Trail food planning

My current plan is that I’m going to ship food boxes from 2 places on the trail: Invercargill (one food box to Birchwood Station or Ohai) and Queenstown (food boxes to Tekapo, Lake Coleridge, Arthur’s Pass, Boyle Village, and St. Arnaud)

The Birchwood Station box only needs about 4 days worth of food, and is only so I don’t have to start the hike with 10 days worth of food, much of which I won’t need for about 3 or 4 days out of Invercargill. It will get me to Te Anau where I’ll resupply for the stretch up to Queenstown.

I may not send a food drop to Tekapo, but it’s a 7 day stretch past there and I don’t know what food availability / cost is going to be like there, and if I can buy in bulk fairly inexpensively in Queenstown, I’d rather do that.

The rest of that, though, the food drops are going to be my primary source of food on the trail. Without any ability to augment my food supply for large stretches of trail, I’ll need to carefully plan what I’m going to eat, so I don’t pack too much, but I don’t pack too little, and since most of my food will be coming from one place, fairly early on in the trail, I have to be careful to have enough variety in my food so I don’t get sick of eating oatmeal on day 30 and still have another month of oatmeal ahead of me in food drops! I’m hoping to flesh out many of the meals and such in the first part of the trip, prior to arrival in Queenstown, and basing my food planning for the rest of the trip on that.

There’s a chance I might ship my food drops from Wanaka instead of Queenstown. The primary motivation for Queenstown over Wanaka is there’s a Pak’n’Save in Queenstown but not Wanaka, so I’m running under the assumption I’ll be able to save some money buying there rather than buying everything at, say, Four Square or New World in Wanaka. This is also why I’m opting to mail a box to Tekapo since the next stretch from there is 6-7 days and they have even less supermarket options there. I’m fine with resupplying in Wanaka for a 7 day trip, as New World should have everything I need and the money I might save buying in Queenstown could be offset by shipping and storage costs (assuming I’d be charged to receive a package at my accommodation in Wanaka).

Anywho, enough logistics thinking, on to what I’m actually planning to eat!

Basics

Oatmeal, rice, quinoa, pasta, and cous cous are probably going to make up the majority of my calorie load. If I can figure out a decent bean situation I would like to bring those in, but they tend to have long cooking times and I’d much prefer to also not heat anything in my pot other than water to save on cleaning. Pasta and steel cut oats and such can be hot soaked in my en-cozied food container, overnight if need be (I tried this with steel cut oats, worked perfectly).

Add-ons

To try to change things up with oatmeal, I plan to bring powdered milk, ghee, brown sugar, protein powder, a variety of dried fruits and nuts, and, of course, chia seeds. I’m hoping I can get enough variety out of the fruits and nuts combinations to help myself not get entirely sick of oatmeal.

For pasta I plan to bring various powdered soup and sauce mixes. I could try to bring dried herbs and spices and such, but honestly the packets will probably be way more convenient and then I don’t need to carry a bunch of little containers for spices, just upend a bag into my hot soak container along with the pasta.

Speaking of pasta, the pasta I plan to use the most if I can get it is angel hair. It should cook enough with a hot soak and fairly quickly, to conserve fuel, and reduce the time between stopping for a meal and eating said meal.

Snacks

I’ll need to have a variety of snacks for either grazing on as I walk or munching on when I stop to rest. I don’t want to end up getting sick of, or sick from eating too much trail mix. I love me some trail mix, but eating that for 2 months straight is probably not going to be a great idea!

Fallbacks

I’ll want to have some fallbacks. Easy food. I am likely going to pack at least one full dehydrated expensive just-add-water meal to each food drop. They’re not cheap, but at the end of a hard day I may just want something stupidly braindead easy just to shove calories in my face. Things like peanut butter and nutella tacos, or whatever. But also keeping in mind that I want to try to pack just enough food to get me to the next food drop or resupply. Both so I’m not carrying too much extra weight, and also so I am not wasting food because I end up with an extra day worth of food at my food drop and don’t want or need to carry it all out.

Extra food

I’ve seen people go both ways on carrying extra Just In Case food. Like if weather stops me 3 days into a 7 day stretch and I have to wait it out for 2 days, I’m going to want something to eat. Fortunately for those days I won’t necessarily need to have the full calorie complement I would normally have since I will be doing low or zero mileage on those days, but some people say to deal with it and stretch food if you need to, noting that going for that last day into town without any food isn’t the end of the world. Mostly you need water, and water I’ll have, I’m not worried about water. One of the problems with packing extra food is if I pack an extra day of food into each food drop, if I don’t use that, when I get to the next food drop I have 2 extra days of food. What do I do with that extra food? Carry it? Throw it out? Hiker box? Share the love? I don’t know. These are things that are on my mind regarding food planning, and I hope to have decently formed opinions on the matter by the time I get to my second food drop source, be it Queenstown or Wanaka or somewhere else, so I can get my food drops ready and shipped out without spending too much time fretting over what should go in them! Get the fretting out of the way in advance!

Planning

In doing meal planning, I’m going to try to take into consideration things like what I actually want in my meals throughout the day. So in the mornings having something heavy in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and some fat will be good. For snacks it’ll be mostly nuts and trail mix. For lunch it’ll probably be a lot of peanut butter tortillas. And at night having something both easy to make and amenable to having protein powder added to get some of those recovery calories. At the end of the day, the last thing I’m going to want to do is put together a complex meal, especially if it’s been a particularly crappy day or I’m camping out in the rain or both!

Additionally I’m thinking about calorie loads and calorie weights over the course of a stretch as well. For the 10 day stretch in Richmond Ranges I’m thinking about things like having more calories in the early days vs later days (since I’ll be carrying more weight and possibly doing more climbing), as well as trying to front load the heavier calories, to try to optimize for shedding food weight early on.

I plan to spend a decent portion of my time in country before hitting the trail working on this and coming up with some “recipes” and daily meal plans and documenting them here as much as I can. This post was originally going to be that, but as I started writing I realized that I’m not ready enough to put that down and also there could be value in writing up my thinking about food planning and not just what I ended up with.

I need to try to avoid the trap of trying to over optimize. Especially since future me might be REALLY upset with past me’s choices. Especially given that the time between future me and past me could be upward of a month and a half. This alone makes me hesitant to ship out all of my food in advance, especially from as early on in the trip as Queenstown. Fortunately I’ll have plenty of time to think about that and figure it out on the way to Queenstown!

Conclusion

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do and planning and hopefully this jumble of words shines some light on my thinking around that. I’m confident I’ll figure something out, and that I’ll be able to adapt along the way when necessary. The biggest thing I keep telling myself is “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” and I haven’t yet made first contact with the enemy, so until I do it’s all academic. That’s not to say it’s not a good idea to think about things, but don’t feel the need to have it planned to a T, and if things go awry on the trail, roll with it and figure something out!

5 thoughts on “Trail food planning

  1. > If I can figure out a decent bean situation I would like to bring those in, but they tend to have long cooking times …

    Split red lentils cook in under 8 min 😀

  2. Look up how to dehydrate beans in your oven!! I recently got into it and it works wonders. You fully cook the beans and then throw them in the oven on a tray at super low heat for like 6 hours. Then you can just leave them in a ziploc bag for a very long time without having to worry about them, and you rehydrate them by pouring hot water over them and letting them sit for a few minutes. Home dehydration has made meals on the trail soooo much better for me. Give it a shot!

    1. I’ll have to check that out for next time! I didn’t try any dehydration this time because I don’t have a dehydrator and also I didn’t know how possible it would be to bring that much food anywhere and didn’t want to try to ship it from the states!

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