I made a decision early on when I started planning on hiking the AT, that I wouldn’t rely on mail drops for resupply. My reasons were that A) cost concerns were not something that weighed as heavily for me as it does for a lot of thru-hikers; and B) I valued flexibility, and having to schedule my stops along the way to meet opening hours at post offices impacted that. I’d like to depend on freeze dried backpacking meals for the entire journey, but that unfortunately isn’t possible. Many places along the trial where I’ll need to resupply do not have outfitters or other retailers that sell freeze dried food. So often, I will have to depend on the offerings of supermarkets or even (shudder) convenience stores.

Research the subject of trail food and it is apparent that the two most popular hot meals at the end of a long day trekking are Knorr Side Dishes, and ramen. Which is understandable, as they are easy to prepare using the resources available to a hiker, and are relatively cheap. Not to mention they’re chock full of those two essential ingredients of the American diet, carbs and fat. Both are lacking somewhat in the protein department, but that can be remedied by adding foils pouches of tuna or chicken.

At home, Mary and I rarely eat processed food. We both like to cook, as our waistlines will attest, and so we normally just prepare everything from fresh ingredients. So before I found myself deep in the woods, confronting yet another meal of spongy, gelatinous, partially rehydrated cheesy noodles, I decided to do some experimentation. I wanted to go full-on mad scientist mode, but Mary nixed the bubbling beakers and Tesla coils, claiming that they didn’t go with the kitchen decor. I think she’s wrong as, if television has taught us anything, it’s that Tesla coils go with everything.

So far, results of my investigations have been interesting, and not all in a good way. The Knorr rice side dishes are palatable, marginally, and seem to reconstitute with minimal effort. The noodle based side dishes on the other hand, have yielded poor results. That might possibly be due to the fact that we live at high altitude and water boils at a lower temperature, so the noodles aren’t reconstituting correctly. Or maybe the noodle dishes just suck. I’m not entirely writing them off, and I might pick up an extra one or two, once I’m down at lower altitude to see how they perform there. But they probably just suck.

The reconstituted mashed potatoes are a bit of a nightmare. The kind of thing you’d imagine people in some dystopian future having to eat. I think I’ll pass on them, unless a bunch of hikers want to have a craft night at some point, and I need to make something out of paper mâché.

Ramen is ramen is ramen, which is to say reconstituted noodles in a broth. There’s some interesting variants, like the one I got out of an organic food section at the grocery, in which the noodles made from millet and brown rice. Again, lacking in the proteins, but that can be remedied.

So at the end of several weeks testing, I can safely say that I’ll be losing a lot of weight on the trail. I’ve figured out what’s edible, as long as I use that term loosely, and what’s going to be a mainstay of my evening meals. Which is primarily ramen and rice side dishes, with lots and lots of extra seasoning packets, like sirachia and Tabasco.

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