One of the most asked questions of thru-hikers from non-hikers is “But how do you carry food for that long?”, “What do you eat?” or some iteration of concern about how we feed ourselves on trail. What most people don’t realize is that these trails are not in the middle of nowhere. The trail passes through, or very close to, numerous “resupply points”. A resupply point can be anywhere from a bustling city like Portland, OR, to a lakeside resort in the middle of the Sierra, like Vermillion Valley Ranch. The majority of resupply points are small towns. One of the cool things about doing a long hike (at least, for a city girl like me) is to visit these small towns and meet the people who inhabit them, most of whom are very familiar with the PCT, and value their slower pace of life near the great outdoors. In this post, I want to go over the towns I went into, adding commentary about certain ones, and then go into the food I ate on trail. I only ask that you withhold judgment once we get into the food discussion. Most thru-hikers are simultaneously proud and ashamed of the food we consume on trail.
Number of towns visited: 47
Number of towns resupplied in: 34
Number of towns resupply purchased in: 24
Number of towns mailed resupply to: 11
1 - Lake Morena
2 - Mount Laguna
3 - Julian
4 - Warner Springs
5 - Idyllwild
6 - Big Bear Lake
7 - Wrightwood
8 - Acton KOA
9 - Agua Dulce
10 - Casa de Luna
11 - Wee Vill Market
12 - Tehachapi
13 - Lake Isabella
14 - Kennedy Meadows South
15 - Bishop
16 - Mammoth Lakes
17 - Tuolumne Meadows
18 - Kennedy Meadows North
19 - Echo Lake
20 - Donner Pass/ Auburn, CA
21 - Sierra City
22 - Buck's Lake
23 - Belden/ Caribou Crossroads
24 - Chester
25 - Old Station
26 - Burney Mountain Guest Ranch
27 - Burney Falls State Park
28 - Burney
29 - Mt. Shasta
30 - Etna
31 - Seiad Valley
32 - Ashland/Medford
33 - Mazama Village (Crater Lake NP)
34 - Shelter Cove Resort
35 - Big Lake Youth Camp
36 - Ollalie Lake Resort
37 - Timberline Lodge
38 - Cascade Locks
39 - Portland
40 - Hood River
41 - Trout Lake
42 - White Pass
43 - Snoqualmie Pass
44 - Steven's Pass
45 - Leavenworth
46 - Holden Village
47 - Stehekin
The towns listed in black are places I visited and sort of passed through. I either slept, or ate food at these places. I almost never skipped an opportunity to eat town food. There are some places not listed that I also happened to get town food from: like the random fire station parking lot on trail that LOL and I ordered pizza to.
Some places where I mailed a resupply to, I also supplemented with food in the area. For example, I did not really resupply in Agua Dulce. I had a few care packages sent to me from friends/ family, and some leftover food from the last stretch, so I didn’t need to buy anything extra. This happened to work out well, since I heard the market was really low on hiker food when I was there. In Stehekin, I knew I’d be visiting the famed bakery, and purposefully left out lunches of the box. I had a couple leftover ramens from the last stretch since I went through faster than previously anticipated, and bought the rest of my lunches at the bakery (yes, I had a giant cinnamon roll everyday for the last 3 days on trail).
Changes I’d Make For Next Time
I would not send a box to Warner Springs or Burney Mountain Guest Ranch. Both of these places have a highly curated hiker store with meals for a stove and cold soaking. Sure, they may be slightly more expensive than the grocery store, but you don’t have to pay for shipping, so I think its a wash. I personally think you can go through all of California without sending a resupply box, unless you only like fancy food or have a strict diet.
I solely depended on care packages and Yogi’s store, Triple Crown Outfitters, at Kennedy Meadows South. I definitely think you could easily resupply from TCO for your first stretch through the Sierra, all the way to Kearsarge Pass. You’ll probably be getting a package with your Sierra gear in it, but I don’t see a reason to add food to that package. TCO had the hiker food down.
Better OR/WA Planning
I think I did this decently well, and I obviously survived, but there are a couple things I would do differently next time.
Hindsight being 20/20, and in my particular situation, I would mail ahead all of my OR/WA boxes from Medford. There is a huge Walmart in Medford, with incredibly cheap food and a huge variety. They had way more variety of Knorr Rice Sides, Ramen flavors, candy, and snacks than any grocery store. There was also a Trader Joes and REI in town, which made for nice supplementary snacks. My parents also visited me in Ashland/Medford, but I know other hikers rented cars for the day, or took public transportation to Medford from Ashland just to resupply in the cheaper Medford.
Why? Because when I got to Cascade Locks to resupply for Washington, it was a shit show. The local market in Cascade Locks sucks. Sure, it can get you to Trout Lake, but I was trying to resupply for all of Washington at this market. This sentiment was shared by other hikers in the store. This led me to going to Portland AND Hood River to finish my resupply. I do think the resupply options in Washington are good enough to supplement sent boxes. So if you just buy the basics and snacks you know you want, but know you can’t get in gas stations (like specialty snacks from Trader Joes, for instance), it will be easy to add on more food if you find your pace has slowed down, or add more food if you realize you’re hungrier. So, you don’t need to precisely plan the Washington boxes in Medford.
If I didn’t send everything from Medford, when I got to Cascade Locks, I should have taken the bus directly to Hood River. The public transportation was cheap, the UPS store is next to the local grocery store, and there’s also a Walmart in Hood River. It would have been much smarter to resupply for all of Washington here.
I would not have gone to Portland. Portland was so spur-of-the-moment as a day trip from Cascade Locks, born out of frustration of the terrible resupply in Cascade Locks and a desire to eat donuts and Salt & Straw and Grassa. And while I had fun, it was a whirlwind, and I could have better spent the day resting.
Even though I sent boxes to Washington, and I personally would again, I think you could not send boxes to Washington, except for Stehekin. Trout Lake was good for a 3 day to White Pass. At White Pass, you can go to Packwood, with a real grocery store, or just resupply at the Kracker Barrel gas station (but you’ll probably be eating exclusively Ramen, chips, meat sticks, and candy to Snoqualmie. But some people can make it work). Snoqualmie Pass’s gas station was surprisingly good, and its only 2.5-3 days to Steven’s Pass. At Steven’s you can go to Skykomish or Leavenworth pretty easily to buy food. I would not send a box to Steven’s Pass again, just because there are two towns nearby to go to. For me personally, it would have saved me the Hood River stop, since I only went there to send a box via UPS to Steven’s Pass, since they only accept UPS or FedEx. I did this as a little insurance for myself, though. I was meeting friends at Steven’s Pass, and wanted to make sure I’d still have food if something came up and they were no longer able to meet me and take me to Leavenworth.
Using Zero Day Resupply
I’d definitely consider not stressing with shopping in Oregon or Washington, and just using a company like Zero Day Resupply to send all of my resupply boxes to those towns.
Places I Thought Were Difficult to Resupply In
Echo Lake - This one probably won’t impact most people. Usually people go into South Lake Tahoe, but I did not, so I resupplied here. It is a very small shop with high prices and lacking variety. I basically ate ramen, oreos, and kind bars from here to Truckee. Let’s just say, I was really happy to eat town food after that. The deli and ice cream is reeealllyyy good here though, so I’d highly recommend stopping here anyways since its right on trail and get an ice cream and pack out a sandwich for lunch/ dinner.
Sierra City - Was definitely lacking a good assortment of hiker food. They were even out of sunscreen when I went through. The store is pretty expensive as well, though similar to many very small town markets. Cost wouldn’t be a deterrent for me, but variety would.
Caribou Crossroads - They did have decent hiker food, but again, very lacking in assortment and volume. Lots of things were sold out, and they weren’t restocking. It was cheaper than Belden, but I’d probably buy from the Belden store. The free camping and diner food was good though! However, both will have sufficient food to get you to Chester, which is really only ~2.5 days away.
Seiad Valley - This store was also really lacking in variety and volume. Most of the shelves were empty. I didn’t resupply here, but I was trying to buy something to put together as dinner that night, and it was slim pickings. The cafe is amazing though. I wish they were open for dinner!
Mazama Village - Really just car camping food. Would definitely send a box.
Big Lake Youth Camp - You would need to send a box here. Or just go to Bend/ Sisters if you aren’t doing boxes in Oregon. Good news though. There were lots of people offering rides/ day trips from BLYC to Sisters & Bend when I was there, so you could stop by to do laundry & take a shower & eat & sleep for a donation, and see if a trail angel could bring you to town to shop for groceries only.
Olallie Lake Resort - It was tiny and expensive, and CASH ONLY. But, they did have hiker food.
Timberline Lodge - No viable resupply options here unless you ordered moderately expensive food from the restaurant and packed out that for your resupply to Cascade Locks.
Cascade Locks - Like I said above, fine for just getting to Trout Lake or White Pass, but not for all of Washington.
White Pass - You could do it if you like to eat gas station food, but this would be a difficult place to do a full resupply. Great for supplementing a box, though!
Steven’s Pass - You’re basically SOL if you don’t send a box here. You would definitely need to hitch to Skykomish or Leavenworth, preferably, Leavenworth.
Stehekin - Some people pride themselves on resupplying entirely from the bakery to get to Canada, but I am not one of those people. There are some snacks in the gift shop store, but you should send a box here.
Hiker Food & Eating Habits
There are, surprisingly, many schools of thought when it comes to food for thru-hiking, or long distance section hiking. Some people will avidly count calories. Others make sure all of their food is above the 100 cal/oz threshold for a good calorie-weight ratio. Some will even make that number higher: 120 cal/oz. Some people will home cook and dehydrate all of their meals before the trail, others live off of junk food the whole time. I couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the ways to eat on trail, so I’m just going to tell you what I did. From my observations, it seemed that many people on trail ate similarly to me.
Its also worth noting a few things about my eating style:
I cold soaked my food in the Desert, Sierra, NorCal, and Oregon. What this means is everything I bought & ate was “no cook”, and I generally just cold soaked my dinners, only occasionally soaking lunches.
99.9% of the time I had a sit-down lunch and dinner; breakfast was always on-the-go.
I didn’t count calories, though I tried to keep the majority of my food above the 100 cal/oz “threshold” for a decent calorie-weight ratio, but taste and cravings were the most important.
Breakfast was the meal that had the least variation during my whole thru-hike, and it never really bothered me. Breakfast was always either a Belvita cracker pack or PopTart pack. Sometimes I tried the KIND breakfast bar things. I would alternate which one with resupplies, and got sick of PopTarts briefly in the desert. I tried to mix it up as much as possible with flavors, to try to prevent getting tired/ repulsed by one.
For probably over 50% of the trail, I also had Carnation Instant Breakfast drink mixes with breakfast. I’d use two packets to mix into my 0.7L bottle. Sometimes I’d add a Starbucks Via packet, or chia seeds. I would only have the “Rich Milk Chocolate” flavor. I was scared to try the vanilla or strawberry. Carnation also has protein and vitamins & minerals so I felt slightly healthy when starting my day with it.
Since breakfast was not very caloric, I ate snacks constantly throughout the morning until lunchtime, which was usually around 12-1 pm. These morning snacks were mainly bars and fruit snacks. I found that Welches fruit snacks are the best. So much better than Motts or some other off brand gummy. Welches all the way! Bars were all over the place, but the key was variety. So many people get sick of Clif bars instantly. I tried to keep it to one Clif bar per day, and with flavor variety, so I wouldn’t get burned out. I should mention that I HATE nuts. So anything that was purely whole nuts I can’t handle, but its ok if there are chunks of them in there, or ground, or whatever. But I will never be able to eat a pure KIND bar, for instance. I know, I’m weird. If you like nuts, you can have more bar variety. I finally got into a rhythm of doing 3 bars, 1-2 fruit snacks, 1 cracker/ snack pack thing, and 1 candy bar as my allotment for morning snacks. Sometimes I had some sort of energy snack like a Gu gel, which was nice to eat when my stomach started growling and I still needed to walk 2 miles before lunch… it kept me from getting too hangry. Sometimes I’d eat all of this before lunch, sometimes I wouldn’t. My hunger definitely fluctuated on trail, throughout the whole trail. And I wasn’t really doing this in the desert. IDK what I was doing in the desert, but NorCal-Canada, this was the formula I used. Also, all of these snacks + my breakfast bar fit into my hip belt pocket, so I never had to stop to eat in the morning.
After lunch I usually wasn’t that hungry, but if I was, I’d eat anything leftover from the morning, and snack on whatever random goodie I packed for myself for that stretch: cookies, keebler, fruit squeeze, whatever.
Bars: Clif Bars (only the regular and builder - I hated the nut butter & fruit smoothie ones), Bobo’s bars, Larabars, Chewy Bars, Z bars, Nature Valley Oat Bars, Probars, Lunabars, KIND pressed fruit bars (banana + chocolate SO GOOD).
Fruity Snacks: Island Fruits, Berries & Cherries, Tangy Fruits, Apple Orchard Medley were my faves (from Welches), fruit leathers, gushers (didn’t eat these that often, idk why), squeezable fruit mush/ baby foods, dried fruit: cranberries and mango are my faves. Wild berries in Washington were great treats!
Savory Snacks: Keebler crackers, Flavor blast Goldfish, Cheeze-its, wasabi peas (stopped eating these in the desert, but I can’t remember finding them later on). Basically any kind of crunchy, savory snack in a fun-sized package.
Other Random Snacks: Animal circus cookies, nutella/ Jif individual packets w/ pretzels/ sticks to dip, olive packets, bagged cereal, Oreos.
Energy Snacks: Honey Stinger gummys, Gu Gels, Energy Stroopwafels.
Candy Bars: Snickers (regular, almond, peanut butter), Dark Midnight Milky Way, Butterfinger, Mounds are my favorites.
Candy: Sour gummy worms were my favorites, but also did regular gummy bears, and tropical Skittles. I’d eat these mainly as dessert, after dinner, but would also throw them in my hip pocket to snack on in the afternoon.
Chips: I really didn’t snack on chips during the day, usually just eating them with Lunch, but sometimes I snacked on them while filtering water. My favorites were Ruffle cheddar, Kettle cooked Lays, Honey BBQ Frito twists, Pringles (the can fits perfectly in the side pocket of your backpack & is super light & you can put your trash in it when you accidentally throw out your trash bag). I was always craving Salt & Vinegar or Cheddar flavors.
I had difficulties with lunch, mainly because I would get sick of these meals pretty quickly. I had a few staples though, and I’ll list them in order of when I was eating them. A general rule of thumb I had was to make sure I was eating carbs, protein, and fats during lunch so I would have a variety of energy sources.
Tuna Tortillas: Ate this a lot in the desert. I liked the tuna packet flavors that had some spice: buffalo, jalapeño, thai flavor, etc. I also tried to eat the ones with olive oil/ sunflower oil (bc more calories & healthy fat), but those didn’t taste good. I usually put a packet of mayo and handful of chips in the tortilla to add extra flavor and texture. Needless to say, I got sick of these and didn’t eat tuna after NorCal.
Salami Tortillas: Just like tuna tortillas, but with salami. Also added mayo packets and chips for the extra flavor and texture, and added cheese, of course, usually string cheese. I hated having to slice cheese & salami, so I preferred the pre-sliced packaged stuff. I got sick of this too in California, and was reminded of this when I tried to do it for lunches for a little bit in Oregon.
Mini Pizzas: I owe this one to my mom. It takes a little work and is kind of messy, but its a nice change of pace & taste. English muffins + Bobli pizza sauce + Hormel pepperoni + Babybel cheese. I only did this a few times just because it was kind of hard to eat and took a little long to assemble. Didn’t get sick of the flavors though!
Avocados + Carbs: English muffins + avocado + red pepper packets. So yummy, but avocados are heavy, and packing out the pit and skin is heavy. I did this once, and the avocado got punctured and it got on my food bag and other food. So yummy though!
Cold-Soaked & Cooked Dinners: see examples in the Dinner category - this was sometimes more convenient, but I was never happy during the stretches where lunch and dinner were essentially the same.
PB & J Bagels: I held off on peanut butter for a while, because on a previous backpacking trip I never ate the PB I packed bc I never wanted to eat it. So I kinda wrote off eating PB while backpacking. In NorCal, after being sick of tuna and salami, I decided to give it a try and I can’t believe I waited so long. Bagels are heavy, but high in calories, and so is peanut butter. I loved the Skippy Natural w/ Honey kind. I used the Smuckers Squeezable Strawberry jam. It’s heavy and not very caloric, but necessary to add moisture and flavor. It is just so yummy and I highly recommend this as a good backpacking lunch. I could go ~6-7 days on one jar of PB and Jam, so about 2 resupply stops, meaning in town #2 I only needed to buy more bagels!
Packed Out Town Food: I didn’t do this nearly as much as I should! But it was always great to have town food for the first lunch back on trail: pizza, burritos, sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, etc.
I always looked forward to dinner time! Dinner signified the end of my hiking day. I usually ate it in my quilt, in my tent, in a partially upright position. I cold soaked for the majority of the trail, and all of my dinners were either cold soaked or cooked. If there was no protein in the main part of dinner, which was usually the case, I added a meat stick for protein and fat.
Knorr Rice Sides: These were a huge staple in my dinner diet. I got sick of the broccoli & cheddar flavor early on, but all of the other ones are great. I was always excited when the Asian flavor one was in the store, which almost never happened. I ate these cold soaked and hot. Cold soaking took ~4 hours to get everything nice and soft.
Ramen: Another huge staple. I love ramen and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it. I didn’t do anything fancy with it, just the full pack + full flavor pack. Beef & Chili were my favorite flavors, and I ate the Top Ramen and Maruchan brands. I also ate this cold soaked and hot. When I was feeling extra fancy, sometimes I splurged for the large Shin ramen brand packs with veggie and spice packs.
Mashed Potatoes: Idahoan brand all the way. I had to be careful here: I knew I could get sick of these fairly easily, so I made sure to only have one per resupply, sometimes leaving them out entirely. My favorite flavors were loaded, garlic, and baby reds. The baby reds had a nice texture, with a little crunch, which was nice. I also did these cold and hot, and though I am a fan of cold soaking, I will admit that they taste better hot. Some people make a creation called a Ramen bomb, which is a pack of ramen + some mashed potato flakes. I never did this, but its pretty popular.
Couscous: I liked the Near East brand pine nut and garlic flavors. I didn’t have couscous very often, For some reason I couldn’t really stomach eating a whole box in one sitting, and got bored of the flavors. I did have it occasionally though and would split one box into 2 ziplocs for 2 dinners. Not a lot of calories this way though, so I’d have to make sure to eat more chips and maybe 2 meat sticks or something. I like couscous in real life, not sure why I had a slight aversion to it on trail. I only cold soaked couscous.
Annie’s Mac & Cheese: Can’t really gush enough about annie’s mac & cheese. I loved the shells, white or regular cheddar. This was probably the best part of using a stove, as you can only cook pasta. Cold soaking just doesn’t work for it. So yeah, mac & cheese is the best and idk who you are as a person if you don’t like it. This does use a decent amount of fuel and time to cook, but its not too bad.
Dehydrated Meals: Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Good to Go, etc. Those are my favorite brands, and when I used a stove, I ate them occasionally. I never bought them (they’re definitely more expensive than ramen!), but my mom loved buying and sending them to me. Thanks mom! These usually had protein in them, so I didn’t eat meat sticks when I had one of these around.
Knorr Pasta Sides: Never really got into this. You definitely can’t cold soak these, and I craved mac & cheese for pasta when I had a stove. If I carried a stove for the whole trail, I probably would have dabbled in these more.
Meat: For fat & protein, I’d add a meat stick to these super carby meals. Sometimes beef jerky, sometimes a tuna packet (but hardly every that bc I’d get sick of too much tuna). Chef’s Cut BBQ chicken was my favorite flavor. I also loooove Slim Jims. I liked the Tillamook brand for a bit, but then got really grossed out by the texture. Epic meat bars were amazing. The Bison cranberry bacon flavor was my favorite. However, these didn’t have as many calories and fat content as chef’s cut and slim jims, and were heavier. I’m picky about beef jerky, so only got it when I knew I liked the brand (like in Yosemite!).
Overall, I was pretty happy with my food. The only thing I truly got sick of was tuna. On a future thru-hike, I would probably eat like this again. I think variety is really key when you’re on a thru-hike. Don’t only buy Clif bars or Ramen, because you’ll probably get sick of it real fast. If you feel like you’re getting sick of something, try to trade on trail, and make sure you don’t buy that thing in the next town. Give it a week or so, and you’ll probably be ok eating whatever it is again. I never held back on food cravings. You really don’t have to. You’re burning so many calories that you don’t have to feel bad about eating a whole box of Oreos! So if you see something in the grocery store and you’re just like, YES I need to eat that, then buy it. You’ll smile every time you eat it on trail.
If I was going to dabble in sending more boxes or for a hike that didn’t involve resupply, I’d want to experiment at home a little bit more with dehydrating my own food. There are definitely down falls to eating crap, and although I didn’t necessarily feel depleted, I probably was lacking in certain nutrients. It would be nicer to eat healthier on shorter thru-hikes too, when you might not have enough time to lose a lot of weight and eating terrible foods will catch up to you faster. I’d definitely experiment in making meals higher in fat content, and maybe try making my own breakfast bars that are more nutritious and filling.
I hope this was helpful if you’re in the midst of trying to figure out your re-supply strategy! As always, leave a comment, or send me an email if you have more questions.