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  • Ken Ilgunas

How to walk across the country (Part II: Food)

In Part I, I discussed how to map out your route using mapping software programs and websites. In this installment, I’ll discuss how to plan your food rations. But before you think about going out and spending $1,000 on food, you should ask yourself: What are the pros and cons of shipping food to yourself vs. buying food along the way?

The pros and cons of buying your food all at once and shipping it to yourself


You can control your diet more. You can buy and pack nutritional and calorie-dense foods like Clif bars, organic butter, and polenta before going on your hike; these foods, in small towns, would most likely be impossible to find.

You can be more organized and carry less food-weight. By carefully planning your daily food rations beforehand, you can better control just how much food you’ll be carrying. Plus, everything will be pre-packaged in Ziplocks, which will allow you to pick up your food package, throw your food into your backpack, and continue hiking that very day.


Shipping is expensive. I shipped about 20 boxes to post offices along my route. Many of the boxes cost me about $17 to mail. A few of the boxes I sent to Canada cost me more than $60. If you buy food along your route, you can eliminate the cost of shipping.

Lack of variety. Even if you plan a varied diet when packaging, you’re still going to wind up eating much of the same stuff day in and day out. By purchasing your food as you hike, you can more easily diversify your diet.

Why I chose to ship food to myself

In the end, I decided to ship food to myself because…

1. I wanted to move fast and efficiently, and having to worry about buying food every few days would surely have slowed me down.

2. I was walking through extremely remote terrain, and I wasn’t sure if the towns that I’d pass through would even have a general store, let alone decent camping food. In hindsight, this was a good worry to have.

3. I wanted to ensure that I had good, nutritional items like energy bars, which I wouldn’t be able to buy just anywhere. Plus, I’d save many pounds of weight by buying lightweight food (powdered milk, powdered mashed potatoes). All things considered, I think it’s just better to shell out money, buy all your food at once, package it, and ship it.

Step #1: Figure out how much food you need

Figuring out how much food you need is a combination of simple math and educated guesswork. Ask yourself a few questions:

How many miles will I be walking? 1,700 miles

How many miles will I walk in a day? 20 miles a day

Factoring in how many miles you’ll be walking and how many miles you will walk per day, how many days will you be walking? 1700 miles/20 miles a day = 85 days [This was entirely wrong (I ended up walking 136 days) but I was able to find additional food at stores along the way, which worked out nicely.]

How many calories will you be eating a day? 4,000 calories [This was guesswork. When I’m not hiking I eat a lot, and when I am hiking I eat considerably more. If you’re my size (5-foot-9, 180 lbs), I would say 4,000 calories is an appropriate amount to plan for.]

Step #2: Make a daily meal plan

Once you know how many calories you need per day, you can make a meal plan. Obviously, you’ll want to include as much diversity in your diet as you can, but not so much that it makes organizing the meals impossible. Figure out how many calories each candy bar, trail mix bag, and dinner meal, etc. contains, and then make a plan that meats your daily caloric goal (4,000 calories).

Now that I know how many candy bars, chips, granola, etc. I need a day (1.5 Clif bars), I can figure out how many of each I need to buy for my whole trip (85 days x 1.5 Clif bars = 127.5 Clif bars).

Step #2a: Figure out your dinner meals

I think a proper warm meal every evening is a must for any long-distance hiker, especially when hiking in the cold. So that I didn’t get bored of my dinner meals, I planned for five different alternating meals.

Meal 1: Potatoes

3oz of instant potatoes

1oz crumbled bacon

1oz cheese

1oz butter

Meal 2: Rice and Beans

2oz Rice

2oz Beans

1 oz cheese

.5 taco seasoning

Meal 3: Polenta

3 oz of polenta

1oz of bacon

1oz of cheese

.5 oz of chipotle spice

Meal 4: Raemen and Pesto

3oz packet of raemen

1oz cheese

1oz olive oil

.3 garlic

.1 basil

.1 spicy spaghetti

Meal 5: Pasta

3 oz Angel hair

1 oz Spaghetti seasoning

1oz olive oil

1oz cheese

Step #3: Buy your food

Once I figured out what sort of food I’d be eating to meet my caloric goals and how many days I’d be walking, I could figure how much of each item I needed to buy. Here’s my shopping list:

– 270 chocolate bars – 270 ounces of trail mix – 15 cans of Pringles and 90 ounces of Fritos – 225 ounces of fat powdered milk – 405 ounces of granola – .6 oz of alcohol for 90 meals: 54 ounces of HEET – 69 oz of instant potatoes

– 41 oz crumbled bacon – 23 oz butter – 46 oz of rice – 46 oz of beans – 120 oz of cheese – 11.5 oz of taco seasoning – 54 oz of raemen – 3.6 oz of basil – 3.6 oz of spicy spaghetti – 54 oz polenta – 9 oz chipotle sauce – 54 oz angel hair – 10.8 oz of garlic

I did my shopping at just a few shopping centers (Whole foods, King Soopers, Sam’s club, Albertson’s, and from other distributors over the Internet).

I bought most of this stuff at Sam’s club (after buying a $40 annual membership), and, by buying in bulk, I probably earned back the $40 membership fee, or I at least saved myself a great deal of time. I wanted good granola, so I bought all my granola for $3 a pound at Whole Foods (and pretty much emptied out their whole stock).

a. Sam’s club (candy bars, trail mix items, bacon, membership etc.) $428

b. Whole Foods (refried beans, granola) $130

c. Albertons (Nido whole powdered milk) $21

d. King Soopers (Parmesan cheese, chips, catfood canisters for stoves) $187

I also bought two brands of energy bars (Clif bars and Bear Valley pemmican bars). If you purchase large orders online or over the phone, they will give you a small discount. For Bear Valley, they will reduce the cost from $1.29/bar to $.90/bar when you buy more than 150 bars. I got a similar deal from Clif Bar, I think.

e. Bear Valley Pemmican bars (150 bars) $135 + $20 shipping = $155

f. Clif bars (156 bars) $145 + $7 shipping = $152

I also bought some dehydrated organic butter online for my dinner meals. There are many dehydrated products, and they can add a lot of nutrition and taste to your diet, but they’re very expensive.

g. Organic butter powder (16 oz) $20 + $5 shipping = $25

Total food costs: $998 (estimated $11.75 of food/day)

Now that you have your food planned out, you can begin to worry about packaging and shipping your food resupplies, which shall be Part III of this series.

Helpful links

-Like the previous post, I learned much from Andrew Skurka’s website (this entry in particular) and book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, which is excellent, and which I’d recommend to anyone thinking about doing a long-distance hike for the first time.

I ate 2-3 candy bars a day. I never once got tired of them. Mmmmm... Mounds Bars...
I would recommend both the Pemmican bar and Clif bars. Advantage goes to Clif bar, though. The Clif bars don't taste as "dry" as the Pemmican, plus the Clif bars come in many different varieties. (Pemmican only has four varieties.) Naturally, eating the same thing over and over again makes it more difficult to eat, so it was nice to be able to have a subtle flavor change with the Clifs.
Trail Mix. By the end of the trip I was throwing out whole bags of it because I couldn't stomach it any more. Part of the problem was that I bought generic ingredients from Sam's Club, when it would have been wiser to shell out more money for better nuts and berries at a place like Whole Foods. Plus, I didn't think at all about "blending" ingredients so that all the ingredients blended nicely into a pleasant taste. I just shoved a bunch of stuff in a bag without thinking about that. I recommend putting more time and thought into your trail mix than I did.
Fritos and Pringles are incredibly calorie-dense. Fritos, though, can get boring rather quickly. I recommend mixing the crushed chips with other, more tasty, styles of chips, like Doritos. As a general rule, bring as much diversity into your snacks as you can with different types of candy bars, chips, etc.
Finding powdered WHOLE milk was a challenge. There aren't many powdered whole milk products, but Nido, which is often sold in the Hispanic aisle, and is often fed to children, works perfectly. It has a good taste and it's full of calories. You can go on their website and look up stores that carry Nido.

Cost of 2012-13 Keystone XL Expedition so far….

Maps: $350

Food: $998

Total: $1,348

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