If you’re planning a ski-in hut trip, there are nutrition considerations you want to keep in mind to help you stay well nourished, hydrated while maintaining food enjoyment while minimizing pack weight.
Determine Hut Amenities
Huts will vary in provided amenities, so make sure you understand the water supply and water safety of the area, kitchen amenities such as stove, pots/pans, dinnerware and refrigeration before you go. If there is no running water, most primitive huts will be equipped with a heat source, large pot and ladle for you to melt snow for drinking water if there is no gear haul bringing it in. Knowing the amenities is imperative for you to know what to plan for hydration and food.
Drinking Water Safety
If your hut isn’t equipped with drinking water, it’s essential to ensure your water is safe to drink to avoid getting sick. The most basic way to ensure your water is safe to drink is by boiling it. At higher altitude (6500 ft or above), you need to boil the water for at least 3 minutes to make it safe.(1) However, if you’ve melted snow, there’s likely going to be sediment and debris in the water, so a simple pre-filter can remove it. Just make sure the water isn’t too hot when you run it through it or you could ruin it. If you aren’t boiling water and have access to stream water, a simple gravity filter (labeled as certified by NSF Standards 53 or 58) is an effective tool that is also backpacking friendly.(1)
Nutrition Considerations at Moderate to High Altitude
Presumably the hut you’re skiing into resides at a higher elevation than what you live at, so there are physiological mechanisms at play as your body adapts to the “thinner” air, such as quicker breathing (hyperventilation), and some people might experience mild altitude sickness (headache, poor sleep, loss of appetite and stomach upset).(2)
Heavier breathing leads to more respiratory fluid loss and cold weather suppresses thirst, both of which may increase the risk of dehydration. So, ensure you pack adequate fluid while touring and try to drink on a schedule, such as sipping every 5 to 15 minutes. Bladders with insulated tubes and beverage thermoses stored in a place easy to reach can help you stay hydrated. There is still a risk for the bladder tube to freeze, so try sipping often or try adding sports beverages in the bladder as it has a lower freezing point.
Calorie needs are almost undoubtedly elevated on a ski hut trip because going to high altitudes may increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by 25-30%. Additionally, your exercise energy expenditure is also likely elevated beyond your typical daily output, further increasing needs. I corresponded with Aaron Owens Mayhew, an ultralight backpacking expert, Registered Dietitian, and owner of Backcountry Foodie, a backpacking nutrition and ultralite meal planning business, about how to estimate your energy needs for a hut trip. “Research regarding calorie needs in cold weather conditions and/or at high altitudes is currently limited to military troops training in mountainous terrains in cold weather conditions.” Based on this research, she suggests a good starting point is estimating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and multiplying that number by an activity factor of 2.5 or 3.(3) There are many online calculators that use your sex, height, and weight to estimate your BMR. Or, if you have an actual grasp on your typical daily calorie needs, consider planning at least double the daily calories.
Aaron also suggests, “Keeping a food journal after your ski hut trip is the best way to determine one’s personal calorie needs. Writing down notes about the trip (i.e. duration, distance, terrain, etc), the food consumed, and how the food worked out will provide helpful information when planning for future trips.” So, try doing this over your next excursion and monitor how you felt during that trip to guide you even better for the next time around.
Nutrition & Food Ideas
Two of the top mistakes people make when packing food for backpacking style endeavors are not packing enough calories and packing foods that are too heavy. Nutrition in the backcountry, where you’re hauling all your food and gear, looks very different from nutrition at home - and that’s okay. You are not going to become nutrient deficient or mount some giant inflammatory response by a few days of more processed foods than maybe how you would typically eat at home. So, don’t sweat it that your meals on this trip may be lower in fruits and vegetables than you’re used to. Aaron Owens Mayhew recommends aiming for 125-150 calories per ounce of food, so someone with 3000 calorie/day needs with an average of 125 calories per ounce will need to carry about 1.5 lb of food per day, while someone with 5000 calorie/day needs may need to carry 2 lb of food per day at 150 calories per ounce. This is definitely ultralite, so if you have more carrying capacity, you can likely bring a few lower calorie fresh foods or say, a whole jar of peanut butter, for example. The key is to be mindful that you are packing enough calories within your comfortable carrying limit. You may realize that higher fat foods make it easier to pack more calories in a smaller volume since fat is over twice as calorie dense as protein and carbs. Hence the recommendations below are mostly high fat foods.
High Energy Instant Oatmeal (recipe below)
Coffee + Milk Powder
Think about foods that can be eaten on the move that won’t harden in the cold.
Shelf Stable Smoothie Pouches
String Cheese (Cheddar, it’s higher calories than the mozzarella)
Nut Butter Pouches
Tortilla, Banana, Nut Butter Roll-Up
PB&J (make it a double decker for more energy, and/or pack multiples)
Gnarly Nutrition Fuel2O
Soft Baked Cookies
Trail Mix (one with dried fruit for more carbs)
Shelf Stable Hummus
Ready-made backpacking packaged meals will work and you can also consider making your own ultralite high calorie backpacking friendly meals such as the recipes below.
Packaged Backpacking Meal
Sun-Dried tomato Pesto Pasta
Garam Masala Chickpea Stew
Homemade cookies, brownies, or other treats
Instant Hot Chocolate
Instant Hot Apple Cider
Instant Coffee with Milk Powder
High Energy Instant Oatmeal
¾ c plain instant oats
3 tbsp whole fat milk powder (or coconut milk powder)
1 scoop Gnarly vanilla whey or vegan protein powder
2 tsp brown sugar
4 tbsp pecans
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ c freeze dried berries or any dried fruit
Store in a reusable ziploc. When ready to eat, pour contents in a bowl, add hot water and stir until desired viscosity.
780 kcal, 92 g carbs, 16 g fiber, 36 g fat, 30 g protein
- Bergeron, M.F., R. Bahr, P. Bartsch, L. Bourdon, J.A. Calbet, K.H. Carlsen, O. Castagna, J. González-Alonso, C. Lundby, R.J. Maughan, G. Millet, M. Mountjoy, S. Racinais, P. Rasmussen, D.G. Singh, A.W. Subudhi, A.J. Young, T. Soligard, and L. Engebretsen (2012). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on thermoregulatory and altitude challenges for high-level athletes. Br. J. Sports Med. 46:770-779.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research; Marriott BM, Carlson SJ, editors. Nutritional Needs In Cold And In High-Altitude Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1996. 1, A Review of the Physiology and Nutrition in Cold and in High-Altitude Environments by the Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232855/