Emergency Food


We’d consider carrying some emergency food to be essential on mountain days. Our latest advice article explains why and also shares some ideas on what to carry.

Why Carry Emergency Food?

Hill days are energy intensive.  You are exercising hard over an extended period in challenging conditions.  So, of course, it is essential to carry sufficient food and drink to stay fuelled and hydrated throughout the adventure.  Then,  once in the mountains you need to ensure you are taking the time to eat and drink regularly.  Without managing these essentials,  performance and judgement will soon be affected and it is harder to stay warm.  The problem with food is that it can be hard to judge exactly what you’ll need.  Which is where this article comes in.

Staying hydrated is vital and we plan to add an article about this soon.  But this article is about emergency food.  It may be that you underestimated your energy requirements and have run out of food before getting back to the valley.  It may be that you have been delayed and needed more food than you thought.  It could be that your companion didn’t bring enough and needs some extra.  You may have been forced to take a longer route back to the valley.  You may have become lost (better known as temporarily misplaced!) and your journey to safety is delayed.  Maybe you are benighted.  Perhaps you are dealing with a casualty situation and you or the casualty need additional fuel.  At the end of the day,  there are lots of possibilities that may benefit from you having more food available.  The answer is simple enough.  Always carry some emergency food.  We carry some on every hill day and hope the following ideas are useful for you.  

Which Foods Work Best?

Undoubtedly you’ll have heard the idea that sugars will provide a quick but short lasting energy spike whereas certain carbs offer a longer lasting energy source.  While it is beyond the scope of this article to explore the benefits of one energy type over another, suffice to say that they all have their place and the key is to cater to all elements.

At endurance events food stations we’ve always noticed savoury or salty food are usually the most popular.  Often the sweet foods are less welcome.  In these situation your body wants real food rather than just a chocolate bar (although they have their place).  The same is common for hill food.

So, the trick for emergency food is to carry a variety of food with a mix of quick acting energy along with slower and longer lasting release energy foods. You also want whatever you carry to offer the most energy for the weight.

There has also been a long held view that emergency food shouldn’t be a pleasure to eat because nice food will encourage you to eat it during the day rather than saving its for the emergency.  That may be true and you can certainly follow that advice.  However,  emergency food should also be food that raises morale and isn’t a chore to consume.  We favour emergency food being ‘nice’ food.

What Should I Carry?

So, what foods make good emergency food?  It must be practical to carry and able to stand up to a long life in a rucksack pocket.  It shouldn’t melt or freeze in the varying conditions found on a mountain.  It should have a long shelf life and be robust enough to avoid to being squashed in transit.

If you have a hypothermia casualty or someone suffering from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) then including some high GI (Glycemic Index) sugars like glucose is key.  A simple and easily accessible option is to carry jelly babies.  They stay soft enough to eat in any temperatures and are energy rich for their weight and bulk.  A good alternative is Haribo although some types become quite hard in cold weather.  We also find Clif Bar Shot Blocs are a tasty and easy to carry option which stays soft in low temperatures.

Alongside that, having some low GI carbs will provide some sustained energy.  Nuts are a simple to carry option.  Protein or cereal bars also work really well.  Similarly, nuts or peanut butter is energy rich and easily digestible.  Our preferred way to carry this is to choose Peanut Butter Buttons which are, effectively, peanut butter pellets.  As example of these is here.

Oat based energy bars are also a good option.  We find Clif Bars remain easy to eat in any temperatures, but plenty of other oat based options exist.  Stoats Bars are great and have bio-degradable packaging (not that we are proposing leaving your rubbish in the mountains!).   

How To Carry Emergency Food

Your package of emergency food should be compact and robust.  There is also a case for sealing the packaging so you won’t randomly dive into it.  One good packaging method that ticks all these boxes is to vacuum seal it.  However,  for this you need a vacuum sealing device.  

Our favourite method is a little different.  We prefer to seal it in a plastic zip lock bag which is then stored in an Aloksak.  These durable and highly waterproof bags seem to stand up to everything we throw at them and come in a variety of sizes.  The 5×4″ version works really well for a compact day sized stash.  The newest version has a double zip arrangement that works superbly.  This keeps the food out of sight and out of mind. You can even label the bag so anyone searching in your bag will find the food easily. My day set up weighs about 200 grams and so I really don’t notice it in the bottom of my rucksack.

Just one thing to mention.  Do be careful if you are leaving your emergency food in your rucksack in places like a tent porch, bothy or mountain hut.  A friend woke up to find some hungry rodents had chewed through his rucksack and enjoyed a feast overnight.  It was an expensive mistake!

We have a range of other advice articles that you might find useful.  There is one here about mountain food, one about mountain safety top tips here and one about First Aid Kit Ideas here. There are loads of others too.