PCT Food Review Part 1 – Breakfast

Generally speaking, thru hikers think about food more than anything else – including the next water source! It’s on our minds every minute of every day. Our thoughts are consumed by our hunger and our cravings. No matter who you hike with or how amazing the scenery, the conversation will always come back to food.

“What will I eat in town?

What will I buy for the next section?

What awaits in the box I sent myself?”

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What goodies do we have in here?

In the this series of posts we hold nothing back as we review everything we ate on the trail. We are going to break down our reviews into 4 separate posts. In this post, we will cover breakfast. The following posts will include mid morning snacks and lunches, dinner and bars.

Before we get started, there are a few things you should know.

1) Laurie is gluten intolerant and Andy reads the nutrition labels of everything he eats. This meant we packed all our food in advance and Andy’s dad graciously shipped all our resupply boxes to us along the trail. We only bought fresh foods in towns or whatever packaged foods we were craving, but never fully resupplied in town.

2) We actively sought out sponsors for our hike to help offset the higher cost of quality foods. Every company below with an * next to their name either gave us free food or a discount. While we remain grateful to these companies, their generosity has not influenced our comments.

3) We love to eat. We care about the quality of food we ingest and put a lot of time and money into making sure we ate real food rather than junk. Most hikers expend anywhere from 4000-6000 calories/day (depending on speed, terrain and distance walked). The typical thru hiker diet consists of Idahoans, ramen, snicker bars, pop tarts, trail mix and Clif bars. We wanted real food.  We carried at least 10 – 25% more food than most other thru hikers. Our packs were heavier but we never went hungry.

We strongly believe our eating habits allowed us to complete the hike without any major sickness or injury. Our bodies changed but neither of us lost more than 10 lbs. Our food plan provided our bodies with adequate nutrition to build muscle mass rather than destroy and waste away with the long days and constant pounding. Nutritious food allowed us to stay healthy to enjoy each section of the trail.

Breakfast

We usually had a bar for breakfast once we hit the trail. Some mornings we ate in our sleeping bags before braving the cold of the morning, but most days we ate on the go. We rarely made hot breakfasts.

Initially we had a 3 box rotation of bars, oatmeal and granola but quickly learned that eating a bar on the go was most efficient. For 90% of the trail we rotated between 3 types of bars: Amazing Grass*, ProBar* and Think Thin. Chocolate melts and becomes much more arduous to eat while walking later in the day so our breakfast bars ended up being the most chocolatey ones.

amazing grass barsAmazing Grass* – We both loved these bars before, during and after the trail. Unfortunately, while we were gone Amazing Grass revamped their lineup and the bars we loved are no longer available. Gone are the days when the first two ingredients of their bars were dates and almond butter.

Now the first ingredient is brown rice syrup. And the new bars have crispy brown rice in them for some crunch. This must be what people want but Andy is disappointed because he doesn’t like bars with unnecessary fillers.

Having said all that, we have since purchased their new flavors and tried them. We both like the Chocolate Almond Butter bars. They have good ingredients and taste green (but a palatable green) with a sweet aftertaste.

Only Andy enjoys the Chocolate Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate + Sea Salt bars. Laurie is still not ready to eat Peanut Butter and has an aversion to anything resembling trail mix. So essentially, the bars may be good but Laurie’s palate hasn’t fully recovered.

ProBarAndy loved ProBars* for breakfast! His eyes lit up each time he saw the orange packaging in a resupply box. Despite being very sweet, Andy savored each one – particularly the Koka Moka, Superfood Slam and Wholeberry Blast flavors. The coffee flavor and chocolate chips in the Koka Moka bars, the chunks of fruit and nuts in the Superfood Slam and Wholeberry blast bars are things that he really enjoyed.

He looked forward to these bars every morning he had them and never grew tired of them. In fact, when he found them in a Grocery Outlet a few weeks ago at steep discount, he bought a box! He may seem like a hypocrite for criticizing Amazing Grass for using ingredients that ProBar uses, but this was his treat. And the difference with ProBar and Amazing Grass was that Amazing Grass used to be different.

think thin barsThink Thin – Prior to hiking the PCT Laurie enjoyed these bars, particularly the Chocolate Brownie because they taste more like a brownie than a protein bar. They are loaded with protein but contain fillers and sugar alcohol. By Oregon, Laurie no longer got excited when she saw these in her box because of their chalky consistency and artificial taste. She continued to eat them since she knew Andy didn’t like them and wouldn’t trade with her. Once in a while they are decent but as an every morning bar, they got old really quickly.

In our next post we will cover mid-morning snacks and lunches. Stay tuned!

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Advice from a thru hiker

There are many versions of this in the world, Advice From A Tree, Advice From A Moose, Advice From A Penguin, Advice From A Caterpillar

One day while hiking we thought it would be fun to come up with our own – Advice From A Thru Hiker.

Here it is!

advice from a thru hiker

Have a plan and accept it will change

Expect ups and downs

Spend more time outside

Wake up and watch a sunrise

Sleep under a blanket of stars

Appreciate each day

Look forward to the views of tomorrow

It’s OK to fart in public

Stop and listen to the birds

Have sincere conversations

Drink lots of water

Only plan as far as the next town

Eat without worrying you will get fat

Feel the sun kiss your face

Trust in humanity

Walk daily

Don’t be afraid to get dirty

Embrace and celebrate your body

Be proud of how far you have come; be excited for where you are going

Apps, Map and Guidebook Review

guthookGuthook’s  PCT Guide – We used this app most frequently on the PCT. It cost $25 but was well worth it. The app was especially useful in the Sierra when the trail was under many feet of snow for miles upon miles. It works in airplane mode with the phone’s location service enabled which helps conserve battery life.  We had this app loaded on Andy’s Samsung Galaxy S5 and were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t drain the battery too quickly.

Pros – great maps, uses Halfmile mileage, many more camping options than Halfmile, helpful descriptions and photos of campsites and water sources. There is an option to add real time descriptions and updates (the usefulness of this depends on the activity of the hikers in your class- particularly those ahead of you- but it is a great feature). If you get off trail you can see your location (love that blue dot!) on the map in relation to the trail.

Cons – It’s not free, but it contains A LOT more info than any of the free PCT apps. Some of the water sources are inaccurate – especially in Northern California or later in the season in the Sierra. A few water sources listed as reliable year-round were dry. There was one source off trail that didn’t even exist. I would trust Halfmile and the PCT water report for water. There are different user interfaces for iPhone and Android users. We only had this on a Samsung and cannot comment on the differences between the two platforms.

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Guthook Android app detail

Halfmile – App is easy to use and very helpful. You can select a campsite or water source north or south of your current location and quickly get information on mileage and how much elevation gain and loss you will encounter before you get there. halfmile-app-logo

Pros – It’s free. Includes accurate data, is easy to use and has basic descriptions of water sources and other pertinent information. It is consistent with the information noted on the half mile printed maps. This app provides information on elevation gain and loss without having to add it up yourself (this is way too tedious and arduous after hiking all day!). When off trail (such as in the Sierra when the trail is covered in snow) the app will tell you how many feet you are away from the trail. This helps give you a sense (i.e. 50 ft vs 250 ft) as compared to Guthook which just shows your dot compared to the trail.

Cons – Few campsites listed. No pictures – just data. With Android phones, there is no map feature. On iPhones you see a map along with your location, but on Androids you see a dot (your location) and an arrow pointing to where the trail should be. Still useful but you get the sense the app was developed primarily for iPhones. When off the trail you have to simulate the trail mile. Often the closest PCT mile is not where you will be rejoining the trail so it takes a few more steps to get accurate information. This produced frustration in town when trying to plan for the next section.

Left: Android app map detail Middle: Same for Android and iPhone Right: iPhone app map detail

Left: Android map detail Middle: Distance – same for Android and iPhone Right: iPhone map detail

We liked having both Guthook and Halfmile for a more complete picture. We opted to have Guthook on Andy’s Android and Halfmile on Laurie’s iPhone. This worked well, as well as having Verizon on Andy’s phone and ATT on Laurie’s phone.  This was a bonus of hiking together – we had more comprehensive cell coverage  (more on hiking as a couple to come…)

**With both apps, or any others you plan to use for navigation, download them a week or two before your hike and get acquainted with them before you start hiking. It will make life on the trail easier**

halfmile topo mapsHalfmile Printed Maps – We liked having these maps but rarely used them. Map reading is an essential skill in the backcountry, but navigation by phone is here to stay. Because we were traveling together most of the trail, having two phones fail was unlikely. But if either of us were hiking solo, having the maps as a backup would have been more important. We would often look to the maps to see the names of the surrounding peaks but unfortunately the maps are PCT centric and don’t often include landmarks more than a few miles from the PCT.  If you like to identify surrounding mountains, it may be helpful to carry a PCT section map (heavy but fun to look at) or a forest service map (helpful in Washington where the likelihood of fires increases and you may need to find an exit route).

yogis guideYogi’s PCT Guideook – Andy liked reading other hiker’s accounts of their trail experience but didn’t care much for Yogi’s subjective dictation. “If you can afford to buy a beer in town you can afford to donate to trail angels. It’s the right thing to do.”

Sure some hikers need to read this, but Andy was turned off by this.

Yogi’s opinions aside, the town guides and trail notes are helpful, except for when they are out of date. Yogi has updates on her website but even some of those updates were inaccurate by the time we hit the trail. It wasn’t a big deal and I imagine it’s a heck of an undertaking to update every detail for every town or campground. Prices increase, businesses close. Things change in small town America. In short, don’t expect perfection with any guidebook or app.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t buy Yogi’s book. The town maps were convenient but not worth buying the entire guidebook. Instead I’d use the following resources:

  • As The Crow Flies
  • Craig’s PCT Planner
  • Boston and Cubby’s Trail Journal
  • PCT-L

As The Crow Flies constantly updates her website with the latest information for the entire trail. This was my go-to resource.

Craig’s PCT Planner is a great tool for creating an itinerary for your hike. Things will undoubtedly change but having a plan in place can help keep you on track if you have to stick to a timeline. You can also use the planner to create multiple shorter itineraries. For example, you can create an itinerary for the first 300 miles averaging 17 miles per day, then create another one in which you average 20-25 per day for miles 301 to 702 (Kennedy Meadows).

Boston and Cubby share a great resupply strategy if you plan to ship yourself all (or most) of your packages. They also have a good gear strategy and gear review, along with a food strategy post.

The PCT-L is a great forum where people talk all things trail. There can be a lot of fluff to sort through but lots of good information is shared as well.

Lastly, the Facebook group(s) for the current year class are a great resource. Often times people who live in towns and are well connected with the trail will post pertinent information (changes to the Post Office hours for example) to the groups.

icon_postagram-701d2aa3Postagram – we loved this app. We used it to send postcards to friends and family whenever we had service. The app lets you write customized messages as well as a picture. The pictures are printed on perforated paper so they can be cut out and saved. Very cool app and a great surprise to anyone who doesn’t expect to hear from you for 6 months!

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