This winter has not been easy for hikers. Closed roads, icy trails and downed trees have kept me exercising at the gym. But hopefully will soon be time to start hiking regularly again. And this year, you might want to create a hiking pantry, keeping a stash of staples at the ready for your outdoor adventures. I've followed this approach for years, and I find that it works well for day hiking, while eliminating the need to raid a convenience store the night before — or, worse, stopping at a fast-food restaurant en route to the trailhead.
In my hiking inventory, I include only foods that can be kept without refrigeration or else can be held in the refrigerator so long that they're practically indestructible. Day-hiking fare falls into three groups: main course, snacks and drinks.
Tuna and salmon pouches may be either plain (my choice) or flavored. Cans of chicken make a nice change. Peanut butter in a small container also works well. Instead of bread, I always have Wasa Crackers on hand. These big crackers come in many grains, from thin light rye to hearty oats, and they last forever. I also pack a good quality, nondisposable, plastic fork and knife.
Apples keep well in the fridge. I cut my apple into eighths, so I can pull out pieces throughout the day, but most hikers just bite into one and finish it at lunchtime. Sometimes the drive to the trailhead is so long that I'm ready for lunch before we even start hiking. I have a banana at the car as a midmorning snack while I lace up my boots. West Asheville resident Carroll Koepplinger discovered kiwi fruit while hiking in Spain and now eats them like apples.
When people think hiking snacks, trail mix usually comes to mind. But why buy pricey trail mix when you can fix it yourself in advance? GORP – "good old raisins and peanuts" in equal amounts, sufficed me for years. Then my husband added M&M's (they really don't melt). About that time, packaged trail mix began appearing in stores, so I got more creative. Here's a basic recipe. In a large bowl, mix:
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 raw peanuts.
To this, I add 1/2 cup of some treat I discover at bulk bins. These days, I'm enjoying a mix of cashews covered in dark chocolate, milk chocolate and yogurt. I like the dark-chocolate ones best, but I don't think the store would appreciate it if I picked out all of those from their tub.
I keep my trail mix in a large screw-top jar and just transfer an appropriate amount for the day to a Ziploc bag. A standard portion is 1/3 cup, but I usually take at least 1/2 cup.
Many hikers get creative with snacks. Sharon McCarthy, my hiking partner from Charlotte, says: "Grapes are my all-time favorite – the perfect hiking treat in any temperature for sweetness that doesn't make you thirsty. My recent discovery is lightly salted, crunchy green beans." Janet Zusi of Asheville loves Fig Newtons. "I stock up at the Dollar Store and keep them in the freezer. It's the best hiking-and-biking carb." Jeff McGurk, a Carolina Mountain Club member from upstate South Carolina, likes all the Cliff bars but says, "It's hard to beat peanut M&M bars."
A couple of cookies and a Nutri-Grain bar round out my snacks, depending on the length of the hike. I leave the choice of chocolate to the reader, as long as it's dark, comes in bite-size pieces — and you leave some for me.
I dread metering out my water (or, heaven forbid, running out of water). For a day hike, I carry two quarts of water. As soon as it gets warm, I add Gatorade powder to one quart. Gatorade replaces all sorts of minerals and electrolytes, but I think it also makes me drink more, which is good. In the winter, a thermos of green tea provides warmth.
Calories do count
The evening before the hike, I assemble everything in a lunch bag, add a couple of plastic bags for garbage, and put it all in my pack. It's very efficient, and it saves money — if, and only if, this food stash is strictly reserved for day hiking. I keep it all in the back of my kitchen pantry, not where the trail mix and chocolate can tempt me all week. Hiking food is very fattening; 1/3 cup of trail mix contains 150 calories.
So happy snacking — but only on the trail.
[Hike leader and outdoors writer Danny Bernstein is the author of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage. She can be reached at email@example.com.]