Karen McCann has a tradition every time she hikes the Mount Charleston Peak trail near her home in Las Vegas. She tucks a chilled can of Coca-Cola into her backpack and takes it out to enjoy when she reaches the 12,000-foot summit.

“It’s a welcome reward after reaching the top,” gushes the pianist and vocal coach.

McCann, an avid hiker and road biker who has scaled the sandstone peaks of Red Rock Canyon and California’s Mount Whitney, likes to reward herself and her friends after a vigorous day of exercise. Besides Coke (the 7.5-ounce cans fit neatly into her backpack), she often brings along triple-chocolate brownies, pumpkin bread, or Nanaimo bars -- a favorite Canadian dessert -- to share after a hike or bike ride.

Post-hike rewards
At the Grand Canyon's Phantom Ranch, all provisions are brought in by mule. 

Ted Ehrlich, TrailGroove Magazine

While much discussion goes into the best trail mix, energy bars, and other stamina-building nourishment to have along the trail, it’s the post-trek refreshments that are often the most memorable, outdoor enthusiasts say.

Pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice-cold soft drinks ranked among the favorite rewards for hikers participating in a forum discussion on TrailGroove, an online magazine focused on the backpacking, hiking and outdoors community. Inspired by his habit of talking wistfully about food three miles before a hike's end, one TrailGroove member asked others to conjure up their own post-hike dream dinners. One hiker started ticking off all the components of a Thankgiving feast. Another mentioned all-you-can-eat pizza buffets. And the comments kept coming:

"A good sammi is the best."

"...a big juicy burger place with fries and anything with ice."

"After a long, hot, sweaty hike, there's nothing like dreaming of an ice-cold Coca-Cola waiting for me, with cold sweat dripping down the sides of the can."

'Best Drink I Ever Had'

Coke has played a role in other hiking experiences as well. Superstar hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, who set the world's overall record for completing the Appalachian Trail in 2011, sipped it in the early afternoons during her 47-day trek, for an added kick to a steady diet of energy chews and hard-boiled eggs.

Paul Calardo, who hiked Mount Kilimanjaro last year with his father and brother, recalls the first thing he did when he reached the end of his six-day Tanzanian expedition, in which the meals largely consisted of porridge, potatoes and purified stream water.

"The second we came out of the gate, we saw the gift shop and immediately went in and bought a Coke," Calardo said. "We cheered each other, and I think the first words out of my mouth were this is the best drink I ever had.”

Post-hike rewards
Food stands remain in stock for hikers' treats. Hikers say the steak dinners and all-you-can-eat breakfasts are worth it.

Ted Ehrlich, TrailGroove Magazine

It's not easy operating a food stand near the end of a remote trailhead. But those that do, like the one at the Kilimanjaro trailhead, carry an almost magical quality for hikers at the end of a long trek. Even the kiosks that stick to basics like trail mix and cold sodas draw a steady stream of customers looking for a post-exercise treat.

Just below the summit of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, a snack stand and gift shop built by the U.S. Conversation Corps has been serving bottled water, cans of Coke, hot chocolate, and candy bars to summiteers since the 1950s, said Mount Mitchell State Park ranger Billy Drakeford. Mountain bikers plan their routes around the building, he adds, "because they know it's a place where they can re-fuel."

Still other trailhead concession stands must let nature dictate what they bring in. At Phantom Ranch, a rustic campsite and cafe at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, for instance, all provisions are toted in by mule. Breakfast and dinner must be reserved in advance and tend to be the stick-to-your-ribs variety: New York strip steak, baked potatoes, beef or vegetarian stew, eggs, and pancakes.

"Everything at Phantom Ranch is packed in and out," Ted Ehrlich, a writer for TrailGroove, noted in an article about his early spring hike to the bottom of the canyon. "Keeping that in mind, the scale of what's available is impressive."

Or, as another hiker framed it about her favorite post-hike nosh: "I just want anything that does not have to be rehydrated."