Food tips

Winter hiking food tips for beginners

By Zach Laurent

Carrying the right amount of food for your winter backcountry trips can be overwhelming when you are just starting out. You can find ideas online, but ultimately you have to find what works best for you.

This guide will provide a baseline. Everyone’s dietary preferences and needs are different, but there are some things everyone should include.

Whatever you bring, make sure it will stay edible in the cold, and make sure you bring enough to feed you for at least a day more than you plan to take out if something goes wrong.

Why it matters

“The main reason behind all of this is the process of digesting food and your metabolism is what will keep you warm,” says Tom Manitta, Outreach Coordinator for the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Your layering system keeps you warm by trapping heat produced by your body, and your body produces heat by burning calories. “By constantly fueling your internal furnace with calories, much like adding wood to your fireplace at home, you are giving your body the energy it needs to stay warm,” said Tyler Socash, program coordinator for education from the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Snowshoes are often the necessary winter equipment for hikers. Photo by Mike Lynch
What to look for

When hiking in winter, the goal is to eat what will support you and keep you warm. Manitta urges hikers to bring foods high in protein, fat and calories.

In winter, food will be stored at temperatures below freezing most of the time. As a result, popular summer backpacking foods like Snickers and energy bars will “freeze hard,” Manitta cautions. If you do decide to bring food that can freeze, Manitta mentions that keeping it in an inner layer can help, but be sure to bring plenty of food that won’t freeze just in case. Any food kept in your bag can be wrapped in your extra layers for insulation, as suggested by Will Madison, Adirondack Semester Assistant Coordinator at St. Lawrence University.

Madison recommends “definitely bring lots of trail mix and granola bars.” The nuts, chocolate, dried fruits and oats they contain cover your protein, fat and calorie needs. Cheese is also great to bring in the winter, but National Outdoor Leadership School instructor Kim Covill said it “can be really hard to cut when you’re out there.” She adds: “Pre-cut whatever you can.” Bring “things that are really easy to snack on,” Madison said. “But bring plenty of food. You want a lot of calories. Hot soup in a thermos is also an easy and affordable option.

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When to eat and drink

In the winter, stopping for an extended period of time to eat can make you feel too cold. Socash advocates “snacking regularly while traveling in cold weather. Waiting until you reach your destination is not a safe winter nutrition strategy. Keeping bite-sized food in warm, easy-to-access places like jacket pockets will make snacks much easier. Taking breaks as needed is essential, but having to stop to grab food from your bag whenever you need a quick snack will make you less likely to eat enough.

Drink often too. Water is just as important in regulating body temperature as food. You won’t notice how thirsty you are in the cold, so it will take a conscious effort to get enough drink. Having a hot drink to look forward to can help maintain your fluid intake. Madison recommends bringing a thermos of hot chocolate with butter in it. “More butter, more better,” he laughs.

Covill suggests bringing a stove in case water needs to be melted for drinking, but be careful. “You can’t just melt snow on a stove. It can actually burn snow, ”she warns. You will need at least some water to heat with the snow for this to work.

In short, bring more food than you think you need; bring foods high in protein, fat and calories; keep your food and drinks warm; and eat and drink often.

Zach Lawrence is a former Adirondack Explorer intern.

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