therefore, try to avoid meat and fish at least one time each day (better two) when you do a major milk drinking/cheese-eating/vitamin & mineral tablet-taking that day. I don’t know whether eggs are high in phosphorus, but suspect it. Certain vegetables such as broccoli have a fair amount of calcium.
15) A study of thru-hiker diets in Roland Mueser’s book on AT hikers found that calcium and Vitamin A were the nutrients in shortest supply. Vitamin A is an oil-soluble vitamin, so the body can store it for as much as 3 months (much longer than for water-soluble vitamins). I personally suspect the main nutritional shortages among thru-hikers would include adequate intake of complete amino acid profile protein, C and B biologic-origin vitamins, fiber, and whole-grain carbohydrates (white bread, white potatoes, Ramen, Lipton, Campbell’s soup, non-wholewheat spaghetti/macaroni, white flour tortillas, etc., don’t fill this need). Also, while water-soluble vitamins such as C and the Bs just go out in the urine when consumed in excess, that is not the case for fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. Those can cause harm when grossly overconsumed (mainly a risk for supplement abusers). Vitamin E is fat-soluble, but nearly impossible to overdose on.
16) Pure vegetarian diets tend to produce borderline deficiencies of certain minerals such as zinc and magnesium (as these are not nearly as easily absorbable by the human body from plant as animal products) even under normal circumstances, so vegan thru-hikers will likely need mineral supplement pills on thru-hikes.
17) Vitamin supplements are not as helpful as one might think. The reason is that the chemical definition of what constitutes a particular vitamin is overly loose. Synthetic-origin vitamins are typically less effective than are biologic-origin (that is, originated in food) vitamins. Therefore, try very hard to get all the vitamins you need via food; certain foods such as wheat germ, pure wild rice (not the 10% mixtures such as Uncle Ben’s sells), yeast (in moderation!), dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and (occasionally) organ meats such as liver are invaluable.
18) Yeast has very high levels of nucleic acids, which when consumed in excess contributes to contracting the painful joint problem called gout. This is especially a risk for people who are heavy meat eaters who eat few vegetables. Therefore, don’t go too heavy on yeast consumption, although modest amounts are valuable B vitamin sources.
19) A good source of dietary info: www.paleodiet.com
20) The human diet does require a certain level of fat, aside from certain necessary unsaturated oils it cannot synthesize. If you don’t eat enough, you can eventually get a debilitating condition known among Arctic explorers as “rabbit diarrhea”, named for rabbit meat containing negligible fat. The traditional remedy was to eat some fatty bear meat.
21) Corn that has been treated with lime has its niacin made nutritionally available, which otherwise would go to waste when eaten. The Hispanic custom of using lime in preparing their corn tortilla flour makes their tortillas nutritionally preferable over traditional American corn meal products (most of which are degermed and near-worthless in any event); make sure they have not been fried before you buy them, though.
22) Whenever possible, wash fresh fruits and vegetables (even leafy ones such as parsley and spinach) in soapy water, with a final potable water rinse. This removes much pesticide and other undesirable residues (think of the likely unwashed condition of the many hands that have touched those plants between coming out of the soil and landing on your plate…). Such washing reduces spoilage time, so do so as short a time as possible before cooking or eating.
23) In general, the smaller the fish, the lower the content of heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, etc.). This makes sardines preferable to many other fish, and tuna less desirable than almost any other “oily” fish. To get Omega-3 oils that help reduce arteriosclerosis, try to limit fish intake as much as possible to fish that contain them (“oily” fish) such as sardines, herring, cod, all types of mackerel (Spanish over King due to size), salmon, and tuna. Fish NOT on that list: bass, bluefish, catfish, pollack (fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches), snapper, panfish/brim, redfish, flounder, grouper, mahi-mahi, wahoo, etc. Salmon have such a high Omega-3 content that IMO their somewhat larger size can be ignored. Also, the heavy metal content of saltwater fish is more constant than for freshwater fish; the latter may be better or worse, depending on downstream/downwind status WRT to cities or industry (water near mining and coal-fueled power plants is notorious for association with this issue).
24) Apples produce a gas called ethylene (C2H4) that speeds up ripening of other fruits and vegetables such as bananas, tomatoes, etc. Use this capability to advantage by interspacing apples with other produce that needs ripening together in a paper bag. Avoid apples making other produce rot prematurely by keeping them separate otherwise.
25) For a good home grinder, I recommend the Country Living Grain Mill (one of which I own) to make dried beans, wild rice, brown rice, etc., cook much faster on the Trail (so that they become practical to cook over a stove a hiker can carry, rather than just over wood fires), or to grind your own wheat. A cheaper one that still works so-so is the Family grain mill. Www.waltonfeed.com (www.waltonfood.com?) has a large info section on related issues.
26) Soybeans have several chemicals that make me question the wisdom of eating soy and its products when they can be avoided. First, soy that has not been severely processed (miso, tofu) has some antinutrient compounds that inhibit utilization during digestion of some vitamins and minerals; ordinary cooking or drying does not deactivate these compounds in soy as it does related ones in beans and green peas.
Even then, there appear to be analogs to estrogens (certain hormones mainly found in women) in them that will survive such processing. These E.A.s may protect against circulatory system disorders in women to some extent, but there is increasing evidence that these are undesirable for males of any age to consume.
Even soybean oil is likely to have drawbacks. Soy oil is normally partially hydrogenated (made more saturated) to slow down the rate it goes rancid; look on the back of any inexpensive cookie package or baking mixes to check this. However, this produces a chemical not found in nature for which there is no reason to consume it, it being significantly less healthy than the original.
For all these reasons, I try to avoid soy nuts, textured vegetable protein, soy milk, and above all soy oil (whether as the pure oil or as an ingredient in purchased mixed foods), just occasionally having a cup of miso soup or using soy sauce in cooking, which add only a tiny bit of soy to my diet.