Another reason we hiked the Colorado Trail was to test out a few new resupply strategies. In past hikes, we’ve simply resupplied from stores along the trail rather than send ourselves mail drops, and after resupplying from a gas station for the nth time on the AT last year, we decided it was time to rethink our strategy. Instead, we planned out our food ahead of time and mailed food to post offices along the way, never once purchasing items in town aside from fuel or restaurant food like pizza.
For this trail, the goal was to get around 3500 calories a day with the least amount of weight, and at least some factor of healthiness and density in our food. On the AT, I allotted a 10 ounce bag of chips each day, and that got to be a little bulky and way too unhealthy, so packability was a factor for our food this time. Following is a list of every food we carried for each day, along with a few comments of what we’d change/keep the same, then followed by a review of the towns we visited:
Lara Bars – 2 per day at around 200 calories each for about 1.8 ounce bars. While I could eat 4 bars a day, Matt could have done zero to one. I love these bars because they have high calories per ounce compared to other bars and have very few ingredients, and they taste good. We had about 8 different types of bars, so the variety was good for 3 weeks, but we’d have to branch out a bit more into other brands or flavors for a 3-4 month hike. Definitely going to pack these again, but will probably keep it at 2 per day.
Peanut Butter – 170 calories per day in 1.15 ounce packets from Peanut Butter & Co. I found these individual peanut butter packets online, and they come in three flavors: peanut butter, peanut butter and honey, and dark chocolate peanut butter. They are all fabulous. I usually ended up eating it straight out of the squeeze packet, but also spread it on my chocolate and trail mix. We’ve given up on carrying 12 or 18 ounce jars, and found this was a great way to carry peanut butter in a lighter way with allotting just one packet per day.
Trail Mix – 250 calories per day of about 2 ounces (1/2 Cup). We bought a trail mix on sale in the bulk bin at our local market, and it had the typical nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. It was great the first week, but by the last week I hated it. We’ll definitely go for more variety of flavors for the CDT, because trail mix is packed with calories, but way too easy to tire of it.
Dark Chocolate – 500 calories per day of about 4 ounces. Another item we picked up at the bulk bins and perhaps one of Matt’s favorite items in his food bag. For some reason the chocolate just didn’t click with me unless I ate it in the cold mornings, so I could have done with half the amount of chocolate that we packed. Either way, dark chocolate will be repeated for its high calories, good taste and high density.
Nuts – 160 calories a day of maybe ¼ Cup (very small amount). Matt had about 160 extra calories a day than I did in the form of wasabi covered almonds and curry covered cashews. He was surely burning more calories than me, so ate these extra nut calories, and ended up eating some of my chocolate at the end of each day, when I just couldn’t finish it. A few times, when we had packed too much food, I got a bag or two of the cashews and they were oh so delicious. It was the perfect about of nuts that Matt never tired of them, and only wanted more variety. We’ll hit up Trader Joes or the bulk bins again for more nut variety for the CDT.
Salty Snacks – 600 calories per day of a cup (not sure of the ounces) of rice sticks in three different flavors: garlic, Cajun and plain rice flavored. We also bought these in the bulk bins at our local market. Again, like the trail mix, these were great at first but we tired of them very quickly. I also realized early in the hike that I’d really only packed one salty snack per day compared with several sweet snacks, and I tend to crave salt much more than sweet when hiking. We’ll probably incorporate these same snacks again, along with some other high calorie, low density, salty snack.
Granola – 375-500 calories per day of a cup of granola with 2 Tablespoons of dehydrated soy milk at 90 calories. We packed 5 different types of granola and this was the one snack we never tired of because of the variety. At first, we ate this in the morning for breakfast before hiking, but it made us so cold to start with such cold water for breakfast, that after a week, we switched to eating it as a midday snack and cooked a warm meal in the morning. We loved the granola and will definitely repeat it, and will bring in even more variety for the long hike. We found the dehydrated soy milk online at a really cheap price, so we’ll totally repeat that as well.
Meals – We rotated several meals including minute rice (1/2 Cup each), angel hair pasta (4 ounces each), couscous (1/2 Cup each), and udon noodles (3 ounces each). With each base, we added one of four sides, including mashed potatoes, dehydrated split pea soup, corn chowder and lentil soup. We also added veggie bouillon cubes to each meal, along with dehydrated vegetables that we dehydrated before the trail, like broccoli, garlic, peas, corn and spinach. Our other meal was chili, which we mixed together before the hike with minute rice, tvp, and dehydrated refried beans, and spices like cumin, chili powder and celery salt. We also carried about 4 ounces of olive oil at a time, and could stretch that for about 8-10 meals.
The calories in the meals ranged from about 300-500 calories per meal, when taking into account the base, the additive, and the oil calories. The dehydrated veggies didn’t add calories, or much weight, but greatly increased our enjoyment in the meals, as it’s rare to get fresh stuff on the trail. We cooked two times a day, once in the morning and again in the evening, when we had about an hour left of hiking. We used to always cook where we camped, but for extra bear precautions, we got in the habit of cooking around 5pm, and then hiked another hour afterwards.
The meals all tasted great, cooked quickly, and were light for their calories. If we were to change anything, we’d need more calories from the rice and soup meal, because it just wasn’t filling enough later in the hike. We’d also precook the angel hair, then dehydrate it, rather than cooking it from scratch on the trail, which took longer. The couscous and chili meals were the most filling and satisfying, so those will surely be repeated. The corn never really hydrated well, and was difficult to eat every time, so I don’t think we’ll include that next time, and since we dehydrated the garlic when it was raw, it was like eating raw garlic when we cooked. Not so great, so we’d cook the garlic first next time, then dehydrate it.
Food is something we thought about all day, and talked about often, so this next year leading up to the CDT will involve some shopping around for variety in our snacks, and some testing of meals, whether it’s in the dehydrator or from freeze-dried stuff. We have lots of ideas, and are looking forward to testing some of them out before the next hike. The snacks won’t change much, just the variety, and the meals will not only get more variety, but hopefully more flavor.
One thing we will repeat was the density of our food. Even with 5 days of food out of Creede, our packs cinched down all the way, and they looked barely larger than when we had 2 days of food. Our food weighed about 2 pounds a day, and each day’s rations of food would take up about ¾ space in a gallon Ziploc. We’re looking forward to seeing how our food evolves over the next few months while we test out some new stuff and seek out more variety in the stores.
As for actual resupplies along the way, we resupplied 5 times total: first at the trailhead at the end of Segment 3, Breckenridge, Twin Lakes, Salida and Creede.
Matt’s dad hiked the first 40 miles with us, so his cousin picked him up at the end of Segment 3, and we’d left a bag of food with her before we left, so she brought that out to the trail halfway into our 3rd day. Had we not had that opportunity, we would have just carried food to Breckenridge and gone faster without Matt’s dad, as it was about 105ish (don’t have the data book in front of me) to Breckenridge.
Once in Breckenridge, we were in and out of town pretty quickly, as we hit it on a Saturday morning with just 4 miles in to the trailhead. It was day 6 on the trail. We took the free shuttle into town, hit up a coffee and pastry shop, picked up our boxes, and then headed back out. It was a great town with lots of shops and restaurants, and therefore incredibly magnetic, which was the reason we pulled ourselves away so quickly. Also, since it was a Saturday, we knew the trail would be crowded, which it in fact was, so we wanted to get ahead of the crowd and pretty far out of town.
From Breckenridge, it took 3 days to get to Twin Lakes, as we left Breck the middle of day 6 and arrived in the middle of day 9, on a Tuesday afternoon. We chose Twin Lakes because it was just a mile off the trail, and ended up walking that extra mile both to the post office and back to the trail. Twin Lakes was certainly interesting, and we were just glad to have sent ourselves food there rather than having relied on their limited selection and high prices.
Next stop was Salida, which we arrived in on Friday afternoon, in the middle of day 12, so pretty much 3 days from Twin Lakes. Within minutes of hitting the highway, we got a ride from a woman who’d just gone for a run up in the mountains. Once in Salida we picked up our post office boxes and split a large pizza at the Moonlight pizza place. It was our first real meal on the trail, and intensely satisfying. I could have seen staying in Salida had we planned on it, but we headed out after pizza. After walking quite a ways out of town, we got a ride with a family that was headed up to the mountains for the Labor Day weekend.
Lastly, we arrived in Creede just over 4 days later on the morning of our 17th day. We had friends in Creede, and so we had to set a time to meet them before we left Salida. Without knowing how hard the miles would be, we were conservative and gave ourselves from Friday afternoon to Wednesday morning to cover the 105 miles. That Tuesday, we could have made it to the trailhead by around 6, but it would have been useless, since our friends weren’t picking us up until the next morning. So instead, we did a 19 mile day on Tuesday, camped atop the Snow Mesa, and had just 5.5 miles in the next morning to Spring Creek Pass. We stayed the entire day and evening in Creede with our friends, picked up our post office boxes yet again, and were on the trail the next morning by 11am.
From Creede, it was 127 miles to Durango, and we left Creede on Day 18 with 5 full days of food and some extra snacks. The hiking was difficult, but didn’t slow us down that much, and on the evening of day 21, we had just 29.8 miles left to Durango. Rather than leave ourselves just a few miles for the last day, on day 22, we hoofed it in to the Durango trailhead and arrived by 6:45. We hitched a ride easily from the trailhead and stayed in Durango that night.
Overall, we’d definitely repeat the post office thing. It’s certainly a stressful factor to think about the hours, but we had no trouble making any deadlines, and only had to be careful with Labor Day.
When planning our food, I thought we’d cover about 20 miles a day, and was a little too conservative with the miles. In the future, I’d account for 25 miles a day, possibly even 27-30 in easier sections, and then supplement in the stores in town if necessary. Twice along the trail we had to mail food home because we simply had too much of it. After 40 miles, we each had at least a day’s extra food, which we sent home with Matt’s cousin. In Twin Lakes and Salida, we arrived with 2 day’s extra food, which we mailed home. Even when we arrived in Durango, we each had about a day and a half extra of food. The only town where we got it correct was coming into Creede, in which we arrived with just a few hundred extra calories. It was silly to carry so much extra food, so this was a big lesson learned, to plan for bigger miles and supplement if necessary, rather than waste money sending food home or waste pack weight carrying extra.
As for towns, we loved Breckenridge because it was so easy to get in/out of, and because the town has so many great shops and restaurants. I imagine it’s expensive to stay there, but is so easy to reach that it’s not necessary to spend more than a few hours there. Twin Lakes was simply convenient because of its proximity to the trail. Salida was great because of the easy hitches, good pizza and proximity of all the businesses that we needed to hit. Creede was the best because we had friends there who picked us up at Spring Creek Pass, so we didn’t have to hike the extra miles from San Luis Pass. The town was small, but still had everything we needed even if we hadn’t had friends there. If we didn’t have friends there, I’m not sure which pass I’d try to hitch from. We would have liked to stop in Silverton, but it seemed like a waste of time and money to stop so soon after Creede, when we knew we could cover the last 127 miles in 5 days or less. Durango was a bit more expensive than we imagined, but a great town in which to celebrate our finish.