Winter hiking burns a lot more calories than hiking the rest of the year because your body has to work harder to stay warm in the cold; you have to wear more clothing layers and heavier insulated boots; you need to carry snowshoes and use crampons or microspikes for traction on icy trails, and you need to carry all of the water you need for the day since most water sources are frozen over and impossible to access. But when can you stop to eat a big lunch in freezing cold temperatures, high wind, or days with few hours of daylight?
What is grazing?
Many winter hikers carry food that they can eat without stopping to maintain their energy during the day. Called grazing, this involves eating highly caloric, bite-size foods like trail mix (gorp) that you can snack on continuously without having to stop for a food break. If it’s really cold outside, or you’re in an exposed location subject to high wind, you can become quite chilled if you stop to eat. You’ll stay warmer, move faster, and maximize the daylight available during short winter days if you eat on the move.
How many calories are required for winter hiking?
You can expect to burn an additional 2000 to 3000 calories more than the 2000 to 2500 calories you normally eat over the course of a day, so anywhere from 4000 to 5500 calories per day, and even more, if you camp out overnight. In other words, your daily food intake has to match or exceed that of an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.
However, your body can only digest 400 calories per hour no matter how much you can cram into your belly at once. So after a big breakfast, the best way to consume the calories you need to stay alert and energized on a winter hike is to snack frequently on food that’s easily accessible.
Good Grazing Foods
Many of the candy bars or snack bars that you normally carry in warmer weather, freeze in winter temperature and become very difficult to eat or chew. While you can thaw them in pants pockets or chest pockets with body heat, you need to eat so much food during the day, that it’s usually easier to pack food items that don’t need any special handling.
Trail mix (gorp) with nuts, raisins, pieces of chocolate and dried fruit is the quintessential grazing food for winter hiking because it packs 150-190 calories per ounce and it, snack cracker sandwiches from Lance or Keebler, and Quaker Oat Chewy granola bars that don’t freeze, are my winter staples that can be eaten on the move. I buy all these snacks or gorp ingredients (walnuts, raisins, chocolate morsels) in bulk because I usually go on all-day winter hikes, two or three times each week.
Here are a few other grazing snack suggestions that my hiking partners enjoy:
- Grilled cheese sandwiches cut up into small squares
- Leftover pizza
- Smashed potato chips
- Beef jerky
- Dried fruit
The key is to pace yourself so that you’re grazing frequently enough to keep your energy levels up. Otherwise, you’ll run out of gas and bonk, which is no fun.
For example, it’s easy to carry gorp in a small plastic bottle attached to a backpack shoulder strap or in a front fanny pack so they can be accessed without having to stop. I carry a 16 oz wide-mouth Nalgene bottle attached to my shoulder strap that has trail mix in it and shake a bit into my mouth every once in a while. At 150-190 calories per ounce, gorp containing nuts, raisins, dried fruit, or chocolate chips is ideal because it combines slow-burning, high-calorie fatty foods with lower-calorie, sugary foods that can be digested more quickly. On an 8 or 9-hour winter hike, I’ll eat most of the gorp in the bottle.
I also connect a small pocket, called a wet rib, to my shoulder straps to hold more food, a spare hat, and gloves. I have friends who do something similar with fanny packs. Any old fanny pack will do. You just need some small carabiners to attach them to the shoulder straps or the webbing that connects the shoulder strap to your pack. This makes it easy to unbuckle one side to take off your backpack.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!