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Article: 10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on JMT

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Article: 10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on JMT

Postby ERIC » Wed Dec 31, 2014 9:16 am

10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on John Muir Trail

Inga Aksamit
SF Sierras Travel Examiner
December 27, 2014
6:25 PM MST


Meal preparations for a long hike, such as the 211-mile John Muir Trail, can take on life of its own with spreadsheets, endless calculations and backpacking food piled everywhere in the house. Time on the trail can vary with fitness, personal goals and available time off from real-world responsibilities but many take three to four weeks or longer, necessitating more advance planning than a weekend jaunt into the woods. Only once does the trail pass close to a town (Mammoth) where supplies can be purchased in any quantity and only two more backountry resupply camps are available for mailing food drops. The last stretch (if traveling north to south) usually involves a 10-day trek in the most remote section, where no camps exist. That means tough decisions must be made in order to provide adequate calories and limit unnecessary pack weight.

Food choices are very personal and it helps to have backpacking experience to know what is palatable. The altitude of the High Sierra, ranging up to 14,500 feet, can wreak havoc with one’s appetite. Variety, nutrition, weight and bulk are all important considerations to make sure there is enough food and that it gets eaten.

Here are 10 things that worked for this author and five that didn’t.

10 Foods That Worked:

  • Trader Joe’s Instant Oatmeal doesn’t have that gluey texture of other instant oatmeal and a bowl of warm cereal on cold mornings is a good way to start the day, maybe with some extra nuts and flax seed added.
  • Mission or La Tortilla Factory tortillas may seem heavy but their consistent palatability and flavor makes it worth it for many. They can be wrapped around all manner of dehydrated bean mixes, peanut butter or other fillings. Packed unopened in a resupply box they last over a month without refrigeration. They shouldn’t but they do.
  • Sweet potato bark. This was a favorite out of several home-dehydrated foods, served with ground beef, instant gravy and freeze dried peas. The recipe for the bark is available from
  • Freeze-dried sausage. Available from Honeyville, PackIt Gourmet and other purveyors of freeze-dried foods the sausage tasted good, rehydrated quickly, wasn’t full of preservatives and was lighter than home dehydrated meats. It was a lot easier to purchase it than dehydrate it at home.
  • String cheese (mozzarella that has been heated to 140 degrees to make it stretchy) seemed to last an inordinately long time (at least four weeks) and was a welcome taste of real food.
  • Mountain House, Backpacker's Pantry, MaryJane's Organics or other backpacking food distributors provide a lot of variety, flavors and ease of preparation.
  • Just Tomatoes offers many different freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, not just tomatoes, and there are no other ingredients.
  • Clif Builder Bars are good choices because they pack a protein punch with 20-30 grams of protein.
  • ProBar Meal Bars have fresh, distinctive, natural flavors that taste like real food. The ProBar Jolt provided good power up the high passes.
  • Jelly Belly jelly beans . These little sugar shots in a million flavors were always welcome, even when the altitude was an appetite killer.

5 Foods That Didn’t Work:

  • Steel-cut oats for resupply days were supposed to be a treat but since they didn’t get soaked overnight and the sugar and maple syrup were left out of the resupply they tasted like shredded cardboard.
  • Marinara sauce, home dehydrated was like a hockey puck. Something about the recipe or the dehydration process needed tweaking as it was almost impossible to dissolve it...

Read more: ... muir-trail
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Re: Article: 10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on JMT

Postby markskor » Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:42 am

Always amazed by the thoroughness of preparation of those doing the Muir, especially those doing the trail for the first time.

You can spot them daily in the Valley BP camp all summer long, usually sporting crammed 75+ liter backpacks - (BTW, Interesting that most of those JMT packs seen are brand new, never having seen any appreciable trail scars to speak of). Much like a first-time mother, these novice long-trail hikers (from around the world!) are typically well-read, overly-prepared for any possible contingency, overly protective...and over packed. Sierra newbees, armed with maps aplenty, a strict schedule, and a set agenda...most have food packages shipped ahead, miles already pre-set, all future campsites circled...everything meticulously planned months before.

The food menu chosen always baffling too - (you see this over and over at the Tuolumne picnic tables.)..some strange choices. Many have food items never trail-tried/totally untested...but they read about what to

Most carry lots of those sawdust trail bars (ProBars are OK - might still work) but after a few days, none are particularly digestible. Most rely heavily on just boiling water - freezer bag meals, some kind of gourmet oatmeal, some kind of special tortillas, string cheese, maybe some beef jerky, Starbucks instant coffee, and candy. Lots of numbered little bags come out of those white 5 gallon (BTW, $50 shipping/storage fees) food buckets...obviously many hours spent here.

Amazingly, most (a good majority anyway) will eventually finish the trail, (usually after ditching 10 pounds of gear somewhere...BTW, this fact never mentioned), but those who do finish the 220+ miles, will have learned the valuable lesson of deferring to the mountain's agenda over their own, and come out much the wiser.

At the end, some damn fool (having now done one trail) will then feel compelled to write up what they learned...(sigh) - maybe to try the food first before leaving... see above.

Just my 2¢
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Re: Article: 10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on JMT

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:26 pm

I do long trips more than short trips so have my food planning system pretty well-tuned. Over the years I have built a good spreadsheet with a comprehensive data base of nutritional values and weights of all the backpack food that I use, so it is pretty easy to plug in my planned food and do some fine adjustments so that the weight and nutritional value come out just right for each trip. Being small, and getting older, I really have to watch the weight of the food I bring if I still want to do 12-14 day trips and stay within my ability to comfortably carry my pack. In my 20's and 30's I could care less about pack weight. A bit different at 65+.

I really do not view the JMT as a big deal. But I see nothing wrong with a beginner posting what worked and what did not. I did not take the article as trying to come off as an "expert". I found the list a bit interesting, although it does not make me want to change anything that is already working for me. And yes, most people make it regardless of how good or poorly they plan the food. But just like taking the right gear, taking the right food makes the journey much more pleasant. What was not mentioned was fitting the food into a bear can. I have watched many JMT hikers pick up food at Muir Ranch and then try to fit it in their bear canister. It is a bit amusing to watch.
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Re: Article: 10 foods that worked and 5 that didn’t on JMT

Postby cahiker » Sun Jan 11, 2015 1:41 pm

I agree that this author's experiences mighty not apply to anyone else, but it's winter, so I still enjoyed it.

I can't figure out how the author had trouble rehydrating marinara sauce, though. I usually stick mine in the freezer for a while after it has cooled, then whizz it on the food processor to make a powder (freezing first makes it crispier so it pulverizes better and doesn't stick as much to the food processor.). I've skipped this step sometimes and just torn it into pieces and stuck it in the bag with the pasta, and it has rehydrated fine that way too.

I've also never had problems rehydrating white rice. When I cook the rice before dehydrating I use a little less water so it doesn't come out too sticky. Then I break it apart while it's dehydrating. I don't always get it back to individual grains, but usually no more than 2-3 clumped together. Then I rehydrate with plenty of water and time, and usually a cozy and it's always come out good for me. Brown rice is another matter. I've gotten it to rehydrate by using a cozy and letting it sit a long time (15-20 minutes) and adding more boiling water part way through. I usually just cook for a few minutes and then let it sit in the pot, or turn off the heat after the water boils and I add the rice, but then bring back to a boil once or twice again later.

As others have said, it's good to test at home before a long trip, using water less than 212 degrees to simulate the lower boiling point at the expected altitude, and maybe trying to simulate the expected air temperatures. For me the old adage that everything tastes good outdoors applies better to car camping at sea level than backpacking at altitude.

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