Appalachian Trail Food: Favorite Meals From Our Thru Hike

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard enough.  Finding food that is cheap, delicious, and calorie-dense, while also obtainable at the limited resupply options along the trail is another issue.   In this post we’ve described some of our favorite Appalachian Trail food and meals that helped us reach Katahdin.

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Breakfast

Breakfast is probably the toughest meal of the day to get right when thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. You have a goal in front of you for the day and every extra minute spent in camp makes your day a little tougher. For breakfast on the Appalachian Trail, we stuck to quick and easy grab and go options that allowed us to hit the trail as soon as possible.

Raspberry Pop-TartsPop-Tarts

Likely the most popular breakfast option on the Appalachian Trail, Pop-Tarts are great food for getting a quick dose of calories in the morning.  The downsides to Pop-Tarts are the high amount of sugar (which is almost unavoidable when it comes to breakfast foods) and the fact that you will likely despise them before reaching Harper’s Ferry.  They have a variety or flavors helps with this issue. Our favorite was Red Velvet.

Cranberry Orange BelvitaBelvita

A great alternative we found, that was also fast, was Belvita Breakfast Biscuits. These go great with coffee, taste great, and have way less sugar that Pop-Tarts and other alternatives. We preferred the Cranberry Orange flavor.


Lunch

Some thru hikers will skip lunch and just stick to snacking during the day, but we always took a longer break to have a heartier meal around midday. Our lunch meal almost always consisted of a tortilla wrap with a variety of fixings to keep us from getting bored. Tortillas are available at almost all resupply spots along the trail and any old brand will suffice. For the innards of our delicious lunch time wrap, we always had a block of extra-sharp cheese available and switched between tuna pouches, pepperoni, and summer sausage as a protein.

Pro-tip: Stock up on packets of condiments when available, often for free.  A packet of mayo, relish, or mustard can really help improve your lunch or dinner meals.


Dinner

At the end of a long day of hiking, a hot, stove-cooked meal can really help to lift your spirits and give you the energy to hike again the next day.  Be sure to take in enough calories at the end of the day or you’ll end up waking in the middle of the night hungry.  This is a problem you’ll likely have to adjust to as you begin hiking 15 or more miles per day.

RamenRamen

The Appalachian Trail food we ate the most during our thru hike was likely ramen due to it being cheap, available, and also delicious.  I like to think that I perfected the art of making ramen, knowing exactly how much water to boil and adding extras like peanut butter and fresh garlic.  Below you’ll find my recipe for Ramen Extraordinaire which you may learn to love almost as much as we did. Any flavor or ramen will do, but we most often picked up the chicken flavor.

400 mL water
2 packets ramen
1-2 oz shredded pepperoni or other protein
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 chopped fresh garlic cloves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon crushed peanuts

  1. Add water and ramen to pot and begin heating.
  2. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and protein
  3. When water is boiling stir ramen until cooked to prefered doneness and remove from eat.
  4. Stir in ramen seasoning, peanut butter, and crushed peanuts
  5. Serve and enjoy perfection

Pro-Tip: Add a tablespoon of Olive Oil to your meals to boost calories.

Asian Sides Teriyaki NoodlesRice or Pasta Sides

A cheap, but also filling, alternative to ramen are Knorr rice and pasta sides. These are widely available at Appalachian Trail resupply spots, are cheap, and come in a wide variety of flavors. Our favorite was Knorr Asian Sides Teriyaki Noodles. Be sure to add a protein and other ingredients to spice things up.

Betty Crocker Instant Mashed PotatoesInstant Mashed Potatoes

Eating an entire packet of mashed potatoes by yourself can get very boring. Thankfully, for us, we were splitting meals so this was less of a worry.  A common trail recipe we heard of was the Ramen Bomb which consisted of a packet of ramen and a half packet of instant mashed potatoes. Our favorite was Betty Crocker Four Cheese Instant Potatoes.

Backpacker's Pantry Pad ThaiPrepared Dehydrated Meals

Prepared backpacking meals are great tasting and lightweight but can often be very expensive. We generally bought one or two of these meals while resupplying to mix up our meals but due to budgeting did not carry more, although we would have prefer to. The trail favorite seemed to be Mountain House’s Chili Mac, which was often sold out, but we preferred Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai.

Pro-Tip: Getting food out of the foil packets can be difficult unless you have the right utensil. We really appreciated out Sea to Summit Titanium Long Spoon. Also, reuse the foil packets as trash containers when you are done with your meal.

Protein

We varied our protein as much as we could depending on what was available.  The two most common options we encountered along the trail were pre-sliced pepperoni and summer sausage.  More options may be available at different resupply stops.


Snacks

There are a ton of options when it comes to snacks and you’ll find yourself getting very creative at the grocery store when all other options look very boring. I’ll mention a few of the most common options that we carried.

Carrot Cake Clif BarClif Bars

Clif Bars are great for the first few months.  After that, you’ll never want to see one again for the rest of your life.  Seriously, we still can’t stand these things. If you can stomach them, they are high in calories, cheap, and great for on the go snacking.  Just be prepare to hate them by the end of the trail. Our favorite flavor, while we still enjoyed them, was Carrot Cake.

Snickers

Snickers seemed to be the preferred candy bar of the Appalachian Trail for most, but you can get almost any variety of candy along the trail.  We more often went with Sour Patch Kids for our sugar kick.

Fruit Burst BlueberryFruit Squeeze Pouches

While heavy and not containing too many calories, fruit pouches are great for carrying something that tastes “fresh” along the trail.  Much of the foods we ate were processed foods and lacked the quality of freshness that you’ll often crave on the trail.  These pouches, while not actually being “fresh” helped with that craving until you can get your hands on some actual fruit. Our favorite was Del Monte Fruit Burst Squeezers.


What you prefer to eat is bound to change over the four or more months it takes to hike the Appalachian Trail. Likely, by the end you’ll even hate some of the food options you loved when you first started. Hopefully, this list will provide you with a baseline to start your journey and help answer some questions you had about what foods you’d be eating while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

For those of you that have previously thru hiked the trail, what was your favorite Appalachian Trail food? Please share your favorite recipes, snacks, or meals in the comments.

8 Comments

  1. Is it wrong that I got hungry reading through the highlights from your hiker menu? Part of me thinks it is, because I’m working to keep this belly from reclaiming its former greatness.

    In addition to the items you mentioned, particularly the chicken flavored Ramen, I’m still a big fan of tortillas. Wrap some cheese and sausage, cover it with some ranch dressing (the kind that doesn’t need to be refrigerated), and I’m pretty close to Nirvana.

    Great to see you both blogging again!

  2. My husband and I hiked from Mt. Katahdin Maine to Springer Georgia along the AT. We had a variety of nuts, instant oatmeal, peanut butter packets and honey packets. This was light weight food with big nutritional values.

    • James Hess

      March 6, 2017 at 8:17 PM

      We did carry peanuts for snacking as well as a jar of peanut butter. Those were great for eating alone or adding to our dinners. We got pretty sick of instant oatmeal when we backpacked prior to the AT, so pretty much avoid ed on the trail. We prefer granola when we do pack out a hot breakfast meal. Congrats on your thru hike and thanks for reading!

  3. I could go a long time just eating good salami and cheese. Did you ever that as your lunch?

    • James Hess

      March 6, 2017 at 8:14 PM

      Yup! We usually made tortilla wraps, sliced up some extra sharp cheddar cheese and added either salami or pepperoni. Pepperoni was pretty convenient because it came pre-sliced and in a resealable package. Also, don’t forget some condiment packets like mayonnaise, relish, or mustard to finish it off!

  4. Stove Top Stuffing, it’s entirely filling. All you need to do is bring water to a boil, add it and cover. You can add some Molly McButter to it as well if you’d like. You can also toss in dried cranberries, some nuts and/or chicken (from a pouch) for a pretty easy and epic meal. You don’t have to burn much fuel and it’s lightweight. I cannot recommend it enough.

    Potato chips are a great addition to meals too. Yes, i said potato chips. Trick is to get a large bag then crush them down into a powder and put them in a zip lock bag. You can add them to soups etc much as you would potato flakes but they are tastier. You can eat them plain like that too. They are a salty caloric bomb, perfect for the Trail.

    Hydration is important too. One great way to enjoy fluids along with a meal like that is to get Crystal Light packs. They have no sugar, so no real weight, but really do taste good in the woods. At the end of the day I’d make 2 litres worth and have it drank before bed.

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