Pacific Crest Trail hikers and riders tend to obsess about food. Traveling hard with only what’s in your pack has a way of focusing your attention on the chocolate bar that you squirreled away or your next town meal. Travel on the PCT is strenuous work. You’ll find yourself eating a significant number of calories to sustain the effort.
Most people opt for lightweight calorie dense foods that can handle the lack of refrigeration. Trail fare can be as interesting as you choose to make it.
Nutrition becomes even more important given the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail. Backpacking and riding are endurance activities at their core. The daily flushing of salts and vitamins from the body under strenuous activity and the limited availability of fresh easily-accessible nutritious foods exacerbate the problem.
Carrying a variety of minimally processed foods is probably your best strategy. You’re likely to tire of certain foods if you’re out for a long time. Be sure to mix it up.
Listen to your body and be aware of your unique nutritional needs. Supplements (multi-vitamins and vitamin C are common) may balance out your nutritional needs. Adequate salt intake is important in staving off hyponatremia.
Work to minimize your packaging. It’ll save you weight in your pack and reduce the potential for leaving litter behind. Please do not bury food scraps. Animals are attracted to these leftovers. Never wash your dishes in creeks, lakes or other water sources. Dip a container into the source and wash your pot and spoon away from the water source. Soap should never be used in these water sources either. Even “bio-degradable” soaps harm the environment.
Going no-cook is worthy of your consideration. Many people choose to skip hot meals some of the time. Some even go long distances without cooking. When temporary fire bans include stoves, everyone goes without hot meals.
You might save pack weight and you won’t have to fiddle with cooking every night.
Lots of foods can be rehydrated without heat. Some dehydrated meals are delicious and nutritious after they fully rehydrate with cold water. Some popular options for “cold-hydrated” food include:
- Beans and rice (instant white rice rehydrates better than brown)
- Mashed potatoes
- Lentil soup and corn chowder from bulk bins
- Homecooked and dehydrated meals – our favorite
- Instant ramen noodles
- Trail salads
Most trail food is no-cook by default. If you’re going without a stove, you don’t have to limit yourself to the above cold-hydrate options. Sticking to sandwhiches, wraps, and snacks is a feasible and enjoyable way to go.
Vegetarian and Vegan diets
Meat-free eaters can rejoice in the fact that businesses in trail towns are generally aware of your needs. Many people have successfully thru-hiked the PCT without eating meat.
While fresh vegetable selection can be limited, you can still eat a quality diet on the trail. You might be surprised how long some vegetables will last. We recommend eating your fill of fresh fruits and vegetables in towns and on the first few days of your trail leg. After that, dehydrated food options should satisfy you for the remaining miles to resupply.
Vegetarians and vegans are generally adept at acquiring protein from non-meat sources. On the trail your staples are likely to be nuts, meat substitutes and beans. All of these come in trail suitable varieties.
You’re probably already aware of which foods to eliminate from your trail diet. While somewhat restrictive, gulten-free is a reasonable and successful strategy on the trail. Most gluten-free eaters choose to mail themselves more resupply packages. Small stores along the trail offer mostly gluten items.
Foraging and hunting can be enjoyable pastimes, but they are not a reliable source of calories for people aiming to make miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Restrictions and a paucity of game and edibles mean that you can at best hope for an occasional treat. As always, caution is advised before consuming wild edibles.