Aside from preparing yourself physically and mentally for a big mountain, you also have to prepare the food you’ll eat when you’re mountaineering.
If you’re wondering what to eat while mountaineering, here it is. You should consume food that has high-calorie content. Doing so is absolutely important so you won’t run out of energy as you climb in high-altitude environments.
It’s also important to pack items that won’t freeze in the cold. I’ve had my water bottle freeze before and it is a little unnerving to say the least.
And while reading through, pay attention to foods that you like and would want to eat vs those that you have to force yourself to eat. You always want to have food on hand that you like to eat. In an extreme, high-altitude environment, you must give your body enough fuel. If you end up eating less because you didn’t like the food or it was hard to chew or whatever, you put yourself and the rest of the team at risk.
Read on for more tips and ideas on what to eat on your high-altitude climb.
A Variety of Conditions
I have to say that there is no simple solution to “What to eat on the mountain” because every mountain is different. They are usually cold, low on oxygen, and windy.
But beyond that, it is hard to say whether you’re going for your summit attempt or if you’re just hanging out at base camp. You’re not going to pack a stove and boil up some noodles while you’re on your summit attempt.
So, I’ve tried to make answer more of the question of what to eat on summit day. Things you can stuff in your pockets that won’t freeze on you, don’t taste like dirt, and that fuel your push to the top.
Anyone can look up “campsite cooking ideas” and get a ton of recipes. But mountaineering is not the same thing. At all.
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My Go-To Snacks
You really can’t go wrong with Clif Bars. Find out your favorite flavor(s) and pack plenty of them. They have a good spread of macronutrients (meaning that they aren’t just pure sugar), which provides you with energy your body can use immediately, as well as in an hour or two from now.
I highly recommend Clif Bars for snacks while mountaineering. Even when they are very cold, they just get a little less chewy. Some people complain about how hard they get in the cold, so you can place these in a pocket next to your chest or abdomen so that they get a little of your body heat and are easier to chew.
I always thought that these gel packs were overrated with cyclists downing them one after the other. But after 8 hours of climbing Pico de Orizaba, I found one of these in my pack and downed it. The effect was immediate and jaw-dropping. I felt amazing! I didn’t realize how fast I was burning through my energy stores. Since these are small, you can easily keep a few in your pack for an “every now and then” pick me up. Or just keep it for when you’re ready to quit. They go down very easy, just find your flavor.
I swear by these things. But they are not easy to eat if you have gloves on and the wind is blowing like mad around you. These are more for the beginning and end of day inside of your tent. It’s an easy way to get a lot of calories in. I must say again to not underestimate the value of having food that you want to eat. In a low-oxygen environment, you may not want to eat and it is much easier to force yourself to eat when the food is good.
These have also gotten me out of a tight spot. After about 12 hours of climbing, one of my guides offered me a couple and they were surprisingly easy to eat. And they kind of cleared my head. Look, when you’re miserable and need energy, there’s nothing like eating something that also makes you happy. I don’t know how else to say it. Don’t use these as your only snack food, but having some Jelly Beans on hand might actually make you feel better. So, when you sit down for a break, eat your energy bar and follow it up with some Jelly Beans for good measure. You can thank me later.
There are many, many more viable options and it seems like every day there is a new bar that comes out. The best way to go about this is to test each snack.
Mountaineering Snack Test Checklist
Here’s a simple way to test your snacks to see if they will work for you when mountaineering:
- Does it freeze easily or become hard to chew when cold?
- Does it taste good?
- Does it give you immediate energy?
- Does it give you long-lasting energy?
- Does it upset your stomach?
- Is it possible to eat with gloved hands?
- Would you eat it any time of the day?
- Would you eat it when you’re not even hungry?
- Is it going to get crushed in a pack?
- Do you have to drink a ton of water with it because it is so dry?
If you’re going to attack a big mountain, I suggest that you get an array of “hiking snacks” and put them through the above test. Throw them all in the refrigerator, then put some gloves on and try to open them one by one. Take a bite out of them and see if they are hard/impossible to chew.
Trust me, once you do this with about 15 different snack foods, you’ll know which ones you want to have on hand.
Breakfast Meal Ideas While Mountaineering
So far I’ve covered what to eat as a snack while on the go. But you can treat yourself a little better in the morning since you’ll be inside of a tent where you won’t have to keep your gloves on and, presumably, you’d have a few more food options.
Below is a quick rundown of easy-to-digest breakfast meal/snack suggestions that you can pack in your mountaineering journey:
- Dried Fruit
- Energy Bars
- Trail Mix
- Chef Boyardee
- Dried Fruits
Dried fruits are highly nutritious yet calorie-dense. The most common types of dried fruits you can find in the market are raisins, prunes, dates, apricots, and figs. All of these have high calories and natural sugar content.
For example, 100 grams of raisins, according to the USDA, contain at least 299 calories and 65.2 grams of sugar.
Pop-tarts are quick anytime snacks that you can easily carry in your bag.
One serving is only 52 grams, but it has 200 calories. On top of that, they’re easily digestible, don’t weigh you down, and contain simple carbohydrates that quickly convert into energy.
Despite the snack being known as basically junk food, you can’t remove the fact that it’s a great energy source. After all, they won’t be “junk food” anymore because you’ll shortly burn the calories gained from the snack.
But the downside to Pop-Tarts is that they crumble easily if smashed in your bag. It might be a good “base camp food” but it’s probably going to get squashed if not packed carefully.
- Energy Bars
There’s a plethora of energy bars currently available on the market. It’s up to your preference as to what brand and type you’ll buy. Most of them don’t freeze, so they can stay edible at high altitudes. But test them out first. Throw them in the freezer or refrigerator and see how they are at the temperatures you’ll experience on the mountain.
Either way, all of them are fantastic energy sources because they mostly contain whole grains like oats, quinoa, nuts, and even fruits.
When buying energy bars, the general rule of thumb is to look at the ingredient list. As much as possible, you should avoid additives like sugar alcohols (e.g., xylitol, sorbitol) as these can cause intestinal gas when consumed in high amounts.
The sugar alcohols are put there to lower the calories while keeping the sweet taste. You do not want to lower the calories.
- Trail Mix
Trail mix is usually a combination of nuts and dried fruits. They’re a convenient breakfast meal because, besides being lightweight, you can customize them according to your preference.
They’re also an excellent source of energy.
- Oatmeal with the fixings
You can eat this cold or, if you’ve got a stove, you can eat it warm. Just heat up some water, drop some oatmeal in and also dump whatever else you want into it. I suggest some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or dried cherries. Experiment with this meal at home to find out what you like best and possibly look at making a little packet to dump in some warm water for a breakfast that starts you off right.
- Chef Boyardee
Chef Boyardee canned meals are a wonderful treat to have around if you want something hearty. Eating bars nonstop can make you feel like you’re missing real food. Chef Boyardee has filled that hole in my life when I’ve been on a mountain on more than one occasion. You don’t need to heat them up, just pop the top and grab a spoon.
It also works for dinner, which leads me to my next section…
Dinner Meal Ideas While Mountaineering
If you’re busting your butt on the mountain, dinner time is the time to stock up on calories of all kinds: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Below are some meal recommendations that you can pack:
- Couscous or Rice
- Tortilla Wraps
- Freeze Dried Meals
Find a pasta that is specifically rich in protein. Pasta is versatile because you can top it with whatever sauce and topping you like.
- Couscous or Rice
Couscous and rice are two similar ingredients–they’re grainy, yet they have high amounts of calories.
A cup of cooked couscous has 176 calories, while white rice has 206 calories.
Like pasta, both couscous and rice are versatile, meaning you can pair them with anything.
- Tortilla Wraps
Tortilla wraps are lightweight bread that has tons of calories. One 12-inch flour tortilla has at least 300 calories, almost equivalent to three slices of bread.
Before your trip, you can prepare dishes like burritos, chimichangas, or quesadillas, then store them in a resealable bag for a quick yet filling dinner meal.
Alternatively, you can eat them plain or with simple sides like ham and cheese slices.
- Freeze Dried Meals
If you don’t want to carry tons of pre-packed ingredients in your bag, you can opt for freeze-dried meals instead. I’ve had some success with Mountain House products. This is also an area where you should try it out first before you pack it.
Tons of freeze-dried meals are specifically for mountaineering and hiking. So, you shouldn’t worry because they usually contain plenty of calories and proteins.
You just have to pack them in your bag and rehydrate them with water when ready to eat. If you’re used to being in the outdoors and eating these, then you’ll be just fine.
Food plays a crucial role when you’re mountaineering. You have to constantly hydrate your body and replenish calories.
So, you pack more food than your usual backpacking trip and make sure that it is food you like.