11 May 2017

What To Eat For An Alpine-Start Breakfast



It's 4am. It's dark, it's freezing, and the last thing you want to do is eat. Your cozy tent and warm sleeping bag are calling your name, but you must get up and force food down your pie hole because you'll be spending the next 10ish hours climbing a mountain, and filling your belly with calories is just good common sense.

The question is: what to eat? When picking a breakfast for your next alpine-start, you need to consider three things:
  1. Prep time.
  2. Cleanup required.
  3. Risk-ratio of tastiness to potential vomiting/diarrhea.
Personally, I much prefer food that doesn't need hot water and leaves behind minimal waste. The trade off is that I sometimes make choices (like, Snickers bars) that don't feel so good a few hours later. You live, you learn, you pack poop bags.

Whatever you decide, the important thing to note is that this is your choice, and your choice alone. Don't let anyone try to tell you what to eat or when to eat or how to eat it. Hell, if you aren't a breakfast eater, DON'T EAT BREAKFAST. Put some snackies in your pockets and be on your way.

Bottom line: your body needs fuel for big days and you need to feed it continually. The moment you're hungry, it's too late. I try to eat every time I even think about food, which is roughly every 30-minutes. I keep gummies in my pocket and snack on those, then have something of substance every 1-2 hours. Keep those snacks handy - you won't want to stop to dig through your pack - and chew away throughout the day for a happier, more successful trip.

To help you pick your next alpine-start breakfast, I've created a menu of 5-options preferred by the backcountry community. Each is rated related to the three 'considerations'. Pick your poison.

The Standard

Oatmeal. Tear open a bag of your favorite flavor, put it in a bowl, add hot water, and voila - you have breakfast.
Pros: you can add basically anything you want to oatmeal - fruits, nuts, peanut or almond butter.
Cons: It's oatmeal, which is a slimy, messy concoction that requires two hands to eat and about 40% of people find it absolutely inedible.  
Prep Time: High
Cleanup Required: High (you've got a dirty bowl, a spoon, and the trash to deal with, unless you prepare the oatmeal directly in the packet, in which case you prep time is Medium)
V/D Ratio: Low

The Simple

Mountain House. Biscuit and Gravy or Scrambled Eggs or Breakfast Skillet or Spicy Southwest Hash. You name it, Mountain House has got it. Why make your own breakfast when you can have freeze-dried solutions for half the work and twice the price. 
Pros: You can pick your own flavor and go to town.
Cons: You generally want a partner, as it's a lot of food for one person that early in the morning, and I have yet to eat one that doesn't upset my stomach.
Prep Time: High (first you have to boil the water, then wait for the food to 'thaw')
Cleanup Required: High to Medium (a dirty spoon is one thing, but leftover MH is no good and will spill all over your bag, even when you think the package is empty)
V/D Ratio: High (at least in my experience)

The Savory

Bagel Jerky Delight. Take a bagel, add cream cheese, then add jerky. You're welcome. (can also be done with muffins and or non-jerky meat solution).
Pros: At the end of the day this is a sandwich, and you can make pretty much whatever you want and call it a sandwich; also has a good mix of complex and simple carbohydrates, if you're into that sort of thing.
Cons: Can get messy with the whole hole-in-the-middle thing.
Prep Time: Medium (advanced planning required)
Cleanup Required: Low (you can use the baggie you pack it in for trash later!)
V/D Ratio: Low to Medium

The Sinful 

Sin Dawgs. A cinnamon bread roll 'concoction by Dave's Killer Bread that is allegedly the most delicious, appetizing breakfast ever.
Pros: just looking at it you can tell it's delicious, and you can eat it with one hand.
Cons: you'll probably eat the entire thing in one-sitting, and might screw yourself out of breakfast for the rest of the trip.
Prep Time: Non-existant 
Cleanup Required: Nope (put that plastic pouch in your trash bag and forget about it)
V/D Ratio: High (have that poop bag handy)

The South-of-the-Border

Breakfast Burritos. Whatever you want wrapped in a tortilla and eaten cold or warmed on the stove, with or without sauce.
Pros: It's a burrito. Why am I explaining this to you?
Cons: There are no cons to a burrito, because it is perfect.
Prep Time: Medium to low (requires advanced thinking and preparation, but day of there's basically zero prep, only to heat it up in a skillet should you so choose).
Cleanup Required: Nope (eat with one hand, wipe hand on pants, continue climbing)
V/D Radio: Low to Medium (put normal stuff in it and you should be just fine)

Other suggestions that didn't have a quippy title:

  • Pop Tarts
  • Bacon jerky
  • Ramen
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Croissants
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mac n' Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Banana and/or banana bread
  • Odwalla (super-food is highest in calories)
  • Red Bull
  • Muscle Milk
  • Chocolate milk/hot chocolate
  • Beer
And coffee. Lots of people drink that but not me so I don't care about your caffeine fix. Excuse me while I have another slice of leftover pizza. Happy eating! 


Thanks to the folks on Washington Hikers & Climbers who helped with these ideas!

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