You’re hiking along, feeling groovy. You’re backpacking in the wilderness, miles deep. You have camp set up and need to eat something quick in the morning.
In all of these situations, consuming calories is extremely important. Especially when it’s cold outside. I’m talking anything below 30 degrees. In the cold months, it is a very bad thing to get hungry. Your body may start to shiver and you’ll simply become much more cold. It’s key to have a couple simple things available to consume at any point when the temperature dips below freezing.
A really common issue people bump into while exploring in the freezing wilderness is that all of their food freezes. For the first couple times I camped in the cold, I fell victim to this as well. This seems to be a thing. I think partially because no one really wants to cook outside when it’s 8 degrees and 7am, and partially because so much “easy” food contains a lot of water and not much fat. Water freezes, fat has a much lower freeze point.
And in the cold, you need extra carbohydrates. So the trick is to find a carby, fatty food that doesn’t freeze as easily as just a regular old carby treat.
The goal of this entry in the Winter Series, is to prepare you for a safe and efficient nutrition practice while in the backcountry.
If you haven’t done so, I suggest you read Layering 101, which is the first part of my 2017 Winter Series. Because if you aren’t dressed properly, food wont matter much.
So sit back, learn some stuff, read about food, you know the drill. Happy winter foot travel!
Now right off the bat I want to mention how lazy I am when it comes to preparing food at camp. So take that for what it’s worth. If you plan to bring foods with to prepare a feast, do remember that much of it will freeze; veggies, sauces, fruits, etc. It’s challenging to bring many whole foods along, without them freezing or without carrying a shit ton of extra weight. Onwards and upwards!
Tips to avoid food freeze.
- Always keep a couple snack squirreled away on your person. As close to your body as possible. Your bodies warmth will prevent food from freezing. Bars are excellent snacks to keep in pockets.
- Avoid bringing processed items that are smooth or creamy. They freeze very quickly and thaw slowly.
- Fats are good. Olive oil, coconut oil, butter, bacon grease, tallow and so on. Fats have a hard time freezing solid and help to fill you up too!
- Oat-based things are excellent. Extra carbohydrates are important and oats freeze much slower than a lot of foods.
- Foods with a lot of water freeze right away; this means veggies and other fresh stuff.
- When you put your food away at night, try to insulate it a bit by wrapping it in thing you aren’t using; clothing, socks, your backpack, etc.
- Always have a backup; some dried ramen or instant rice. A backpacker meal. Something you can throw boiling water at and eat. Just on the off chance everything goes wrong.
Meals that won’t freeze.
- Oatmeal! Bring dried oatmeal mixed with cinnamon and protein powder (so you don’t have to mix it at camp) and add boiling water. Yay- a quick and easy meal. I recommend quick oats, because they cook...quick.
- Dehydrated meals. Really creative and inspiring suggestion, right? I try to stay away from these, but sometimes it’s simply the easiest choice.
- Crackers with peanut butter and/or other fat-based spreads. Crackers don’t tend to freeze and they’re crunchy anyways. So it’s hard to go wrong here.
- Homeade soup or stew in a bag! Make it at home and freeze it in portioned out ziplocks. Then at camp, boil some water and toss the ziplock into the water for a few minutes. The food should unthaw and be ready to eat. Yummy!
- Rice noodles with dehydrated veggies and/or meat. You can buy this as a dehydrated meal, or make your own for wayyyy less money. Rice noodles cook very fast, so that’s why I recommend them.
Snack that won’t freeze.
- Trailmix. Nuts are really high in fat, making them really super slow to freeze. Now, I cannot speak to the other bits in your trailmix, but I make my own and find that a mix of cashews, chocolate covered espresso beans and cranberries do just fine for extended days below freezing.
- Complete Cookies. I have talked about Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookies lots of times. They are tasty, vegan, free of most allergens and pack a bit of protein. Plus they taste good and are big. And kinda calorie dense. And for winter, they take a very long time to freeze.
- Rice cakes. Everyone has had rice cakes. They can be pretty meh and they’re all carbs. But they don’t freeze, have a great crunch and are... all carbs. Making them wonderful for the cold season.
- Freeze-dried peas/edamame/fruit/cheese. Freeze-dried is good. Freeze-dried has a lot of flavor and doesn’t freeze solid. It’s always crunchy. It can be healthy. I recommend getting some freeze-dried food and having it at camp always. It requires no cooking and is great if you have snacking cravings. Go with bold flavors. You can add it to dehydrated meals as well if you’re feeling fancy.
- Beef jerky. NOT meat bars. Meat bars, like Wilde or Epic, will for sure freeze. But straight up beef jerky will not. It might get extra chewy or a little hard, but it will not freeze. All of the moisture has been dried out. And the kick of protein it gives you is awesome.
In the cold months, snowy months, harsh months... you don’t have nearly the options you’ll have any other time of year. The food you’re able to bring alone depends heavily on its water content; in that it must have the lowest possible water content. The limited food choices can be hard for some, as they like to mix it up or get bored of eating the same thing. Which is bad to do in winter. In the cold, you must eat frequently, more than normal and you must increase carbs and fat. Otherwise you might have a pretty bad time.
If I’ve forgotten anything, please feel free to comment here or shoot me a message! And if you have any other tips for food while in the freezing months, do let me know. I am always excited to try new things and experiment.