The Hunger Hikes

written by Brooke Porch, customer associate

The approaching summer means one thing – more time outside.

Hiking, cycling and other sports will often leave their participants rather hungry, and with good reason! A 20-mile bike ride can burn nearly 1,000 calories as well as ten miles of hiking or two hours of tennis. Even a day spent in the sun at the beach can leave us hungry. And when I say hungry, I’m referring to that all-consuming, almost animalistic appetite.

outdoor hikeI know this hunger well. In 2012, I hiked 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail (AT). There were times during my hike that I was so hungry that I felt depressed and even thought about quitting.

But, to be honest, much of my diet on the AT was terrible. I ate a lot of candy, potato chips, ramen noodles, and pop tarts on the trail. At least once a week I would spend a significant amount of time in town gorging on buttered French fries and ice cream.

I knew it was important to eat vegetables, especially in the local towns, but they don’t travel well and consist of mostly water. For example, the calories-per-gram of cabbage is 0.6 calories compared to the 6.5 calories per gram in walnuts. Dehydrated vegetables weren’t an option either because of their bland taste and lack of nutrition.

Like myself, most long distance hikers don’t want to hike hundreds of miles on honey buns, but many do because they are cheap and have a large amount of calories. Furthermore, when you are trying to buy 3 days worth of food at a gas station in Virginia your options are likely to be extremely limited. In these situations, Snickers seem healthy because of the peanuts.

All the same, it doesn’t have to be this way! My “outdoor goal” this season is to eat better on the trail. Many long-distance hikers will laugh at my goal as there is good evidence that on-trail nutrition doesn’t really matter. “Flying Brian” Robinson hiked the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails in a single year – that’s 8,000 mile of hiking – eating Snickers on most of his hikes. That being said, I can dream.

gorpA great place to start is the bulk food aisle of the Co-op. GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) can get boring rather fast, but it is easy to mix up your trail mix with additions like walnuts, banana chips, or dried fruit of any sort – I love dried mango. One thing to note is that these items all have very high calories per gram ratios, meaning you are carrying less water weight. These foods tend to dehydrate the body so be sure to drink an adequate amount of water. For overnight trips, things like oatmeal, mixed with dried berries and nuts offers a great breakfast – just add water and soak. Stepping out of the bulk aisle, tortillas with nut butters or tinned fish offer a tasty lunch. An orange or an apple is a perfect day-trip food. It will help you stay hydrated, tastes great, and even comes with an eco-friendly package.*

Happy Hiking!


*Note: please don’t litter orange peels as they take a long time biodegrade and often treated with food waxes. Apples can be eaten whole. The few seeds in an apple are harmless as the amount of cyanide is very small and the hard coating of the seed means they will pass through you completely.



  1. Pingback: The Hunger Hikes Part II | Swarthmore Co-op Blog

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