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Thread: Hiker hunger

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    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Default Hiker hunger

    or I should say lack there of. When I do my section hikes which typically consists of 80-100 miles, I hike 15-20 daily. You'd think I'd be starving but that's not the case sometimes I have to force myself to eat. It's like this my first couple of days then the real hunger will come back. Does anybody else experience this? Does anybody have a theory for this phenomena.

  2. #2

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    I'm not a thruhiker, so have no experience with hiker hunger.
    A "long" trip for me is 7 days of hiking.
    I've taken 8lbs of food, and come back with 3.5. I don't really want to eat much the first 4 days, even after big elevation gains in the Rockies. I drop about a pound of body fat per day on such trips, though. That's obviously not sustainable, and the appetite would doubtless kick into gear if I was out for much longer. I would hope, anyway!
    No theories, I've just accepted it, and started carrying less food.

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    For the past six years, my summer hikes are six to seven weeks on the AT. Yes indeed, for the first three weeks hiking my appetite is nearly non-existent. I believe the bodyís fuel is basically coming from stored fat.

    But after those three weeks, oh my! I turn into a voracious eating machine. I eat probably double the food I normally eat at home.

    Iíve found that it takes months to turn that appetite off once my hike is over.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

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    FWIW - I find I don't really develop an appetite until I get a week or so into a long trek. That seems to be normal for most long distance hikers I have talked to over the years. Though the period of "unstable" appetite varies between people from 5-days to 3-weeks, I have always found this an interesting phenomenon of the body's acclamation process in response to sustained physical activity and the resulting adjustment of metabolism. Once metabolism ramps up, it can be a force to be reckoned with that takes about the same amount of time to decay as it took to develop once the sustained physical activity ends.

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    Lightbulb Noted this years ago

    Does anybody else experience this? Does anybody have a theory for this phenomena
    On my first real backpacking trip, I ended the day at RPH Shelter, a place where a local pizza shop will deliver very close to -- it even has its menu in the shelter. A few real backpackers were ordering typical huge meals, and asked me if I wanted to order anything. I literally got nauseous at the thought of eating pizza, despite decades of enjoying it -- indeed, I found that I didn't want to eat ANYTHING.
    I asked some of these backpackers why this might be so, and their basic explanation was that most people* don't eat because they're actually hungry, they eat because they're bored, or it's time to eat, or it's a social event. When you're backpacking, at the end of the day you're invariably too tired to care about any of these things -- you just want to rest. Your body uses up your fat reserves for survival, and basically "tells" you, "Just let me rest -- I don't need any food, so let's just skip that, okay?"
    They also noted that this reaction lasts for about five to seven days, at which point you've burned through your reserves, and your body starts to tells you, "Eat, eat, eat!!"
    A friend of mine who's an M.D. later explained that, under the above circumstances, all of your body's energy is going into repairing itself, and the digestive system gets a lot less attention. As you're getting enough energy from your fat reserves, your digestive system basically says, "Hey, don't bother -- we're okay, and other parts of your body need more work, anyway."
    With this knowledge, I have learned to plan for eating very little for several days at the start of a backpack. Fluids, yes; salt and electrolytes, yes; but food, not much. I've found it works just fine, saving me weight, space, and food prep time. I'll get to my end point, set up my sleeping arrangements, fill up my water bladder, eat some protein, and collapse.


    * I'll add a disclaimer that they meant, "people who have enough money and free time to go backpacking."

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    My hiker hunger didn't start till I got my trail legs at 3 weeks in, before that I didn't want to eat much. My take on it is when you push yourself like that your body puts more resources into the activity and less into digestion, till the point when it realizes that it needs food to keep this up, which then the appetite goes through the roof, and miles per day increase dramatically (for me from 15 per day average to 25 mpd). So I would say it's normal not to ahve it on shorter hikes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GoldenBear View Post
    On my first real backpacking trip, I ended the day at RPH Shelter, a place where a local pizza shop will deliver very close to -- it even has its menu in the shelter. A few real backpackers were ordering typical huge meals, and asked me if I wanted to order anything. I literally got nauseous at the thought of eating pizza, despite decades of enjoying it -- indeed, I found that I didn't want to eat ANYTHING.
    I asked some of these backpackers why this might be so, and their basic explanation was that most people* don't eat because they're actually hungry, they eat because they're bored, or it's time to eat, or it's a social event. When you're backpacking, at the end of the day you're invariably too tired to care about any of these things -- you just want to rest. Your body uses up your fat reserves for survival, and basically "tells" you, "Just let me rest -- I don't need any food, so let's just skip that, okay?"
    They also noted that this reaction lasts for about five to seven days, at which point you've burned through your reserves, and your body starts to tells you, "Eat, eat, eat!!"
    A friend of mine who's an M.D. later explained that, under the above circumstances, all of your body's energy is going into repairing itself, and the digestive system gets a lot less attention. As you're getting enough energy from your fat reserves, your digestive system basically says, "Hey, don't bother -- we're okay, and other parts of your body need more work, anyway."
    With this knowledge, I have learned to plan for eating very little for several days at the start of a backpack. Fluids, yes; salt and electrolytes, yes; but food, not much. I've found it works just fine, saving me weight, space, and food prep time. I'll get to my end point, set up my sleeping arrangements, fill up my water bladder, eat some protein, and collapse.


    * I'll add a disclaimer that they meant, "people who have enough money and free time to go backpacking."
    This. Very well said.

    People who fast for long periods of time -- for whatever various reasons -- will recognize what you are saying here and agree. There might be some brief hunger pangs or growls from the stomach, but then the body starts to look after itself. You'd be amazed at not just how long you can sustain a fast, but how you can actually feel energized and well focused during the fast. Of course proper hydration is critically important, as are careful, mindful food choices when ending a long fast.

    I have also learned that I will want to eat very little during the first days of a hike, and my food planning is really the same as yours.

    My real challenge is simply practicing the simple discipline of simply drinking enough water.
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

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    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starchild View Post
    My hiker hunger didn't start till I got my trail legs at 3 weeks in, before that I didn't want to eat much. My take on it is when you push yourself like that your body puts more resources into the activity and less into digestion, till the point when it realizes that it needs food to keep this up, which then the appetite goes through the roof, and miles per day increase dramatically (for me from 15 per day average to 25 mpd). So I would say it's normal not to ahve it on shorter hikes.
    This is my biggest issue not getting the projected miles in. I work out alot and typically consume 5,6 small meals a day ,sometimes just a banana and a handful of almonds but every couple of hours eating. But trying to keep my energy levels up on trail is quite the challenge for me sometimes. Over the years I've been able to figure out what works for me with everything else pack, tent hammock, stoves etc but I've not been able to figure this one out. When you haven't eaten in awhile and your energy levels are totally depleted its absolutely amazing how fast it comes back as soon as you start eating. It's kinda frustrating.

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    Following. Never gotten past that initial phase to get hiker hunger or trail legs (the curse of the section hiker). Always wondered how long I need to hike to get to that point.

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    Default Same

    Quote Originally Posted by Odd Man Out View Post
    Following. Never gotten past that initial phase to get hiker hunger or trail legs (the curse of the section hiker). Always wondered how long I need to hike to get to that point.
    Same here! Iíve hiked with my sons before and theyíll eat their food and mine, and just the smell of it makes me nauseous. I truly hate that feeling. On top of then making sure Iím drinking enough water....

  11. #11
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Odd Man Out View Post
    Following. Never gotten past that initial phase to get hiker hunger or trail legs (the curse of the section hiker). Always wondered how long I need to hike to get to that point.
    it really is kinda of a curse for us section hikers . Now I see alot of folks go through this. Good point on establishing trail legs as well. I to wonder how long I'd have to be out there to establish the " hunger " or "trail legs ". ( so many ways so much tougher to be a section hiker ):

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