This is a glimpse into what it looks like to be a truly obsessive planner.
To think about this, and nothing else for a very long time.
You’ve seen my gear, you’ve seen my maps and guides, some of my training, and now you see the final bits of logistics for this trip. Soon I’ll be on trail and forget about most of this… which is the point. To go through all of this now so that later on I can relax, and focus on hiking.
In 60 days I start walking south from Quebec on the Eastern Continental Trail.
Things to note:
- Gu Energy Gels – My electrolyte replacer, and a caffeine boost.
- Powdered Greens – Help fight the war on not getting the nutrients I need.
- Clif Builder Bars – A dessert of sorts, full of protein to help recover, and build muscle as I sleep.
- Protein Powder – Not my only option for breakfast as I may still send powdered coconut milk with cereal/granola, but it is an extremely fast and efficient way to get some additional calories in the morning.
- Endangered Species Dark Chocolate – A lovely daily treat.
- Dehydrated Refried Beans – The dinner of champions, I mean… thru hikers on a budget. I’ll add taco bell hot sauce, as I’ve taken hundreds of them, some avocado when I can, and tortilla chips or fritos to make a nice dinner.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Not the other kinds! This kind. Add it to my dinners for an extra boost in calories, and flavor.
When in the market to buy a couple thousand dollars worth of food for a few months worth of hiking I had a couple rules to adhere to. I wanted food that was cheap, fast, and at least somewhat nutritional.
Much like many hikers I’m not made of money. I’ve worked long and hard at a job I don’t exactly feel so attached to, as anyone who knows me could tell you, and I’ve put this on myself so that I can now proceed to do what I love. So naturally considering my financial situation, and not wanting to spend any more time working than I have to, when searching for food my aim has been to look for the best deals imaginable. Pretty much all the food I purchased with the exception of a few items I really wanted, I was able to get for a very low price. Either due to the quantity I was purchasing or simply through shopping around. I had considered reaching out for sponsorship but in the end that’s not really my style, and just as well it seems as though I don’t need to sell my soul to do this. Even if it would have just been small handouts!
Another way I’m saving money on this hike is by doing it faster than most would. My goal is 6 months, and if you so like you could easily calculate what type of daily mileage I’ll be doing to reach that(about a marathon a day for 6 months.) I suppose I like the challenge, or maybe I just like walking a whole lot. Whatever it may be there’s a lot that goes into a high mileage day. In general less breaks, a streamlined process of doing things, an efficient manner of walking, a very light pack, and in regards to the topic at hand… eating on the go. So when I say I wanted food that was fast, what I really mean is that I was looking for food that I could eat while I am walking. Or in other words, a whole ton of snacks vs meals. As you probably quickly noticed a lot of my food choices are in bar form. Something I can easily grab every hour or two while I move, and continue without much of a pause.
Food that has worked best for me in the past is represented above, with the addition of a few new items I’m trying out for this hike. Keeping in mind the other two stipulations(cheap and fast,) buying 300 bars of Snickers wouldn’t adhere to my third rule of purchase. I wanted foods that are at least least somewhat healthy, and naturally vegan too. Candy doesn’t cut it, and I really try to cut out as much of that sugary mess as I can. Although I can and will do MUCH better in the future. The high burst in energy followed by the swift crash isn’t something I need to be consuming while walking 12- 14 hours in a day. Although I’m not a total slave to this mindset, as I do have over 100 bars of chocolate ready to be shipped and eaten. Something to keep me happy and motivated, but certainly not a large portion of my diet. Not pictured is also a whole lot of fruit I’m dehydrating for this trip, I hope to have a nice sized bag for every box. Another wonderful treat I wouldn’t be so happy without. To offset any nutrients I’m not getting from my foods I’ve taken a page(or two) out of Scott Williamson’s book and will be adding powdered greens to my daily diet in hopes that it will help with recovery, growth, and my overall health along the way.
So before the inevitable comment comes saying I’ll get so tired of all this food… so what! Variety would be nice, but variety also means more money, more of a headache in finding the products, and getting enough calories per day from the selection I’ve chosen. My main goal is simply getting the calories I need to go the distance. To me, calories directly relate to how far I’ll be able to travel, or how long I’ll have energy. A nice meal is great, but simply living, and eating is greater. Next year on the PCT my food choices will certainly be different, as will every year after that, I’m sure. I look forward to learning more about the subject of nutrition, as I think it’s such an important topic that most hikers seem to overlook. As I learn I’ll continue to tweak. For now, like a cat, eating the same thing day after day I’ll still be satisfied so long as I’m fed.
Per day I’ve planned to eat about 4,500 calories, which will actually somewhat put me in a deficit. Hikers doing similar things as me burn close to 6,000 – 6,500 calories a day, which to most people would be a dream! To me it means I gotta haul around some big heavy bag to munch out of. Food is really heavy! Much heavier in comparison to everything else I’ll be carrying for this trip. My food weighs about 2.5lbs for every day, so for a 5 day carry in between towns, which is common for me, would weigh 12.5lbs. That’s almost double the weight of everything else I’m carrying!! Being I won’t be getting all the calories I’ll be needing solely from my mail drops I plan on pigging out at restaurants in towns, and buying extras in grocery stores. Extras like peanut butter, nuts, chips, avocados, and naturally… as many fresh fruits as possible. I see a lot of thru hikers that lose an absurd amount of weight while on trail. I feel this is mostly because they aren’t filling that empty void that is the thru hiker stomach with enough food. Obviously, they think they are! But I’m skeptical. Of course weight loss is inevitable, but beyond 25lbs for an already skinny guy would be quite a bit too much, so these bonus foods will be very welcomed.
Planning a mega trip like this has come with its fair share of ups and downs. Many nights slaving over spreadsheets, guide books, trip reports, and maps. Ready to poke my eyeballs out, and call it a loss.
The guides are what I started with, a good amount of time went into finding all of them. Then naturally their adjacent maps, and finding what was most up to date. As for a trail like the Pinhoti in Alabama there are 3 or 4 different ones you will find, and could use. Say I was only hiking that trail, this would be easy. That’d be it! Find the guides, the maps, plan my trip, and call it a day. That’s the mindset I have had to adopt, one step at a time. One trail at a time. Doesn’t matter where I start, so long as I start.
The ECT is a route connecting a bunch of trails, which has added an extra factor of fun. 4 individual back to back thru hikes, with smaller lesser known trails or routes in between. In total it’s more like 7 long hikes. Or rather 7 individual trails I’ll be walking to form this journey across the country. So I’ve more or less simply planned a thru hike of each! To be connected by foot when I get to the end of one, all the way to the Keys.
In the photo above you see some of the fruits of my labor. All of my guides and maps sectioned out to be placed in individual boxes sent to myself with my food at places along the trail in which I’ll need them. It’s been tireless, but it’s done. All my maps and guides are split into 21 sections for the 4,800 mile ECT. Sorry to the guide book makers, as you may have guessed from the photo I tore your book to pieces! It’s okay, they’re much lighter now.
Before a trip I like to have anything I can get done prior to departure totally finished and polished to help streamline the process while I’m out there. Anything so that once I get out there I can strictly focus on the hike. That’s part of why I’m sending myself so many boxes. I can get in town and immediately have all the food I need, toilet paper, soap, maps, guides, extra gear, everything. No wasted time. No headache. All the headache is spent prior to the hike in regards to any logistics. I don’t need to be worrying about things I could have done prior to leaving. This also helps speed up the process, and in turn speed up my hike.
Pretty much everyone ever will say you don’t need to use mail drops for the Appalachian Trail. Same with the Florida Trail for that matter. Well, I don’t care! Their hike is not mine, and maybe they’re missing what makes drops a good thing for those who are looking to go a little bit faster, eat a little bit healthier, and spend a little less money. Probably 90% of my food on trail will be coming from the good old US Postal Service. As will my permits, maps, extra gear, and guides.
I want to be on trail as much as possible, and not be spending a lot of time in town, as typically time in town means more money spent, and more obviously less time hiking. I don’t want to stay longer than it takes me to get a meal or two, and pick up my package.
My itinerary is extremely flexible, as there are many towns in between those mentioned above, but what you see is for the most part my plan, subject to change while I’m on the move.
Something I want to do for this trip is not hitch any rides, but instead walk from the trail to all my resupplies. Not because I’m worried about those that might be picking me up in the middle of nowhere, but simply as a personal thing that I find interesting. So in that respect you’ll notice (“Mi Off”, means how many miles off trail I have to go,) all the towns I’ve chosen are as close to the trail as humanly possible. Kind of in the same mindset that I don’t want to spend much time in towns, I especially don’t want to spend much time going to and from. I used a bit of Matt Kirks resupply list from his former speed record to formulate mine for the Appalachian Trail, and had some help from John Z too. From there I used those same ideas for all the other sections of trail. Long hauls in between towns, about 140miles, and only stopping at towns that are on trail. I’ve aimed to cut out as many unnecessary stops as possible, as well.
“Days” indicates how much food I’m sending myself for any given section. It’s more of a guideline, and as you’ll notice it’s set at a fast pace. Thus giving me flexibility. I’ll send myself the food I’ll need for that distance, and buy extra in town if I don’t believe I can make those miles with just what came out of my box. I can also have post offices redirect a box elsewhere, or simply I can go into a different town closer to me. This number of days also let’s me know at just a glance how much food I sent myself essentially. 1 day, being so many snacks, 1 breakfast, and one dinner.
I hadn’t always wanted to do so many mail drops but a year ago I went vegan, and that kind of planted the seed of sending my own food. Food I know I enjoy, food I know has worked for me in the past. On most long distance trails, being vegan and not sending yourself food like I am isn’t that big of an issue. There are plenty of grocery stores and towns along the way. So why am I doing this? I’d like to avoid a gas station resupply if possible but it also stems back to a lot of what I’ve already mentioned, I’m planning a fastpack, and boxes do indeed make the process faster.
Something else you may notice is that I’m trying to avoid sending directly to post offices if I can. They have weird hours and aren’t open on Sundays, so I’ve looked into as many hostels, outfitters, and even visitor centers that will hold a box for me, to avoid the dreaded “I’m here but you’re not open,” feeling. The hours of a hostel are way nicer to live around than a government building, considering I don’t know when I’ll get to any of these places, and I’ll be wanting to make my miles.
All of this planning is in an effort to avoid little tasks, or in a lot of cases regarding this hike, big tasks. All those chores are already done!
Things to note:
- Platypus 1 liter bags – I have 2 extra. This is a long hike… Although the Appalachian Trail may have water sources everywhere, the Pinhoti Trail and beyond is a different story, so I may have these sent to me for the section between GA and FL.
- 10×9 tarp – Much larger than the one I’m bringing, if I find the one I’m using is too small I’ll swap it out for this. Unlikely, but nice to have the option. Have I mentioned already my primary shelter for this trip is a poncho tarp?
- Plastic screw top containers – This is what I use for rehydrating my food. They come in packs of three, and it may be nice to get a new one here or there over the course of the 6 month trip.
- 6oz water bottles – I’ll fill these with olive oil before I go, and ship them inside a ziploc with my boxes.
- Pack liners – A pack liner keeps the inside of your pack and its contents dry. However I use the thin ones(of course,) and they do fail after so many miles of use.
- Socks – There’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks. More specifically, I love me some purple toe socks! One day I’ll be hardcore enough to use thin nylon dress socks. Today is not that day.
- Ground sheets – Much like the thin pack liners, these groundsheets(which I sleep on) do fail. I have 4 of them here.
- Aquamira – My water purification of choice. Don’t know exactly how long these 7 will last me, but they are cheap on amazon.
- Headlamp – I use a small handheld flashlight, so this headlamp is extra. I love to night hike! Especially early morning for hours while it’s still dark. If my smaller flashlight isn’t enough, I’ll have this sent to me.
- Batteries – Both for my necklace LED light, and my handheld flashlight. This is just about enough for the whole trip. Maybe more than I’ll need at times, but I’ll save the extras, and dispose of the dead.
- Headphones – I’m not taking any with me from the start, but I may want them in the future, only time will tell!
I have a lot of extra stuff guys! The majority of this I’ll need. In efforts to save small amounts of weight(why carry the whole bottle if you can split it up into 18,) or money here and there, I’ll be sending myself a lot of replacement supplies along the way. Constantly running out of this or that, and simultaneously getting more.
Most of these items will be dived up into my boxes sent at times when I know I’ll need it. Knowing when items like a food bag, pack liner, shoes, etc will fail has come with experience. When certain items inevitably need to be replaced their sibling will be sent to me along the trail. Ideally just before the time when I actually need them! The rest will sit in a bin at resupply central in case I need any of it, I’ll just ask! My resupply manager will handle any potential changes as I won’t be leaving any of the boxes sealed when I leave. So although I’ll have everything prepared for what I think will happen, it’s always subject to change.
At the back end of this big logistical effort is my my mom, my resupply manager. Without her this trip wouldn’t go so smoothly. She will be sending me these packages, and making any changes to them from home before they are sent out to me on the trail. A big thanks for taking on this task, as it’s pretty much been pushed on her! Thanks mom!
So I guess the question now on peoples minds is why must I have every detail figured out? It’s just who I am in any aspect of my life. I believe my obsessive nature to be something that makes me different. Maybe not in the way most can be obsessive, but how I apply it to what I love.
This entire trip could be done without the majority of my preparations. Obviously it would be a very different experience, but to me, this is fun. This keeps me on track, it keeps me focused, and gives me something to look forward to every day. Not only that I have this magnificent trip ahead, but also… I get to think about this every damn day, no matter where I am, or what I’m doing. It has been a joy. Even the brief moments of headache are all forgotten in the end.
I’ve learned so very much, and I’m only just getting started.
Just scanned, but wow. Fantastic. I want to read more slowly to really get all the details you’ve included. One question, do you have any flex time built into your schedule, and/or if you took a down day somewhere would that be possible? Just wondering.
A lot of flex time, but I do want to spend as few nights in a hostel/hotel as possible. We’ll see how it goes, although I somewhat have a maximum amount of nights in mind. On the Florida Trail I will no longer have flexibility to fool around, but everything prior to that for sure.
So organized! What states are you expecting to be the most dangerous as far as wildlife goes?
Hi morgan!!!!!!!! Tell chris hi too 🙂 🙂 🙂 so happy for you guys and the new addition to your life!! I hope everything is well. I miss hanging out.
In regards to wildlife I don’t expect much trouble, because I think weather is a bigger concern. If I had to rank states for dangerous animals, I’d say Canada with its moose and bear, Or Florida with its Snakes. Depending on how well the trail is maintained in Alabama, snakes could be not fun there too 🙂
So since your obviously the king of all that there is to know about thru hiking food now I’ll come to you for some advice. Dropping my stove system next week and I’m looking for good ideas for dinners, what are some good options you’ve found work good stoveless?
Hey man, I am definitely not. I’ll PM you but since our trips are very different, I wouldnt recommend what im doing for this hike. Instead I have more interesting ideas to send your way 🙂
Ditching your stove? I hope you like couscous! Add some raisins, and seeds, maybe pine nuts too. But lots of raisins, and I love curry powder in it. Be sure to buy the NEAR EAST brand.
For breakfast buy your favorite cereal, or if you want something healthier go for granola with dried fruits. Add powdered milk, and some Chia seeds to it. Boom on trail no cook breakfast.
I just discovered your blog today and it is so detailed and helpful! Thank you for sharing! We’ve definitely got a lot in common in terms of loving to plan and prepare ahead of time. I’m starting the process of planning a thru-hike of Te Araroa, NZ Nov 2017. My first thru-hike, in a foreign country no less, but it helps that I’ve been there before and done a lot of trekking throughout. I hope to do a lot of section hiking of the FT to prepare over this upcoming winter…maybe see you on the trail as you make your way down for the final stretch! Also, if you have time and are still in the training mode, I’d like to do the OTL as a 3-day May 28-30. I’ve got my pack weight down quite a bit (not as much as you!) but still need to start zeroing in on my kit. Funny that I was all over Eric for his big red pack a few years ago and now he is lighter than me. You must have been a great influence. Good luck on your epic journey and I look forward to following along online and maybe even on the trail.
Hey Leah! The TA as your first? I think both you and I both are at a level of stupid most will never achieve! Check out asthetrailturns.wordpress.Com she did the southern island and blogged some of it. Also I’m sure you’ve listed to thetrailshow and their podcasts about the TA. Sounds rough, sounds beauitful, sounds amazing in so many ways. One day I’d like to thru hike it as well. Goodluck!
In regards to Eric, I certainly influenced him to go lighter. Now I think he needs to recognize stupid light vs practical light!
I’ll be working late May but if you feel like waiting until mid june… I was planning on hitting the OTL again during that time once or twice more. Debating a quick yoyo. Thanks for reading!
This write up has been helpful. I’m wrapping up food planning and general resupply for the PCT for 2018 (my first thru) and thought maybe you could help. Q1: Where did you purchase your beans and veggies, if you used dehydrated veggies with them? Q2: Where’d you get your small bottle’s for repackaging dr bronner’s, aquamira, etc.? I’ve tried a few different kinds of bottles in bulk, but the only ones that haven’t had leak issues were ones I purchased a few at a time from cottage gear companies, which doesn’t seem cost effective.