Composition Of Foods

Each of the three major food components—carbohydrates, protein, and fats—provides energy, and each must be supplied in approximately the right amount to maintain a healthy mind and body. Food intake for mountaineers can go as high as 6,000 calories per day, possibly even more for larger folks. You will have to determine what is best for you depending on how demanding a trip you are planning and your own size, weight, metabolic rate, and level of conditioning.

Carbohydrates are easiest for the body to convert into energy, so they should constitute most of the total calories in your diet. Foods high in carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, water, and essential fats. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, rice, potatoes, cereals, pasta, bread, crackers, and granola bars. Eat small amounts but eat them often for sustained vigor and endurance.

Protein is important to include in your basic diet; the daily requirement is nearly constant regardless of activity. Your body cannot store protein, so once the requirement is met, the excess is either converted to energy or stored as fat. High-protein foods include cheese, peanut butter, nuts, beef jerky, canned meats and fish, powdered milk and eggs, and foil-packaged meals with meat or cheese.

Fats are also an important energy source, especially long-term. During moderate muscular exercise, energy is derived in approximately equal amounts from the body's stores of fats and carbohydrates. Fats occur naturally in small amounts in vegetables, grains, and beans, and when these are combined with fish, red meat, or poultry, your requirements for fat are easily met. High-fat foods include butter, margarine, peanut butter, nuts, canned bacon, salami, beef jerky, sardines, oils, meat, eggs, seeds, and cheese. Fats in the diet serve other functions in addition to providing energy. Stored body fats protect vital organs from shock and act as insulation to protect your body against the thermal stresses of a cold environment.

Eating for endurance

How efficient your body is in using its energy fuels is closely related to physical condition, rest, and nutrition. The better your condition, the greater the efficiency with which food and water will provide energy during heavy exercise. A well-rested, well-fed climber is less likely to experience difficulties from exertion, heat, cold, and illness.


Water is as vital to life as oxygen. You need it for energy metabolism, controlling your core and body temperature, and for eliminating metabolic wastes. During strenuous activity, particularly at high altitude, the amount of fluids lost through perspiration and evaporation of moisture from the lungs can be as much as 5 quarts or more per day.

If a substantial amount of fluid is lost and not replaced, the body's chemical equilibrium is upset and illness is more likely. The body can survive for a long time without food, but not without water. After hard exercise, replace fluids and carbohydrates as soon as possible. Then continue rehydration throughout the evening in preparation for the next day's activity.

Fluid intake for a 12-hour day of moderate activity in temperate climates should be at least 2 quarts (about 2 liters). For a longer climb or for more severe activity, you will need from 2 to 5


The loss of salt through heavy sweating is normally not a problem, as most salts are replaced naturally in a well-balanced diet. If you're concerned about salt intake, you can use "sports drinks" that help replenish fluids and supply extra salt, sugar, calories, and minerals. Drinking additional water will also help.

Water sources

Water is sometimes at a premium in the wilderness. On a day trip, you can carry it from home. On longer trips, your sources will be lakes, streams, and snow.

You can often melt some snow for drinking by carrying it packed inside a water bottle. Start with a bit of water already in the bottle in order to hasten the melting time. When there is both sun and enough time, you can set out pots of snow to melt. Or, find a tongue of snow that is slowly melting into a trickle, dredge a depression below, let the water clear, and channel the resulting puddle into a container. You can also try catching the drips from melting overhanging eaves of snow. The most convenient and reliable way to get water on a snow-camping trip is to simply melt snow in a pot on the stove, though this obviously takes time and uses up cooking fuel.

Water purification

Clear, cold water looks pure, but may well be contaminated with harmful bacteria, Giardia, or other parasites that inhabit backcountry lakes and streams. For personal protection, it's best to purify all water. Common methods of purification are to put iodine in the water, to boil it (1 minute at sea level, or 5 minutes at 10,000 feet, will kill most bacterial or parasitic contaminants), or to use one of the filtration devices available at outdoors stores.


Put a reasonable amount of thought and effort into planning, and you should have no trouble ensuring the right combination of foods for optimum performance and enjoyment, whether your trip is for a day or for a week. As a rough general guideline, provide 2 pounds of food per person per day.

On very short trips, you can carry homemade sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables, and just about anything else you wish. For trips of two or three days—or longer if base camp is close to the road—any food from the grocery store is fair game. You can concoct a grocery-store stew from items selected almost at random, or by intuition. Canned or packaged items can be cooked together in one pot, then eaten with bread, a hot drink, and a dessert.

Cup-cooking works well for one-person meals. From one pot of hot water, eat each course in sequence from your cup, using instant foods such as soup, potatoes, rice, applesauce, or pudding.

For longer or more complicated trips, weight and packaging become more critical. Then freeze-dried foods are an easy, compact, lightweight option. Outdoors stores carry a large array of these prepackaged meals and snacks, and their variety and quality is constantly improving. They're expensive, but wonderfully convenient. Some require little or no cooking; you just add hot water, soak for a while, and eat from the package. Others are less easily hydrated, and require cooking in a pot. Freeze-dried meals include just about everything: main courses, potatoes, vegetables, soups, breakfasts, and desserts. Persons with access to a food dehydrator can make simple and nutritious foods from fruits, vegetables, and meat at a substantial savings.

Plannins for a group

Because meals are social events, small groups often plan all food together. A common, carefully planned menu also reduces the overall weight carried by each person. Another typical arrangement is to leave breakfast and lunch to each individual, with only dinner, the most complicated meal of the day, as a group effort.

The number of people in a cooking group should rarely exceed four. Beyond that, group efficiency is outweighed by the complexities of large pots, small stoves, and longer cooking times. The ideal number is two to three people per stove. For longer trips, an extra stove is a good idea in case one breaks down.

Selectins the menu

A group can pack along just about whatever its members want on a short outing, but longer trips require precise food planning. It takes careful figuring to meet the conflicting goals of moderate-weight packs and plenty of good, nutritious food. You want to avoid unnecessary weight, but at the same time you need to ensure that right down to the last meal, there is enough food for all.

Meals can be planned by the group or by a chosen individual. In either case, the usual procedure is to write down a menu, discuss it with the group, compile an ingredients list, and then go shopping.


The elaborate packages of commercial foods are too bulky and heavy for most trips, so repack the food in plastic bags. Place a label or cooking instructions inside each bag, or write on the outside with a felt pen. Smaller packages can be placed in larger ones that are labeled in broad categories, such as "breakfast," "dinner," or "drinks." For precise planning and packaging, a small kitchen scale comes in handy. Items such as jam, peanut butter, and honey pack best in squeeze tubes or in small plastic containers with airtight lids.


When you're in a hurry to get under way, breakfast is merely the first installment of lunch. For a fast start, prepackage a standard meal before the trip, measuring a prepared cold cereal (such as granola), raisins or other fruit, and powdered milk into a breakfast bag. Stir in water—cold for a cold meal, hot for a hot one—and breakfast is ready.

A hot drink is a pleasant addition to a cold breakfast and a standard element of a hot one. Common choices are instant cocoa, coffee, malted milk, coffee-cocoa (mocha), tea, eggnog, and in stant breakfast drinks. Fruit-flavored drinks include hot cider and flavored gelatin.

Other possibilities for breakfast are cooked grains such as oatmeal or rice, toaster pastries, bakery items, dried fruits, nuts, meat or fruit bars, and applesauce. If there's time, you can prepare a full-scale breakfast, with such items as potato slices, hash browns, omelets, scrambled eggs, bacon (canned or bars), and pancakes with syrup (made with brown sugar or syrup crystals).

Lunch and snacks

As soon as breakfast is over, lunch begins and is eaten throughout the day. Eat small amounts and eat often. You should have plenty of food, as half of your daily allotment is for lunch and snacks.

A good munching staple is gorp, a mixture of nuts, candy, raisins, and other dehydrated fruits. One handful makes a snack, several make a meal. Also good for munching is granola, with its mixture of grains, honey or sugar, and perhaps some bits of fruit and nuts. Gorp and granola are available premixed at many food stores or you can make your own. Other snack items are fruit leather and fruit pemmican.

Your basic lunch can include any of the following:

Protein: Canned meats and fish, beef jerky, precooked sausage, meat spreads, cheese, nuts, and seeds (sunflower and others).

Starches: Whole grain breads, bagels, granola and other cereals, crackers, brown-rice cakes, chips or pretzels, and granola bars.

Sugars: Cookies, chocolate, candy bars, hard candy, muffins, pastries, and honey.

Fruit: Fresh fruit, fruit bars, jam, and dried fruit such as raisins, peaches, and apples.

Vegetables: Fresh carrot or celery sticks, cucumbers, etc.


The evening meal should have it all. It should be both nourishing and delicious, yet easily and quickly prepared. To supplement your liquid intake, include some items that take a lot of water, such as soup. A cup of soup makes a quick and satisfying first course while the main course is being prepared.

One-pot meals with a carbohydrate base of noodles, macaroni, rice, beans, potatoes, or grains are easy and nutritious. To ensure adequate protein, fat, and flavor, you can add other ingredients such as canned or dried chicken, beef or fish, sausage, freeze-dried vegetables or fruits, butter or margarine, and a dehydrated soup or sauce mix.

Meals from the grocery store are relatively easy to fix and many are quick cooking, such as spaghetti, macaroni, rice mixes, ramen noodles, and instant salads. There are also meals prepackaged in Styrofoam cups: just add boiling water, cover, and let sit for a few minutes, and your dinner is ready.

Freeze-dried meals offer a lot of dinner choices: almond chicken, chili, shrimp newberg, turkey, beef stroganoff, and many more.

A hearty soup can serve as the main course for dinner. Good choices include minestrone, multi-bean, beef barley, or chicken. Add instant potatoes, rice, crackers, cheese, or bread and the meal is complete. Bouillon is an old favorite that has minimal food value but weighs little and is helpful in replacing water and salt.

Side dishes of freeze-dried vegetables or beans add variety and substance. They can also be added to soup, along with instant rice or potatoes. Precooked beans or processed soy products (in powdered or textured forms) are excellent low-cost protein additions. For those more interested in nutrition and health foods, there are packaged supplements and organic items at stores that specialize in natural foods.

Staples and seasonings

Sugar is a matter of preference. Brown is one-third heavier than white because of moisture, but it's preferred by many for flavor. Instant powdered milk is a good protein supplement that can be added to many dishes. Margarine, which keeps better than butter on long trips, improves the flavor of many foods and is available in liquid or canned form. Dried butter substitutes are available, but they don't have the fat content of the original. For seasonings, try salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, chili powder, bacon bits, dehydrated onions, Parmesan cheese, or a dash of soy sauce.

Drinks and desserts

Cold drinks after a hot day on the mountain are necessary and can be especially satisfying. Lemonade, orange juice, grape juice, and sugar-free drinks are all available in powdered mixes. Just add water. Hot drinks such as cocoa, tea, or mocha taste good after the evening meal.

Occasional full-scale desserts are possible if you've planned the menus carefully. They can include cookies, candy, no-bake cheesecake, applesauce, cooked dried fruit, and that old standard, instant pudding. Freeze-dried desserts include pies, ice cream, and berry cobblers.


High-camp cooking is often difficult because cooking times are longer and conditions can be challenging, at best. Cooking that requires boiling becomes a problem. As you gain altitude and the atmospheric pressure decreases, water boils at lower and lower temperatures. Therefore, it takes longer to cook things. For every drop of about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (or 5 degrees Celsius) in boiling temperature, cooking time is approximately doubled (fig. 3-11). The most suitable foods are those that require only warming, such as canned chicken and instant rice. The weight of the fuel you have to pack is another argument for simple

Fig. 3-11. Boiling point of water



Cooking Time





(sea level = 1)

sea level























The rigors of quick visits to higher altitudes require special attention to food. A typical quick gain to a relatively high elevation is the weekend ascent of Mount Rainier in Washington State, where climbers normally spend Friday night near sea level, Saturday night at 10,000 feet (about 3,000 meters), and perhaps only 20 hours after leaving tidewater, reach the 14,411-foot (4,392-meter) summit. Many climbers fall victim to symptoms of mountain sickness, ranging from a slight malaise to vomiting and severe headaches. The abrupt ascent doesn't allow time for acclimatization. Under these conditions it is more difficult to digest large meals because the stomach and lungs are competing for the same blood supply.

To repeat, eat light and eat often, stressing carbohydrates, which are easiest to digest. Bring foods that have proven themselves appealing at high altitude, because climbers often lose their appetite. Trial and error will teach you what foods your body can tolerate at altitude. You must continue to eat and drink, whatever the effort, for the loss of energy from a lack of food or water will only reinforce the debilitating effects of reduced oxygen.


The simplest eating utensils are a spoon and a single large cup (or small pot). Some people like to add a bowl; bowls are available in plastic, stainless steel, metal, and lexan polycarbonate. Cook sets (fig. 3-12) should be durable and lightweight and nest for convenient carrying. You can get the cook sets in aluminum, stainless steel, and coated cook-ware for easy cleaning. The size of the set you pack along will vary depending on the needs of a particular trip, but generally you need at least two pots: one for food and one for water. You can even get it down to one if you use only freeze-dried dinners that are rehydrated in their own packaging. Be sure your pots have bails or handles for carrying and tight-fitting lids to conserve heat (and serve as makeshift fry pans).

Fig. 3-12. Cooking accessories: pots and lids; windscreen; utensils and cup.

Continue reading here: Stoves

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  • ami
    Why mountaineers boil snow to make juice or coffee?
    5 years ago