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By its very nature, winter camping entails having to endure a few mild hardships and inconveniences. Temps are lower, our packs are heavier, progress on the trails is slower, and daylight hours are far shorter than in any of year’s other, more meteorologically-friendly hiking and camping seasons.
This doesn’t mean, however, that it need be an all-out sufferfest in every other respect—particularly not when it comes to our food.
One of the most commonly cited inconveniences of camping in the cold season is dealing with frozen eats, from energy bars that turn hard enough to take out our prized and pricey dental work to dinner-time meals that take until breakfast time to thaw out.
Below, we offer a selection of handy tips, strategies, and hacks that will help you keep your foodstuffs free of the freeze when doing your camping in winter. But before that, let’s first take a look at why doing so (beyond the more obvious reasons) is so important.
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Why Eating Well Is More Important Than Ever When Winter Camping
Our bodies’ internal engines require fuel to keep them going. Not only does this give us the energy required to do whatever we may be doing in and around camp, but also allows our bodies to produce enough heat to stave off the cold and thwart a dose of the shivers or, worse, hypothermia.
Ever felt yourself break into a sweat after a hearty meal? In scientific parlance, the cause of this physiological phenomenon is something called diet-induced thermogenesis. Essentially, when we eat, our metabolic rate speeds up as our bodies go to work digesting our food. This, simultaneously, results in the production of heat.
As you might have guessed, failure to eat regularly in cold temps will not only leave you feeling de-energized and drained, but also means we’re more likely to feel our core temperature drop quicker and more significantly than if we’re well-fed and nourished.
Also, because our bodies burn more calories in colder temps in making all this effort to keep us warm, our calorie intake needs to be a little higher than usual to keep that internal heating system ticking over.
Now that we know why calorie intake is so important, let’s get down to looking at ways in which we can ensure our calorie-carrying eats remain edible while winter camping.
Pre-Trip Prep 1: Choose Your Chow Wisely
As with all aspects of camping, success starts at home. In this case, ensuring our campsite eats are edible and ice-free come lunch or dinner time means choosing the type of food we take with us on winter camping trips wisely.
In short, all you have to do is swap out standard foods for winter-friendly foods that are less likely to freeze, like the freeze-resistant alternatives listed in the table below.
|Fated to Freeze
|Crackers, rice cakes, fajitas, bannocks, oatcakes
|Soup, goulash, stews
|Dried soups, noodles, or freeze-dried meals that can be resuscitated by simply adding water boiled at camp or from your thermal flask
|Trail bars or candy bars
|Shortbread, tablet, fig newtons
|Processed cheese slices
|Figgy pops energy balls
|Dried fruits and nuts
Pre-Trip Prep 2: Insulate Your Eats
Just as our bodies benefit from a little bit of layering, we can significantly reduce the temps at which our grub will freeze over by “dressing” it appropriately before we hit the trail and head to camp.
But how should we dress our edibles for success?
We’re not talking high-tech here. Some basic insulators you can make use of without having to splash any additional cash include:
- Spare hiking socks
- Spare jackets/fleeces
- Your sleeping bag
- Or, if you don’t mind making a purchase in order to keep your clothing and comestibles separate:
- An insulated bag (zip-lock varieties work best)
- An insulated cooler (soft-walled varieties are easier to pack in a backpack, but hard-walled varieties usually insulate better)
Wait! What…a cooler in winter time?
Yep, you read right…
Just as an insulated cooler can keep food and drinks cool in high temps, it can keep them warm and edible in low ones.
In essence, insulated coolers (without ice added, naturally) simply create a small micro-environment with a more stable temperature by shutting out ambient temperatures—that is, the temperature of the air outside. That means they both keep out warm air in summer and cool air in winter.
Needless to say, a reliable cooler will also come in very handy when it comes to storing your foods around camp and preventing spillage onto your clothing and gear.
Heading to Camp: Use Body Heat To Keep Your Eats Edible
Where you pack your food is just as important as how you pack it when it comes to beating the freeze.
On any camping trip, your food is likely to need stored both inside your pack when hiking to your campsite and then in or around your tent once you get there.
When heading to camp, you already have a ready-made heating system at your disposal which can help to keep your edibles from becoming inedible during the journey from your vehicle to your campsite…your body.
Our bodies generate and produce heat all the time, and even more of it when we’re exerting ourselves doing something like, say, schlepping our heavy camping kit (breakfasts, lunches, and dinners included) along a hiking trail.
To make use of this heat, store your food in your backpack where it will be closest to the heat source—i.e. directly against the back panel of your backpack.
If you have any trail foods that you plan on eating along the way, stash them in inside pockets or even drop them inside your shirt—just make sure you keep the shirt tucked in at the waist to ensure they’re still there when you need them!
At Camp: Use Campfires and Other Insulators Between Mealtimes
Creating a campsite “pantry” that will keep your food edible overnight or while you’re out exploring is easily done.
If heading out for a wander on the trails or otherwise leaving camp, insulate your eats by:
- Wrapping them inside your sleeping bag inside your tent
- Asking neighbors at the campsite to keep them near their fire
In the evening:
- Store foods for subsequent days inside your tent
- Keep those you intend on eating that evening next to your campfire or, if you’re hanging out inside your tent, keep them close to your body
At night, there are multiple ways in which you can store your breakfast fodder to maximize the chances of it being ready to eat come morning. Before hitting the hay, store your food:
- Inside your tent, ideally somewhere close to the sleepers (in moderately cool temps)
- Inside your sleeping bag (in very cool temps)
- Outside your tent, covered in snow (snow is actually an awesome insulator!) – but only if you have a reliable cooler box or bag to keep things dry and prevent critters pilfering your provisions in a nocturnal raid
Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, camper, and all-round lover of all things wild and wonderful. He’s climbed a handful of 6,000-meter peaks in the Himalaya, 4,000ers in the Alps, and 14,000-footers in the Rockies and currently lives in the Italian Alps.