Some trail “towns” are, let’s face it, disappointing. Despite the guidebook telling you there is NOTHING there, you can’t help but hope for the last 30 miles into town that perhaps that isn’t up to date and, indeed, there is a newly built pizza place or pie shop at which you can gorge yourself. Or, maybe you sent yourself a resupply box, but it is 2:05pm on a Saturday and the post office closed at 2. Do you wait until Monday, stealth camped in the dugout of the town baseball field? Or, do you suck it up and hitch to that convenience store down the road and get enough to get you 3 days closer to a real meal?
When I hiked the PCT, I decided that I would send myself as few food boxes as possible, and I was very happy with that decision. Not only did I notice that other hikers became dissatisfied with the type and amount of food that they sent themselves, but it seemed that their hike was highly dependent on an entity out of their hands–the US Postal Service. By the time I got a couple hundred miles in, I had figured out, and resigned myself to the fact, that I could survive on junk food.
I’m not trying to convince you that you need to eat junk all of the time, but you should know that if a convenience store is all you have, you could do worse! Nowadays, when I see there is a convenience store near the trail, instead of cringing, I embrace it. There are actually a lot of options if you open your mind a bit. When else other than thru hiking will you be able to eat this kind of crap?
WARNING: If you are new to thru hiking, the rest may be disturbing.
First, hit up the ice cream. I actually don’t love ice cream as much as some of my fellow hikers, but I recognize the draw here. Many convenience stores have a pretty good selection of bars and novelties. This may be your first stop, and it may help you calm the stomach so that you don’t over-resupply on gummies alone.
Aside from the obvious bar options, breakfasts are pretty plentiful in convenience stores. I’ll buy a few of the cereal cups and pour them into a ziplock. Powdered coffee creamer from the coffee area works pretty good as a milk substitute. You can just add it straight to the bag of cereal to save on packaging.
Pop Tarts are decent too, and they usually have the single packs at convenience stores.
Pastries, fruit pies, and muffins another obvious ones, with lots of calories!
But, you can also carry out those frozen breakfast burritos or the breakfast sandwiches with the pre-cooked meat on them. They thaw out nicely in the pack in about half a day (depending on temps) and are not terrible when eaten cold. Just don’t let them sit in your pack for more than about a day.
Snacks are pretty obvious and plentiful in convenience stores. Some of my favorite hiking partners don’t actually do meals of any kind, they just eat various different snack foods all day. Not for me, but it works for some. And, if you are out of fuel, unless you use an alcohol stove and buy yourself some HEET, you may need to choose no-cook options for this section anyway.
I will often carry out some ready-to-eat food for lunch (or dinner) from the hot food area. Pizza, wings, burritos, and hot dogs keep okay in the pack for a day.
Crackers, meat (pepperoni, salami, bologna, even ham), and cheese keep pretty good for up to 2-3 days (unless you are in the desert).
If you can find tortillas or bagels, score! Do a tortilla with a little can of bean dip (shown above) and a piece of cheese (shown below). Or, a bagel or tortilla with a tuna foil pouch, a packet of mayo, and a packet of relish!
Often, the best you can find is a box of Triscuits or Ritz. No problem! They work good with tuna too. Or cheese, peanut butter, salami, or cream cheese (they often sell the little packets). If you don’t like your crackers mangled into dust, store them in your cook pot.
Any of the things mentioned previously will work for dinners. Convenience stores also usually have ramen, mac and cheese, instant mashed potatoes, or instant rice. If you get something really plain, peruse the condiments over by the hot dogs and nachos. Frozen burritos are one of my favorites (eaten thawed). The frozen burgers (don’t forget to grab some condiment packets) are also decent thawed and eaten cold. Or, if they only sell microwavable pizzas, you can usually use their microwave and heat one up before you leave.
Many of these suggestions are not the lightest. You will want to eat the heaviest first, which is often also the things that go bad the quickest.
2. Food safety
I have my Bachelor’s in Public Health. You would think that would make me more cautious, but it actually made me realize just how much I can get away with out on the trail. All of these processed foods have such high nitrates, sodium, and other preservatives–and they are packaged so well–that they keep much longer than you would think (temperature-dependent). Cheese may melt and get greasy and cream cheese may separate and look curdled. The manufacturer wants to have their product look appealing, so their shelf life and refrigeration requirements are very conservative.
That being said, don’t completely disregard food safety standards. Eat deli meat and thawed burritos within a day, if possible, especially on hot days. And, bury perishable items in the middle of your pack to insulate them. Preservatives can only keep food “good” for so long!
Also, make sure if you buy frozen or fresh items that all of the ingredients are pre-cooked. I once bought a chicken cordon blue, thinking I could thaw and eat it cold. But, the chicken was raw.
I always have a few extra zippered bags on hand for repackaging food during my resupply. They stay pretty clean when they just have bread products or pastas in them.
This can also be a costly way to re-supply, but it is still often cheaper than a mailed box.
If you are short on fuel, and you can’t get any that works with your stove in this “town”, you can still soak most of the pastas, instant potatoes, or instant rice in cold water for a while to rehydrate it. It takes anywhere from 0 minutes (instant mashed potatoes), to 10 minutes (ramen), to over an hour (mac n’ cheese). But it will rehydrate!
Here is an example of one day’s worth of food that I would probably get at a convenience store:
- General Mills XL Golden Grahams Treats Bar (250 cal)
- Entenmann’s Little Bites Blueberry Mini Muffins (130 cal per bag)
- Pringles Sour Cream and Onion Potato Crisps (150 cal per oz., 6 servings)
- Blue Diamond Wasabi and Soy Sauce Almonds (170 cal per oz., 6 servings)
- Ritz Crackers (140 cal/oz.)–put in Pringles container when it is empty
- Tilla-moos Colby Jack Snack Cheeses (120 cal/oz.)
- Pre-Sliced Salami (~110 cal/oz.)
- Tropical Skittles (250 cal)
- Don Miguel Bomb Burrito w/ Hot Sauce Packet (960 cal)