Ziploc bags, or how not to run out of food

6 steps for hungry, hungry hikers

There were three different days on the Appalachian Trail when I ran out of food. After implementing my Ziploc system, it didn’t happen again.

When I started my trek, I had all my food crammed into my bear bag. It wasn’t sorted or organized in any way, but I knew the food I had: two boxes of poptarts, 12 packets of cheese crackers, five Knorr pasta sides, etc. I carefully wrote down the things I needed for resupply on a list, and purchased those items plus anything that caught my eye in the store (looking at you, gummy bears). I had enough food to get me to the next resupply, all nicely removed from the original box packaging and crammed into that 18L dry bag.

I still ran out of food. 

The problem was I would eat the snacks I meant to eat for the day, but then maybe I hiked more miles than I thought I would and was extra hungry, or maybe I gave someone one of my “extra” payday bars. Most of the time, it was just that I was literally starving (as most hikers are) because my body wasn’t getting the calories it needed. So I ate. And ate. And ate. And then, a day before resupply, I’d find all I had left was a packet of crackers and some bacon bits for the next 24 hours. No bueno.

Enter the Ziploc bag solution. I honestly don’t recall whether I saw someone else do this, or heard it discussed, or just dreamt it up. But it worked for me, and it can work for you.

Buying the correct amount of food, but eating it too soon and then going without food and still needing to hike 15-20 mountainous miles.


Step 1: Buy TABBED Ziploc quart bags. The kind with the little zippers on them tend to break more easily, and can get bumped/scooted in your pack and make a mess. One of the perks of plastic bags is the ability to reuse them as daily trash bags, and a broken zipper bag is useless. Tabs > zippers. Buy an entire box and give the ones you don’t need to other hikers, or leave them in a hiker box.

Step 2: Buy TABBED Ziploc gallon bags. Keep enough for one bag for each day of food, plus one or two extra. They come in super handy. Give away the rest.

Step 3: Lay out all your new food. I usually did this on the motel or hostel bed, or sometimes on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store. Super classy. Remove the food from the boxed packaging. Group the food into piles per day: Day 1 gets two cheese cracker packets, a Payday bar, two packets of grits, two drink mix packets, a carnation instant breakfast, etc. Put each day’s pile into a quart bag.


Step 4: Usually the quart bag isn’t big enough to hold all your snacks AND your hot meals (pasta sides, tuna packets) AND special treats (maybe a bag of jerky, you lucky hiker), so you put the quart bag + pasta side + tuna packet + random big thing into the gallon bag.
This is that day’s food. No more, no less.

Hiker’s Food Creed: This is my Day 1 Ziploc. There are many like it, but this one is for Day 1. My Day 1 Ziploc is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
… OK, I took liberties with that one, but you get the point.


Step 5: For multi-day items – that bag of bacon bits, the chunk of asiago, and so on – you can usually tell how much you have eaten and gauge accordingly. I would keep these loose inside my bear bag, or sometimes transfer it to the next day’s gallon bag until it was gone.

Step 6: All food goes into the bear bag, and you only eat that day’s bag. You don’t touch the other bags. Sometimes this really sucks – TOMORROW’S BAG HAS A SNICKERS – but trust me, running out of food is worse. Accept the fact that you will be hungry. Even in town when you gorge yourself at the Chinese buffet, you are never full. You are just “not hungry” for a brief time. Push through it and know that you have food for tomorrow.

Note: you might be wondering, “Why bother with the quart bags when it could all just fit into the gallon bag?” I liked to remove the quart bag each morning and throw it into Rosie’s brain and have easy access to it throughout the day instead of having to dig out my bear bag buried in my pack. If that isn’t an issue for you, feel free to skip the quart bag.

I hope this helps a few hungry hikers out there. If you’ve got good tips for not running out of food, leave a comment!

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