First things first. Let me begin by saying that I think thru-hiking is incredible, wonderful, fantastic, life-changing, eye-opening, challenging and beautiful (just to use a few descriptors). It’s no secret that I’m a big fan. There is nothing like starting at one point, be it the US/Mexico border or at any trailhead, and knowing that everything you need for your journey is on your back and for now all you have to do is walk, eat, sleep and take time to enjoy being alive on this earth. I’ve been lucky to accomplish a few big and “smaller” thru-hikes thus far, having completed the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 and 2016, most of the John Muir Trail in 2015, and one of the most epic “smaller” thru-hikes I can think of, the Wind River High Route, stitched together by Andrew Skurka.
Obviously gear choices are a huge part of planning a thru-hike and can make or break your hike to a certain degree. My first seven hundred miles on the PCT in 2013 I started off with the wrong shoes and it could have easily taken me off the trail. Luckily I settled into a nice comfy pair right when I hit the Sierra Nevada and the rest is history. Equally important is a good resupply strategy that fits your individual needs and style. You can have all the latest ultra light gear but if you are not eating enough calories or not listening to your body’s needs you might find yourself dragging down the trail, or in some cases having to leave the trail altogether—unfortunately I’ve seen this happen more than a few times. Nutrition is paramount when you are hiking anywhere from 15-35 miles per day, day in and day out. You are burning an insane amount of calories and your body needs good proteins, carbs and nutrients to carry on each day and recover.
There are several different “styles” to how people go about resupplying. One way is the “I’ll see how it goes when I get there” style which is easy enough to do on well established trails like the AT or PCT when you have well known resupply spots and towns along the way. However, some spots are less than ideal—such as a gas station mini-mart, for example—and you start to wonder how many more Pop Tarts you can stomach. Going about your resupply this way can end up being costly and some people are more susceptible to the ill effects of such a diet. I’ve seen a lot of people lose a startling amount of weight because they aren’t getting enough calories. Not to say that this strategy doesn’t work well for some people, as many can find the right balance of foods that work for them. In my case, I just know my body doesn’t do well for extended periods of time if I’m not eating well. It’s worth noting that from 2013 to 2016 there were four times as many people on trail and some places that are crucial to resupply (like Kennedy Meadows) ran out of food altogether and some were left scrambling, figuring out what they were going to eat at the beginning of the Sierra leg.
Another style is the “I’m going to plan, prepare/ buy everything and have it ready to be shipped before I even set foot on trail.” When my fiancée and I did the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 this is exactly what we did. We wanted to save money by buying in bulk, taking advantage of any pro deals/sales we could get and we meticulously counted out all meals and snacks down to to every last ounce and calorie. One of my favorite moments was going to a grocery store armed with coupons to buy Cascadia granola that was on sale and we ended up paying like a dollar a box and filled up an entire grocery cart with granola. We got some really good looks and when we got home we were able to build a castle in the living room with granola boxes. And yeah, turns out I totally got sick of this granola way sooner than I had thought I would pre-trail!
We did our best to consider things such as: variety, healthy food vs. junk food, and spreading things out over time. This method is great for many people, especially people who have special diets or are super health conscious because you can really make sure that you are getting the nutrients that you need. Also for those who are resourceful and have the time to make their own delicious dehydrated meals. Personally, between work, life and PCT planning there was no way we had much time to spend time with the dehydrator.
The next time I hiked the PCT, fortunately I was able to draw from my experiences in 2013, and knew exactly what items to include in our resupply boxes and the places in town where a resupply was preferred. Let’s call this the “half plan, buy and ship/half wait and see how I feel when I get there,” resupply style. I was able to do some bulk ordering online, took advantage of sales on bars and snacks when I saw them in stores and knew exactly what I wanted as a staple for my dinners on trail. I first tried Good To-Go’s Thai Curry on my 2015 John Muir Trail hike. My hiking partner and I had only bought one at the local REI and I can picture the exact camp spot where we first opened up the package and exclaimed, “oh my god, there’s broccoli in here!” We were on the trail for 11 straight days and the sight of broccoli and other vegetables was almost enough to bring tears to our eyes. We could not get over how good the ingredients were and how incredible it tasted. It was pretty much one of, if not the best, meal I have ever had in the backcountry. I am not exaggerating either. I have logged over 8,000 plus backcountry miles and have tried pretty much every backpacking food option on the market, and nothing even comes close to Good to Go. Plus, as an added bonus, it’s not filled with preservatives, excessive amounts of sodium, or other ingredients that can disrupt digestion during a hike.
I try to have a healthy mix of foods that I know are really good for me and hopefully have the taste to match and then just straight up high-calorie junk food like candy bars, chips etc., that make up a decent portion of any thru-hiker’s diet. I can eat junk for a bit because, well, it’s tastes really good (duh!) and it has a lot of calories for energy. That said, I definitely notice a difference in my body and energy level when I eat healthier snacks and meals. It’s just a matter of balance and that’s why Good To-Go meals are awesome—they are the perfect combination of light weight, calorie and nutrient dense, and they just taste damn good. It was like Christmas when we would get a resupply box that had some Thai Curry, Mushroom Risotto or Smoked Three Bean Chili.
If you find yourself lucky enough to have enough time to thru-hike, whether it’s just a week or two or an entire summer, definitely do it! You will not regret it and you will realize it’s much more about the journey than the destination. Definitely set yourself up with great gear but also some great food to fuel you through your journey however you go about it.
Next up for me is hopefully a thru-hike of the Grand Canyon which only roughly a dozen people have ever completed and I know Good to Go will be a vital part to my resupply plan. Thanks for reading and happy hiking!