You can't carry 150 days of food with you during your long distance hike. Therefore you have to resupply along the way. Fortunately, the A.T. is a really good place to hike if you want to resupply often. You can't go more than a few days without entering a town or crossing a road that leads to town. Stick out your thumb or arrange for a shuttle and you are on your way to the Other World, to bathe, wash clothes and resupply.
The role of food on an LD-hike
Food is fuel. Your body becomes a raging metabolic engine that will require constant shoveling in of food/fuel to keep it going. There will be times, when anything will do. If it has calories, it is toast. Sometime actual toast. You will need a lot of calories made up of protein, carbohydrates and fat, glorious fat. They say that Hiking is the best diet ever. You can eat whatever you want in very large quantities and still lose weight. Men more so than women, but most people drop weight out there. Food can help control that.
Food rules for Long Distance Hikers
Rule number one of Food Club. Don't talk about Food Club. Naw, JK. Every hiker knows that besides gear, food is one of our favorite things to talk about. To dream about. To fantasize about. It seems like each hiker gets a food stuck in their head and they don't rest until they have located and consumed said food. It could be pizza, (that's mine), or ice cream. A lot of times it is fresh fruit and vegetables or just about any meal that you don't have to prepare yourself.
So some rules you might follow is to try and be mindful of what you're stuffing into your pie hole. Calories are of utmost importance, but so are vitamins, fat and protein. You should try to find a balance. It most likely won't be a perfect food pyramid, but variety is the key. I will have a nice big salad at a Pizza Hut, before snarfing down a pizza slice or eight. Balance, see.
Decide on a resupply strategy
I call my resupply strategy, "Living off the land". In a 21st Century sense though. By living off the land, I mean that I will get my food as I go along. Resupplying at whatever store I find close to the trail and finding what I need to fill my food bag, with only a lighter wallet the main requirement.
Real living off the land takes special tools and lots of time. This way, doesn't require more than money and your feet (or thumb) to get you there. The time spent doing this is much less than traditional hunting and gathering. That's not to say that I won't harvest edibles as I come upon them, I will be an opportunistic forager.
Some of the other strategies are to food prep and mail drop to various post offices, hostels and other places along the trail. This can be a lot of work up front, with possible rewards down the road. It has its pros and cons like any other method.
Grocery store resupplies
This will be my usual resupply method. It could be small local grocery store, a Walmart or Dollar General. Any place that sells a variety of food. A convenience store is also a valid option to get food and sundries, but usually at a higher price. Let your hunter instinct take over to find the best offerings at each place you go. Buying fresh food to prepare and eat while in town is also a good way to get the calories and nutrients you need while resupplying.
Living off the land has its own downsides. Some of the places you pass through or near can be a little "rural", with limited resupply options. Your only source could be a convenience store next to the road the trail crosses. You might not be able to be picky or stick to a serious grocery list if all you have to buy are honeybuns and chips. Maybe some slim Jims or beef jerky. But that can work, if you are flexible. Remain open to new tastes and combinations. I think you can get darn creative if you use your imagination.
This is a valid way to plan, prepare and set up your resupplies, but it just isn't my cup of tea for now. I really don't want to spend all that time buying, drying and packaging food that I might not want to even lay eyes on a few weeks or months down the trail. I don't know what my tastes will be, but I believe they will most likely be different from weeks or months ago. Also, I think the shipping costs erase any cost savings you created by buying in bulk or at a discount store. Some people have had someone actually deliver the resupply boxes on their way back home after dropping off the hiker at Springer (or wherever), but that won't be our reality for our hike. Right now we plan on using our miles to fly down to GA, so having a driver drop off won't happen. Also, you have to have someone responsible at home to mail the later drops to where you need them. I'm too lazy to do all of this.
If doing something like this interest you, you can probably find plenty of YouTube videos and blog entries about how they did it. Google that shit.
Something else to consider is the Bounce Box. This is a box of stuff that you might not need right now, but may later. Extra batteries and zip-locs. Packaging tape and labels. Something you bought in bulk and didn't need all of. It can also be gear that you don't need right now, but will in a couple of weeks. Whatever you need to send down the trail so you don't have to carry it.
There are pros and cons to this just like everything else. You want to make sure that you do eventually need and use what you are sending down the trail. If you just keep sending it, the postage will eventually erase any savings you had when you bought that whole case of Ramen. An advantage is knowing for sure that you will be able to gather those fresh batteries or your favorite baby wipes you bounced when you roll into town.
So, try it out. If you find that you are still buying the stuff you are bouncing, maybe you can eliminate this from your trek. Just pick it up one last time and either use, hiker box or send home whatever is in there. Then hike on. We will probably use a Bounce Box at least some of the time during our trek.
Using friends and family
There's nothing like receiving a care package in the mail. Full of a lot of "just what you need" and usually a surprise thing or two. If it's ever too much to carry, you can always share with your tramily or pass it on in a hiker box. The one thing you will want your friends and family to know is that they need to let you know when they send something and to where they sent it. You may not have the post office on your daily todo list or maybe you aren't even planning on going into that town.
I knew a girl who was hiking on a budget and had asked her friends and family to send her resupply boxes with a week's worth of food, that they donated to her hike. It seemed to work for her.
However you use your support system of family and friends, always let them know where you are and when you hope to arrive at certain convenient resupply places.
The hybrid resupply spectrum
There is definitely no rule that you must pick one way to resupply and stick with it exclusively. You can have a couple of mail drops (particularly at places that are historically sub-par for resupply) and also do a lot of living off the land. Having a few care packages will always boost your morale and lighten the financial load of resupply.
There are now a couple of new businesses where you can go online and basically do a resupply. You pick your food and other consumables, tell them where to send it and voila, there it is waiting for you at the post office, hostel or other pickup point. It is quite effortless and the prices seem to be in step with your local Walmart or Dollar General.
Resupplying is an important reality of a long distance hike. Finding what works for you (and adjusting it along the way if you need to) will make your hike more enjoyable and successful. Never limit your options. Try them all and find what works best for you.
EarthTone and LoGear