Food is an essential part of any climbing, hiking, or mountaineering trip. Food is so important, that it can make or break a trip. So deciding how much, how often, and what kind of food, is an equally important part of any expedition.

A general rule of thumb used to be 2 lbs per person, per day (at a minimum). However, that is purely a guideline, and people can eat/carry more or less if they want. Every individual has his/her own food requirements and desires. Some questions to ask before deciding on what food to take: Do I want ease of preparation? How much is my budget? How much can I carry? How much will I eat? How long is my trip? Will I be sharing meals and loads? What kind of cookware will I be using? These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself when planning your meals and before you go shopping. Make your decisions, and then put your menu on paper along with the meals and ingredients listed. This will make your meal planning and shopping much easier.

Depending on the person’s weight and distance traveled, people can burn between 4000 and 6000 calories a day while hiking and climbing. Comparing that with the average of 2500 calories per day for a normal day at the office, this is an incredible amount. The average person would probably NEVER eat 4000 – 6000 calories a day, but for hikers and climbers, this is normal. However, it is very difficult to consume this many calories eating a normal diet. So, mountaineers must stock up on high-calorie, high-fat foods so they can get the fuel they need to function. The problem is that carrying that much food equates to weight in your pack. The object, then, is to find high calorie foods that are light, taste good, and easy to prepare.

The beauty about mountaineering is that you can eat what you want and not worry about calories. As a result, you will many times see mountaineers eating meals of M&Ms, candy bars, and other kinds of junk food that they would not normally make a meal of. There are a couple of reasons for this: First, altitude has a significant affect on appetite, so climbers tend to eat things they really like and don’t have to choke down. And second, junk food like candy is easily eaten with little preparation. Many mountaineers have a general rule which is they eat what they like and don’t eat what they wouldn’t normally eat on a day-to-day basis. In other words, if you think Powerbars taste like cardboard at home, they will taste worse in the mountains.

However, some hikers, backpackers, and climbers enjoy the pleasure of preparing elaborate meals and testing their outdoor culinary skills. The grocery store is an excellent source of outdoor meals. With the “instant” society that we now live in, the shelves are full of products that are easily adapted for the outdoors and which are relatively inexpensive. Using grocery store food, you are only limited by your imagination. There are several websites for using grocery store food and making your own recipes. A quick search via: “Backpacking Recipes” yielded dozens of great sites for making your own backpacking food. One favorite is:

For others, the convenience of dehydrated or freeze-dried food is the way to go. These days, backpacking food is lightweight, easily prepared, and very tasty. The drawback to this is they are somewhat expensive, especially when used for longer trips where you have to buy a lot of it. Some good manufacturers of pre-made food are: Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Alpine Aire, and Natural High. These can be found at most outdoor retailers. There are other smaller companies which also offer very tasty backpacker meals. A quick search on the internet will help find these companies. Many people find that a combination of grocery store food and backpacker food works best for them. With this method, your meal combinations and meal choices are virtually unlimited.

After deciding and buying what kind and how much food, it is better to sort and pre-package your food by individual meals. First, discard all boxes, wrappers, etc to save weight. Next, get some gallon-size zip-lock bags with the little white labels to package the individual meal. Put everything you need for your meal in one bag and label it either, “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” or “Dinner.” Don’t
put the day or date on the label for two reasons. First, you may use the bags again on another trip, and two, you may change your mind and decide to eat something different for a particular meal than you originally planned. If they are all labeled, “Breakfast”, then you can pick any one you want and use the bag again next time. If you are sharing the load with a climbing partner, you can then
divide the food easily between the two of you. Once divided, avoid putting the food in the bottom of your pack. Instead, pack your food in a small nylon duffle bag and put near the top of the pack to avoid your food being crushed by other items. Use the draw-string on the duffle to hang the food from animals while at base camp.

Food can make or break your trip. For some, cooking is an enjoyable part of the trip, while for others, it is just a chore. It may take several trips for you to decide which types of food and preparation is best for you. Either way, take what you will like to eat. Otherwise, there is nothing worse than lugging around a bunch of food that you don’t like and didn’t eat. Bon appetite!

* Published by JPFreek Jeep Adventure Magazine – The leader in Jeep and adventure enthusiast publications.