This article was originally published on Hiker.
As Backpacker’s Pacific Crest Trail 2023 correspondent, David Gleisner is report on this year’s PCT season as he tries his own hike
For most hikers, nutrition comes down to eating enough calories to get you through the day. This can be in the form of honey rolls, instant mashed potatoes, ramen, candy, corn chips, or any other mix of processed carbs, fats, and hopefully protein. But some hikers buck the junk food trend, plan for key nutrients, and look for short ingredient lists and whole foods when packing their restocks.
I first met Melanie “Poppi” Matta on day two of my PCT trip, waiting out the desert heat under poplar trees next to a stream. She told me that next week she would stop at Warner Springs to take a supply package, the first of a long series awaiting him. It turned out that Poppi had pre-planned each of her resupplies for the entire 2,650 miles, a logistically impressive feat that came from a desire to eat foods she knew worked for her.
Poppi’s background informed her of her PCT prep while hiking. After earning a college degree in dietetics, she completed her master’s degree in holistic nutrition at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. In the months leading up to her debut date, she brought her expertise to the kitchen, dehydrating vegetablesmake protein granola and buy bars and dried fruit in bulk.
Hiking presents a unique nutritional challenge: how do you maximize calorie density, minimize weight, and ensure you’re getting enough nutrients along the way? For Poppi, it all started with a basic formula.
“Every morning I’m going to have some greens and a protein bar,” she said. “I make sure I have my protein granola for lunch. Always two portions of dried meat, six portions of dried fruit, always a basic dinner, then a certain amount of snacks.
From there, Poppi began filling his boxes with Rx Bars, protein powder, dried couscous vegetables, and snacks to fill in the gaps. She had to increase her calorie intake from the start, asking her partner and home parcel shipper to add more snacks to each box. But overall, his staples have remained the same.
“For me, it was really worth being able to plan my nutrition ahead of time with certain foods that I know will work for my digestion,” says Poppi. “The important thing was to find food that I really enjoy.”
In my three months on the trail, I’ve seen hikers take superfood capsules daily, pack avocados, sprinkle dried greens on their lunches, and do their best to eat healthy within the limits of hiking food. Kale salads, fresh watermelon and probiotic-rich yogurt are always popular foods around town as we try to fill in the gaps of what we may have missed on the trail.
As a vegetarian, I myself have faced nutritional challenges. I went into this hike knowing that I should be aware of getting enough protein, iron, and other nutrients. Dr. Brenda L. Braaten “Pack light, eat well” The recommendations helped me in my planning, but most of my learning came from experimentation, trying new food combinations and different feeding schedules until I found what worked for me. Oats for breakfastrice and beans for dinner, and lots of peanut butter, protein bars, crisps, and dried fruit in between helped keep me energized day after day.
Another key tip? Consistency.
“One big thing I focus on is eating every one to two hours,” Poppi says. “Get into that snack it’s between 100 and 400 calories, you’re constantly putting charcoal on the fire.
There’s no right way to eat, and most hikers won’t be able to plan every replenishment box for a five-month hike. The foods we eat vary from day to day and from person to person. But there are simple ways to pack in nutrients and get the most out of our trail food.
“Definitely look at ingredient lists and try to find things with shorter lists,” Poppi says. “Focus on some basic proteins. Even nuts are an excellent source of protein and fat.
I’m not sure ramen bombs (instant ramen with mashed potato as a thickener) are going anywhere. But with more options for light, packable, nutritious staples, hikers can more easily get nourishing food with every replenishment.
“The most important thing is to think about what’s going to fuel your body to do your best hike,” says Poppi. “Put the things in your body that are going to make it feel really good and strong, not just at the beginning, but until the very end when you hit that terminus.”