There Will Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Maybe I'm just too old to share a bedroom. The moan coming from the bottom bunk was gutteral. Not one of pleasure, thank god. You never know in a hostel, but this wasn't that at all. It was more like the moan of some poor soul writhing around in hell.

"Hmmmmn.. hmmn.. hmmmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."

All that was missing was the gnashing of teeth. I tossed and turned. This wouldn't bother me as much if the snoring of fellow hostelers hadn't become such a problem. When I'd wake up early to start my day, it wasn't for having had enough sleep, but because there was no point in trying anymore.

"hmmn.. hmmmmmn.. mmmmmmn."

I put in earbuds and opened the nature sounds app on my phone. The soothing sound of a waterfall. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

"hmmmn.. hmmmn. hmmn."

I turned up the volume.


"HMMmm.. Hmmm. Hmmm."


The waterfall was now loud enough to cause premature hearing loss, but the moan was so guttural it vibrated the bed. I took out the earbuds. Not even Niagara could drown that out.

"Grit-grit-grit-grit", came from the other bottom bunk. I sat up. The moaner's girlfriend was a teeth grinder. What an adorable match made in hell.

"hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."


I fell back down on my pillow and stared at the ceiling. For hours, I slept in five to fifteen minute increments. My anger boiled. I hadn't had proper sleep in days. The snoring I had heard over the past couple of weeks was inhuman, but this combination of moaning and teeth grinding was a first for me.

"hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn"



A snore came from the girl on the second top bunk.

"Are you f-ing kidding me!"

It was a hosteling trifecta. Too bad there weren't any more beds for a representative from the night terrors sleep group.

"hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."



The rage. Oh sweet mother of god, the rage.

"hmmn.. hmmn.. mmmmnn.. hmmmmmn"


"zzZZZzzz.. zZZ-hnk-glugk-ghlghl-pfaahh............. ZZZzzz"

My anger finally boiled over. I bolted up and shouted. "Oh my God! Shut The HELL UP!"

All three beds fell silent. "Oh man..." I thought. "What have I become?"

The moaner stirred on the bunk below me then sat up. Maybe wondering what just woke him. Immediately feeling remorse for my actions... I pretended to sleep.

He lit up the room with the flashlight on his phone then moved to the chair by the window. I fell asleep and woke up a half hour later. His flashlight lit the room. He hadn't moved. He just sat there, still and silent.  Surely he knows he's a sleep moaner. Somebody must have told him by now. He was probably keeping himself awake to spare his fellow hostelers. I felt bad, I really did, but I also wanted to break his damn flashlight!! What is your problem?! There are people sleeping in here you jerk!! I covered my eyes with my pillow and tried to go back to sleep.

A few minutes went by and I was awake again. The only light outside the window came from a streetlamp glowing in the fog. A new foreign city for me to explore in a few hours, but I needed sleep and the moaner was rustling through his stuff. I noticed the shower running. The teeth grinder's bed was empty. Were they leaving because of me? I rolled over and went back to sleep with a pillow over my eyes.

I woke again from the sound of the door shutting. I looked around the room, their luggage was gone, beds empty. I may have slipped a little closer to becoming an old curmudgeon spending his final years yelling at kids to get off his lawn, but at least I could get three hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The next morning I asked the snorer if she knew anything about our noisy roommates.

"Do you know if they had to get up early for a flight or anything?" I asked.

"Yes," she said in a Brazilian accent. "Last night I hear them talking about having an early flight."

"Oh good," I said. "I thought maybe they left because of me. Did you hear him moaning in his sleep?" She shook her head.

"It was so loud it shook the whole bunk."

I pointed at the other bunk. "And then she started grinding her teeth," I said, leaving out the part about her snoring. "I yelled at them to shut the hell up, and then they got up and left. I feel bad, but I haven't had a good night's rest in..."

"Oh, is that what you yelled last night?" she said. "I just thought you had night terrors."

Cape Wrath

Even though Scotland has the world’s most lax trespassing laws, with private property not even being off limits, a police officer in Durness didn’t appreciate me setting up my tent behind a soccer pitch along the northern coast.

“Does this look like a campground to you?” he said in a stern voice.

“I was under the impression that this was okay in Scotland,” I said.

“Well, we don’t mind if you wild camp, just not in the village.”

I was on the northern edge of town. Much closer to the edge and I would have fallen into the ocean. Actually, the only people who might see me were the proprietors of a nearby campground. I wondered if they called the police. It must be hard to run a campground when wild camping is free and legal. 

Even though I still don’t think I broke any laws, I wasn’t going to argue. I packed up and left. I wouldn’t have minded as much if he didn’t wait until after nightfall and I hadn’t been cozy in my sleeping bag.

Rather than move just outside of town, I walked to the dock in Keoldale a couple miles away. In the morning a boat and minibus would be taking a few of us across the Kyle of Durness to Cape Wrath, the northernmost point in Western Scotland and the northern terminus of the Cape Wrath Trail and Scottish National Trail. I found a place just barely big enough to setup my tent between the Kyle of Durness and the small parking area next to the dock.

The next morning brought beautiful weather. Every Scot I met who knew my plans made sure I knew that this has been exceptional for Scotland in September. I hoped it would stay that way for the next few weeks. I have been feeling a lot of pressure to get out of the Highlands before the weather turns unpleasant.

I packed up and walked to the dock to wait for the ferry. Cape Wrath is sometimes closed by the Ministry of Defense to use it as a bombardment range, but a sign posted said there would be no delays today. 

It took four trips on the tiny boat to get the thirty or so people and dogs across. On the other side they packed twelve of us, plus three large dogs and several backpacks into a 12-seater minibus, which then crept up the only road on Cape Wrath.

“They tarred this road in 1955 for the first and last time,” the driver said as we bumped along at fifteen miles per hour.

“Will you be able to use this road if you get a Yes vote on Thursday?” a woman in the back asked, regarding the referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.

“Sure, why not?” he said. “This is a public road.”

“Because you said it was used by the Ministry of Defense,” she said.

“Well… there is the law and then there is the local law,” he said, making a few people to chuckle.

The baby on the woman’s lap next to me decided we were going to be best friends. When I looked at her, I noticed she was smiling at the nothing happening on my face as I stared out the window.

“Hi there,” I said.

She giggled and said something in baby gibberish that I didn’t understand. It’s not her fault, I even have a hard time understanding a lot of the adults in Europe. She kept trying to put the buckles and straps on my backpack into her mouth until her mom said, “It’s okay, I think her immune system can handle anything.”

“You see this small stream coming up here,” the driver said. A few days ago a flash flood came through and took out all these fences.” He pointed at a scattering of wooden fence posts and tangled barbed wire. “The bridge here a good example of speedy Scottish workmanship,” he said. He slowed down even more before crossing. “A storm took out the old bridge, so this was setup as a temporary replacement... in 1981.”

“Then it’s a good example of quality Scottish workmanship,” a man behind me said.

“You all came on a good day, though,” the driver said. “The weather isn’t always this nice. We often have thick fog and can get gale force winds of a hundred miles per hour.”

Later we came to a small metal structure used by the military painted with black and yellow checkerboard pattern.

“That’s a testament to the weather on Cape Wrath,” he said. “That building is made of solid steel and you can see that it’s still bolted down to the ground with thick steel cables.

Right before the lighthouse on Cape Wrath would come into view, a thick fog rolled in. “Ah, give it a half hour, this might clear out of here,” the driver said.

In addition to the lighthouse, and although remote and subject to harsh unpredictable weather, Cape Wrath is home to a small café called the Ozone Café. I walked inside to wait out the fog as the driver suggested. A plague on the wall designated the café as the official end of the 470-mile Scottish National Trail, with the last 221 miles being on the Cape Wrath Trail. For me it would be the beginning.

The man behind the counter was the owner, John. I've read about him in my guidebook. His welcoming face is the one you see at the end of these long, difficult, and often dangerous routes, so to many backpackers, the fringe of gray hair around his balding scalp, the crow’s feet radiating from the corners of his soulful eyes, and his thin stoic smile are something like the Cathedral of Santiago or the peak of Mount Katahdin. Although, I hardly think he looks at himself this way. He would probably prefer to be known as the quiet friendly man who runs the most remote café in all of Britain.

“Where you headed?” he asked after I ordered a hot bowl of tomato soup.

“I’m doing the Cape Wrath Trail to the West Highland Way, but I’m thinking about doing this Scottish National Trail now.” I said.

“Well, you’d be the first person to ever do it south,” he said.

“Oh, really?” I said. “Then I’m doing the Scottish National Trail.”

“It’s only been an official trail for two years, so only 27 people have even completed it,” he said.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been the first to do anything, so I had a new excitement for the trail. This additional excitement would only last two days, however, when I was later told by a shop owner who met two backpackers attempting a southbound hike earlier this year.

“Maybe they didn’t finish,” I thought. “And even if they did I’m sure they didn’t continue going south to the English Channel. Or begin their journey after a 700-mile trip across Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

I ate my bowl of soup, plus a complementary refill John offered after I finished. By then the fog had cleared. I walked past the lighthouse to the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep blue ocean. That was as far north as I could safely go in Western Scotland, so I turned and started walking to the English Channel.

The Pacific Crest Trail FAQ

As you know, Red and I will soon hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico. Since I began telling people our plans, I've been asked a lot of questions, so I thought I’d post some answers to the most frequently asked.

What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, traverses over 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California. It ranges in elevation from 140 feet above sea level to 13,153 feet, with a cumulative elevation gain of 489,418 feet1.

Approximately 700-900 people attempt a thru-hike annually, but only about 40-50 attempt the trail southbound. Fewer than half will finish.

Why are you going southbound?

It's tradition to go north on the PCT, in fact, only about 5% go south. Our main reason is so we finish the trail in a warmer climate, so we have the option to continue beyond the Mexican border or elsewhere. The southbound hike is considered harder and more dangerous, due largely to the timing with the seasons, but that’s also part of the appeal.

There are some advantages in going south. We'll have warmer weather and less rain up north, fewer hikers and bugs in the Sierras, and lower temperatures and fewer snakes in the Mojave Desert. More on the disadvantages below.

How are the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail different? 

Some have asked me why I'm not leaving the United States for my next big hike. Eventually I will, possibly right after the PCT. Nevertheless, the southbound PCT hike will be a much different experience than the Appalachian Trail. It will force me to use some skills that were not necessary on the AT, like advanced navigation and some light mountaineering skills.

There will be fewer people on the PCT, possibly 90% fewer than on my southbound AT hike. It’s a lot more remote as well, with fewer places to resupply, no shelters, and I’ll face many other challenges I’ve never faced before, but more on that below.

Sure, it’s not another country, but when it comes to long distance trails in the world, it’s as different from the AT as just about anywhere else. Besides, it's one of the top two things on my life list.

What will you see on this trail?

We'll see constant beauty rivaling any trail in the world: high mountains, lush forests, expansive views, brilliantly starry skies, numerous species of wildlife, and the dry deserts of Southern California.

The PCT travels through seven national parks, including North Cascades, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and the Mojave Desert. Additionally, we’ll climb nearly 60 major mountain passes, descend into 10 major canyons, pass more than 1,000 lakes, 26 national forests, 3 national monuments, and 5 state parks.

What wildlife will you see? 

The possibilities are too numerous to list all of them, so I'll stick to the more interesting. Larger mammals include black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bobcats, porcupines, beavers, red foxes, coyotes, marmots, and long-tailed weasels. Since I haven't spent much time in the desert, I'm mostly looking forward to seeing the wildlife in the Mojave Desert region in Southern California, such as gila monsters, desert iguanaschuckwallas, horned lizards, desert tortoises, and pronghorns, North America's only native antelope.

Potentially dangerous animals include rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas. A lot of people ask about bears, but they aren't as dangerous as you might think if you keep your food stored properly and your camp clean. The one animal I don't really want to see, is a mountain lion. As beautiful as they are, I find their incessant desire to hunt and kill a bit standoffish.

How long will it take to complete?

Our goal is to finish in 4-5 months. We'll have about 3 ½ months to finish the first 2,000 miles in order to be safely out of the high mountains before the first major snowfall.

What are the Challenges?
(Image: Cascade
Mountain Range)
I’ll break these up into the three major sections of the PCT:

The Cascade Range

Starting in the north means a lot of the trail will still be under deep snow, so navigation skills will be extremely important. We may go a mile without seeing the trail or even a footprint in the snow. Getting off course could be very easy.

There will be steep snow covered slopes that could be tricky to pass. Avalanches are another possibility and something which neither of us have experience.

Creek and river crossings could be dangerous this time of year, due to all of the snowmelt and a particularly snowy season up north this winter.

Since so few hike southbound, we will rarely see other hikers in this section, which could be an issue if we get into trouble.

(Image: The Sierra
Nevada Range)
It is illegal to enter the United States from Canada via the PCT, so most southbound hikers will start their hike from Harts Pass and head north on the PCT to the terminus then start their hike south. This isn't a challenge really, but something worthy of mentioning. There's a good chance that the road to Harts Pass will still be snowed in this early in the season, so we are planning to get to the PCT by connecting the East Bank Trail along Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park, then onto the Lightning Creek Trail, and the Three Fools Trail, where it connects to the PCT about 3 miles south of the Canadian Border. In all, about a 45 mile approach trail, which will take us 2-3 days to hike.

Sierra Nevada

We need to start late enough, so that the trail is passable in the North Cascades, but not so late that we fail to get out of the high mountains before the first heavy snow fall in the Sierras. This will require an average of about 20 miles of forward progress per day, which doesn't include hikes to roads and towns for resupplying. Failing to get out of the Sierra Nevada range before the first week of October, could mean hiking in dangerous snowstorms, getting stuck on impassible trails, and finding our resupply points closed for the season.
(Image: Mojave Desert
and surrounding areas)
(Photo: The Mojave Desert)
Mojave Desert

Unlike northbounders, we will be entering the Mojave Desert region in the fall, which brings cooler weather, but water availability will be at its lowest. Water caches will be less reliable as well and campground faucets may be shut off. There will be stretches of 50 miles or more without water, so this will require careful planning and will force us to carry several extra pounds of water. Not to mention this has been the driest year in California’s recorded history. This will likely be our biggest challenge.

How much does your pack weigh?

Right now my base weight (the weight of my pack not including consumables like food, water, and fuel) is just under 13 lbs. About 3.5 lbs. of that is superfluous items for photographing and recording the podcast. With food and water, it will fluctuate between 13 and 30 lbs. and could go as high as 40 lbs. on a particularly long stretch without water and/or resupply towns.

My pack's base weight will also depend on the climate. In the beginning, for example, I will be carrying an ice axe and Microspikes (to slip onto my shoes for traction on ice and snow), which will add just under 2lbs.

Once I update it, you will be able to see my current gear list on my bio page and Red's gear list on his bio page.

How much does it cost?

The biggest expense in any long distance hike is the fact that you’re not working during those months, but the quick answer is most hikers will spend $4,000 - 6,000 (about $1.50 to $2.25 per mile).

It used to be said that a long distance trail could be hiked for as little as $1 per mile, but that was 30 years of inflation ago. On this trip, however, Red and I are going to see how close to $1 per mile we can still get. That means no hotels, few restaurants, and finding creative ways to save money on food, which is by far our biggest expense. I’ll be keeping detailed notes, and posting what we learn about saving money on future posts.

As for permits, those are free unless you purchase the secondary permit to hike the Whitney Portal to Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States), which costs $15 as of 2014. In other words, the cheapest rent in America.

When do you leave?

We are going to Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia on May 16th - 18th, then we're hitchhiking all the way to Washington State. We won't actually start the hike until June 14th. Even though we have no specific destinations in mind during our hitch, the route will include Denver, Salt Lake City, and Seattle so we can visit some friends along the way. During this month of hitching we have no idea what stories we'll have to tell, but it will surely be an adventure in itself.

Can I send you a care package?

Life on the trail often means depriving yourself of things, especially since we'll be seeing if we can still hike a long distance trail for $1 per mile. This means when you do get your hands on something you haven't had in a while, like homemade food, you love it like never before. Receiving a care package with anything highly caloric would absolutely make our day! If you wanted to send us anything, click here is a list of resupply points. Email us beforehand, and we'll let you know for sure where we'll be stopping and when. You can email us at or We will be sure to post a photo of us enjoying it!

If you want to simply donate a small amount of money, you can click the donate button near the top-right corner of this page to send us any amount securely with PayPal. We will take photos and write a post for each donation we receive to let you and everyone know how you helped our hike. I think this could be a fun way to interact with our readers, and maybe allow us to splurge on the occasional coffee or cheeseburger in town. Feel free to tell us what the donation is intended to be used for, but I'm sorry, I will not hike without pants for a day for $100 (and yes, this is directed at a real person, you know who you are).

Now that I've been doing this a while, people have stopped trying to convince me it's a bad idea, so I've been getting nothing but encouragement from everyone. I just want to say thank you and I appreciate all of your support!

Pacific Crest Trek for MS: An interview with Megan Bullers

(Photo provided by Megan Bullers,
Every hiker is drawn to the long trail for a different reason. Many are young and yearning for their first taste of freedom. Some are retirees, once devoted to their work, now determined to live their lives for themselves. There are the poor, the middle-class, and the rich, and like migrating herds, they wander in from all parts of the globe.

Many are motivated by the challenge, others by a spiritual quest or the promise of self-discovery. Some are simply curious explorers who want to take a peak around the bend. When asked why they chose to live out of a backpack and hike through hundreds of miles of wilderness, there are those who will say, "everything in my life just came together." Others will say, "everything fell apart."

Although we are an oddball mix of mavericks and misfits, we are equals on the long trail because of one immutable similarity, the one thing that we deeply understand about each other before we even open our mouths to say hello: For whatever reason, we all feel the pull.

That commonality creates an instant comradery, and the similarities accumulate as the miles pass under our feet. We are moved by the same highs and elations that are understood without words. We sympathize with the same pains and discomforts, an all too familiar limp or a grimace when we bend at the knee to take a seat. Slowly we grow into something more like family. We even start to look alike as we become dirtier, thinner, shaggier, more scratched, scarred, and suntanned.

Although it's true that when that last mile is behind us, we may drift apart or return to a more recognizable life, what endures are the new stories we all have to tell. I think It would be a shame to only tell mine. That's why I'm excited to start a new interview series on the blog where I ask other hikers to share their stories. 

(Photo: Megan and her father, Richard Bullers)
Meet Megan Bullers

Megan recently began her thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, traversing the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. What drew me to Megan's story was her motivation for hiking the 2,663 mile trail: to raise money to find a cure for the disease her father has suffered from for fourteen years, Multiple Sclerosis.

RG: Perhaps the thing I love most about meeting other thru-hikers, is hearing the unique chain of events that lead them to the same place and time, to take on the same challenge. So, let's start from the beginning. When did you develop your passion for adventure?

MB: My dad plays the biggest role for adventure in my life because he taught me a lot of what I know today, and most of all, gave me the confidence. The Bullers’ are crazy people full of adventure and laughter; it runs through my spirit. My grandma and grandpa lived in an old mine when they first got married. My dad roamed around the mountains and lived off of the land.

I grew up on a small farm, and as a kid, I was always monkeying around. You couldn't keep me out of trees (still can’t) or off of walls. When I was two years old, they found me close to the neighbor’s house, a quarter mile away, because I decided I wanted to go on a walk. I found my running legs at age 12, and always thought that more could be seen and experienced on foot.

Soon I was taking friends and cousins on adventures of anything we could dream up. We always made it fun! At age 16, I went skydiving without an instructor. I took a 4 hour informational class accompanied by a static line jump, but still had to pull my reserve chute. I hit the ground laughing, because it was quite a wild experience.

That must have been terrifying, but after reading your blog, I'm not surprised to hear you were laughing. You have an infectiously positive outlook on life. When did you decided your next adventure would be the Pacific Crest Trail? What was your "chain of events" that lead up to your decision?

I've been wanting to do the PCT for MS since I heard about it in 2006, when I worked as trail crew leader in the Sawtooth National Forest. I had no idea how I would do it at the time, but I really wanted to make it happen. Work was all I knew. I grew up hoeing weeds out of fields, moving hand lines for irrigation, driving tractor, raising pigs and cattle, etc. I learned how to manage a farm with all of the frustrations that could possibly go wrong. These frustrations include endless stories where I gained the perspective of work turning into play, being content, and truly enjoying moments of chaos where it was up to me to solve something that seemed impossible. I quickly learned that laughing about a situation was the fastest way to get over it. Being drenched in canal water from a spewing head gasket on a 40 degree day, requires a quick solution.

In my attempt to pursue my education for a different life, I ended up in various towns and cities that leached my money quicker than I'd ever imagined. A Dental Hygiene education was another huge goal on my list, but logistically, it wasn't ever going to happen. I just didn't have the money for it even though I was working overtime as a front desk/reservation agent and contracting myself out as a Zumba instructor in McCall, Idaho.

Here is where I met an amazing group of women who spurred me towards my goals. They gave me ideas that I had never thought about, and that's when I set a 3 year plan. I was going to complete my Dental Hygiene Degree, and hike the PCT for MS. I didn't know if I could pull it off or how I would do it, but I planned my entire life around those 2 goals. So much of Dental Hygiene school relied on other people and was a daily mental battle. If I didn't complete my degree, I couldn't hike the PCT, because I need to get a good job afterwards. What if I can't find a job?

With any adventure in life, there is always the “what if’s”, but I like to look past that, and push my limits. Some people see this as foolish, but I don’t care. It would be more foolish for me to trap my adventurous soul in society’s capsule of what I should do. No one knows me better than myself. I will be that 90 year old who still pushes the limits while encouraging others with the “free bird spirit” to do the same.

(Photo provided by Megan Bullers)
In what ways have those who see this as foolish tried to dissuade you and how did you respond?

Many times my responses are jokingly sarcastic to try and lighten the mood, but most of the time I follow up with a serious answer to the sincere people who are actually concerned, open-minded and not trying to infringe their judgment.

Here are some of the questions they have asked:

What if it doesn't work out?

My response: It will.

Many people don’t like this answer. Instead of viewing it as confidence, they view it as foolish. Goals are never achieved if you can’t stay flexible, but why would I waste my time planning out failure? Being a flexible person with a positive outlook brings to surface the thrills of life and achievement that you may have never imagined.

How in the world do you have enough money?

Response: Believe it or not, living out of a pack is dirt cheap. I don’t have to pay for rent, gas, electricity, etc. You do the math.

This question irks me a bit. Everyone decides where every dollar of their hard work goes. In my case, I’ve chosen to use my abilities to encourage people to give towards M.S. research and to develop more of an understanding of people living with it. Why? Because I hate this disease.

You need to get a job right after school! 

Response: You’re right, in this money-driven economy, I should give up trying to help people in need, and ONLY work my day-to-day job for the rest of my life just to retire and say, “I wish I would have…” You know how many older folks tell me this? What if many of these people were to fully live out their driving force of passion? Could we be further developed as a country, instead of hindered by what others think we ought to do? Driving points: Wright brothers, Rosa Parks, Dalai Lama, Jesus, Mirabai, Bill Nye, Oprah, Margaret Fuller, Tegla Laroupe.

You need to get a job, save up for a few years, and then MAYBE you can do it.

Response: Do you see me telling you how to live your life? I’m sure I could point out a few things if you would like me to.

People are always going to have their opinions.

Aren't you afraid a bear is going to eat you?

Response: Yes! I am hiking in a steel suit of armor just in case one comes roaring through the bushes to ferociously devour a petite girl who has so much fat on her that they could feast for days. That’s simply because bears through California, Oregon, and Washington are so carnivorous, right? The reality is that they are more like circus bears who have a keen sense of smell and are only interested in your food. Bear canisters are key in specific areas.

You need to start settling down.

Response: I guess my definition of settling down is different than yours.

You're never going to make it.

Response: How much will you donate when I do?

(Photo provided by Megan Bullers)
Those are all great responses, but I particularly like that last one! I think you'll find the naysayers in life slowly disappearing, or at least keeping their mouths shut, as you continually prove them wrong. Regarding mistaking confidence for foolishness, one thing that can separate the two is preparation. What obstacles are you most concerned about and how are you preparing for them?

For me, I have the tendency to lose things quite easily. I fly so quickly in forward motion that sometimes I accidentally leave things behind. This will play a huge part during my PCT trip. If I end the trail never having lost anything, I will be a new person. I really don't want to re-track 5 or more miles behind me, in hopes to find my phone. Packing my bag so everything has a place, and only carrying necessities should help me. I have to keep it simple. In the end, I'll survive, and it will be an adventure of a lifetime.

There are so many "what ifs" that go into a 5-month trek. Believe it or not, if anyone can think about the "what ifs," that would be me. I just choose not to let them consume me. I think about it, and move past it. We all have our downfalls and learning in life.

Sometimes it's hard to find that balance between thinking enough about the "what ifs" to be prepared, but not so much that they consume us. What are you doing to prepare physically for this trip?

I have always made it a priority to stay very physically active in my life. I tend to have a lot of energy. Throughout the last year I have been working on strength and endurance as much as I can. Five years ago I got my personal training license and have mainly used it for my own good, especially when training for the PCT. Since I was also going through dental hygiene school, I didn't have a whole bunch of hours to train in a row, so I mainly worked on strength because my body will pick up endurance quickly. I can push out about 8 pull-ups in a row, which isn't much, but it'll do for now. I went on a few trips that are listed on my blog. These include summiting Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and much more. Really, over all body strength will be the most important for me. I wish I could have done more long distance training, but was too busy. My body well adjust as I go.

(Photo provided by Megan Bullers)
How much does your pack weigh? I'm not an ultralighter myself, so unlike a lot of backpackers, I'm not asking you to judge. I just want to see how it changes by the end of your hike.

My pack is 40 pounds with all my food, water, gear, etc. I know that is probably a bit much, but I'll strip it as I go. :-)

Will you be sending yourself any mail drops for food or other supplies in more remote areas?

I am sending out 4 and figuring out the rest as I go. I know a lot of plans will change and I don't want to be held back by having to pick up a mail drop.

I couldn't agree more. I've said it before, but life on a long trail brings with it a rare kind of freedom. With too many mail drops, you never completely leave behind the world of schedules and deadlines. Is there a particular section of trail you're most looking forward to?

I'm not going with any expectations. I want to enjoy the beauty of it all. Nature is amazing, and preconceived expectations can be killer in amazing experiences.

In addition to raising a lot of money for MS, what do you personally hope to get out of the experience?

I want to get more personal growth out of this experience as with anything I do. I thrive off of experiences and growing as a human being along with accomplishing huge goals. I try to push the limits of myself in multiple aspects, because I've always wanted to be and stay well rounded, and I'm not talking about my belly ;)

On top of that, I want to truly enjoy every given moment and meet some amazing, funny, down to earth people who I hope to stay in touch with for a lifetime.

You will meet plenty of those people I'm sure. The thru-hiker community is very close. What are your thoughts about leaving your home, family, and friends for an extended amount of time? How will you be staying in touch with them on the trail?

I am kind of a nomad at heart, so my close friends and family understand and still keep in touch with me. That's the beauty of technology. I never had a cellphone until after my first year of college, so I've learned to get by without technology as well. I'll feel spoiled having a phone, solar charger, and Spot [GPS tracker] out there. Great tools for keeping in touch and updating my blog when I get service. My home will be exactly where I pitch my tent, and I thoroughly enjoy that. I love all my family and friends to death and hope they enjoy sharing this experience with me.

(Photo: Megan's dad, Richard Bullers)
I just have one more question. When you first told your dad what you were going to do and why, how did he react?

He said, “Okay, that sounds fun!” At the time he knew it was just an idea, but he has always mentally supported me through things. When he watched the video on my blog, he cried. I’ve never seen my dad cry. He’s a farmer who’s had no choice but to keep working and staying mentally, physically, and spiritually tough with this mind and body-wrenching disease. On top of that, he gives, gives, gives, and gives. If I could raise money for him, I would, but I know he won't take it. He’d give it to the people who are worse off. Mind you, he has cancer on top of MS now. Sometimes, I just sit alone and cry because I can’t imagine losing him. When I am with him, we enjoy every moment. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can show people the goodheartedness of my dad. He’s truly my hero and inspiration for the rest of my life.

(Photo: Megan at the Southern Terminus)
I’m really sorry to hear that he now has cancer as well. I think the best way to show everyone your father's goodheartedness is to follow in his footsteps by being goodhearted yourself, and you are definitely doing that. I hope the donations to your cause far exceed your expectations. Where can readers of this blog go to make a donation?

To donate, please go to my blog ( and click on the orange donate button on the right hand side of the page. This will take you to the national M.S. Society website where you can donate directly to my event for M.S.

Megan, thank you so much for talking with me. Keep in touch. I will be hiking the PCT in 2014 as well, albeit in the opposite direction, but with any luck our paths will cross very soon!
- - -
If all goes as planned, Megan will be joining Red and I on a future episode of A Backpacker's Life Podcast and we'll talk about life on the Pacific Crest Trail in a post-hike interview. If you enjoy reading A Backpacker's Life, I know you'll enjoy her writing, photos, and videos. Please check out Megan's blog at and of course, if you can, please help support her cause. 

Footcare for Backpackers, Part 2: An Interview with AAPSM President, Paul Langer

In part one, I discussed footwear for backpackers with Paul Langer, president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and D.P.M. at one of the largest orthopedic groups in the country, Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minnesota. In part two, Paul answers our questions about foot care on the trail.

RG: How can a hiker prepare their feet during the weeks or months before a long distance hike? 

PL: The best approach is to log lots of miles in the footwear you plan on using, obviously to not only toughen the feet but to also break in the boots or shoes.

I worked on the medical team of a 250k stage race across the Gobi desert in 2005 and saw and heard every philosophy from the athletes on how they managed their skin issues. One athlete soaked his feet every night in iodine and water. One guy claimed that he never used lotions or trimmed calluses and had not developed any blisters since doing so. Another claimed that he stopped his blister problems by trimming his calluses and using lotions to keep his skin soft and moist. This illustrates that there is not one way for everybody, but there are great tools available and people have to learn what works for them. Not surprisingly, the people we saw in the medical tent with blistered and sore feet were the less experienced athletes. They didn’t appreciate that in ultra-endurance events, especially multi-day events, it is NEVER a good idea to ignore pain and/or a potential blister developing.

What footwear do you prefer on the trail?

If we feel a hot spot starting to develop on our feet, what is the proper way to treat that?

Stop immediately and apply either moleskin or one of the slick adhesive patches (like Engo) to reduce the friction over the hot spot.

If a blister does develop, how should we be treating them? My current understanding is that unlike burn blisters, you should puncture friction blisters to drain the fluid. Is the practice of using a needle to run a length of thread through the blister and leaving it overnight to wick fluid out of the blister while you sleep recommended?

I do advocate draining blisters by puncturing them with as sterile of a needle that you can manage. Boil it in water, scrub it with iodine, or heat it in a fire (but clean carbon deposits off before puncturing). Also prep the skin over the puncture site with iodine or something similar. Puncturing is better than trimming the skin off because the top layer of the skin (the epidermis) can then serve as a "biological dressing" and minimize risk of infection.

Because blisters have a tendency to refill, I advocate puncturing multiple times and make sure at least one is at the lowest point of the blister, so that gravity can help drain through that spot when weight-bearing. I have seen the thread technique used and it appears to work well. The idea is that the thread wicks fluid out of the blister, and it can do this, but the risk is that the thread could also wick bacteria into the blister and that, of course, would be bad.

Even if we are stopping at the first signs of a hot spot, it’s still common to forget about preventative daily foot care until we already have some level of discomfort. With the abuse we put on our feet every day, what sort of daily maintenance should we be doing?

As above, experienced hikers learn through trial and error what works best for them. A few general rules of thumb include; maintaining clean, healthy skin and properly trimmed toenails. Using wicking socks and changing them if they become dirty or wet.

Sometimes removing shoes can cause problems as the feet might swell once the snug footwear is removed increasing the risk of blistering once the boot is back on and the hike resumes. A perfect place to rest and remove the boots would be next to a cold stream to wash and "ice" the feet while resting.

What should we have in our first aid kit for daily foot maintenance and minor injuries? How about the ultra-lighters who are only going to carry the bare minimum? Or put another way, what would you never go without?

Iodine or topical antibiotic and sterile adhesive bandages for going ultralight. For foot maintenance - mole skin, blister patches, skin lubricant, athletic tape, nail file and clipper.

I'd like to move onto some issues where the cause and treatment is less well-known. With long-distance hiking, a common problem is the swelling of the feet at the end of the day. How can this be prevented? Will stiffer shoes or boots help?

Footwear changes will not help. Long periods of weight-bearing activity, fluctuations in hydration status/electrolyte imbalances, some medications, varicose veins, changes in elevation and even arthritis can all contribute to swelling. I would experiment with compression stockings. Over-the-counter knee high stockings are easily found in running stores and can provide compression. If these fail to work then medically prescribed ones would be warranted. As above, icing/cold water soaks and elevation of the feet can help as well.

How about plantar fasciitis? This one is common for me and many other hikers.

There are so many causes of plantar fasciitis that there isn’t really a prevention program, but there are two things I recommend to every person affected to relieve pain. One is to do a stretch/massage of the plantar fascia (Click here to download the handout that Paul gives to his patients). One study showed that 85% of people can reduce their pain just by doing the stretch. Reducing strain on the plantar fascia can be achieved with a semi-rigid insole (not a gel or foam one), but there is also a taping technique that can be done in the field. The tape supports the arch and is very effective in reducing pain while it is in place. Watch Video of Taping Technique for Plantar Fasciitis >

Many thru-hikers have stopped their hike due to sharp shooting pain starting from the heel of their foot and going up their Achilles tendon with every step. What may be causing this and how can it be avoided?

Achilles tendonitis would be the most likely cause and is common in people over age 35, but also can be set off by uphill hiking or running due to the increased strain. The best prevention method is to do what is known as eccentric strengthening (click here for the handout also mentioned above). The exercise not only increases the strength of the calf muscles, but also increases elasticity of the Achilles tendon. I advise all of my patients to do this exercise daily regardless of their sport.

A lot of hikers, including myself, have lost feeling in our toes during a long hike. What are some likely reasons for this?

There are two common conditions that are most likely to cause numbness in the toes and some other less likely causes. These conditions can be difficult to diagnose and self-treat, so I'll offer some brief descriptions, but would encourage anyone with persistent symptoms to see a sports medicine specialist.

By far the most common cause is called a Morton's neuroma. A neuroma is a pinched, irritated and sometimes enlarged nerve between the toes. The most commonly affected toes are the 3rd and 4th toes (big toe is 1st and little toe is 5th). Many people have difficulty determining which toes are affected specifically. It can occur for a number of reasons: swelling feet, tight boots, stone bruises, and long miles uphill. For many people we do not find one specific cause.

In clinic, I treat this first with a simple metatarsal pad which distributes pressure more broadly across the forefoot. Unfortunately, most of the metatarsal pads I’ve seen in stores either are not dense enough to distribute pressure or lack adequate adhesive or durability to stay in one place and last long. I use a wool met pad with good adhesive that often lasts as long as the shoes. If met pads do not give adequate relief and the neuroma is persistently painful, we may inject it with Cortisone.

The bottom line though is that once you have a neuroma, unless it is surgically removed, you will always have it. Less than 20% of people ever need surgery for this problem, but I always emphasize that it is important to not only treat it early but make sure to never ignore persistent or recurrent numbness or pain because it will get worse and harder to treat.

The other potential cause of numbness to toes is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. This is similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the wrist. The nerve runs through a tunnel on the medial (or inside) of the ankle and then passes through the arch and bottom of the foot ending at the toes. Tingling, numbness or pain may be experienced anywhere from the heel to the toes with this condition. Pressure on the nerve within the tunnel may cause these symptoms. The pressure may be due to benign soft tissue growths, varicose veins or biomechanical issues such as excessive pronation. I usually start treatment with a simple taping technique called low dye taping which alters pronation and can reduce pressure within the tunnel. Watch Video of the Low Dye Taping Technique >

If a patient responds well to the tape then they may also benefit from a firm insole, which can mimic the effects of the tape. Cortisone injections would be a next line of therapy, but people rarely need surgery for this condition.

Other less common causes of toe numbness are nerve root compression at the spinal cord level. Those who have a history of low back pain may be more prone to developing pain, tingling, and/or numbness in a limb anywhere from the hips to the toes.

Peripheral neuropathy is another condition causing numbness. This is more commonly seen in diabetics, older individuals and/or those who have experienced previous episodes of frost bite.

Finally, vasospastic disorders can cause numbness as well as pain in the toes. For some people, exposure to cold and/or moisture can trigger a spasm of the small muscles that control blood flow to digits. I always consider this when patients tell me their symptoms are worse in cold conditions or after cold water crossings.

You often read about people losing their toenails during a long hike. I’ve never experienced this one myself, but what may be causing that?

Losing toenails is very common in endurance sports in general. The high repetition of hiking and running cause micro trauma that, for some, causes bleeding under the nails, which then loosens the nail and it eventually falls off.

Because feet swell during long events, shoes that cannot accommodate the increased volume will create pressure on the longest toes leading to loosening of the nail. Conversely, a shoe that is too loose in the heel and ankle can allow the foot to slide forward on long descents, which also traumatizes the nail bed. A shoe that is too narrow and/or too tapered at the toe-box will increase pressure on the 5th digit nail bed (little toe). Also, for most of us the 5th toe tends to curl in a bit as we walk a bit on the side of the nail - this can further increase the risk of nail trauma.

The toenail will ALWAYS grow back, but it may never be the same. Once the "seal" between the nail and nail bed has been broken, the nail will not likely adhere perfectly anymore. This means that a person may be vulnerable to recurrence and will also likely develop fungal changes to the nail bed. We all have fungus that lives on our foot. It is normal and natural. It is the same fungus, if it proliferates, that causes athletes foot. However, once the nail has loosened, even once, it then has the opportunity to get under the nail and cause brittleness, discoloration, etc. At this time there are not side-effect free fungal nail treatments and there is such a high recurrence rate anyway that I usually just recommend good foot hygiene.

I'd like to give a big thanks to Paul Langer for taking the time to help out the hiking community by answering our questions! If anyone has an further questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below or visit Paul's website at

RELATED ARTICLES:Footcare for Backpackers, Part 1
Should I Buy Hiking Shoes or Boots?

Paul R. Langer, DPM ( is a board certified podiatrist who specializes in sports medicine, foot disorders, biomechanics, surgery and diabetic foot care. He has lectured at and served on the medical staff of international athletic events including the Boston Marathon and China’s Gobi March. He is a clinical advisor for the American Running Association, and an associate of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. He is the author of Great Feet for Life: Footcare and Footwear for Healthy Aging and has been featured in the following publications:

Athletic Footwear and Orthoses in Sports Medicine
The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies
Breakthroughs in Drug-Free Healing
Barefoot Running Step by Step

Education: Dr. Langer received his podiatric education at Des Moines University and completed two years of residency and surgical training at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Hospital Affiliations: Fairview Ridges Hospital Fairview Southdale Hospital Minnesota Valley Surgery Center University of Minnesota Medical Center - Fairview

Professional Affiliations and Memberships: American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, President Foot & Ankle Quarterly, Board Member

Special Achievements and Awards: Top Doctor: Voted a top doctor by his peers in Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine (2006 - 2010)

Footcare for Backpackers, Part 1: An Interview with AAPSM President, Paul Langer

By far, the most read post on this blog is my article on hiking shoes vs. boots, so I wanted to revisit the topic with an expert’s advice. I contacted Paul Langer, president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and D.P.M. at one of the largest orthopedic groups in the country, Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minnesota. Paul was more than happy to answer all of my questions and those asked by fellow hikers on the forums.

Part one will focus on footwear for backpackers and part two will be on foot care and maintenance on the trail, although there will be some overlap. I started my questions with the subject of my previous article, shoes vs. boots.

RG: Possibly the most common footwear debate among hikers is trail runners vs. hiking boots. I prefer, and often recommend to thru-hikers, trail runners with a sturdy wide sole over boots. What are your thoughts? Do you see advantages or disadvantages to either? 
PL: Footwear and comfort are highly personal and subjective topics - not just for hiking and sports, but also for daily living. As background, I worked in running shoe stores when I was a podiatry student and I couldn’t understand why people would have such different experiences with the shoes I showed them in terms of comfort.
    " are like quarterbacks. They get too much credit when things are good and too much blame when things are bad."

    -Paul Langer
Research on comfort seems to show that our footwear preferences are influenced by our movement patterns and sensitivity, among other things, which are highly unique person to person. Our bodies are programmed to move in the manner that uses the least amount of energy and causes the least amount of discomfort or pain. No one moves in the exact same way. Our movement pattern is as unique as our signature.
If a shoe works with our movement pattern then it will feel more comfortable. If it works against our movement pattern then it will feel uncomfortable or at least less comfortable than a "better" shoe.
There is also a hierarchy in comfort factors. For example, some people feel that cushioning is of primary importance and arch support or weight are less so. Others might place higher priority on weight and firmer feel. Neither is wrong. In working with athletes and non-athletes, I have learned that unless there is a very specific injury or source of chronic pain that can be addressed by a specific shoe, insole, or shoe modification, I encourage them to trust their instincts on what shoes have the fit and feel that they prefer for the given activity.
Most hikers know their body and feet well and know their preferences. I always respect personal footwear preferences and then try to offer the simplest changes to address pain or injuries as needed. 
Out of the gate, and I'm rightfully put in my place. Although, it seems to be the conventional wisdom that hikers need boots, so I've noticed new backpackers gravitating toward them by default. Often, because of a belief that a high-collar will offer better ankle support. That seems to make sense, but in practice I don't find them to be very effective. Would ankle wraps do more to protect someone prone to ankle injuries than high-collared footwear? 
Yes. Ankle wraps - especially lace-up or Velcro ones are able to provide better ankle protection than high-collared boots.

What footwear do you prefer on the trail?

Can high collars on boots actually cause injuries by restricting ankle movement and put more stress on hips and knees? 
If a boot were too restrictive at the ankle it would likely cause discomfort there before affecting the hip or knee.
Is there any truth to the idea that high-collar boots hinder the development of the support structures inside the ankle?
I've never seen a study that showed high-collared boots inhibit balance or ankle strength long term. In fact, there are no studies that show ankle braces cause this either. Maybe if a person wore their high-collar boots all day, every day, they might have issues, but I would argue that a person who hikes regularly in high-collar boots probably has better balance and strength than a sedentary person who wears flat shoes all day. 
Alright, I admit I may be trying to reinforce my opinion that trail runners are far superior, but I have one final question about ankle support. A hiker going by the name Trailweaver on, asks, "I'm now recovered from a severe fracture of the tibia-fibula, but now that ankle swells so much that it's impossible to wear boots (with ankle support) which I always wore before. How do I best protect myself from twisted ankles in low cut shoes? And what should I do about the swelling when I'm hiking?
Unfortunately, after many ankle fractures people develop arthritis. Her swelling is related to the arthritis. I would recommend wearing a compression stocking or adjustable ankle brace that is comfortable. No one can predict how much compression or ankle support is ideal for any given person, so she would need to experiment with different levels of ankle support and find what works for her. She should also be very diligent about doing ankle balance and strength exercises to minimize her risk of re-injury. (Click here to download an exercise sheet provided by Paul that covers foot and ankle exercises)
On a long hike, minimizing swelling early is important because once it starts it can be hard to reduce. On the trail, taking advantage of cold streams can help. Elevating the foot when resting is beneficial as well.
    "I look at footwear as tools and I select the best tool for the given conditions of the trail and how my feet or legs feel."

    -Paul Langer
How are knee and hip pain related to improper footwear and how can we prevent some of these issues down the trail? 
The term "improper footwear" is a controversial one. There is no formal definition and many philosophies on the term. For those with knee or hip pain, I would focus on those joints and then functional movement patterns and core strength, which are more likely contributing to pain than shoes. I've said often, especially in relation to knee, hip, and leg injuries, that shoes are like quarterbacks. They get too much credit when things are good and too much blame when things are bad. 
It's common practice for long-distance hikers to purchase shoes that are one size larger than you need to accommodate the foot growth that happens on a long-distance hike. Is that good advice to follow? Is this perceived foot growth due to bones growing, arches collapsing, soft tissue swelling, or something else?
There is evidence that cultures who go barefoot or wear only sandals have wider and longer feet in relation to body size, but for thru-hikers it would be unlikely that their feet could grow or expand while wearing footwear that minimizes expansion of bones/joints/soft tissue.
Any perceived change in foot size would be most likely due to soft tissue edema (swelling). If this happens then it would be expected that the feet would return to previous size within a few days or weeks of completing the hike. I haven’t actually seen any research specifically on thru-hikers and foot size, but it would be interesting if we had some data.
I do recommend fitting the boots bigger to accommodate swelling, but not too big. One to 1.5 sizes bigger than street shoes should suffice for most people. In general, I recommend that the boot be snug in the heel and mid-foot to minimize pistoning of the heel and forward slipping on downhills. The boot should allow for wiggle room in the toes to accommodate the swelling.  So basically, the boot should be snug in the back two-thirds.   
HeartFire from WhiteBlaze has a question about insoles. "Do rigid insoles shift your posture or spine?" She said that within 100 miles of switching to rigid Superfeet insoles, she experienced knee pain, shoulder pain, and back pain. When she got rid of them, the problems went away. 

For me personally, Superfeet worked great. I started my first long distance hike with minimalist shoes and regretted it after about 400 miles ($1000 x-ray and emergency room visit). On doctor's orders, I switched to a stiffer shoe with rigid Superfeet insoles and my feet improved significantly after only a couple weeks. Are softer insoles better than rigid or is it as subjective as “proper” footwear? 
This a very big topic and source of confusion, not just in hiking, but in sports medicine in general. What I always keep in mind, as I mentioned above, is that individual movement patterns are highly unique. In addition, people do not respond in systematic ways to biomechanical interventions. What this means is that prescribing insoles or orthotics (or footwear for that matter) is not like prescribing antibiotics, for example. I can prescribe the same antibiotic to 10 people and expect consistent results in their infection with small variations in side effects. But I can prescribe an insole or orthotic for, let’s say, 10 people with plantar fasciitis and similar foot types and I might get 10 different responses in terms of comfort, pain relief or potential side effects. I explain this to every patient who I speak to about shoes, insoles or orthotics.
My general approach is to do as little as possible to negatively affect their preferred movement pattern, but the problem is that we do not know how a given person will respond, ever. There has been much research done on this topic, which shows that approximately 70% of people respond positively to insoles and orthotics. We do not understand why and the reasons would probably be different person to person anyway.
Benno Nigg, PhD, one of the foremost footwear researchers has said that there is probably an ideal amount of cushioning for each of us in terms of footwear. We just don’t yet know how to determine what that might be. I rarely recommend cushioned insoles for most foot conditions except for older patients who have lost the natural fat pad on the bottom of the foot. For athletes and hikers, semi-rigid insoles like Powerstep, Superfeet and others are better at distributing foot pressure, supporting the arch and being durable enough to hold up.
Many backpackers are switching to minimalist footwear. As a barefoot runner and someone injured on the trail due to minimalist footwear, I’d like to know your opinion on this topic. Is it good or bad for the foot? Are there pros and cons? 
This is a huge topic. I'll preface this by saying that I run in Vibram FiveFingers, New Balance Minimus, Merrel Trail Gloves, and other minimalist footwear, but I also wear conventional shoes and occasionally insoles and orthotics. I look at footwear as tools and I select the best tool for the given conditions of the trail and how my feet or legs feel. I run more than I hike and I'm lucky enough to live along the Mississippi River, so have miles of grass and parkland right outside my front door. 
I love my VFF's for grass runs of up to 8 miles. I probably could condition myself to go longer than that in them but don’t feel the need. For long runs or speed workouts, I use my conventional shoes because I tend to get a bit more beat up. On rocky surfaces or if I'm sore from the previous day's workout, I will also use a more structured shoe or my insoles/orthotics. I spent three years transitioning to VFF's and at one point used them for 50% of my mileage. 
Okay, enough about me. I have treated many athletes who have hurt themselves trying barefoot or minimalist shoes. What I find, as far as mistakes made with minimalist shoes, is that people assume that the impact forces of running or hiking magically disappear. They do not - they are merely redistributed. So while knee and hip loading may be decreased, the loads on the calf muscles, Achilles tendons, and metatarsals (long skinny bones of the foot) are increased. This is a big change for most of us who have been using conventional shoes for all of our lives. 
Anyone who is interested in trying them needs to do so gradually, listen to their body's feedback and never ignore pain. I give my patients exercises to do to increase strength and flexibility of the calf and Achilles prior to starting (download Paul's exercise pamphlet here). Personally, on very rocky terrain and especially with a pack on my back, I would not likely use my minimalist shoes. I would never say nobody should backpack in minimalist shoes, but I would strongly emphasize a very smart, safe and gradual build up to it - likely over the course of many months or years. 
One more question about minimalist footwear and I'll move on to the topic of foot maintenance and care on the trail. A minimalist footwear hiker named Meriadoc, from, has a question about zero drop shoes. "Why are some manufacturers going with a 4 to 5 mm drop in their minimalist shoes?"

He also asks, "When I go on the trail if I push too hard my Achilles starts to ache with a dull pain that gradually increases until it forces me to stop. Why would this happen? Shouldn't my Achilles already be at the full length from walking and hiking in zero drop shoes every day? Is it similar to overuse injuries in the knee tendons?"
The pre-activation and loading of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon complex is higher in shoes with zero drop. Higher heel heights decrease this load. Because we have been using elevated heel design shoes for decades, our bodies need to adapt to the altered load. I don’t know how old Meriadoc is, but if he is over 35 then he is already prone to Achilles tendonopathy because of age related changes to the tendons. He should be doing the eccentric calf muscle exercises I mention above to improve strength and elasticity of the tendon and maybe until he resolves the issue stick to shoes with 4-10 mm of heel elevation. How long should it take to adapt to zero drop? No one can answer that question. It would be highly unique to each individual.
In part two, Paul will answer our questions about how to take care of our feet on the trail, and the causes and solutions to many common foot issues. 

Related article:
Footcare for Backpackers, Part 2
Should I Buy Hiking Shoes or Boots?

Paul R. Langer, DPM ( is a board certified podiatrist who specializes in sports medicine, foot disorders, biomechanics, surgery and diabetic foot care. He has lectured at and served on the medical staff of international athletic events including the Boston Marathon and China’s Gobi March. He is a clinical advisor for the American Running Association, and an associate of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. He is the author of Great Feet for Life: Footcare and Footwear for Healthy Aging and has been featured in the following publications:

Athletic Footwear and Orthoses in Sports Medicine
The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies
Breakthroughs in Drug-Free Healing
Barefoot Running Step by Step

Education: Dr. Langer received his podiatric education at Des Moines University and completed two years of residency and surgical training at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Hospital Affiliations: Fairview Ridges Hospital Fairview Southdale Hospital Minnesota Valley Surgery Center University of Minnesota Medical Center - Fairview

Professional Affiliations and Memberships: American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, President Foot & Ankle Quarterly, Board Member

Special Achievements and Awards: Top Doctor: Voted a top doctor by his peers in Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine (2006 - 2010)

Grocery Shopping with a Thru-hiker, Part 2

A Thru-Hiker Shopping List

In part one, I wrote about the features of the best backpacking foods (calorie dense, easy to prepare, nutritious, non-perishable, appetizing, inexpensive, and versatile). Below are common items on my resupply shopping list that take all of that into account with more nutrition advice from New Orleans Saints sports dietitian, Tavis Piattoly.

Obviously, taste is too subjective to tell you specifically what to buy, so my goal instead is to give you new things to consider when buying food. It's inevitable that I will miss something, so please share your own suggestions in the comments below.

Olive Oil
Oil is all fat, so it's the most calorie dense thing you can pack (about 242 calories per ounce). By adding olive oil to pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, etc, you can increase all of their calorie density. Instant potatoes, for example, have about 111 calories per ounce, but has 176 if you mix in two tablespoons of olive oil.
That brings up an important point: If you need 6,000 calories per day, and your meals average 110 calories per ounce (the average number of calories in freeze-dried pasta meals and instant potatoes), you'd need 3.5 pounds of food per day. If you instead carry meals that average 150 calories per ounce, you will reduce your food weight by 1 pound for every day's worth of food in your pack.
There are lots of oils to choose from, but olive oil has a nice buttery flavor, it's easy to find in resupply towns, and it's cheap (as low as US$0.99 per 1,000 calories), which brings up another important point: If you want to do a long distance hike on a budget, think of the cost of food per calorie, not the shelf price or the price per meal.
Another benefit to olive oil is that it's nearly 75% monounsaturated fatty acids, which is a healthy dietary fat. It also contains Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which help reduce joint and muscle inflammation.
One more thing, even if you can find the small plastic bottles of olive oil, I found that an empty soda bottle works better to prevent leaking. 
Instant Potatoes
Instant mashed potatoes taste good and cook quickly, but nutritionally they're not great. Their glycemic index (GI) is higher than table sugar. I put them high on this list, however, to talk about blood sugar spikes from consuming a high GI diet.
In the morning, and during the day while hiking, high GI foods will provide you with an immediate source of energy, but pair that with fats, protein, and fiber: 
"Adding fat or protein to any high glycemic carbohydrate source will blunt the spike in blood sugar," says Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN and Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints. "I wouldn't recommend high GI foods while you are resting (before bed or during any period of inactivity) as your blood sugar could drop quickly and a hiker could experience fatigue. It would be best to have a meal mixed with protein, carbs, and fat to keep blood sugar in check." 
For example, when eating a high GI food like instant potatoes, mix in olive oil and bacon bits to add fat and protein to help blunt the spike in blood sugar. Add a side like peanut butter on whole-wheat bread or tortilla for additional fiber, fat, and protein.
Some of the best backpacking foods are nuts and seeds. Macadamia Nuts and Pecans pack about 200 calories per ounce. Most other nuts average about 185 and peanuts have about 150 calories per ounce (Peanuts are higher in protein, however, and considerably cheaper). Nuts are also versatile, since most are great mixed with oatmeal, trail mixes, or eaten plain.
My favorite are walnuts. They offer a good balance of calories and protein per ounce. They are not the best in those categories, but a good average in both. What really makes them my top choice are their high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce muscle and joint inflammation. No other nut has more.
Peanuts are my second choice for cost, taste, and protein per ounce, but eating a variety of nuts and seeds is always a better choice.
Here is a comparison of commonly available nuts in a variety of categories:
Nut Calories / oz Protein / oz Cost / 1000 cal. Omega-3
Walnuts1894.72$2.99 2.50 g
Macadamia Nuts  2132.02$3.940
Peanuts152 6.07 $1.460
Pecans2002.83$2.880.29 g
Mixed Nuts172 6.07$1.95-

Peanut Butter

My favorite backpacking food is peanut butter. It has a lot of calories per ounce (about 169), it keeps for a very long time, and it is one of the cheapest foods per calorie (as low as 88¢ per 1,000). It's also a great substitute for meat protein, which can be limited on the trail.
Perhaps the best thing about it as a backpacking food is its versatility. Slather some on a tortilla, bread, or crackers, make a peanut butter sauce for pasta (see recipes in part 3), add it to oatmeal to increase protein in your breakfast, or just eat a big spoonful with any meal or snack for extra fat, protein, and calories.
It’s tempting to buy powdered peanut butter (like PB2) to save weight, but it has almost 40% fewer calories per ounce, so it's actually heavier. It also costs nearly twice as much, is less nutritious, and in my opinion tastes absolutely terrible. It should be ashamed to call itself peanut butter. 
Tortillas, Breads and Crackers
Unlike bread or crackers, whole wheat tortillas can take a lot of abuse when stowed in a backpack. Per calorie, however, tortillas cost about twice as much. Cheaper bread alternatives that can take more abuse are bagels, pita bread, and English muffins. (Campfire English muffin pizzas are amazing on the trail, by the way, more on that in part 3.)
If you want more calories per ounce, consider whole wheat Ritz crackers with your peanut butter, tuna, meats, or cheeses. They have twice as much as bread and tortillas. 
Always go with whole wheat when possible to get all the fiber you can get:
"I typically recommend trying to get 10 g [of fiber] for every 1000 calories consumed," said Tavis. "The importance and benefits for a hiker would be to help regulate blood sugar and keep you full longer. The more stable your blood sugar and insulin levels are, the more energy you should have throughout the day. A more stable carbohydrate [from whole grains] will be better utilized as an energy source and keep you more full during a long day of activity." 
Whole Wheat Pasta
It’s tempting to go with cheap ramen noodles or Knorr Pasta Sides (and sometimes I still do), but with regular whole wheat pasta you can improve your diet without adding to your food budget. Unlike ramen noodles and many prepackaged pasta meals, whole wheat pasta is high in fiber and protein, it has a lower glycemic index, and it has no saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat can lead to sluggishness and inflammation.
Whole Wheat Pasta is also versatile and, with only slightly more effort, you can make some meals every bit as good as a freeze-dried Mountain House meal, which will weigh less per calorie and at a fraction of the cost. 
Save fuel by purchasing thinner pastas, like angel hair pasta or mini rotini, which cook much faster (al dente in about 4-7 minutes, 30-50% faster than regular spaghetti). Also, cooking it al dente, so it's still firm when bitten, has the added benefit of slowing digestion, which levels out the spike in blood sugar and makes you feel fuller longer.
My last pasta tip, you don't need a giant pot of boiling water to cook pasta. This of course wastes fuel and would be impractical in a small backpacker cook pot. Instead, fill your pot with enough water to cover the pasta and stir regularly, especially in the first minute or two when the sticky starches are at a high concentration on the surface of the pasta. Your pasta will cook just as well as if you had a large pot of boiling water and without clumping. After the pasta is finished boiling, save that starchy water to use in sauces to make them thicker and creamier.
Unlike soft cheeses, hard block cheeses like Parmesan and Romano do not need to be refrigerated. They can last for several days if sealed and if temperatures do not exceed 85°F. 
Other reasons to carry Parmesan is that it has 11 g of protein per ounce. That's more than nuts, peanut butter, powdered milk, and non-dehydrated meats. It can be added to prepackaged pasta dishes or used with whole wheat pasta and olive oil to make Parmesan Noodles.
Softer cheeses, when individually sealed, can keep for a few days if it isn't too hot. String cheese, in particular, packs well. On a warm day, keep cheese in the center of your pack to keep it cool. 
Mac and Cheese
Skip the box of Kraft Macaroni and cheese and make it from scratch using versatile ingredients that can be used in multiple ways. Just cook your pasta, add powdered whole milk, olive oil, and melt in shredded cheese or block cheese that has been shredded or cut into tiny pieces. 
Another reason I suggest versatile ingredients such as these, is because the more ways you use them the larger quantities you can buy, which will save you money on a long distance hike. 
Oatmeal also has a high glycemic index and instant oatmeal, although convenient, is loaded with additional sugar. Plain rolled oats are often less expensive per calorie and can be prepared in a number of healthier ways.
Reduce the overall glycemic index of the meal by adding nuts, peanut butter, whey protein, and/or powdered milk. You can also add a little olive oil or butter (if it's cold enough to carry butter) to increase the calories and improve flavor. Oatmeal can also be mixed with dried fruit or cocoa mixes such as Nestle or Ovaltine. It's great with a freshly chopped apple or fresh picked berries too.
In the photo of my oatmeal above, I added walnuts, peanut butter, blueberries,and protein powder for a 1,000 calorie breakfast with about 30g of protein 80g of carbs, and 35g of fat. 
 Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is not calorie dense, but a variety of dried fruit will prevent some vitamin deficiencies on your thru-hike. Not only are they a convenient quick snack, but many dried fruits are great in oatmeal, trail mixes, and when used to sweeten certain rice and pasta dishes.
Tart cherries are particularly excellent on the trail, because they have been shown to reduce joint and muscle inflammation. 
Powdered Whole Milk
You can find powdered whole milk in the Hispanic section in most grocery stores, usually the Nestle Nido brand. Whole milk has 50% more calories (151 per ounce) than powdered skim milk and is usually a little bit cheaper per calorie. 
Another reason many people, including myself, prefer whole milk is that it's creamier and tastes better in recipes, but both are a great way to add calories and protein to coffee, hot cocoa, oatmeal, and many other meals.
Cocoa drink mixes
Ovaltine with powdered milk will mix well hot or cold, which is why I stopped taking hot cocoa mix on the trail. It also tastes better to me than hot cocoa mix and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. It can also be added to oatmeal, coffee, or used in other trail recipes.
Instant Coffee or Cider
Definitely not a necessity, but when it's cold I like to have hot beverages in my pack. It can do a lot for morale at the end of a long cold day. 
For more protein and calories, mix instant coffee with cocoa and powdered milk to make a trail mocha. Add a little sugar to that, drink it cold, and it tastes similar to a Frappachino from Starbucks. 
Breakfast cereals with powdered whole milk are like dehydrated foods that don’t require a stove, which is great when going stoveless or when you're unable or unwilling to cook. They are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals that hikers may become deficient in without taking a multi-vitamin.
The major drawback to cereals on the trail is they take up a lot of space in your pack. Many cereals also have a high glycemic index, so look for ones that are high in fiber and protein, such as Kashi Go Lean Cereal or shredded wheat. Dried or freshly picked fruit is a great addition.
Some cereals are also great in trail mixes and oatmeal. Cinnamon Toast Crunch, although not a healthy option, makes nearly all trail mixes better. Actually, it makes life better in general. Cereal is my comfort food.
Candy Bars
Candy bars are a cheap and convenient snack to carry and I'm always in the mood for them. Energy bars are generally higher in protein and lower in saturated fat, but they are 2-4 times more expensive and not as calorie dense. And I personally don't like the taste of most energy bars. Anyway, there are much cheaper ways to get that protein you need.
I'm a big fan of Snickers bars, but possibly the best candy bar for backpacking is Payday. It's about the same cost per calorie and has about the same calories per ounce as Snickers (134 calories per ounce), but Paydays have nearly 60% more protein and half as much saturated fat. They also don't melt on a hot day.
Peanut Butter M&Ms are also popular on the trail for their high calorie content (150 cals/oz.). They are lower in protein than Payday, however, and nearly three times as high in saturated fat. They are great in trail mixes though.
Foil pouch of Chicken, Tuna, and Salmon
Salmon and Tuna costs about $21.00 per 1000 calories. What salmon and tuna do provide, however, is protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Tuna is a decent protein source (7g/oz), but foil pouches of chicken have just as much at half the price ($10.20 per 1000 calories). 
All of these only have about 30 calories per ounce, so I rarely buy more than one or two pouches on a resupply. Of course, if you have the time and it's legal in your area, fishing makes the weight and cost of fish irrelevant. 
 Dehydrated and pre-cooked meats
Beef Jerky is more calorie and protein dense than tuna or chicken, with about 81 calories and 14 grams of protein per ounce. The price is comparable too, at $12.48 per 1000 calories or more.
Pepperoni is one of my favorite trail-suitable meat sources, due to its higher calorie density (132 calories/oz.) and its versatility. It's good on crackers, tortillas, trail pizzas, or eaten plain. It's also the cheapest meat suitable for the trail, if you buy a pound unsliced it can be as low as $2.63 per 1000 calories if you order it from (I'll be testing out using for a few mail drops on the PCT, I'll let you know how that works out in a future post.) Grocery store pepperoni runs more like $4.60 per 1,000 calories, so still the cheapest meat on my list.
Another great meat option on the trail is pre-cooked bacon or bacon bits. They're great in instant mashed potatoes, salads, sandwiches, wraps, mac and cheese, and other pasta dishes. The "Fully-cooked" bacon has 126 calories per ounce and "real" bacon bits have 101, but bacon bits are half the price per ounce, at about $7.30 per 1000 calories.
If you like the taste, foil packs of Spam have 101 calories/oz., 12 g of protein/oz., and cost about $7.73 per 1,000 calories.
Lentils and other beans
Lentils are not lightweight calories, at only 33 calories per ounce, but they make my list for a lot of reasons. They are the cheapest source of calories, protein, and fiber (as low as 26¢ per 1,000 calories).
They are 1/5th the cost per gram of protein of the next cheapest protein source on my list, whey protein powder. They are not a complete protein, however, but if eaten with whole grains you can create a more complete protein dish. 
Other than being one of the best sources of fiber on this list, lentils are also full of many things thru-hikers may lack in their normal diet, such as, iron, folate, vitamin B1, and several essential amino acids.
Cook time can be reduced by soaking them in a zip-loc bag of water a few hours before cooking, but I haven't found this to be necessary unless I'm trying to conserve fuel. I tend to eat them al dente to reduce cook time as well.
Whey Protein
It may seem expensive, and it is per calorie, but it's one of the cheapest, most versatile, and most convenient protein sources you can buy. It has over 24 grams of protein per ounce. Nothing else on my list even comes close. It's great in protein shakes, oatmeal, cereal, or hot cocoa.
Fruits and Vegetables 
A lot of produce, although heavy calories, will pack out well: potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onions, cucumbers, squash, garlic, apples, avocados, hot peppers, carrots, and celery, for example. Also, consider picking up a bag of complete ready-made salad for your first night's dinner after a resupply. Keep produce in the center of your pack where it is coolest. 
Little Debbie snacks, honey buns, pop-tarts, and donuts may not be the healthiest food choices, but they can be cheap (pop-tarts as low as 88¢ per 1000 calories). They also require no time to prepare and are an excellent comfort food. I've said it before, but don't underestimate the power of comfort foods to improve morale on a long-distance hike. 
And I'll repeat myself again, pair high GI foods like these with foods that are high in unsaturated fat, dietary fiber, and protein to blunt the blood-sugar spike. If you're going to eat them, have them with breakfast or during a mid-day snack break for their immediate source of energy, but not before bed or during periods of inactivity so you can avoid the subsequent drop in blood sugar.
Spices and sauce packets
Soy Sauce, hot sauce, mustard, honey, sugar, salt, pepper, and other restaurant condiment packets are a great way to improve recipes without carrying large quantities. I pick up a few when I'm eating in restaurants in town. You can also purchase single use sized portions of spices in many grocery stores. 
Drink Mixes/Electrolyte replacement
Drink mixes with electrolytes are vital when getting this much physical activity, especially on a hot summer day climbing up mountains. Drink mixes will also make creek or lake water taste better, which helps ensure you'll drink enough. Electrolyte replacement is important enough to consider it part of your first aid kit.

Once again, thanks to Tavis Piattoly for helping me get some of my facts straight in this article. In an upcoming post, I'll use this list in a sample daily meal plan including recipes from the authors of the best-selling backpacking cookbook, "Lip Smackin' Backpacking." Please send me an email with your own recipes, comments, or suggestions, or leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading


Related Articles:
Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Cooking Supplies and How to Make an Alcohol Stove
Grocery Shopping with a Thru-Hiker, Part One
- - - = = = - - -

Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department where he coordinates nutritional assessments, provides nutrition education, and develops individual meal plans for athletes to improve their health, performance, and recovery. In addition, he consults for numerous high schools athletic programs throughout the state of Louisiana. Futhermore, Tavis worked closely with Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to help them retain their boxing titles and has been working with Lance Berkman since 2011.

He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian (, an online sports nutrition education company to help High School and College Athletes improve their eating habits to enhance performance, recovery, and health through the guidance of a Licensed Sports Dietitian.

Tavis obtained a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from Louisiana State University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana State University. He is a registered and licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. In addition, he serves on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Board.

Grocery Shopping with a Thru-Hiker, Part 1

(Photo: The wonderfully versatile peanut butter)
When non-backpacking folk ask what I eat on a long trail, many assume I carry a couple months of food on my back or that I fish, hunt, set traps, and forage for edible plants and berries. I would love to maintain that false image of me in their heads, but I've never been a good liar. A month of food would weigh nearly a hundred pounds, hunting and gathering is often prohibited, and there isn't enough time when you need to hike 20 miles a day. The truth is, other than the occasional wild berry bush, my food is foraged from grocery stores and gas stations along the way.

This series on food is about long distance hiking, with the aspiring first-time thru-hiker in mind, but it will still be relevant for any multi-day hike. The main difference is that with long distance hiking, things like budgets, resupplying along the way, limited availability of items in towns, maintaining body weight, and good nutrition are more important factors to consider. On a week-long trip, I don't worry about saving a few dollars or maintaining body weight. Nor do I think as much about proper nutrition, joint inflammation, or getting burnt out on certain foods.

Part two will be a sample long-distance hiker shopping list, but before making a list, here are a few things to consider:

How many calories do you need?

There are too many variables to know the exact number of calories you’ll need on a given day, such as body weight, gender, age, metabolism, pack weight, elevation gain, temperature, and hiking speed. You can, however, get an estimate of what you'll need then work from there.

“To get a rough estimate,” says Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN, Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints. “First, determine your estimated basal metabolic rate (or BMR, the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest). For men the formula for your BMR equals:

88.362 + (6.077 x weight in lbs.) + (12.189 x height in inches) - (5.677 x age in years) 

For women, BMR equals:

447.593 + (4.194 x weight in lbs.) + (7.869 x height in inches) - (4.330 x age in years)

That's approximately what you'll burn doing nothing but keeping your vital functions going, such as breathing and keeping warm. Next, add the following number of calories for every hour you are backpacking in a given day:

Body Weight
Pack Weight     
100 lbs. 115 lbs.
130 lbs.
155 lbs.
180 lbs.
205 lbs.
9 lbs.
318 365
10 to 20 lbs.
341 392
21 to 42 lbs.
363 418
Over 42 lbs.
408 470

I’m 6 foot, 180 lbs., 35 years old, so my BMR equals 1,861 calories. After a strenuous 10-hour hike, with maybe 2 hours of breaks, my average daily calorie needs would be about 7,000. The calories in the chart above are for strenuous uphill hiking, so the numbers may seem higher than what you normally eat, but this isn't an exact science, rather it’s a guide to get you started. You’ll need to make adjustments as you go. Most of us have plenty of fat stores to get us by until we figure it out, but you will lose about one pound for every 3,500 calorie deficit in your diet. That adds up fast on a long distance hike, so it's important to have a general idea of the calories your body needs.

“In the beginning of your thru-hike," says Tavis "Weigh yourself every 3-7 days, if possible (early morning after going to the restroom). Measure how hungry you are every 2, 3, or 4 hours. If you’re getting hungry in 60-90 minutes after eating a meal, you either didn't eat enough or it caused a spike and crash in your blood sugar, so you would need a more stable carbohydrate: quinoa, beans, whole grain cereals, like Kashi or Shredded Wheat, or whole grain bread - anything rich in fiber.”

Features of the Best Backpacking Foods

The best backpacking foods are:

  • Calorie dense

    Calorie density has less to do with dehydrated food and more to do with fat content. Fat has just over 250 calories per ounce, 225% more than protein and carbohydrates. For comparison, a bag of mixed nuts has about 185 calories per ounce, a dehydrated pasta meal has about 110 per ounce. Dried fruit has about 85. Foil packages of tuna, salmon, and chicken and fresh produce have about 30 calories per ounce.

    With a 6,000-calorie diet, if you ate a very low-fat trail diet of fish and fresh produce, you’d need to carry 90 pounds for a week on the trail. If you choose high-fat calorie-dense foods, you can get that down to about 16 - 19 lbs. Although I've never met a backpacker attempt the former, you can see how food selection can make a huge difference in your pack weight.
  • Easy to prepare with minimal cooking supplies

    That way there's no need to carry more than a stove, cook pot, fuel, and spoon. I've gone on many backpacking trips without cooking supplies, but on a long distance hike, the ability to cook will increase your food options and make it easier to have a more healthful varied diet.

    Campfires can save weight by eliminating the need to carry a stove and fuel, but they can't always be relied on due to rain or fire bans. If you're planning for campfires, be sure you have plenty of foods that do not require cooking for those rainy days.
  • Highly Nutritious

    With the food limitations of long-distance hiking, namely the lack of refrigeration, access to fresh produce, and the need for calorie dense/high-fat foods, it’s very easy to become deficient in a variety of vitamins and minerals over time. Additionally, it's very important to reduce saturated fat and sugar intake. It's tempting to pack a lot of cheap, high-saturated fat and high-calorie junk foods, but too much can lead to increased inflammation and sluggishness. Constant soreness and lack of energy have sent a lot of would-be thru-hikers home before finishing their goal.
  • Non-perishable

    Lack of refrigeration makes it more difficult to eat a healthy varied diet on the trail, and the need for non-perishable foods is obvious. Some perishable foods, however, can last a few hours or days without refrigeration. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano will last for days if kept sealed well. Individually wrapped cheeses, like string cheese, also pack well.

    A lot of produce, although heavy calories, will pack out well: potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cucumbers, squashes, garlic, apples, avocados, hot peppers, and carrots, for example. Also, pick up a bag of complete ready-made salad for your first night's dinner after a resupply.

    Bacon, which makes all things better, is available pre-cooked at most grocery stores. Farm-fresh eggs, which have not been previously refrigerated, can keep for several days at or below 68°F. (Once refrigerated in a grocery store, however, eggs should stay refrigerated due to the “sweating” on the shell that happens from the sudden change in temperature. This can lead to bacterial growth.)

    And don't forget the world is your refrigerator when it’s below 40° F. When it’s cold enough outside, your food options open up considerable, like milk, eggs, meats, cheeses, and butter. As with most perishable foods, keep them stored in the center of your pack to keep them a little cooler and avoid body heat and seal them well after opening.
  • Appetizing

    It may seem obvious, but on a long distance hike you’ll probably get tired of even your favorite foods eventually. This is the main reason I buy my food along the way and avoid preparing mail drops before a trip and shipping them to myself along the trail. What sounds good before a trip, may make you dread dinner at the end of your day months later. You want to crave the foods you carry. It will help morale and ensure you’re going to eat enough calories to maintain body weight.
  • Inexpensive

    Believe it or not, people who hike for several months out of the year (rather than working) are usually on a tight budget. Some of the cheapest calories on my list are: lentils, ramen noodles, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, Pop Tarts, peanut butter, and olive oil. All are less than $1 per 1,000 calories and lentils are as cheap as 26¢ per 1,000 calories. For a comparison, Mountain House or other brands of pre-packaged meals, run over $12 per 1,000 calories. Beef jerky costs about the same. Foil packets of tuna and salmon, about $20 per 1,000 calories.

    Hiking with a group can save you a lot of money by allowing you to buy in bulk and separate the food into individual zip-top bags. If you prefer to hike alone, try to find other hikers heading to town around the same time as you. Ask if they want to share the cost of bulk foods and slow down or increase your hiking speed to ensure you get to town the same time as them.

    If you're not with a group, buying in bulk can still save you money without carrying more food weight, if you carry versatile ingredients that can be prepared in multiple ways.
  • Versatile

    Buy ingredients that can be prepared in multiple ways and with varying cook times, like pasta, oatmeal, crackers, cheese, and peanut butter. Have some meals that don't need to be cooked at all and save them for nights when you don’t have the time or simply aren't in the mood to cook. This is especially important when you run out of fuel or fire bans or rain prevent you from building a campfire.
An example of putting this information to use

I'll have more details in the next post, but as an example, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, peanuts, peanut butter, and olive oil fit in all of the above categories. For example, combine two servings each of cooked whole-wheat pasta, crunchy peanut butter, and olive oil, and you have one of my favorite backpacking meals, Peanut Butter Noodles. (Add salt or a packet of soy sauce to taste.) It has 1040 calories (145 per pre-cooked ounce), 96 grams of carbohydrates, 64 g of fat, 30 grams of protein, 14 grams of fiber, and costs just $0.86. That’s not much more per calorie, than even ramen noodles and much healthier too. In other words, with a little creativity, you can eat for a whole day for the cost of one pre-packaged freeze-dried meal.

These ingredients are also versatile and can be used in a number of ways. Swap out the peanut butter for 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and instead use the peanut butter in your morning oatmeal. In your oatmeal, mix a couple tablespoons of whey protein, cocoa drink mix (such as Ovaltine), or powdered whole milk to add additional vitamins, nutrients, calories, protein, and fat. You could also save the peanut butter to spread on whole-wheat tortillas for lunch and instead add nuts and/or dried fruit to your oatmeal. The Ovaltine and powdered milk can also be used for cold chocolate milk or hot cocoa, or use them to turn your instant coffee into a mocha.

That is all for now. I will post more food ideas in part two. Thanks for reading!


Related Articles:
Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Cooking Supplies and How to Make an Alcohol Stove
- - - = = = - - -

Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department where he coordinates nutritional assessments, provides nutrition education, and develops individual meal plans for athletes to improve their health, performance, and recovery. In addition, he consults for numerous high schools athletic programs throughout the state of Louisiana. Futhermore, Tavis worked closely with Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to help them retain their boxing titles and has been working with Lance Berkman since 2011.

He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian (, an online sports nutrition education company to help High School and College Athletes improve their eating habits to enhance performance, recovery, and health through the guidance of a Licensed Sports Dietitian.

Tavis obtained a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from Louisiana State University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana State University. He is a registered and licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. In addition, he serves on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Board.

The After Interview with 2013 Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker, Victor Maisano

(Mount Katahdin Photo by Victor Maisano)
Regular readers of this blog will remember Victor Maisano, who earlier this year, set out to thru-hike the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail. I interviewed Victor before he left for the southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia and was curious how his thoughts about the trail would change after the hike.

On October 13, 2013, Victor completed the trail, summiting Mount Katahdin in Maine 198 days later.

RG: Just about everyone I met, experienced some degree of post-hike blues when they returned home. How are you feeling about being back in civilization and what do you miss most about being on the trail?

VM: There has certainly been some post-hike blues, however, I knew this was coming and I was prepared for a cure. Since ending my physical adventure, I have been fairly swamped tying up loose ends with my followers, sponsors, and other BackpackingAT related social media adventures. On top of that, all my friends I am getting back in contact with are always asking me questions and want to listen to stories, so I get to relive my trail experience through memory, still, on a daily basis.

The thing I miss most about the trail is probably the routine and challenges. With Baxter Park closing after October 15th, I was on a time crunch near the end, as I summited October 13th. Waking up every morning, not exactly knowing what I was going to see or where I was going to sleep always filled my soul with excitement. I miss that most.

(Moxie Bald, Photo by Victor Maisano)
I completely understand what you mean. Not knowing exactly where you’re going, while nevertheless knowing it is exactly where you need to be going, is quite liberating. 

In our first interview, you said you hoped to gain a new perspective from the hiking community and learn all you could from the experience. What was the biggest lesson you learned on your journey?

For as much as everyone comes from different walks of life and have their own reason for starting to hike 2,185.9 miles, they all have inherently similar characteristics; longing for adventure, trying something different, an excuse to leave modern civilization. What I have learned is that people have different thresholds they are willing and not willing to break. This fact alone sets the course for how the hike will finish (or not finish).

(Photo by Victor Maisano)
You said the things you're most looking forward to on your AT thru-hike are meeting great people, seeing wild animals, and attempting some wilderness survival skills. Did that meet all your expectations?

Yes they did! I did meet a number of great people. Some of which will continue to be great friends, even though there is great distance between us now.

I certainly saw my fair share of animals. I did not expect to see the numerous amount of snakes and turtles I saw. On the flip side, I was disappointed I did not see any moose, elk or porcupines near the end.

As for my wilderness survival skills, I picked up some knowledge along the way from other hikers. Looking back, I probably don't consider many of these things wilderness survival skills as I learned them early on and practically used them every day (hanging bear bags, moderating fire, climbing rocks, recognizing animal traces, etc.), but they most certainly are!

Before starting your hike, you said your biggest concerns were having enough power and knives. Did that change as you started getting used to your new life on the Appalachian Trail?

Ahh yes, I remember this thought clearly.

In terms of security, I feared a little knife would not protect me. This may be true, but there was not much I could practically bring in its place that would have actually satisfied this feeling. I ended up losing and sending home two of the three knifes I started with, leaving me only with a small 2.5 inch knife. This definitely was all I really needed in the end and was perfect for all the tasks I assigned it to (cutting mole skin, hot dogs, kindling, rope, food packages). Anything larger would have certainly been extra weight and not efficient. From a protection stand point, anything dangerous in the wild would need, much, much more than a large knife to secure your survival. Luckily, I never (other than one encounter at night with bear) felt threatened during those six months from animals and mountain folk.

Power: You can never get enough. I feel like that's a plot to almost every movie, but it's true! In the beginning, I was using a Goal Zero Solar Panel and battery back. This worked great as I had the panel strapped to my backpack most days (when it was not raining). Once the leaves started to grow in, however, this option was not effective for me as I was always on the move and could not afford to hangout out in the sun for two hours at a time.

I switched systems and went with a NewTrent rechargeable battery pack. Since I was going through a town every 4-8 days, I would seek out an outlet and recharge my power source, which would allow me enough power till the next town. I just had to be mindful of how I used my power allocation. Uploading content almost daily, it was hard to fight the demons not to use my devices for other internet surfing and Netflix.

(Photo by Victor Maisano)
When you left for Springer, your pack weighed around 45 lbs. Did you end up shedding some pounds before reaching Katahdin? What are some of the things you got rid of?

I shed so much weight and could have shed so much more had I not been carrying around all the technology I did. At the end, I got down to 30lbs. Much of my cookware (excess pot, cup, fork, scrubber), clothing (additional shirts, shorts, underwear), gear (knives, ropes, pulleys, excess stuff sacks, nalgene bottles) was sent home. By the end almost all my gear (including technology) was different from when I started. Either it broke and was replaced, upgraded, or traded out for something different. If you want to check out what I ended up with, check out this list I put together:

Now that you're an AT expert, do you have any recommendations or advice for people starting their hike in 2014?

Actually test your gear. I kinda went at this with a big headed approach "being an Eagle Scout, I know what I need and how it works." However this did not necessarily hold true. Actually going out for a weekend in the elements would have saved many packages being sent home within the first couple months of the hike.

Get in contact with a number of former AT Hikers. They have so much knowledge to share and LOVE to talk about their experience. Take this information and make a note of it in your AWOL Guide (I advise against the ATC Guidebook as it's a little too simple - no elevation map and significantly less tips about information about towns). This way you don't have to memorize all the information, but rather can reference it as you stare at this book at least ten times a day. I would have gotten the PDF version as well.

Remember that while you’re hiking, you’re hiking your own hike. So many times I saw that others and myself, felt like they were trapped or obligated to stay with certain groups or spend an extra day in town. You don't have to. There are always (mostly) people on the trail you can hike and/or camp with and people always have a way with catching up.

(Thru-hiker on Mount Katahdin, Photo by Victor Maisano)
A lot of aspiring thru-hikers are curious about corporate sponsorship, but are unsure where to begin. You were successful in this regard, what did you learn from that experience?

My sponsors where Verizon Wireless, Dollar Shave Club, Leki, SuperFeet, Dr. Bonner's, Grand Trunks Goods, Sea Bear, and Big Agnes.

Having worked in the marketing industry for the past 6 years, I know what sponsors expect and how to keep them happy. However I learned that sitting behind a desk while communicating with your connections and sharing content is much easier than attempting to hike 20 miles, and get 6 hours of sleep while finding a strong enough signal and time to send out the 15+ pictures a day. Planning in advance, maintaining expectations and following through on your commitment certainly made this a positive experience for me.

For approaching companies, I would 1) highly suggest going for the B-List companies. Unless you have connections within the A-List companies I do believe it is much harder to get sponsorships. 2) Make sure to start your communication early. Many companies plan early on in the year how they plan to allocate their funds. 3) Be prepared and provide information about your background and intentions on how you will use their product, and what they will get in return. 4) Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. Many people hide behind email, message boards and direct messages. Give the company a call and ask to speak to their marketing department.

From following your blog, it seemed you loved just about every moment of the hike. I know how hard it is to stop the adventure when you love it that much, so what is next? Any trips planned?

I did love every moment. From fording the Kennebec river, to starring a bear in the face at night (alone), to completing the day’s hike in darkness cause your headlamp ran out of batteries… I loved the experiences.

What is next... well I am financially forced to find a job. Luckily, I have a great resume and experience, so hopefully I can land something soon in the Marketing/Social Media field. I'm looking to the outdoor/adventure/racing areas for opportunities as this is a natural fit.

Whether it's riding across the US on a bicycle, sailing across some oceans or hiking the PCT I am always keeping my ears and eyes open for that next adventure opportunity. Perhaps my next job and adventure could be one in the same... we can all dream,

It has been done before and you seem like a person that can make it happen. Victor, I wish you the best of luck and keep in touch!


The Before Interview with Victor Maisano
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The Waitress

One thing I've missed, while waiting for the next adventure, is having new stories to tell. I suppose that’s mind-numbing routine for you. Of course, there is always a story unfolding any place you look, but routine has a way of making it--I don’t know--just seem like more routine.

Just seven more months, I keep telling myself. Things haven't gone quite like I had hoped when I moved to Kentucky, but in seven months, I'll be re-released into the wild.

I tried to go back to sleep when I woke up, but couldn’t. When I left the house to get into my car, I had no destination in mind. I just needed to be going. To where, I didn’t care. The Kentucky road wound through bright autumn trees and that was good enough.

I kept few things from the previous chapter of my life, among them are this ramshackle car and the Neil Young CD playing on the stereo.

“I woke up this mornin’, with love in miiind,” he sang in his shaky voice. Why is it that when I'm going through something, every song I hear seems to have lyrics written about me?

“What am I doing here? What am I doing heeeerre?” he sang.

Just seven more months.

I pulled into a diner for breakfast. Although I’ve come here a few times to write, today I just wanted to feel like I was traveling again. This diner, actually every diner, reminds me of that. I usually write on my laptop, but today I left it in the car. Instead, I picked up an old trail journal that I spotted on the passenger-side floor. I flipped to the back and found a few blank pages, so tucked it into my back pocket and went inside.

A few months ago, I walked in with my laptop and a waitress asked, “So do you come in here to do homework or are you a writer?”

I wish I could have said writer, but until I write something worthy of publishing or at least finish a book that seemed presumptuous, so I said, "I just come in here to write."

"I knew you were a writer! I won the bet! I can't wait to rub it in her face," she said.


"Another girl here said you were either a student or a serial killer," she said.

"Oh," I said. "Wait, why did serial killer make the list?" Honestly, I was just happy to know I can still pass for a student, but I was curious.

"Well you know how people are these days," she said.

Apparently I don't, but then again, I don’t watch much TV.

She came back later with my food. Before turning to walk away, she said in a soft voice, "I'm glad you're not a serial killer."

“Me too," I said, matching her tone and blushing, obviously.

Today, I sat at the counter as always, but the writer v. serial killer waitress wasn’t here. Someone else took my order. She was thin, her hair dyed black, and her skin was tanning-bed-orange. The tattoo banded around her bicep was probably older than that other waitress. When she smiled, she showed a mouth of large crooked teeth and big gums, but it was a friendly smile nonetheless. I ordered the breakfast special with coffee then flipped to a blank page in my journal.

I was in my own little world when a man in a white-collar sidled up to the stool next to me. He had no choice but sit next to me, because it was the only empty seat in the whole place. Do I really look like a serial killer? 

He set his cell phone on the counter and sat down. “I’ve never seen this place so busy," he said.

I looked around to see that he was right, but the place was always busy. I liked that about it. Short order cooks were always lined up behind the counter flipping pancakes, eggs, and hash browns on a stove that smoked and hissed. Waitresses were frantically busing tables, topping off coffee cups, and washing a perpetual influx of dirty dishes.

“I’m going to need singles!” the woman at the counter yelled to anyone. No one answered right away. There was only the sound of sizzling food, customer chatter, and silverware clinking on dishes. Finally my waitress said, “Let me wash my hands and I’ll get you some singles, hun.”

“I need an omelet plate covered and smothered with raisin!” another waitress yelled to the cooks. Freshly dropped food hissed loudly on the stove, as did the dishwasher's sprayer blasting sticky syrup off a plate. There was barely enough room for all the workers behind the counter.

The busyness distracted me from my thoughts. Maybe that’s why I like it. It's a vacation from myself. I suspect that if I thought about this longer, I'd discover another reason why I love backpacking.

“Hey, here comes my Bacon Man!” the black-haired waitress said with a big-toothed smile.

I turned to see who she was talking about. The Bacon Man was an elderly liver-spotted man hunched over as he shuffled into the diner. Upon hearing her greeting, a contagious smile grew on his face, like he just remembered he was alive. The somewhat flirtatious way the waitress talked to him made her seem more like a nurse than a waitress, important in ways that perhaps nobody, except the Bacon Man, will ever know.

“Does anyone here take orders?” the white-collared man asked.

The dishwasher turned off the sprayer and while drying her hands said, “I’m sorry sir, what can I get for ya?”

“How about you get me one of those things with the pictures of food on it,” he said, even though the word “menu” would do. I suppose that wouldn’t be condescending enough. “I want to point at what I want, so you don’t get it wrong.”

Ugh, what a jackass, I thought.

He wagged a thumb toward me and said, “This guy asked me if I brought any sandwiches.”

He chuckled, but instead of returning the laugh I looked up at the dishwasher and calmly said, “I’m not in a hurry. Take your time." He stopped laughing and there was a moment of awkward silence. I don't like being rude, but I also didn't like being pulled onto his team. I searched around inside myself for that feeling of guilt, which normally follows any sort of rudeness, but it wasn't there. It kind of felt good.

I went back into my journal and my own little world. When the dishwasher left with his order, he turned to me and said something that I couldn't hear from inside my introverted bubble.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I said I’ve never seen it this busy in here,” he said again.

“That’s the problem when you’re in the service industry,” I said. “The busier you get, the harder it is to keep people happy. Which guarantees that the harder you work, the less you’re appreciated.” He never said another word to me, or anybody.

“You need more coffee, babe?” the waitress asked. I said yes and slid my cup forward. She filled it and moved on to someone else. She never stopped moving, but she never seemed stressed either. Rather, she had the face of someone who just learned some really great news.

          “I need double hash browns scattered!”

            “Coming through!”

She glided through the crowded kitchen toward a family who had just walked in. As she passed, she stopped at the stove to flip something with a silver spatula for an overworked cook. She tore off a long piece of brown paper towel from a roll to clean up a spill for the dishwasher

            “These waffles need re-baked!”

            “I still need an order of poached!”

I imagined how good it would feel, after the long day ahead of her, when she finally got to fall into her pillow and go to sleep, but I have a feeling her day of work doesn’t end after her shift. When she finally made it to the new customer’s table, I couldn’t hear her over the sounds of the busy diner, but I could see that she was making their little boy laugh.

A few coins clinked onto the counter next to me. The white-collared man left his tip and stood up to pay his check. The waitress returned as he made his way for the door and yelled, “Thanks babe, you have a great day!”

The dishwasher walked behind her and tucked one of those long pieces of brown paper towel into the back of her shirt collar like a cape, as though she needed any help to look like a superhero.

By simply being who she is, the waitress alleviated some of my misery. More importantly, she made me see the stories unfolding all around me again, stories that have nothing to do with me, stories that get me out of my own head. I stood up from my stool to pay the check, but just like the Bacon Man, I’ll be back again.

Next to the register was a white donation bucket with a photo taped to the side. Huddled close together to fit in the picture's frame was an attractive young woman with her husband and three small children. While the infant stared confusedly at the photographer, the older kids seemed to be saying, "Cheeeeese!"

“Did you hear about that on the news?” the waitress asked when she saw me looking. I shook my head and handed her my check.

“She worked here.” I panned down to the words 'Memorial Donations' printed under the photo.

“She was killed three days ago in a car accident,” the waitress said. I looked back at the photo and stared at the young smiling father with his three beautiful children. I imagined what his face must look like today. Suddenly, my problems and depression seemed embarrassingly petty and small.

“That'll be nine-eleven,” the waitress said, as though pressing the point just a little bit further.

When I returned to my car, I started the engine and shifted to reverse. The Neil Young song came back on the stereo.

“I’ve seen looove make a fool of a man. He tried to make a loser win,” he sang for me in his shaky voice. “But I’ve got nothing to lose I can’t get baaack again.”

Photography: Nevada Falls at Dusk


I didn’t actually spend my first night on California’s John Muir Trail on the John Muir Trail, but I’d be oblivious of that fact until morning. Under the cloudless twilight, I hauled myself up switchbacks in the wrong direction with a kind of joy that can only accompany ignorance.

Nevada Falls, although slowing down this late in the season, still hissed down its slick rock slope, making the quiet forest a little bit more alive. I snapped this picture then finished climbing the unnecessary switchbacks and setup camp. All alone, except for a campfire crackling, I sat against a log and stared at a purple-tinted Half Dome, like I did two years before, almost to the day. 

I wish I could say I checked my map and took this detour intentionally, knowing this view would be waiting for me by nightfall. Or that I just had an intuition for these things now. A feeling that came from somewhere unexplainable. Perhaps a scent on the breeze imperceptible to ordinary men, which plainly said to me, veer right up these switchbacks. There’s some good camping up there.

No, it was ignorance and ignorance alone that lead me here that night, but fortunately the so-called correct paths in life do not have a monopoly on the great moments in life. 

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Upward Mobility

Which direction do I want to take my career in Information Technology? My boss just had to ask. I know it's usually better to tell the truth, but I don't think he would like that answer very much.

The truth was in a phrase I had been repeating in my head all day, but I couldn't say that. I had to make something else up, and soon, before the silence became awkward. Think, think, think.

I'm sure to him and most people it's a straightforward question, but for me it was like a girlfriend you're not really in love with asking, "where is this relationship going?"

I went with a calculated lie. Sometimes it's better to tell a lie, because that phrase that had been repeating in my head all day was, I can't wait to be homeless again.

That time will come soon enough, but for a few more months, I'm settled. I am going about my workaday routine, stowing away every extra dollar to fund the next adventure. An adventure that is growing.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may know that Red and I are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail next year, but there have been some changes in the itinerary. We are now going southbound from Canada to Mexico, starting in June. Why this change in direction? We decided we're not going to stop at the Mexican border. 

The thing is, I desperately want to hike the PCT, but I know I can do it now. Before I hiked the Appalachian Trail I had no idea if I could even make it out of Maine. When I walked out of my door with all of my possessions slung over my shoulder, I couldn't comprehend what the next few months on the AT would be like. True adventure, for me, is about heading into the unknown.

So, our route has become much much bigger. I don't even know if I'll be able to complete it. In fact, I don't believe anyone actually has. How can you know what you can do if you don't set your goals higher than what seems possible? There are many unknowns on this trip, many new skills to learn, muchas frases en español to memorize, and many new dangers to prepare for. In other words, a true adventure.

Photography: The Sunset and Half Dome

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
I took this photo in 2010, from the top of North Dome on the northeastern wall of Yosemite Valley.


Nearly three years ago today, the sun sank below the horizon. A momentous event. I figure it happened about ten thousand times since I became conscious, but ordinary events often turn momentous after a really long walk.

It has a similar effect on sitting in the dirt with my back against a log, with nothing better to do but watch a sunset. As the sun dropped, the sky above Yosemite blushed and on the other side of the valley, a shadow crept up Half Dome. I grabbed my camera and climbed to the top of North Dome for a better view.

Standing alone on the summit, I looked into the valley almost 4,000 feet below. Drivers heading down a serpentine highway began to turn on headlights, but the bustle was silent from high above. Actually, the lack of sound was peculiar. Not a whisper of leaves or a cricket’s chirp.

I continued to watch the shadow rise on Half Dome until only a bright sunny cap remained. Then that too was gone. I felt perfectly happy and content, and I never wanted it to end.

It wouldn’t have to if I could travel around the globe fast enough. I could chase an everlasting sunset. That sounded nice, until the sun completely vanished and the massive granite cliffs turned dusky purple and the stars came out.

I laid on my back with fingers intertwined behind my head. Not even a wisp of cloud shrouded the brilliance of the moon and starlight. It was the time of my life, and I never wanted it to end.

The cold hard granite became less comfortable with time. Then thoughts of a warm crackling campfire helped get me to my feet. But, there was Half Dome again, so beautiful under the azure glow of a half moon.  I knew as soon as I walked down to camp, the night would be over. In that fleeting moment, I wanted to memorize every mountain slope lit by moonlight, every tree forming the saw-toothed edge of the horizon, and the position of every star that hung so radiant above a view that stretched for miles.

“Alright, I’ll just stay a little bit longer,” I thought and laid back on the ground. I needed to feel that moment of closure, when I could call it a night and feel confident that I didn’t waste any of it. Consequently, that bit longer turned into another hour.

In that deep silence under the stars, my eyes wanted to sleep, but I kept jolting them awake. Then unexpectedly, exactly where my eyes were focused, a meteor shot across the sky.  Its bright fiery tail lasted for a few seconds then faded away.  I grinned. There was my moment. I had my closure.

As silly as it sounds now, I made a wish. I wished that nothing had to change.

I stood up and leaned with both hands on a trekking pole. I panned around in a complete circle to see it all one last time, and then headed back to camp.

Soon after, I’d make the decision to leave my job and walk away from everything I had, except what I could sling over my shoulders. That was three years ago. I’ve done a lot since then. I've watched countless sunsets. How crazy it seems now, that I never wanted this one to end.

I still struggle with changes and endings, but this lifestyle has taught me that rather than chase an everlasting sunset, I should just enjoy every experience while it lasts, and then wait for the next one.

Ten thousand sunsets had to come and go before I learned this lesson. Luckily, the best things in life are patient.

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Nutrition for Thru-hikers, Part 3: An Interview with Tavis Piattoly

(Photo: Snack Break on the Appalachian Trail)
Click here to read part 1 of this interview

In part two of my interview with New Orleans Saints Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly, we talked about the best backpacking foods, but on a long-distance hike, I’d also like to know which are the best town foods. Life on the trail often leads to nutritional deficiencies, but in town we have new choices available.

RG: When thinking of a typical trail diet, what vitamins and nutrients are likely to be limited and what should we try to eat more of when we are in town?

TP: This would depend on the town and what's available. Eating clean as often as possible will always be your best option. I feel fresh fruits, veggies, and lean protein would be three staples you want to eat when you get in town that you probably don't eat enough of while hiking. Although you need the calories (which fruits and veggies don't have much of), you also need the nutrients and antioxidants for immune support. You can pour Olive Oil or Cheese on your veggies for extra calories as well as having a few extra portions of carbohydrates to restore the gas tank.

Another common question in the forums and on the Facebook page have been about binge eating episodes, the common thru-hiker practice of eating small frequent meals at a daily calorie deficit, to reduce pack weight and then binge eating while in town. With town visits on a thru-hike usually happening every 3-7 days, would you discourage this practice completely or is there an acceptable amount of short-term calorie restriction? 

First, I wouldn't recommend restricting calories on a trail, especially when you're burning calories at the rate you do. This could lead to fatigue sooner than later. Since you usually go into a caloric deficit within a few days, I would say you don't want to do this any longer than 3-4 days without starting to see some significant fatigue, especially if you’re not consuming enough fluids.

It will vary person to person as well as it will depend on the body fat levels of the Thru-Hiker. Someone with a higher body fat will do better utilizing his/her fat stores where the extra lean person will struggle with being in a deficit a little more as their metabolism is a little higher and they burn calories faster. This could lead to fatigue sooner than later.

A large meal due to being in a caloric deficit will be advantageous every 2-4 days as your body will want and need those calories. I would also recommend doing this at night so you can store some additional extra calories as fat. This will be burned off quickly the next day.

Inflammation is frequently a problem for me on a long trail and I’m certainly not alone. Ibuprofen is taken so routinely by some, that we call it Vitamin-I, because we pop a pill (or three) every morning without even thinking about it. Does this pose a health concern with regular daily usage? Are there foods that more safely support joint health and reduce muscle and joint inflammation? Conversely, are there foods that increase inflammation?

First, Ibuprofen. Most important is making sure you don't cause stomach bleeding with overuse. (See: Proper Use and Precautions) There are plenty of foods and spices that reduce inflammation:

Fresh Fruits and Veggies - Excellent anti-inflammatory foods (Berries, Pineapple)

Fish Oil Supplements - Nordic Naturals are the best in my opinion

Curry or Turmeric Powder/Supplements - Great anti-inflammatory agent

Spices - Like Oregano, Curry, Cinnamon, Basil, etc., are anti-inflammatory

Glutamine - Great for the immune system and muscle

Greens Powders - High in nutrients and lighter in weight

Fruit and Veggie Extract Gummies by Juice Plus - Great option if you can't carry too many fruits and veggies

Foods that promote inflammation are: High sugar foods, foods made with Omega-6 Fatty Acids (chips, cookies, pies, French fries, anything fried in oil, etc.), Foods high in saturated fat (high fat animal products, high fat cheese, etc.).

SawnieRobertson on the forums asks if you have any special advice for those who are hypothyroid.

Continue to eat frequently (every 2-3 hours), take your medicine if prescribed by your doctor, and eat lean protein at every meal as it can be thermogenic in nature.

Mizirlou, also from, mentioned he has suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness in the past, so wanted to know if you had something to say about high altitude nutrition. The Pacific Crest Trail (my next hike), for example, can vary from 1,000 feet above sea level to over 14,000. Aside from the energy expended to get up the mountain, will nutritional requirements change simply by being at a high elevation?

I thought it would be more appropriate to credit the source when answering this next question as Wayne has an excellent review on his site that can answer this better than I can. The link will provide a comprehensive answer to this question:

As a non-expert, there are probably many questions that I don’t even know to ask. Are there any important questions I haven't asked that you'd like to talk about?

One component of nutrition that is often over-looked in all activities and sports is the significance of hydration. The first sign of fatigue is usually related to being dehydrated. We often wait until we receive cues of thirst before we drink but we should drink on a schedule, especially when going on a hike longer then 3-4 hours which is nothing compared to what the experienced hiker does. Regardless of the season (fall, winter, summer), hikers will excrete water through urine and sweat and without proper re-hydration strategies, the journey could become more difficult even for the experienced and well trained hiker.

As you get 2 hours into the hike, it's important to start replacing electrolytes to avoid an imbalance which could lead to many issues from cramping to irregular heart beats (if potassium and magnesium get too low). To avoid adding more weight to a pack, I like using the NUUN tablets as well as a product called The Right Stuff. The Right Stuff is excellent for heavy sweaters. Both are easy to add to water and drink. My rule of thumb is to consume 8-12 oz of fluid every 15 minutes or 16-24 oz every 30 minutes. Don't wait until you're thirsty as you'll already be 1% dehydrated.

And finally, one more important question from the forum at Beer as a sports drink? Carb loading?

The average 12 oz beer has approximately 13 grams of carbohydrates, but I wouldn't rely on it to carb load as it will have a significant dehydrating effect on the body if consumed in excess. I'm sure this wouldn't make for an enjoyable hike the next day. Stick with Tequila shots. :)

I will definitely keep that in mind, Tavis, and one again thanks for answering all of our questions! As I said in part one of this interview, the good nutrition advice online doesn't often take into account the limitations that long-distance hikers face. I will now be better prepared at my next resupply.

Also, thanks to all of you that contributed questions. You had many I hadn't considered, so you made this a more thorough and informative interview. If you have further questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below.

- - -

Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department where he coordinates nutritional assessments, provides nutrition education, and develops individual meal plans for athletes to improve their health, performance, and recovery. In addition, he consults for numerous high schools athletic programs throughout the state of Louisiana. Futhermore, Tavis worked closely with Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to help them retain their boxing titles and has been working with Lance Berkman since 2011.

He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian (, an online sports nutrition education company to help High School and College Athletes improve their eating habits to enhance performance, recovery, and health through the guidance of a Licensed Sports Dietitian.

Tavis obtained a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from Louisiana State University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana State University. He is a registered and licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. In addition, he serves on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Board.

Related Articles:
Part One: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Part Two: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Cooking Supplies and How to Make an Alcohol Stove

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Nutrition for Thru-hikers, Part 2: An Interview with Tavis Piattoly

(Photo: Lunch at Redgap Pass, Glacier NP, Montana)
Click here to read part 1 of this interview

On a long enough hike, where you'll need to stop for supplies along the way, it can be very difficult to stick to a specific meal plan. That being said, in part two of my interview with Sports Dietitian Tavis Piattoly, I asked for specifics.

Tavis is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department. He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian, as well as creator and host of the Next Level Podcast.

The difficulty in sticking to a strict meal plan is largely due to limited selection and having to carry our kitchens on our backs. Also, when it comes to food, the goal of most thru-hikers is to simply eat everything in sight in a vain attempt to avoid looking like an immunocompromised refugee in the end.

It would be difficult to convince most long distance hikers, myself included, to count every calorie and eat perfectly proportioned meals, but a perfect diet isn't necessarily my goal. Rather, it is to educate myself so I can make better food choices whether I find a fully stocked grocery store or have to resupply in a small town gas station. My ultimate goal is to improve my health, increase my energy, and maybe reduce some the aches and pains that come with long distance hiking.

So, before asking Tavis what foods we should eat, I asked what foods we should avoid.

TP: The foods you want to avoid as much as possible are very high saturated fat/fried foods as well as watching sugar intake. High saturated fat/greasy foods will promote sluggishness and foods high in sugar could create blood sugar fluctuations, especially if you consume them while taking a break in the hiking process.

There's a difference in how the body metabolizes high saturated fat rich foods (high fat beef, cheese, butter, other animal fats, etc.) versus your more mono and polyunsaturated fats, particularly those rich in Omega 3s. Nuts, Nut Butters, Olive Oil, Avocados, Fatty Fish, Fish Oil Supplements, and Flax are great sources of fat that will not make your body feel sluggish after consumption, especially when you're burning a high amount of calories during a hike.

Fried foods and high fat meats could have the opposite effect, but that doesn't mean to completely avoid them. They can be consumed at night after a long hike and used as recovery along with other balanced foods (starches and veggies). I typically don't recommend high fat meats to athletes 8-12 hours before any activity due to the very slow digestion process. I'd recommend leaner meats if you do consume them or have them available (i.e. Lean deli meats).

Regarding sugar intake, I know some people have said that the “sugar crash” is a myth. Malto from tested this out for himself. “On a couple of occasions,” he said. “I have tried to force a sugar crash by eating no other calories for three hours other than Kool-Aid, but I had no crash. I have not been able to see any difference between high and low glycemic index carbs during exercise." What are your thoughts on this?

During activity, your body is insulin sensitive, so you probably won't see a sugar crash as the body will utilize glucose as an energy source into the muscle and liver. The blood sugar will eventually get low but you won't have that feeling of fatigue or hunger like you would when resting and then consuming a ton of sugar.

A lower glycemic approach usually includes carbohydrate, fat, or protein-rich foods with more fiber and protein. Foods like nuts, apples, veggies, peanut butter, dairy products, meat, etc. are all low glycemic foods. You can make any meal lower glycemic by combining fat, fiber, and protein as these are the three nutrients which help blood sugar stabilize and also help you stay full.

How about salt? Many meals consumed by thru-hikers are very high in sodium. Is this much of a concern for someone getting this much exercise on a regular basis? What would a healthy amount of sodium be for a long-distance hiker?

I'd have to know sweat rates and how much fluid is lost in the process. I would think you'll need a minimum of 5,000 mg per day depending on sweat loss, considering it's about 2,000 for a 2,000 calorie diet. It may be in the upper limit of 7,000-8,000 mg per day for the very high calorie hikers. I would only be concerned with someone consuming too much sodium if they had a medical issue that requires them to be on a lower sodium diet (heart or kidney disease, high blood pressure, family history of stroke).

With our limited access to produce, should we be taking a multivitamin or other supplementation? 

There could be a ton of nutrient deficiencies here since fruit and veggie intake are lower than normal considering they are low calorie foods. Using nutrient rich starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes), wheat germ, and fortified cereals could be extremely helpful. Many of the powdered protein carbohydrate bars are fortified with Vitamins but it would be a good idea to take a Multivitamin to get some additional nutrients you are not getting with food.

You could also look at using a Fruit and Veggie Powder that could assist with getting antioxidants and nutrients you would not be getting from food. It could be added to high calorie powered. Mix in and shake up with water.

Other supplements to consider to help with Immune Health are: L-Glutamine (10 grams per day), N-Acetyl Cysteine (1200 mg per day), and Fish Oil Capsules for inflammation (2000 mg or 2 g per day).

When we are out of energy between meals, what snacks are going to help get us up the next mountain?

Calorie dense snacks like Peanut Butter, Nuts, and Trail Mixes are best to spare glycogen and help you utilize some fat stores, but also mix this with dried fruits (dates, prunes, raisins).

Nutrition Bars like Clif Bars, Clif Builders, Balance Bars, Odwalla, Luna, and Lara Bars are all good options depending on what you like. You can also use candy bars with Nuts (Snickers, Pay Day, and Peanut M&M's) for extra calories when needed. Or additional options like Fig Newtons, Beef Jerky, and Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats. High Fiber and High Protein Dry Cereal can also be helpful (Kashi Go Lean and Special K Protein Plus are good options here).

Do you have recommendations for foods to eat at the end of the day for recovery?

Recovery should consist of a good balance of protein and carbohydrates to help the muscles recover (protein) and to refill the gas tank (carbohydrates). Whole Grain Pasta and Quinoa would be great choices that are light and would be easy to carry along. You could even try the instant bagged brown rice. Another option is oatmeal at night as this would be light to carry several bags of instant oatmeal. The best options would be the Quaker Low Sugar or Weight Control as it's high in fiber. They have several flavors that are excellent.

Protein for you at night will be Peanut Butter, Nuts, Protein Powder, Powdered Milk, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Protein Bars, Beef Jerky or Fish if caught and cooked.

My last question for part two is one from Max Patch at He asks if you can give us one sample of a day's menu. 


2 Handfuls of Nuts or Trail Mix (your choice)
1-2 cups of Kashi Go Lean Cereal (good fiber and protein)
Dried fruit (dates, prunes, or raisins) or 1 cup of oatmeal (if you have boiled water available)
Water or Water with Electrolyte tablets (i.e. NUUN)


Clif Bar, Nature's Valley Protein Bar, Peanut M&M's, Pay Day, or Snickers Bar
Handful of Nuts


1-2 Peanut Butter and Jelly Wraps (Can use a Large LaTortilla Wrap which is high in fiber)
1-2 handfuls of Trail Mix or Almonds (I'd recommend creating your own mix of nuts, seeds, and fruit)
Water with Electrolytes to hydrate (1-2 Nuun Tablets or The Right Stuff for sodium replacement)


1-2 scoops of Protein Powder with Powdered Milk and Water or 3 ounces of Beef Jerky
Nutrition or Protein Bar (Clif, Clif Builders, Myoplex Original, etc)


2 cups of Whole Grain Pasta (try Barilla Plus - good fiber and protein)
Can use 1 can of tomato sauce (optional if you bring canned anything)
2 tablespoons of Peanut Butter or Protein Bar
1 cup of dried fruit (good antioxidants)
Hydrate well

I'll just add that if you don't want to carry a can of tomato sauce or paste, you could also use the peanut butter to make Peanut Butter Noodles (one of my favorite backpacking meals.) To make the sauce, just mix together a serving of crunchy peanut butter, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a little bit of the water left over from boiling the whole grain pasta. So good... but I'll talk more about meal ideas in a future post.

In the third and final part to this interview, we'll talk more about foods that prevent and cause inflammation, binge eating episodes (maintaining a calorie deficit on the trail then gorging in towns), and what we should eat while in town. I'm really hoping he says McDonald's with a side of Duncan Donuts. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thank you once again Tavis for offering your expert advice. Click here to read part three of our interview where we talk about the best town foods and binge eating episodes. If you'd like to read part one of this interview, please click here. If you have any other questions or comments, please include them in the comments section below.
- - -

Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department where he coordinates nutritional assessments, provides nutrition education, and develops individual meal plans for athletes to improve their health, performance, and recovery. In addition, he consults for numerous high schools athletic programs throughout the state of Louisiana. Futhermore, Tavis worked closely with Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to help them retain their boxing titles and has been working with Lance Berkman since 2011.

He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian (, an online sports nutrition education company to help High School and College Athletes improve their eating habits to enhance performance, recovery, and health through the guidance of a Licensed Sports Dietitian.

Tavis obtained a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from Louisiana State University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana State University. He is a registered and licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. In addition, he serves on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Board.

Related Articles:
Part One: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Part Three: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Cooking Supplies and How to Make an Alcohol Stove

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Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly

A few months ago, I began researching for a series of articles on the subject held most dear to every thru-hiker: food. The Internet is full of sports nutrition advice, much of which is driven by fads and not entirely evidence-based, but even the good advice doesn't take into account the limitations that long-distance hikers face. We lack regular access to fresh food and refrigeration, for example, and our kitchens and pantries have to fit on our backs.

Additionally, thru-hikers can't always get to a decent grocery store to resupply and food selection is often limited, so it would be difficult to stick to a dietitian's specific meal plan. Instead, we need to educate ourselves, so we know how to make smarter decisions and adapt to whatever situation we're in. That is what I've been trying to do for the last few months and what these articles are all about.

In order to get this right, and not simply contribute to the bad advice on the Internet, it quickly became clear that I needed to consult some experts. I reached out to many professional sports dietitians, but I had no idea my search would lead me to meeting someone with a resume like Tavis Piattoly's. He is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department. He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian, as well as creator and host of the Next Level Podcast.

Down the road, I'll combine my backpacking experience and Tavis's expert advice to write more posts about food and nutrition, but today I'll start it off with part one of a three-part interview where Tavis tackles some of my nutrition questions and questions from fellow backpackers on the forum and the Backpacker's Life Facebook page.

RG: First off, from a nutrition and optimal performance standpoint, how do you see long distance backpacking being different from shorter duration trips or other endurance sports?

TP: I find it very similar to other endurance or even ultra-endurance sports. When you're going on a 10-12 hour hike, you not only need a strong cardiovascular system, but you also need to be well fueled to get through a long day of activity. The intensity may not be as high compared to someone competing in a 1/2 or full Ironman, but the duration is very similar. I've estimated that when backpacking for 10-12 hours carrying a 30-40 backpack, your nutritional requirements could range from 6000-8000 calories for someone between 160-185 pounds.

I know many thru-hikers, myself included, do not get enough calories. The weight and muscle loss proves that. Although, weight loss seems to taper off after two or three weeks, even if daily miles increase. Do our caloric needs change on a long distance hike? Or is this simply because we require less calories as we lose weight and/or because we eventually develop a stronger appetite and start eating more?

There could be several reasons for this. One is they are not eating enough calories initially and they begin to realize it by noticing a reduction in energy and strength, therefore they increase their calorie intake. If you lose a considerable amount of weight (15-20 lbs.) during a hike, your metabolic rate will drop as well as your caloric needs, so it is possible for the hiker to begin to match their calorie needs once their weight stabilizes. The only way for me to truly know would be for the hiker to log everything he or she eats while logging their activity.

If you are hiking the same distance each day with a similar elevation then calorie needs will be similar if weight remains the same. It seems some days are more intense than others depending on elevation, but on average, calorie needs should be similar each day. At the same time, let's say you are averaging an intake of 5000 calories per day but burning 6000 calories per day, at the end of the week you will be in a 7,000 calorie deficit, which would yield a 2 lb. weight loss.

In those daily calories, do you recommend a certain ratio of fats, carbohydrates, and protein?

I can't say this sport has an ideal ratio that is a one size fits all. If I were to design a plan for a hiker, I'd probably design something along this ratio: 50-55% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 30% fat. It also will depend on the body type of the hiker. If I have a skinny or lean hiker with a good amount of body fat, he or she will probably tolerate carbohydrates better, so I wouldn't need to be too conservative here. If I had someone who had a higher body fat, I'd probably go a little lower in carbohydrates (40-45%) in order to utilize more fat stores as an energy source.

Protein is often expressed as a percentage of total calories, but I’ve read that there is a finite amount of protein our body can process. Is this true and what seems to be maximum amount? Is there harm in consuming too much protein?

There's never been a study that has truly examined how much an individual can truly metabolize. In regards to protein synthesis, the optimal dosage post exercise seems to be around 20 g but the key is making sure you get 6 grams of Essential Amino Acids (EAA's) with the key Amino Acid being Leucine. Leucine is key for signaling mTOR synthesis which is critical for muscle recovery and growth. 

(Note: Good food sources of Leucine include: soy, beef, peanuts, salami, fish, wheat germ, almonds, chicken, chicken eggs, and oats.)

For a sport like hiking, I would recommend 1.6 - 2.0 g/kg of body or about .8 grams per pound. If you weight 200 lbs, you would need approximately 160 grams of protein/day. I would recommend at least 20% of your total calories be from protein, so this could be a lot higher than the g/kg previously recommended. This is to make sure you preserve muscle tissue during extended hikes. My concern would be if you're not consuming enough calories and utilizing muscle tissue for energy, the extra protein could help spare muscle loss and tap into some fat stores unless carbohydrate was prevalent throughout the day.

Jasper from the Backpacker's Life Facebook page would additionally like to know, “Would those percentages change over the course of a 5-month hike as your body's caloric demands increase?”

If the intensity or duration increases during the 5 months, then yes, as I'd probably boost carbohydrate intake a little. If calorie intake is sufficient and meeting the demands, we shouldn't have to alter much to maintain a high level of energy.

The quality of food consumed could have an impact on a backpacker's immune system (i.e. lack of fruits and veggies) which could make the backpacker more susceptible to infection, illness, etc., especially during a 5-month hike when the only recovery time is at night while you sleep.

Also related to this question, Malto from asks, “Will eating fats while hiking increase your total caloric contribution from fat, or will it reduce the calories that your body burns from fat, keeping it constant?”

Great question. If you're consuming a high fat diet, the body will utilize fat as an energy source and spare glycogen. If you can get to the point where you tap into your fat stores, then you will be a fat burning machine. Keep in mind we only have about 2000 calories from carbohydrate available to use during activity until we have to replace it. We have over 100,000 calories from fat available for use but we rarely tap into those stores because we're always consuming refined carbohydrates which prevents us from burning fat as fuel.

What are some good examples of high-fat calorie-dense foods that are suitable for backpacking? Nuts and seeds, peanut butter, olive oil, and some dark chocolates are some of the most calorie dense that I know of, but I wonder if there are others I haven't considered.

You mentioned those that are the most critical that remain stable under heat as well as don't spoil. Walnuts are best due to added Omega 3 benefits which can help fight inflammation. Another would be MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides). It could be added to veggies or starch. It's bland and the body burns it quite quickly after consumption.

I'd like to go into inflammation more in a bit, but to finish up this section, what about fiber? How much and why is it important to a thru-hiker?

The average recommended amount is between 35-45 g. I typically recommend trying to get 10 g for every 1000 calories consumed. The importance and benefits for a hiker would be to help regulate blood sugar and keep you full longer. The more stable your blood sugar and insulin levels are, the more energy you should have throughout the day. This would be the benefits of bringing foods like Nut Bars, Trail Mix, Quinoa (cook later), Whole Grain Pasta, etc. on a hike as a more stable carbohydrate will be better utilized as an energy source and keep you more full during a long day of activity.

Click here to read part two of our interview where we discuss sample meal plans, foods to avoid, inflammation, and much more.
- - -

Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Hornets, and the Tulane University Athletic Department where he coordinates nutritional assessments, provides nutrition education, and develops individual meal plans for athletes to improve their health, performance, and recovery. In addition, he consults for numerous high schools athletic programs throughout the state of Louisiana. Futhermore, Tavis worked closely with Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to help them retain their boxing titles and has been working with Lance Berkman since 2011.

He is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition education for My Sports Dietitian (, an online sports nutrition education company to help High School and College Athletes improve their eating habits to enhance performance, recovery, and health through the guidance of a Licensed Sports Dietitian.

Tavis obtained a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from Louisiana State University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana State University. He is a registered and licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. In addition, he serves on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Board.

Related Articles:
Part Two: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Part Three: Nutrition for Thru-hikers: An Interview with Sports Dietitian, Tavis Piattoly
Cooking Supplies and How to Make an Alcohol Stove

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Photography: The Teton Crest

I took this picture in 2012 in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.


The Tetons were… well, what word can I use to describe such a place when I’ve already used words like “breathtaking” to describe places that didn’t elicit that feeling-- you know the one-- when you can barely hold in that “eeeeeeee!” sound. A sound I quickly turned into a manlier laugh and wide grin, of course.

That’s the problem with exaggerated hyperbole. Where do you go from breathtaking? To keep the metaphors consistent, I’m left having to tell you that by the time I finished backpacking in the Tetons, I needed a tracheotomy.

It sprinkled a little after taking this picture. A cold rain, which oddly enough, did nothing to dampen my mood. Perhaps because the scattered showers also whipped up the smell of ozone and dirt. Maybe it was the way the lakes reflected those little bits of electric blue sky hiding between the advancing silver storm clouds, or how the rings of water droplets distorted that image. Maybe it was because I was surrounded by thousands of vibrant wildflowers that, even under diffused sun light, brightened the landscape.

I'm sure it was a combination of things. And also, because when I spun around to see the whole panorama, there were mountains in the distance, jagged and majestic. Mountains that continue so far into the horizon that it seemed a drifter like me could walk forever. Or at least long enough to finally learn to stop suppressing that “eeeeeeee!” feeling.
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A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   

Hocking Hills

(Photo: Liv Jumping In Near Lower Falls)
After seeing our old football in her parent's basement that we bought on Route 66 in March 2012, Liv told me she thought it needed to be tossed around again. Unfortunately, with both of us working we couldn't take off on another month-long road trip or hike across the country again. For now, we had to look for something closer to our backyards.

After driving to Liv's house in Kentucky, we set off for Southern Ohio to hike the Hocking Hills section of the Buckeye Trail. We didn't plan much. Not that we ever did. We just picked our destination and got in the car.

(Photo: Liv and Sam at Upper Falls)
"Ah, this just feels right," Liv said after pulling the passenger door shut on my dented-up Honda Civic. We've developed an emotional attachment to the old junker. It carried us all over America without a grumble. Well, maybe one, when its muffler fell off in a ghost town on a pitch-black night in New Mexico. It may not look great, but all of those dents have a story, so we love it like nobody else could.

After I backed the car out of Liv’s driveway, it was March 2012 all over again. Fifteen months may have passed, but they were just a tick on the clock to me now.

Liv checked her road atlas and copy of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” for anything to see along the way. She wouldn't tell me what she found until we got there, which was fine by me. She could have led me to a tire fire, I was just happy to be on the road with Liv in the passenger seat again. If I ever have the desire to be rich, it will be so I can just do this for the rest of my life.

(Photo: Liv at Serpent Mound)
"Serpent Mound?" I asked after seeing the sign.

"Yep, that's it. You haven't been here before have you?" I hadn't. I take a certain comfort in knowing that no matter how much I see, I'll never see it all. It guarantees a lifetime of adventure.

I had no idea what to expect, but it was exactly what it sounded like. The Fort Ancient culture supposedly built it a thousand years ago on the edge of a 300-million year old asteroid crater overlooking Ohio Brush Creek. Each bend in the snake-like effigy mound pointed toward the position of the sun or moon during the equinoxes and solstices.

Nobody knows for sure exactly who built it or why, but it doesn't matter. Humans did it and a thousand years later other humans were still compelled to care for it. That's enough to make it special.

(Photo: Liv at Cantwell Cliffs)
Even though the 1,300-mile Buckeye Trail passes right through Hocking Hills, they really don't want you parking there to get on it. We drove around the rest of the day, but never found a place to leave the car near the trail that didn't have a sign saying, "No Overnight Parking." We instead did what we've always done when stuck in the middle of nowhere at night without a plan, we found a place to sleep in the car.

Some might say we should have planned, but we made the best of it. We stayed up late with a cooler of beer and tossed the ball around under parking lot lights. It wasn't a desert road in random New Mexico, but it would do.

(Photo: Liv at Cantwell Cliffs)
The following night we’d be joined by Sammy (Sixgun) in Hocking Hills, so the next morning we just drove into park and spent the day hiking around Cantwell Cliffs. What we first saw we didn't expect to find in Southern Ohio, a huge amphitheater-shaped cliff with a long thin waterfall pouring down its center.

I took photos and Liv climbed to a spot behind the falls to sit with the view. Before leaving, she climbed back down to stand under the waterfall and cool off.

“Wait, that picture didn’t turn out right!” I yelled from a rock high above the ground. She didn’t even know I was taking a picture. “Stand under it again real quick!”

(Photo: Liv Under the Falls)
“Hurry, it’s really cold Cam!”

“Come on, let it hit you in the face and pretend you’re enjoying it!”

I snapped my picture. “Did you get it?” she yelled with large drops of water careening toward her face. I gave her a thumbs up. I'm waiting for the day she just flips me off and walks out of frame, but she never does.

(Photo: Liv Climbing)
After we hiked a couple miles, Liv found a rock she needed to climb. I watched nervously with my camera as I always do. It makes me anxious every time, but I know it will bug her if she doesn’t get to the top when she knows she can, as much as it bugs me if I don’t get the picture I want.

We found a campsite and later Sammy and her boyfriend joined us. The Drifters were together on a trail again. We stayed up late doing one of the things we loved to do most while hiking the Appalachian Trail: played cards and drank beer in the woods while making each other laugh all night until finally stumbling to our tents.

(Photo: Liv and Sam Near Rock House)
We didn’t miss anything in Hocking Hills. We hiked every trail and saw every geological feature and waterfall the park has to offer.

(Photo: Sam at Rock House)
Then we drove back to Kentucky, a state I have called home since. I can’t think of a better place to live and work until the next adventure begins.

Actually, that's not fair to say. When you push yourself to do something new, it's all an adventure.

Photography: Paintbrush Canyon

I took this picture in 2012 in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. Please visit my store page to purchase prints of my photos. Thank you everyone who has ordered photos, your purchase helps support this blog!


“So you just drove all that way here without any kind of plan?” the ranger at the Grand Teton National Park backcountry registration desk said. The park limits the number of people allowed in the backcountry.

“Well I didn't really know I was coming here when I left home. And I figured if it was full, I’d just go somewhere else and wait.” I said. “I don’t really have anywhere else to be.”

She finally found a route that I could start that afternoon. A route that I had no preconceptions about. How could I?

That's the great thing about under-planning, when you find yourself climbing a ridge to overlook Paintbrush Canyon from 10,000 feet, no expectations can diminish the feeling as you're approaching the mountain pass. There's an excitement in those seconds between not knowing and knowing what you will find on the other side. A feeling radiates from your chest to the tips of your fingers and toes, as though something apart from you stirs inside, an animal that sleeps through routine and lives on surprise. Feed them well.
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A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   

Guide to Night and Low Light Landscape Photography

This is a guest post by Nature Photographer and Cinematographer, Jeremy Evans,
Night and Low Light Photography can open doors to lots of exciting photographic opportunities. I always say, “why put the camera away after dark”. Night photography can add a new dimension to your landscape. It can also add a “new look” to popular locations and landscapes.


The three things you need to take quality photos at night are a sturdy tripod, a camera with manual control, and above all patience. You don’t need a top of the line SLR or even a digital camera. I still get as good if not better results using film. If you don’t have a digital camera with manual functions and you want to experiment with night photography there’re many good manual film SLRs you can get used for very cheap. I recommend a Canon A-1 or F-1. They are both fully manual. These can be found used on eBay for under $500.00 The F-1 is better because it does not require a battery to keep the shutter open. The A-1 or any digital camera will eventually lose battery power if you are doing extremely long exposures. There are also many good Point and Shoot (POS) cameras on the market with manual control but most don’t have a “B’ or “Bulb” option thus limiting you to 30 seconds exposures. I recommend the Canon G series POS cameras if you don’t want to use a DSLR.

These techniques apply both to film and digital. The benefits of film over digital are longer exposures and no rendering time. The disadvantage is processing cost and no immediate results to looks at in the field.

Most digital camera sensors produce noise after about 5-10 seconds. Film does not have this problem. With a manual film camera you can leave the shutter open all night and the only problem you have is slight color shifting. When using digital I recommend turning on your “long exposure noise reduction” setting if you have one. This is what your rendering time is. If you don’t have this feature on your DSLR or POS camera then you can remove some of the noise later in Photoshop. Digital cameras will also produce red and blue pixels on long exposures. Some camera’s noise reduction feature will remove this as well. The problem is the rendering time on the newest most advanced camera is still 5-10 minute per image and even longer depending on how long your exposure is. For example I use a Canon 5D Mark II and I have to wait as least 2-5 minutes for it to render a single image. One important note when your camera is rendering is not to power off or change batteries if you fear it will run out. If your camera looses power your image will be lost.

If your camera has a “mirror lock up” feature turn that on too. This will reduce camera vibration when the shutter opens but keep in mind you will have to press the shutter button twice on some cameras, once to lock up the mirror and again to open the shutter.

Techniques in the field:

Now that you know all the technical mumbo jumbo lets go try it! To start off I recommend photographing on a full moon night or at least 3 days before or after a full moon. This will help you see the landscape and get used to the process. By using a red flashlight or headlamp over a traditional light will allow your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness and you will be able to see what you are photographing beforehand. You can also use a flashlight to illuminate objects in the foreground.

The moon is just like the sun. It’s reflected sunlight and it works the same way, you just need more exposure time. The moon’s color temperature is a little warmer than direct sunlight. Daylight is 5600 degrees Kelvin. (56K) I still recommend using daylight balanced film. With digital you can play around with your color temp a little. I like to set mine to 4700K at night. Lower Isis will give you an orange image and higher ones will make the image too blue or green. With film I used Fuji Velvia 100 speed daylight slide film. Set your camera to 100 ISO and shutter to B or Bulb. It helps to have a stopwatch or a remote control with a timer you can set. The remote control or basic cable release will also prevent any camera shaking and blurry images.

The faster the lens you have will shorten your exposure times and in turn reducing your noise with digital. I recommend a lens in the f1.4-f2.8 area. However these lenses are more money. Turn OFF the auto focus on the lens and if it has an image stabilizer feature turn that OFF as well. Otherwise the moving sky will confuse your lens and give you a “ghosting” effect.

I base my exposure times on a table I used in my head that I memorized when I was using only film. Under a bright moon I do 4 min at f4. You can bracket in either direction to adjust your exposure times and maintain the same image quality. For example if you want brighter stars or trails then go to 8 min at f8 or for less trails 2 min at f2.8 or 1 min at f1.4.

If you prefer deeper richer stars in the sky then I suggest photographing on a moonless night. You will even see the Milky Way but your foreground landscape will be dark. When doing this you need to set your ISO around 1600-3200. 800 will work if you have an f1.4-f1.8 lens. On a bright moon night the landscape will be fully exposed just like in the day but give you stars in the sky.

For these deeper moonless night landscapes set your camera to 30-90 seconds and set your lens to the widest aperture you have. Usually 60 seconds at f4 or 2.8 will give you a great night sky. This is where you get the noise and red/blue pixels. If you don’t want star trails then I suggest keeping your exposure under 90 seconds. After that you will start to see star trails. If you want a good star trail photo then drop your ISO down to 100, and expose for at least 2 hours. This is where some digital camera batteries will die. If they don’t die during the exposure time then it might during rendering time. It’s good to have a least 4 camera batteries and use a fresh one for each long exposure. I’ve often used up to 6 batteries in one night. That’s when my Canon F-1 comes in handy, no battery so the shutter will stay open as long as you like.

If you are photographing near a major city or in line of a major flight path I recommend starting after midnight when aviation travel is much less. I can’t tell you how many images were ruined by a passing plane or jet.

Above all have fun and dress warm on those colder nights. It gets pretty cold standing around in the dark for hours and hours.

Many more examples can be seen on my website at