Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
An Alpine menu usually comprises of the lightest, most compact and fastest cooking food you can find in the supermarket, and generally, it’s the eye and the stomach that’s the judge, not a calculation of calories, glycemic index or relative nutritional value. This isn’t a problem generally as most alpine climbs take place over a short period of time, and so the body is able to keep on running even on insufficient fuel, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you have the correct amount of food (probably 8000+ calories) then you probably have too much. Others would argue that without carrying sufficient calories you’re body will lose energy and so slow you down, but all I know is no matter how many calories your food contains, if it weighs your sack down at the start, you’re probably going to need every single one!
For me, the most important rules of an alpine diet are:-
- The food is palatable at altitude (if you don’t really like it at home, you definitely won’t like it on a climb).
- It’s easy to cook, with near-instant food being ideal when on a cramped bivi with limited gas.
- It robust so won’t get destroyed in your pack (like crackers).
- Ideally part of it should be edible without cooking, important if your stove breaks, or for early stoveless starts.
My typical alpine diet would be:
Muesli with milk (powdered or from a tube) 2 litres of Tea
Muesli bar (1 large or 2 small) 1 litre of water with sports drink
Muesli bars Power Gell Bioled sweets sausage
Instant soup (1 litre) Either a bag of expedition type food (mountain house) Or pasta/rice with cheese, olive oil and garlic (break up the pasta so it cooks faster) Tea with biscuits (Ginger biscuits are perfect for alpine climbing) and chocolate
Instant soup (1 litre) Either a bag of expedition type food (mountain house) Or Noodles mixed with thick instant soup Tea (1 litre) perhaps with chocolate.
Nothing amazing there as you can see, and no doubt this diet shows that I’m a bit old fashioned – trusting in my body to devour itself as I climb (the belly timber theory). But what if you want a healthier, more nutritious and balanced diet? Well, a great example of this is Stephen Mattison’s alpine menu, which contains a lot more thought, and could really increase one’s performance.
Porridge + Full-fat milk packet + protein powder. Dried fruit (mainly apples).
Muesli Bars + Protein powder + Energy gel if needed. I mix and match these to get roughly 1000-1500 calories depending upon how much I can eat.
Food while moving, what I do is this. I have two 2l hydration packs. One I filled with water, the other I fill with one of those MuscleMAX EXTREME Weight Gainer products with the ridiculous names. I put enough powder in for around 1000 calories. I drink some of this every 15-30 minutes but not until about an hour or more after I have left camp. I also keep some dried fruit handy. The powder should be rich in vitamins and electrolytes. Alternatively, I add Gatorade and Protein powder together (usually Orange and Vanilla, like a Creamsicle, actually tastes decent.). This way you are getting hydrated and don’t have to worry about eating, especially when you feel kind of sick. I use the Muscle powder because it has protein, some good fats, and necessary carbs. It keeps you feeling full and your body feeling strong. I probably would never eat the stuff if I wasn’t climbing as it would probably make you fat, but for climbing, it is an excellent fuel. I also feel that you need to have a high amount of protein in your diet so that you can recover quickly and be able to climb the next day. Also, if you climb regularly to train for expeditionary climbing, then you need to eat a lot of protein during your climbs so that you build muscle. That’s just my opinion.
Flapjack bars + Dried fruit
Same as above
Whole grain pasta or rice salty Cup O Noodles (not the cheapo brand) but one that has whole-grain noodles. Olive Oil Sausage maybe a little chicken Cheese Atlantic Kale or Broccoli or Spinach or all. It tastes great.
Bars and protein powder ughhh
This usually turns out to be 4500-5500 calories when I’m working out hard. But as low as 3000-3500 on an easy climb.
I thought Stephens menu is a great starting point for a debate on alpine food, and I’d like to build up a list of alpine menus and food tips for people to use on the site, so if you have anything to add, or wish to add your own alpine menu to the site, then please e-mail me.
Max Furman e-mailed me with this update, which has several interesting
Hi, Andy just saw your new piece on alpine menus. thought I would share some ideas
my best breakthrough recently has been sucking down malt extract - essentially gu at a fraction of the price (do any non sponsored climbers buy gu?) if you want to get really fancy I found this recipe including some of the more complex ingredients. You can get really fancy and figure out calories per shot etc but I just eat the stuff when I’m hungry!
Some other ideas
instant oats with milk powder protein powder and brown sugar > spice it up with dried fruit or some nuts and seeds!
instant pancake (flour, instant egg, milk powder > just add water) only good for those longer trips I guess but I have successfully cooked this on hanging stoves on big walls.
GU (malt) as above, also I have a tube of sweetened condensed milk on hand and a mix of muesli bars/m&ms/powerbars / sweets I’m currently working on a recipe for a power bar type homemade flapjack… ill let you know
Since I read of your ideas with potato flakes or couscous with a soup packet for flavour it has been a staple favourite! (of course add butter/cheese / salami/ chili/ freeze-dried peas and corn etc etc) probably a lot here you already eat but maybe something new
Here’s another update from Galldis
“Japanese Miso soup.
You can buy this in handy little wet sachets which you open, empty out then dilute with water. No weight to carry at all really. Then you can add Japan soup noodles and whatever else you fancy (ginger, garlic, chill flakes, pepper, even frozen prawns if making at home)
Easy peasy and a good taste/feed. Miso soup is made from seaweed so is pretty healthy.
Check out damper bread (oven) and bannock bread (fried usually). Both recipes are easily googleable on the ‘Net.
A camping oven can be created by placing one large pan on low heat with two or three stones inside and a smaller pan resting on the stones with a lid covering both pots. The small pot is the oven. Keep the heat low though or you may naff up your big pan.”
BIVY FOOD EXTRAS
There are lots of simple dishes that can be rustled up for bivy food, but the most common food will be that which is cooked fast, and cooked via boiling. Instant food is the way, but that isn’t to say that food has to be bland and boring. The most important thing to have is a little imagination, plus a few extra ingredients. You should always have a small stash of spices (basil and chilli), pepper and the savour of many a meal parmesan cheeses (even a tiny block the size of a sugar cube can bring a meal alive scraped on top). Also, things you take for granted like little sachets of tomato sauce, mayonnaise of mustard become great commodities once it’s dinner time and the menu can be written on a stamp! Another thing you shouldn’t leave home without is a few bulbs of garlic (powder is more convenient, but slicing it’s therapeutic), and I also always carry a tiny bottle of olive oil, which when mixed with basil, pepper, chilli and garlic can make even the plainest noodles or 4-minute pasta taste like Gordon Ramsey’s cooked dinner.
Most climbers I know tend to keep their bivy food simple, whether they’re camping under a boulder in the Pass or hiding from the hut guardian below the Jorasses. The stables are tea, soup, noodles (Ramen), Smash and an odd assortment of tins and packets that can be added to the above. Putting a little more thought into what food you take will pay dividends when you actually get to where you’re going (and you’re stuck with those food choices). One technique I use is to always buy something a bit odd and take that with me each time I go on the hill. This could be a mini packet of Tortillas (don’t go stale as fast, don’t crush stuffed down the side of your sack), a pack of mini marshmallows (weigh nothing, but can be eaten as snacks or put in cups of hot chocolate), and once I even had a slab of Moose!
To get you on the road to thinking out of the box here’s a one-pan recipe that you could serve to your parents…well maybe.
This is an Italian dish that has lots of intense flavours and is a perfect pre climb meal, that requires very few ingredients. This isn’t a packaged meal and so ingredients will have to be decanted into zip lock bags, which although messy means they can dispose of easily and weigh nothing (unlike taking tubes and cans with you).
- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup 4-minute pasta
- 3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
- 2 oz. can of anchovies with capers
- 1/4 cup chopped black olives or paste
- 2 cloves of chopped garlic
- (olive oil)
- (parmesan cheese)
Bring water to a boil, turn down to the lowest simmer, and add pasta. Allow pasta to cook. Turn off heat and drain the water. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. For extra richness, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Top with parmesan cheese.
This and lots of other recipes can be found on Jet boils web site at Jetbiol.com)