Forum Index » Philosophy & Technique » Food Supply - Do you prefer supported or unsupported trips?


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Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Food Supply - Do you prefer supported or unsupported trips? on 12/12/2009 16:55:26 MST Print View

Ignoring logistics, what determines the number of days of food you are willing to carry?

It seems that UL hikers are approaching non-food and water loads that are so low for temperate conditions the benefit of reducing it further may have little influence on the enjoyment of their trip. The problem of weight then shifts from the type of gear used to the amount of food (water) one is willing to carry.

The recent pakrifle discussion about extending your trip by living off the land, and a comment from Dan McHale that UL hikers could carry more food if they carried a more conventional pack highlights the choice between, say, Ryan Jordon’s unsupported arctic trip and a Non-Alaskan Andrew Skurka trip that could enjoy regular support. The BPL Wind River Range trip described recently could have been unsupported. Understandably it was supported because the course was intended to teach replenishment skills.

There is no right or wrong, but I’m interested in this forum’s philosophy on this issue without a discussion of a compromise such as using a cache.

To get the discussion going, I’ll offer my perspective: I don’t like to interrupt a trip. A reentry to civilization is disorienting to me. I’d rather carry a more conventional pack for the extra food it allows me to bring. Self-sufficiency is too important for me when I hike.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Food Supply - Do you prefer supported or unsupported trips? on 12/12/2009 17:26:50 MST Print View

While hiking the PCT I felt that my lighter gear allowed me to carry more luxury items, like a book, for example. I was also carrying a lot of food since over time I was very hungry all the time. For this reason I didn't need a conventional pack, just a voluminous one that could handle up to 30lbs.

If a trek is long enough, any supplementing with hunting/fishing/gathering really can only be supplemental. You just get too hungry to make that the basis of your diet if you are constantly on the move. There's not a lot of time in the day to both make a lot of distance and acquire food. But if you're not covering a lot of distance, then I suppose it would work.

In my father's time and before then, lots of people would go out with just a rifle or fishing pole and bedroll. My grandmother even knew how to bake biscuits in an earthen oven.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Food Supply - Do you prefer supported or unsupported trips? on 12/12/2009 17:53:27 MST Print View

I like the idea of non-resupplied trips of a longer duration. The sense of being "out there" depens with a longer absence from roads, cars, etc. I would not have a problem, weight-wise, going up to 15 or maybe even 20 days without resupply using (fairly light - under 3 lb)packs that I have, except that the places I like most to go are subject to bear canister requirements. I think I could get 12 days worth of food into my bigger Bearikade - beyond that I'm looking at a second canister, which just isn't feasible for any pack I have. I suppose I could go to a custom size Bearikade to get me up to 15 0r 20 days, but even then it's hard to work with due to the shape.
To me this is the bigger issue, rather than the weight.
As to living off the land, I think of that as a completely different adventure - because then it's not about the walking, but about the food gathering. There was an attempted thru-hike of the AT by a very skilled person (name escapes me at the moment), who did not complete the trip and came to the conclusion that it couldn't be done that way unless you were willing to extend the time frame considerably - and then you'd have to be foraging during the winter, which is not nearly as easy to do. It was simply too time-consuming for him to hunt and gather food.

On the other hand, If a trail I want to walk happens to go through a resupply point, then I am going to take advantage of that for sure - I see no point in carrying more than I need to.

Steve S
(idahosteve) - F

Locale: Idaho
Staying "out" on 12/13/2009 18:41:23 MST Print View

I've thought about this alot. I really am relatively new to true UL hiking, but have been in the backcountry, and off trail for over 30 years, done a ton of trips, mostly climbing oriented trips all over the States and other countries. I've always been limited by the ability to carry a pre-determined amount of food and gear. With retirement from climbing, now I have been asking myself, how long could I go and still have a light, comfortable load? I don't want to come back to society once I leave! I love staying out! But... I don't want to stagger around with a 45lb (really closer to 60 and more with climbing gear) load any longer. Also there is the very real logistic tangle of getting vehicles, food, and persons to some out of the way locale, and the timing for that as well. So I have been looking at taking my limit of overall weight goal at 35lbs, and then backing into what would be necessary to stay out as long as possible. I think that 10-15 days begins to exhaust my weight goals, but I could be happy with that amount of time to begin with! That could be a very possible 300 miles of travel. Or one amazing loop to spend a lot of time in some given area, ie the Winds, Sawtooths, Frank Church,etc... Not a small distance by any stretch! What do you think? How long is long enough to stay "out"?

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Hire a Sherpa on 12/13/2009 20:39:37 MST Print View

I hate carrying a lot of weight and I don't mean because my pack can't handle it. I deliberately carried a heavier pack then I normally use on the PCT this year inorder to deal with heavier water and food weight then I'd normally comsider. Never once did I feel like I overloaded this pack with too much weight or volume and my shoulders felt fine the whole time. That said, even after hiking almost 900miles this summer and my body being in excellent condition, setting out of Reds Meadow towards Lake Tahoe (Sierra Neveda) with 10 days of food was miserable. Now granted I had by then experienced an expansion in appetite and thus was carrying more food per day then I normallly would have and I had enough for 11-12days due to poor planning. My body just didn't enjoy it. My legs, knees, ankles, and feet all felt stressed and I could feel the extra effort required to hike even in flat terrain. I felt that if I had hiked much of the trail regularly carrying that sort of food weight, I'd have gotten a trail-finishing injury such as a stress fracture.

Now to answer the topic of this thread: The only way I'd carry more then a weeks worth of food again is because it isn't reasonable to resupply on a trip that I really want to take or the hassle of resupplying off trail just makes it not worth doing (ie. the amount of time and extra miles is beyond what I feel like in comparison to carrying the extra load). Another reason I might pick the heavier food load is because the trip is last minute and there isn't time to get a resupply package there assuming that the proper food isn't available to purchase at a likely resupply point. If the reward is great enough, I'll put up with carrying the extra food, but my body really would prefer not to. Now if I can con a buddy into acting like a sherpa, I'm all for staying out as long as possible. In the end, its simply a matter of a comfort threshold that I'd rather not pass if possible.

Edited by Miner on 12/13/2009 20:50:18 MST.

Connie Dodson
(ConnieDodson) - F

Locale: Montana
not resupply on 01/05/2010 17:05:04 MST Print View

I agree with the OP.

I like "freezer bag" cooking meals I repackage and have ready to go, because there are times I need a hot meal right now,

I like packing dry ingredients, as well, labeled add how much water and some separate dry ingredients for making different results.e.g. buttermilk powder is separate. Etc.

I carry a dried fruit bag and a freeze-dried fruit bag.

I have a "munchie" bag, but not sugury sweets.

I do carry a snicker's bar for a cold night. It works.

I have dry sausage I cut-up and dried further in a home dehydrator. I have individual servings string cheese or waxed cheese, or on a trip of longer duration I have cheese chunks I dehydrated further in the home dehydrator and soak in olive oil before eating or I use in cooking. Etc.

Everything I carry is "calorie-dense" or high nutritional value, preferably both at the same time.

I use these items as "add-ons" in entrees and "side dishes" I purchase outright, or, in quantity and break down into manageable quantities.

I use a vacuum sealer at home and a pump-n-seal at the car, at the trailhead, after a stop on the way for groceries.

I also have the Ziplock bag vacuum sealer in the car.

By these means, I get more food in the pack and less packaging.

If ordinary risk, I carry three days "extra food". If winter, I carry 1-week "extra food".

I stay out until all the food I can carry is reduced to getting dangerously down into my "emergency food".

I have been know to eat less in mild weather so I can stay out longer.

I optimize on ultra-lightweight and lightweight gear, so I can carry more food, so I can stay out longer.

Edited by ConnieDodson on 01/05/2010 17:22:58 MST.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: not resupply on 11/28/2011 21:21:40 MST Print View

@Connie,
I realize the post is a bit old by now, but I'm curious about the number of days you're staying out. For instance, how long do you stay out in total in mild weather when you're carrying three days of "extra" food.

Steven Thompson
(stevet) - M

Locale: Northeast
the most days food I've carried on 12/11/2011 20:50:24 MST Print View

I've carried up to 10 days food, but most often will carry 7-8 days (average summer hike duration).

BUT, I will always take advantage of resupply opportunities along my route to carry less if the detour is nominal. I have also been known to make a 20+ mile dayhike the day before my summer hike to cache food near my route's midpoint.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Food Supply - Do you prefer supported or unsupported trips? on 12/12/2011 08:12:29 MST Print View

I prefer unsupported also, and would be willing to start with 35 lbs in my Pinnacle if the first couple of days allowed me to acclimate. That would get me at least 17 days and maybe 20. Doubt I'll ever have that much time available to go solo for a while yet. What will most likely happen is I'll be taking one or both sons with me, and I'll be carrying the youngest's food for week-long loops (so 14 days worth).

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Total trip length is relevant on 12/12/2011 08:47:10 MST Print View

Long unresupplied stretches: I think that a person going on a two or three week trip might find it interesting (I won't say 'fun') to "try it out" once. Or of course, might find it preferable to the logistic hassles in limited cases.

My experience with long distance hikers, however, suggests that along the way most come to think of their trip in terms of how far it is to the next resupply point, and they very much look forward to the town comforts of stopping for a food resupply: taking a shower, sleeping in a bed, eating as much as possible in restaurants or fast food places, etc. Put another way, I think that a typical person starting a long distance trip would quickly have enough of trying to maximize time between resupplies. There are exceptions, but I think it would be true of most people (even the self-selected subset that read forums like this).

Longest unresupplied stretch for me: I think 8 days. That was the longest this year, and I don't believe I exceeded that on any prior trips. One factor is that thru-hikers eat a great deal, so that a "days worth" of food is heavier than for someone just starting a trip. If your base weight is reasonably low to start with AND you have thru-hiker hunger, each day of food added is a pretty significant percentage increase. It's fine to say "but I'll eat it down as I go"; it can still hurt (and literally hurt you) for the first two or three days out. And the weight never seems to decrease at the rate that you think that it would in a just universe! :-)

Another factor in long unresupplied stretches is the particular terrain you have to go through; start out carrying a heavy load, you really don't want to be bushwhacking or scrambling, or dealing with large elevation gains (or losses), all perhaps on lousy trail quality or in snow --- but sometimes that's the way the cards are dealt.

About foraging, I'll just suggest that in the vast number of real-world cases, it's impractical for anyone looking to hike a significant number of miles per day. The topic certainly has been discussed quite a lot before (don't recall if here on BPL or elsewhere, or most likely on multiple forums).

Edited by brianle on 12/12/2011 08:53:57 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Mini Caches on 12/12/2011 11:41:48 MST Print View

Like Steven, I've been known to stash food in advance, even hiking fair distances to do it. But I tend to do it LONG in advance - weeks or months sometimes, often on training / conditioning hikes at the beginning of season.

So it has to be totally odor-free, so usually it is canned goods. But it's a training hike, so carrying some weight then is good, unlike during the actual hike.

A few of my favorite places: Up under a foot or highway bridge (bring twine or zip-ties to secure it) or below the cobbles of a streambed under a obvious landmark (usually a foot bridge). This is especially good for a Kern fruit nectar can or beer or energy drink and impresses the heck out of hiking companions when you dig a cold one out of the streambed.

Because I have young children, I don't do as much UL BPing as I did in the past, but I do a lot of stupid-long dayhikes - 40 to 50 miles in a day. Trimming every pound from a 7,000-calorie day is important, and stashing food in advance does that PLUS I have reserves - I might not use it all and it was no weight that day to have my stashes done in advance.

This all may be more viable here in Alaska with very low hiker densities than on the PCT or AT.