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Thread: Hiker Hunger

  1. #1
    Registered User ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Default Hiker Hunger

    I'm interested in when this will hit me. I know that for my week-long section hikes I have virtually no hunger at all until I start to drive home. I assume that at some point after than normal hunger returns followed by a ravenous appetite.

    I would think it would affect different people with different body types in different ways. Obviously someone that is getting below their ideal body weight will be getting triggers from the brain to eat and eat a LOT. I am wondering if someone still being over their ideal body weight gets similar Hiker Hunger or does it only really kick in until later.
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    Registered User Old Hiker's Avatar
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    I lost 25 pounds the first month, 30+ total before I had to quit. I never got any type of ravenous hunger while hiking. Mostly, I was too tired to care about eating a lot. At the KFC AYCE in Erwin, I DID go back several times, but it was mostly for the vegetables, salads and desserts. I only got 2 pieces of chicken. I didn't feel like I had to, I just kept going back. I ate 3/4 of a large pizza in Damascus the first night. I just couldn't eat much more.

    The weight has gradually oozed back on over the last 6 months, though. Back up to 205 pounds.
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  3. #3

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    My experience and observation is that male Hiker Hunger (ravenous appetite experienced by quite a few male AT thru-hikers after the beginning of significant weight loss) hits somewhere north of Damascus, VA and south of Front Royal, VA. Generally in the range of milepoints 500 to 700 north from Springer Mountain, GA. When Hiker Hunger hits it usually stays with you until Katahdin -- Reason: it's difficult to carry enough food in your pack to satisfy your hunger and still keep your pack weight down to a reasonable level. Going into town satisfies the ravenous hunger (mostly for fatty foods and fruit) as well as makes an attempt by your body to keep your weight up.

    My start of Hiker Hunger generally hit just south of Front Royal, VA as exhibited by the thru-hiker saying in the convenient and tasty Shenandoah National Park Wayside restaurants: "You gonna eat dem butters?"

    I believe my backpack weighed the most on my AT thru-hike in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine -- reason: I was carrying so much food because I had become so hungry all the time (plus, I was shivering most of the time I was in the 100 mile wilderness). By that point, pack weight didn't mean that much to me.

    On the PCT a similar thing happened -- pack weight didn't mean all that much to me in northern California so I started carrying cans of peaches, Philadelphia cream cheese, cans of Mandarin Oranges and the like. I was still humping 20+ mile days carrying that kind of weight and the food really hit the spot on the trail there. It wasn't until I reached Etna, CA that I came across a legit scale and weighed myself and discovered how much weight I'd lost since Mammoth, CA.


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    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    That's interesting. Neither my hiking partner nor my wife get the hiker appetite on shorter (week-long) sections, but I'm starving as soon as I set foot on the trail. Never lost any weight hiking.
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    This is a body fat type question. The driven apetite will kick in for most people within a month. Each day as your energy out exceeds your energy in, you will consume existing body fat until that starts to run low the brain chemestry will make some adjustments and you will not be able to stop eating at the normal place where you put your spoon down. At this point you will be thinking and talking about food. You will stuff things in your mouth that under normal situations you would pass on. For people with low body fat to start with this could be 4 days into the hike.

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    Registered User ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moldy View Post
    For people with low body fat to start with this could be 4 days into the hike.
    This is along the lines of what I was thinking. For those that start with extra weight, hiker hunger wouldn't start until the extra weight (nearing ideal weight) is off.
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    Registered User evyck da fleet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChinMusic View Post
    This is along the lines of what I was thinking. For those that start with extra weight, hiker hunger wouldn't start until the extra weight (nearing ideal weight) is off.
    This was me. I didn't have much fat to start with and carried a lot of extra food for the first week and a half until I hit my high school cross country weight. My hiker appetite kicked in during my second week on the trail at which point every time I resupplied I had a pizza for dinner and the B&J's ice cream with the most calories leaving town for breakfast(and maybe after dinner too).

    I find it interesting that most other people encounter the hunger around 500-700 miles in Virginia. I never got the Virginia Blues because there was always soemthing new to see every few days. Another hiker mentioned that the blues didn't come from boredom but more likely was caused hikers having burned off their excess fat and not getting enough energy during the day. That seemed to make sense since if you're losing weight your running at a deficit and that can't go on forever.

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    Tend to have extra fat on my butt. Never been out continuously for more than five days. Never have had the hiker hunger attacks talked about. However, the minute I step foot off the trail, I develop a crazy craving for a greasy cheeseburger.

  9. #9

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    It takes me about two weeks. I always overpack on short trips, because I remember how hungry I was at the end of may last long hike, and forget that it does take a while for the serious hunger to hit. OTOH, I can always eat.

  10. #10
    2013 Alleged Thru-Hiker Chuckie V's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChinMusic View Post
    This is along the lines of what I was thinking. For those that start with extra weight, hiker hunger wouldn't start until the extra weight (nearing ideal weight) is off.
    Your hunger has little to nothing to do with your body weight, but rather your metabolic needs (and/or your desire for calories...which is appetite, not hunger; wish, not need) and your your expenditure. Fat people can hike and be every bit as hungry as stick people and "reserves" have no effect on the matter. Hunger is not strictly based on need, obviously. Now, if a fat person and a skinny person were to go sans food, those reserves in the fatty would come in handy and he'd likely live a little longer (if cardiac stress didn't do him in). As humans, we learned (physiologically/subconsciously) long ago that storing fat was absolutely necessary for our survival, since we never really knew when our next meal was going to come. Today, of course, we overdo it and store so much fat that the effects are no longer beneficial but hugely detrimental. Our average lifespan is on the decrease for the first time in recorded history.

    If weight loss is your concern, eat less than you expend. That's Rule Number One (though there are other guidelines that can and do help). Thankfully, this is the very nature of long-distance hiking, when done day in and day out. You'll be hungrier and hungrier the farther you walk, and your metabolic rate will increase and the fat will come off. There are always a few oddballs who buck the trend, but they're probably unaware that they're still eating more than they are expending.

    The bottom line is that hunger is meaningless and truly immeasurable, yet so very tangible. And it always fluctuates and is based on a number of factors (and not just physiological or metabolic ones). Some of us can more closely recognize what our hunger is telling us, while others haven't the slightest. And hunger is limited to the brain; the body can be hungry for specific needs (enzymes, macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, etc) that your brain may be completely unaware of.

    The United States is the most overfed, undernourished nation on Earth. Its inhabitants clearly mis-gauge their hunger and their bodily needs.

  11. #11
    2013 Alleged Thru-Hiker Chuckie V's Avatar
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    And hunger is limited to the brain
    Typo there...T'was supposed to say, isn't limited to...

  12. #12

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    Yeah, everyone is different, but for me it hit a little over 2 weeks on the trail. I remember it well, I was eating breakfast at the River's End Restaurant at NOC and I just couldn't stop going back to the buffet and I also drank umpteen cups of coffee, just couldn't get enough. And then I shot up that big ass climb going north, my full stomach didn't even slow me down. That's the great thing about the Hiker's Appetite, you can eat tons of food and it doesn't even slow you down; it's as if the food evaporates before getting to the stomach.

    I took this pic the same day my Appetite hit me. What's funny is the night before I didn't really have a super appetite, but it hit me like a ton of bricks in the morning and it never went away from that point on.



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    ^ Cool pic^ I loved my visit there!

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    I don't know when it hit me. My first off trail experience north of Springer was Helen Ga. I registered at the motel, dropped my pack in the lobby, ran across the street to Wendy's ordered 2 Baconrater meals and consumed them in @ 15 minutes

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    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    By Damascus five weeks out, I was HUNGRY







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    I'm surprised to hear people say it took so long--I noticed my appetite increase immediately. At Neels Gap a church group was cooking dinner and my friends and I had two mountains of spaghetti apiece. By the Smokies I had started fantasizing about town food days in advance of every stop. My buddy Manks and I made up a food challenge for Erwin and each ate 50 Chicken McNuggets and a half-gallon of McD's sweet tea in under an hour.

    The hunger tailed off a little bit in the Northeast, but by then I had stopped for two weeks due to injury and my body never got back to 100% energy levels. But from Fontana through Pennsylvania, I was an eating machine.
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    I arrived at Neels Gap, looked at Pirate all I said was I need food. I went in and ate then went to a cabin to which I was invited by the 'Galloways' that I had met on the trail. Drank wine, ate a steak and fixins and lots of other stuff. Then I hiked on to Franklin and ate like I was a starving child. In three weeks I lost 20 pounds. And I am no where near ideal weight. I was a hungry monkey

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    Registered User Giantsbane's Avatar
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    One my last week long hike it hit on the second day.
    We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

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