I have read varying figures about how many calories you burn backpacking the John Muir Trail (JMT) – anywhere between 2,500 and 6,000 per day. A popular rule of thumb is to have 1.5-2 lb of food per day, per person.
This general guidance is useful in terms of imagining what your final pack weight might be, or as a starting point. But I think that the only sure-fire way to know what your body actually needs is to practice on some shorter trips. This will also help you to decide what you actually like to eat and will make sure that you are familiar with how to pack, prepare and cook your food.
The difference in what I can eat on a day hike, to what I start to crave come day three or four of a trip with my backpack is pretty phenomenal.
My typical day of food
I ate about 3,000 – 3,500 calories a day on the JMT. In addition to feeling full (obviously), I was keen to have food that was as close to ‘normal’ as possible. I almost certainly gained some pack weight because of this, but it was a compromise that I was happy with. I was happy with pretty simple meals and the repetitive nature of my dinners became a source of amusement for my companions.
If you are – understandably – appalled at my lack of inventiveness, there are some amazing back-country cooking websites out there that you can check out.
- Instant coffee with full fat powdered milk.
- Oatmeal with hot water, re-hydrated fruit and full fat powdered milk. Some people get really sick of oatmeal, but somehow I didn’t.
Morning snack one
- A variety of nuts and dried fruit – mango, apricots and roasted and salted cashews were my favourites. These are heavier than some processed snacks per calorie, but I loved the flavour and ‘realness’ of them.
Morning snack two
- Towards the second half I needed a extra snack in the morning.
- A protein based snack at lunch. This would be something savoury like cheese, jerky or salami.
- Don’t go overboard – I realised I’d carried nearly a pound of salami in my first week. Who carries a pound of sausage 60 miles?!
- I think it’s a good idea to have plenty of savoury snacks. I met a lot of people who were getting sick sweet energy bars and gels. I was gifted a lot!
- A waffle or Pro Bar most afternoons.
- Flavoured couscous with re-hydrated vegetables and either a packet of tuna or salmon. I also took a few small packets of hot sauce and olive oil.
- I added a starter of ramen for the last few evenings (when my metabolism went off the scale).
- A sweet snack – generally whatever was left from the day.
- A hot drink. I took a lot of tea (yes, I’m English) and hot chocolate.
- I sneaked in a little bit of red wine and whiskey too. It was worth the weight to me.
My John Muir Trail food prep
I decanted pretty everything from the shop bought packaging into Ziploc bags. It’s surprising how much weight and bulk you can lose by doing this, which is key to squeezing everything into your bear can.
I portioned out the ingredients for my dinners and breakfasts in separate ziplocks to save a bit of time and faff on the trail. It also made preparing the meals a lot easier as I could just add boiling water to the bag, zip it up, and let it re-hydrate whilst I got on with something else. As a little bonus it also works really nicely as a hand warmer and you can eat straight from the bag (no need for washing up or a bowl!)
I kept all the snacks together in big Ziplocks, but made up little snack bags the night before for the next day. If you’re packing and sending out all of your resupplies, you could do this at home, although I found I wanted more or less some days.
Remember to have a large Ziploc bag in each resupply for all of your rubbish – pack it in, pack it out.
To stove or not to stove?
I tried going stove-less for a couple of days on a trip in Scotland. It may have been the rain, but I really missed having a hot coffee in the morning and the warming effect of a hot meal. The only good thing was that I did get moving a lot quicker in the morning. But I personally quite like taking my time with coffee and breakfast and missed that part of my routine.