Welcome to Part 2 of our Food Planning for Mountaineering blog series. This post will breakdown the mysteries of building a proper meal plan for backcountry travel. Whether you are headed out on an overnight trip or a week-long expedition, you should be able to pick up some helpful tips and meal ideas as we journey together toward backcountry-chef stardom. If you haven’t already, head over to Part 1 in our blog series to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of mountain cooking.
With the heavy focus on minimalism from Part 1 in our series, you’re probably preparing yourself to eat plain oatmeal and a spoonful of powdered peanut butter. Not to worry! Now that we have reduced significant weight in our packs by avoiding heavy foods, excess packaging, and extra fuel, we have made plenty of room for mouthwatering mountain treats. Before we dive in and choose ingredients, let’s figure out exactly what kind of climb you are headed out on.
Formulating A Plan
Below are a few important factors that should be considered as you are building your meal plan.
Length: For longer trips, focus on lighter meals with long-lasting ingredients. For shorter trips, your favorite whole or pre-chopped fruits and vegetables are still fair game.
Style: If your climb involves a lot of distance or elevation gain, or you are constantly moving camps, you will want to emphasize quick, pre-packaged energy foods over traditional lunches, and your other meals should be fast and simple to cook. Wasting energy on an overly involved meal after a long day of climbing can be a real pain. Fast and light alpine objectives like Mount Baker’s North Ridge and the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak necessitate an even more significant focus on weight reduction –dehydrated or freeze-dried foods would be fine options on these kinds of routes. For climbs and training courses with multiple days at the same basecamp, more complex meals can and should be considered.
Type of climbing day: Even on a two- or three-day climb, the type of food required each day will vary based on the type of climbing day you’ll have. Plan your meals one day at a time so each meal is tailored to the specific activities expected. Pack delicious, ready-to-eat sandwiches and wraps for an approach day or a day around basecamp. Plan an alpine start breakfast and plenty of ready-to-eat snacks to keep energy levels high on a big summit day or continuous climbing in technical terrain.
**Season: During winter, cooler shoulder months, and unseasonably cold weather, it is often worth bringing a few pre-packaged freeze-dried meals along. The cook time on freeze-dried meals is extremely fast, and the only prep-work you need to do is boil water, pour it into a bag, and wait 10-20 minutes for the food to hydrate. Once the bag is zipped closed with hot water inside, you can tuck it inside your jacket or hop into your sleeping bag with it to quickly warm up.
Start planning your meals with a solid foundation ingredient that you can build the most delicious backcountry meal around. Ramen noodles, couscous, and dried potato mix are great dinner ingredients to start with, and they offer lots of variety in the way of meal options. Despite the length of your trip, choosing something light and quick-cooking should always be considered for the foundational ingredient.
Plan to reuse ingredients, especially toppings, over several different meals, and try to choose toppings that are tasty to eat on their own. If you are planning to add pecans to your oatmeal, consider incorporating them in a lunch wrap or pesto pasta as well. Re-using ingredients will make the whole planning, shopping, and packing process a bit smoother; plus, if you don’t eat as many pecans as you expected for breakfast, you can eat extra for dinner or snack on some throughout the day.
Turn your backcountry food into a proper meal with a few extra ingredients from home. Ramen can easily be turned into pad thai, peanut thai, teriyaki noodles, pesto pasta, spaghetti Bolognese, veggie pasta, or any number of other variations. Dried sauce and spices are nice and light, and they pack a real punch of deliciousness. Certain lightweight, long-lasting ingredients are worth considering as well – pecans, dried cranberries, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped green onions, mushrooms, and baby bell peppers are a few great go-to options.
Staying nourished can be challenging in mountain environments, and you may find it more difficult to eat the amount you usually eat at home, especially at altitude or after a big day of physical activity. For that reason, you should attempt to choose as many of your favorite meals, ingredients, and snacks as possible, so you always have something to look forward to eating. Ingredients like hummus, guacamole, cheddar cheese, and pre-cooked or cured meats seem to be huge pick-me-ups after big climbing days. Small, light spice kits and mini bottles of hot sauce or olive oil are easy to share with others and are also fierce morale boosters.
Climbing Food Chart:
|Base Item||Meal Options||Added Ingredients|
|Instant Oatmeal||——————||Pecans, almonds, pine nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon|
|Dried Hashbrowns||——————||Butter, olive oil, bacon bits, cheddar cheese|
|Bagels||Open face bagel, egg sandwich, breakfast pizzas||Cream cheese, jam, peanut butter, hummus|
|Eggs (dried, liquid, or hard-boiled)||Scramble, hard boiled egg, omelet, classic breakfast||Feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, spinach, sriracha, black pepper; pre-cooked bacon slices on the side|
|Pancake mix (add water only)||——————||Syrup, dried blueberries, chopped pecans, chocolate pieces, butter|
|Instant Grits||——————||Butter, cheddar cheese, bacon bits, black pepper|
|Granola||——————||Dried milk or alt. milk powder, dried cranberries/raisins|
|Base Item||Meal Options||Added Ingredients|
|Ramen Noodles||Pad thai, teriyaki noodles, pesto pasta, spaghetti Bolognese, veggie pasta||Dried sauces (pesto, pad thai sauce, spaghetti sauce, etc.), chopped onions, whole or pre-chopped veggies (mushrooms, mini bell peppers, broccoli, carrots), pre-cooked sausage, tofu|
|Instant Potatoes||Loaded mashed potatoes, bangers and mash||Butter, bacon bits, pre-cooked sausage, cheddar cheese, rosemary|
|1 Minute Rice||Thai curry, Indian curry, burritos, burrito bowl w/ chips, jambalaya||Curry powder and dried coconut milk, packaged tuna or chicken, whole or pre-chopped veggies,|
|Couscous||Pesto couscous, Greek couscous salad||Pine nuts, dried pesto, chopped pecans,|