USA Supermarket resupply; what do you buy?

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Home Forums General Forums Food, Hydration, and Nutrition USA Supermarket resupply; what do you buy?

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    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    I'm thinking that over the next few years I'll do more in the US (I'm UK based), and possibly the PCT or CDT.

    I've read up on resupply strategies and buy-as-you-go with a little posting ahead seems like a good plan for a non-US based hiker.

    But what food do/can/would you buy from your average Vons or Safeway?

    Would life be all Mac'n'Cheese or is there hope ;-) ?

    I tend towards 'boil water' style 'cooking'.

    Any meal suggestions, including Brand names, would be useful?

    David Drake
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Idaho

    Never done a thru-hike, but I buy almost all my backpacking food from supermarkets, with the exception of a few tasty dehydrated chilis and soups my local food co-op has in bulk. Haven't bought freeze-dried for years.

    No claims for great nutrition, but here's a few things I like:

    Instant mashed potatoes (look for kinds without artificial flavors)
    Instant rice
    Cup-a-soup type ramen noodles
    (enliven all the above with olive oil, herbs, spices, cheese, etc)

    Snickers bars (supermarkets in my area also have a good selection of Clif bars, Lara bars, etc)
    Fritos (150 Cal/oz–crushed in instant chili=yum)
    Tortilla chips
    Rye-Crisp crackers
    Gummi Bears and Jolly Ranchers

    Almonds (chocolate covered and plain)
    Cashews and shelled peanuts
    Sunflower kernels
    Nut butters

    Hard/firm cheese: Asiago, aged chedder, Beecher's or Cougar Gold (if in PNW)

    Tuna in foil packets (a little heavy)
    Jerky (not very calorie dense)
    Teriyaki beef stick (150 Cal/oz)
    Small whole lengths of cured hard salami

    Tortillas (esp. if you can find them made with lard)

    My local supermarkets also have decent selections of dried fruit, but for unsulphured apricots and unsweetened dried mango, I go to the coop. At least where I live, the bigger discount supermarkets have some bulk foods, which saves money and packaging.

    Stephen M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Way up North


    Big differnce I find between Irish/Uk and Us Supermarkets is the portion size and that a lot of things like Bread and carbs are rammed with E numbers and Corn starch oil is heavily used.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    Do you have a list of standard foods you like? Give us a list and we can give a US alternative perhaps. Supermarkets here are pretty diverse anymore. Food should not be a worry at all.

    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    Ken – good point…

    I like sloppier wet foods for the most part (salivary glands shot due to radiotherapy):

    Like: in particular… as I'm not too fussy – Rice. Beans. Pasta. Any sort of stew/chilli/bolognese. Pulses. Dahl….that sort of thing

    Dislike: Dried meats, cous-cous, polenta….things that are 'heavy going' or overly dry.

    Mary D
    BPL Member


    Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge

    Check the recipes on Since they were developed in the US, many of them use common US supermarket ingredients. I suspect a number of the brand names will be familiar.

    Most of the large supermarket chains have foreign food sections and health food sections so you can pick up a larger (and/or healthier) variety of items. The smaller the town, the less likely you are to find such amenities, and for those the only "foreign" food may be Mexican (great if you like it!). In tiny settlements with only convenience stores (gas stations), you'll have a far more limited supply and may be stuck with a lot of macaroni and cheese, Snickers bars, crackers, peanut butter, cookies and one or two varieties of Hamburger Helper or Tuna Helper. You'll have calories but not variety and not as much nutrition! You may find that you want to do a big shopping when in the big towns, divide it up and ship boxes to the smaller places ahead. Then, again, you may do just fine with what I consider indigestible "junk food"–you'll be hungry enough that everything tastes good. While shopping for your first days on the trail, check out both a big supermarket and a gas station convenience store to get an idea of what's available.

    I personally prepare and dehydrate my own meals, but of course that's not feasible for you coming from the UK. You might check out some of the better freeze-dried food outfits like Mary Jane's Farm or Packit Gourmet. The last will actually prepare custom meals for you!

    Do note that if you hike the PCT, you'll need to cram your food into a bear canister while in the Sierra. You'll want high-calorie, low-bulk foods for that section. For example, rice and couscous, not noodles! You'll also need to repackage most of your food to eliminate bulk.

    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    Thanks all.

    Mary – I've done the JMT and am familiar with the bear can thing; 12 days food in a BV500 :-)

    I was thinking of being able to save time by heading for specific things in the US supermarket experience…I've traveled in the US a fair bit and things are (surprisingly) different to the UK food-wise.

    The freezer-bag cooking recipes make me smile when they talk about chicken in a foil bag…does not exist in the UK, tuna in that packaging does in the last two years though. I also met a woman on the JMT who swore by 'instant cheescake desserts' – which sound foul…unless perhaps you are on the trail! Quick-cook pasta and rice; forget that in most UK supermarkets, ditto Clif bars and the like.

    Sarah Kirkconnell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Homesteading On An Island In The PNW

    In all honesty – any chain grocery store will have most anything you could desire :-)
    It depends of course if you want natural or organic foods versus standard.

    Ben H.
    BPL Member


    Locale: No. Alabama

    Knorr/lipton Sides are often mentioned for hiking food:

    as well as Idahoan Mashed potatoes (perhaps too dry):

    I imagine even in the backwoods of London you have Ramen noodles:

    Ben H.
    BPL Member


    Locale: No. Alabama

    Quaker instant oatmeal is popular for breakfast:

    An Kraft Easy Mac macaroni and cheese comes out FBC:

    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    Ben – thanks; that is exactly the sort of information I was after…

    I'm about as far away from London as you can be in England ;-)

    Brian Lewis


    Locale: Pacific NW

    IMO a better question isn't what to buy at a supermarket. With a little experience I think anyone can resupply nicely at a supermarket. The issue comes when you're resupplying at something closer to a gas station mini-mart, and unless you go for a whole lot of resupply boxes, you'll be doing that sometimes.

    If you look carefully at a gas station mini-mart, the better, bigger ones do have some actual food items, but often not of the type that works best for backpackers. Shopping with another thru-hiker can help, i.e., split a loaf of bread between you for example.

    Partly it's thinking out of the box and looking at *everything* they sell there, to include the hot and ready to eat meals. It's true that mini-marts are heavy on suger, fat, salt, and starch, but at the end of the day unless you have some very specific food issues then it's mainly about getting enough calories in a form that you'll actually be willing to eat.

    The main thing I suggest is to not worry about it much. If you've done neither trail, I'd suggest that you hike the PCT first, NOBO, and start with the kickoff. Hike with others and see what they're buying and ask how they plan to prepare their food, watch them cook (or sometimes not cook) and figure out your own optimal approach to food resupply.

    Ben H.
    BPL Member


    Locale: No. Alabama

    "I'm about as far away from London as you can be in England ;-)"

    So what is that like two blocks north?

    I'm 'merican, but I have found Europe on the map once. I had to look really close cause you guys call your states countries…. and while I'm on the topic, why can't you Brits learn to speak English?

    Inaki Diaz de Etura
    BPL Member


    Locale: Iberia highlands

    The good thing about thru-hiking long trails is that your body gets so well tuned it seems it doesn't matter much what you eat as long as you get the calories.

    Speaking from the perspective a non-US hiker, I'd say after a couple of ressuply runs you'll get used to what's available, what you prefer and what aisle everything is in. I agree with Brian the gas station mini-marts are more of a challenge but after the initial shock if you look well you'll find lots of backpacking friendly stuff. It became a fun challenge to get out of that tiny shop with a satisfying set of food for 5 days.

    A few ideas: regular pasta can be boiled in a bag. This revelation :) took me out of Liptons by the time I could barely stand them. Add some concentrated soup or some other powder for flavor. Flavored Idahoan instant potatoes were great and quite ubiquitous. Surprisingly (to me), powder milk can be found almost anywhere. Nuts, chocolate and energy bars are all over the place. There's always some cheese.

    Stuart R
    BPL Member


    Locale: Scotland

    why can't you Brits learn to speak English?

    Our language is called English, what is your language called?

    Eg. the phrase "I'm a merkin" always makes me smile as it means something else in English :-)

    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    One strategy I employed while hiking the PCT was to drift a box with specialty items that I knew I would never be able to find in a grocery store, things I had to mail order special, freeze-dried fruit, Nido full-fat powdered milk, other things I can't remember.

    Another strategy was to never mail anything that could be purchased at a gas station market!!!

    So what did I get at the grocery store?

    – Noodles, specifically orzo (denser) and elbow macaroni (cheapest). Regular pasta cooks just fine if you remove from heat and let it stand in the pot wrapped in a hat for 15 minutes to two hours. No need to seek out special faster-cooking pastas.

    – Sauce packets. There's practically half an aisle devoted to special sauce packets. I favored the Alfredo Cheese, Four Cheese and there was one that was Parmesan cheese and tomato that was pretty good. Add that to my noodles. Costs more than mac-and-cheese but has a gourmet flair. There are other flavors like chili, Mexican, gravy etc.

    – Tuna, chicken and Spam in foil packets.

    – Dry salamis, hard cheeses.

    – Breakfast cereal, nuts from the baking aisle rather than the nuts aisle, cookies and crackers.

    – Dried black bean soup can be reconstituted into dried "refried" beans by simply adding less water.

    – Jerky, nuts, dried fruit, candy, sports energy bars and stuff like that, the usual suspects.

    – Poptarts, other breakfast pastries, oatmeal bars etc. Honestly, I think that fig newtons are healthier.

    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    Piper, others

    Thanks – that gives me a pretty good idea….I'll do a bit more 'virtual Von's' browsing of their product lines too….

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    A bit off topic, but to minimize your angst about weight and bulk:

    Your first day's worth of food out of each resupply hardly matters – you'll only be carrying it for one day. So go for the less dense stuff, accept packaging weight if you can burn it, and for health reasons, hit the fresh fruit veggies hard while in town and then provision some more for the first day out.

    If you get to a supermarket (rather than a mini-mart), many now have bakeries and delis. You can get prepared food (generic Chinese, deli sandwiches, etc) which can last you a day or two if you keep them cool and avoid diary and mayonaise in them. I benefit a lot from the mental game of eating my deli sandwich slowly as I hike, and, 40 minutes later, observing that I've gone 2 miles during lunch while others would have sat on a rock the whole time.

    Prepared food can seem like "cheating", but you save food weight, fuel weight, prep time, clean-up time. And you work variety into your diet which helps your health and pysche. Try to get them to wrap sandwichs in wax paper instead of plastic wrap, etc, so you can burn your trash (or multi-purpose it as fire starter).

    Cooked meat (roast beef, roast turkey cold cuts) is pretty calorie dense and doesn't spoil quickly. Bought refridgerated or re-cooled overnight at altitude, they'll stay cool if packed inside your sleeping bag / quilt for insulation. Skip that in grizzly country, but for blackies and racoons, just wack them with a stick.

    ed hyatt
    BPL Member


    Locale: The North, Scotland

    I saw a black bear up-close when I was cycling through Alaska….

    It would have to be a 100' stick :-(

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