You can buy some great ready meals for mountain adventures, but the mountain food ideas below offers some alternative options you can put together yourself. This is a great way to reduce costs. We really hope you find it useful.
Firstly, we should say we are big fans of simplicity in mountain food choice. In this advice article we are advocating taking mountain food to the ultimate in simplicity by only taking one choice for breakfast and evening meal plus a limited selection of day food. Some people will prefer variety, but for short term mountain trips we prefer keeping it very simple. We do also, we should mention, suggest some ways to vary the same dish a bit! But, before we talk food, let’s get a few other things out of the way.
In line with modern ultra light backpacking methods we prefer the single pan, zip lock bag, lightweight stove, insulating sleeve and long handled spoon approach. The insulating sleeve is a piece of aluminiumised bubble wrap that’s available as radiator insulation from DIY shops. This has been duct taped into a ziplock sized envelope shape with a piece of stick on Velcro to hold it closed. You can leave this sleeve behind if you’re really trying to shed weight, but it does keep your food warmer for longer. Sometimes we just use our beanie hats as an insulating pouch instead.
The aim of the whole system is to only need to heat water and therefore create no mess. At home we mix all the ingredients into good quality ziplock bags. We also double bag the ziplock bags to stop them bursting. Then, all we need to do is add hot water to the bag, place it in the insulating sleeve and leave it for a minute. The food will then be ready to eat. Eat it from the ziplock and lick your spoon clean. No washing up!
The old motto ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a pauper’ holds true for mountain food too. Eating a big meal at the end of a mountain day can be a bad option. You are usually dehydrated which suppresses your appetite. It also makes it hard to force down a big meal.
Also, forcing your body to digest food while you sleep may affect the quality of your rest. It can also suppress your appetite at breakfast time. You really need to leave at least three hours between eating your meal and sleeping to allow digestion. But, who is going to sit around waiting that long after you’ve slogged around the mountains all day and your aching body is crying out for sleep?
Of course, you do need to eat in the evening. It is essential to refuel as food will help you generate heat and better prepare you for the next day. Just plan carefully what you’ll eat. What you really need to do is eat a substantial breakfast to kick start you in the morning. This will fuel your body and brain for all the activity and decisions you will need to make. It will also aid the rehydration process if you have a moisture rich meal.
Then over the course of the day try to keep blood sugar levels topped up by grazing. This will keep you fuelled up with energy and help prevent the sugar crash which can affect performance at the end of a long day. Then, top the day off with a reasonable size evening meal and plenty of liquid.
We are sure you know that water’s very important, but not everyone’s aware quite how much it can affect performance. A drop in body moisture content of only 3% will severely affect co-ordination, endurance and the ability to think clearly. When you consider you can lose up to two and half litres of water an hour when very active you can see that keeping hydrated is very important.
Unfortunately, most climbers don’t carry anywhere near enough liquid with them just because it would be too much weight. It does help if you super-hydrate by drinking as much as you can before you start the days activities. Then, make sure you rehydrate as much as you can at the end of the day. In between, just drink as much as possible. It is really a false economy to not take enough water as you will quickly lose performance.
It’s also worth considering what you drink. When you’re travelling light boiling water for tea uses a lot of fuel. Tea also acts as a diuretic. My solution is to only drink water during the day and flavoured energy drinks in the morning and evening. These can be made by heating water until hot rather than boiling. This conserves a lot of fuel. There are loads of types on the market and they come in three broad types. You can choose energy drinks, rehydration drinks and recovery drinks. You could take a variety of types to suit different times of day. Such as, energy for brekkie and rehydration at the end of the day.
The secret is those ‘oat-so-simple’ type products that can be cooked by just adding boiling water. These beauties come in several flavours and can be made even better by adding fruit and nuts, choccy chips, yogurt coated peanuts and raisins or a handful of those oat crunch type cereals.
Mix in some dried milk powder at home and all you need to do is add hot water, mix and leave for a minute in your insulating sleeve. Oats are great as they release their energy slowly over the morning and this stuff tastes yummy. This makes it very palatable even when you just wake up. It’s worth waking early enough to take a bit of time over breakfast so you aren’t rushing straight into a days exertion as soon as you finish.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the oat feast we just described is best suited to a tent, hut or snow hole breakfast. If you’re bivvying on a long route you probably just want to get up and go. In this case breakfast will be most likely to consist of a few energy bars or dried fruit and as much liquid as you can stomach. Mountain Food Ideas need to be adapted to the situation. If you heat up some water and add your energy source powder to it the night before you can sleep with it in your sleeping bag and it will be a reasonable temperature to drink in the morning. A caffeinated energy gel at this time also works well if you can face it. The beauty of this breakfast is that it can all be eaten from the warmth of your sleeping bag.
What we carry for day food depends on what we are doing. When climbing or mountaineering we don’t usually stop for lunch. Instead we graze by eating a small amount at regular intervals. For this approach there are lots of obvious options. Peanuts, dried fruits, flapjack and a host of other mainstream items all do the job. For our money malt loaf is hard to beat for energy content, palatability and value. There are also some less obvious mountain food ideas that are worth discussing in a bit more detail.
Purpose made energy bars are now very widely available and despite being fairly expensive they are great for providing a gradual energy release. This makes them well suited to mountain sports. The best way to find ones which suit you is to try them out at home. Some also become very hard to eat in cold weather. Try putting some test bars in the fridge to test their cold temp palatability. Energy gels are also worthy of consideration although some people can definitely tolerate these better than others.
For an on the go energy boost carrying a little stock of sweets can work well. They can provide a great pick me up. The best option is something like boiled sweets because sucking them takes a while. Glucose tablets are also a yummy alternative but they are so nice you’ll get through a packet in no time!
After a long day you really want a tasty meal that you can look forward too. It also needs to be easy to prepare and energy rich. We are big fans of the humble noodle and that’s our top main meal mountain food ideas suggestion. Firstly, all noodles are not created equally. Super noodles are the perfect bivvy food because they will cook just by adding very hot water to them. The portions are alksogenerous. So, step one is to break some of these up into a ziplock bag. Next, add some good quality thick soup powder such as Cup-a-Soup to the bag. Now you have a tasty sauce to go with your noodles.
After that you can add extras if you want. Dried croutons are great. Pine nuts have a lot of calories. A couple of those little snack size cheeses or some pepperami can be carried separately to slice into the bag. Even a few of those mini butter portions you get in cafes can be added to boost the fat content of your meal. If you can carry it a chunk of bread goes really well with this meal and helps mop up the liquid at the bottom of the bag.
And of course preparation couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is add the hot water to the ziplock bag, leave in your insulating sleeve for a minute and you’re done. I tend to add plenty of water to create a sort of noodly soup that’s very easy to eat and tastes great whilst also helping to rehydrate you. Oh yes. And peanut M&M’s for dessert. Perfect!
The beauty of these mountain food ideas is you can vary the flavour and additions to the breakfast. You can also alter the day food by changing the types of snack food. Even the evening meal can be varied by changing the soup and adding different things to it. So there we go. We did, after all, promise one menu to rule them all. It doesn’t get any simpler.
We hope you’ve found this advice article useful. We regularly publish articles on outdoor topics along with Top Tips and Top Gear choices. For example, please check out our Top Tip on Trekking Pole Storage here and our Top Gear choice about Toothpaste Tablets here.