WHAT WILL WE EAT?
When I’ve done backpacking trips in the past I can guarantee that my diet was not that great. There has been lots of ramen and instant mashed potatoes for dinner. For lunches and snacks, I typically would eat summer sausage, granola bars and cheese (let’s not forget the candy for that quick sugar pick-me-up). Then, of course, there is the instant oatmeal and coffee with dried fruit for breakfast.
You’ll notice that there hasn’t been much variation in my hiking diet. This diet works for a short trip (and it can work for the AT), but I’m lucky that I have a girlfriend who likes food as much as I do, and she said she wouldn’t stand for that. So…we’ve been looking at ways to make mealtime more interesting. Missy also wanted to make our meals as healthy as possible, which is a good thing, since we’ll constantly be running at a deficit as far as our calorie intake goes. From what I’ve read, the average thru-hiker uses between 5,500-6,500 calories. There is no way to carry that many calories worth of food if you want to stand in, let alone hike through, the mountains. This is where Missy has been really helpful in the planning stage. She thinks about a lot of the things that I can overlook. She just bought us a backpacking cookbook that we’re going to be trying recipes from so we can better plan for food on the trail.
One thing that I’ve never taken on a trail before is quinoa. It’s a full protein and tastes good with just about anything (its also a good light weight food). When Missy and I get the cookbook, I’ll post some of our favorite recipes so you, the reader, can get a better idea of what we may be eating on the trail. Listed below are several websites that have discussed camping food and that I have used in planning our own meals on the trail. Instead of regurgitating what they’ve already written, I present them to you for your perusal (http://blackwoodspress.com/blog/5521/10-ultralight-backpacking-foods/, http://www.trailquest.net/thruhike.html#Food%20Suggestions, http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php?57).
You’ll notice that the above sites list good lightweight foods that are high in calories, but again there is not much variation in trail foods. That’s why trail towns are so nice. You can eat all the burgers, pizza, and milkshakes that you crave before heading back out on the trail. The only problem is that your craving for certain foods may make it hard to get back on the trail J.
HOW LONG WILL THE TRAIL TAKE?
The trail can take an average of four to six months, although the record (broken just this past summer) is 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. When I was planning the independent study, I worked it out so that we could start the trail within a day or two of April 15th. Of course, we all know how plans can easily change, and I just found out this past Wednesday, that I am needed at work until April 15th. This means that we will be on the trail within a day or two of April 20th (Missy’s birthday!!). With this delayed start date, we will have a little less than four and a half months to hike the trail. Don’t tell my professors but if I have to miss the first few days of school to finish the trail, I’m going to. I don’t want to get all the way to the border of Maine and stop, only to have to go back another time to hike the last 286 miles. This hike is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid, and if I’ve made it that far, I don’t think I could stop.
WILL OUR BACKPACKS ONLY WEIGH 12 POUNDS? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
I hope our pack weight, before adding food and water (which weigh a lot) will be 12 pounds. I’ve been obsessively weighing every item we plan on taking as soon as we get it and adding it to a spreadsheet I have set up. Once finalized, I will post the gear list and we’ll see how close it is to twelve pounds.
When I first started planning our hike, I would compare every item I looked at for weight and cost, with the weight sometimes taking precedence over cost. And when I say compare, I mean I read every article and watched every video there was on the item I was researching. It became a full time job; I couldn’t even look around me without seeing something that reminded me of an item on my gear list. It was an addiction, I felt that I couldn’t stop and I had to get it perfect.
An example of what I’m doing to make sure our pack weight is low is as simple as getting a new backpack. The backpack that I’ve used since sophomore year of high school weighs about four and a half pounds. That’s already a third of the weight that I set as our goal. The backpacks that we just got weigh a little less than two pounds. By getting a lighter weight pack, I have already cut our weight significantly.
Some other items that you can change in order to cut weight are your sleep and cooking system. After countless hours of researching tents and hammocks, I decided to go with a hammock as a sleep system, as they weigh less, even though we will be using two of them. As for cooking, I decided to go with a wood stove. It weighs three and a half ounces, and requires us to carry no fuel. All we need is a pile of sticks about as big as your index finger, and we’re good to go! Considering the nickname for the AT is the “long, green tunnel,” I don’t think we will have any problems finding trees to tie up our hammocks and tinder for our stove. The only problem with the woodstove that we may run into is possible fire restrictions along the way. The forest service may consider the use of our woodstove an open fire, and we then wouldn’t be able to use it. If this becomes a hassle, we will probably start using our woodstove as an alcohol stove. The following is a link to the stove we will be using. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhIy7xzjaPw&feature=related).
Once you take care of some of the obvious items (pack, sleeping, cooking) then you can begin to nitpick about the rest of your gear. One of the interesting things I learned while researching gear is that a pound on your feet is like three pounds on your back, meaning that if you have boots that weigh about two pounds a piece, you are essentially carrying twelve pounds on your back. That’s why Missy and I are going with tennis shoes, specifically the New Balance 101’s. Using my pair as an example, if I switch from my old boots to the new tennis shoes, I save nine pounds. Since the new shoes weigh 15.5 ounces combined, I am now carrying about three pounds instead of twelve, following the hiking rule, “a pound on the foot is three on the back.”
Thank you for the questions, keep them coming! I enjoyed posting this week much more because I knew what someone wanted to read about. Please feel free to post comments about anything that comes to mind when you read this.