Hiking and backpacking in the winter requires a lot of considerations, and a top priority should be nutrition. Nutrition is always important, but the winter adds additional needs that you may not be away of. You’ll be packing more weight which burns more calories. On top of that, your body will be working constantly to stay warm. This too will require more calories. You’ll need to counteract this strain with the proper foods to stay warm, energized, and healthy
How much food to bring
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want about 25% more food than you would when backpacking or hiking in the summer. Myself, I pack in about 50% more during the winter. I’m a hungry beast.
What to eat
You’ll be wanting a rough estimated blend of about 60 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fats to sustain yourself during the winter. These numbers include elevated fats and protein percentages than you would normally be concerned with during the summer. The additional fats and proteins will provide you that slow burn which your body uses to stay warm. If you pack only high amounts of carbs, you’ll burn through them too fast and you’ll end up cold and hungry. Good examples of what to bring would be meaty chili with lots of vegetables, spaghetti with meat sauce, dried meats such as salami and pepperoni, cheeses, and chocolate.
Just like in the summer, you’ll be wanting snacks. And lots of them. The additional calorie burn of carrying more weight and staying warm will easily add an extra 100 calories burned per hour of actual movement. Your body will also burn more calories while you sleep. To sustain this, bring lots of snacks. Carbs and sugars will be your best friends while you hike. This provides you the instant energy you’ll need to push up those steep climbs. Keep them easily accessible so you can snack on the move. It really makes a difference. Good examples of winter snacks are cookies, dried fruits and nuts, chocolate, and other calorie dense foods. I’m a big fans of cookies and muffins.
Foods that warm you up
There are many known foods that can actually help to keep you warm. Your body processes high protein and fat foods differently than carbs and sugars. If you’re a cold natured person, stock up. Some great, naturally warming foods include, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, onion, cumin, pepper, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, honey, and high calorie fruits and vegetables also have some effect. High protein and fat foods liked dried meats, cookies, and chocolate will also give you a nice boost of warmth.
Get creative, and come up with your own recipes, or just stock up on snicker bars and peanut butter. You know you want too.
Pack hot drinks
You may not feel thirsty when it’s very cold out, but you need to drink plenty of water when it’s cold.
Drinking water is actually just as important in the winter as in the summer. Eating and digesting food takes water, and since you’ll be eating more you’ll need to be drinking more to process it properly. This and your body uses water to control and regulate your body temperature. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll get cold. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you won’t be sweating. You’ll still lose water there as well.
So, bring in things like tea, hot cocoa, coffee, and cider. Even hot Gatorade is a treat in the winter. Hot drinks are much more enticing than cold sharp water when the temperatures are low. Bringing these along will promote good drinking habits and can also supplement your elevated caloric needs. If nothing else, just to heat your water before drinking.
Have a snack before bed, and keep some extra near your sleeping bag
Having something to eat before you hit the sack will give you a nice burst of warmth as your body processes it. Start off warm, and you’ll likely stay warm all nice. Wake up cold? Have another snack close. It will be enough to get that body temperature up and set you back down into dream land.
Normally, having food in your tent is a bad idea. Luckily, wildlife is much less an issue in the winter and in most areas you can get away with it once the frost rolls in.