Enough food to stay alive

A week from today, (if everything goes according to plan) I will be embarking on the most physically strenuous activity I have ever attempted: section-hiking 150 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite to Echo Lake in Desolation Wilderness (near South Lake Tahoe). I will be tagging along with my father, who, when we meet, will have been thru-hiking the PCT for an incredible 54 days and 943 miles.

Map of the Pacific Crest Trail from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to Echo Lake in Desolation Wilderness
Route of the PCT from Tuolumne Meadows to Echo Lake

Given my dad’s average pace of 19 miles/day, I took 150 miles, divided by 19, and came up with eight days to complete the section. To my knowledge, I have never hiked 19 miles in a single day before, let alone eight days straight. When Matthew and I backpacked the High Sierras last summer, we were in the 13-14 mile range, four days in a row. My dad, rightfully so, is a little worried about how I’ll fare. He’s not alone! At this point, he’s a lean, mean, hiking machine, who prepared for the PCT by logging over 1,600 miles in and around Austin, Texas. My “training” will have consisted of walking (instead of biking) to and from work (two miles each way) for four weeks, two with my pack fully loaded.

My biggest concern isn’t the walking, however, it’s the food. Namely, I need to eat (and thus carry) enough food to stay alive for those eight days. And all that food needs to fit in a 10 liter bear canister. I’ve heard estimates that the caloric expenditure of a backpacker are in the range of 3000-6000/day. For the first time in my life I’m paying acute attention to the calories listed on the nutrition labels—in order to optimize for caloric density. Based on input from my dad, here’s the rough daily meal plan I’ve worked out.

Meal Food Calories
Breakfast 2 mojo bars 380
Snack 1 1 cliff bar 250
3 shot blocks 90
Snack 2 1 nature valley bar 190
3 shot blocks 90
Lunch 1 tortilla 150
3 tbsp peanut butter 315
jerky 135
cheese 50
fruit strip 45
Snack 3 m&m’s 220
Dinner Various 700
Total 2615

But more concerning than getting enough calories (which is certainly concerning enough) is the puzzle of getting it all to fit in the bear can. REI had their big anniversary sale recently, so I picked up 8 Mountain House Pro-Paks on sale. Turns out there ain’t no way to fit them in my bear can (and have room for anything else). At first I thought, “Heck, they’re vacuum-sealed, I’ll just carry them in my pack outside the bear can”, but that got me concerned and disapproving looks from friends and the internet. The Pro-Paks are great for convenience and weight (like ramen soups that I also jettisoned), but they suck in terms of packability and caloric density. Luckily I stumbled upon a great blog post, How to Pack a Lot of Backpacking Food into a Small Space, that got me started off on the right path. Hence I found myself headed to the grocery store for the umpteenth time in search of orzo, tortellini, mashed potatoes, M&M, and olive oil.

All the food I need to stay alive for eight days backpacking
Is this enough food to stay alive for 8 days and 150 miles?

So far I’ve managed to fit everything in the bear can except for the M&Ms and my toiletries. Now I’m starting to contemplate whether I need to pick up a slightly larger bear can. Hmm…

· Outdoors