10 Lessons on Preparing a Meal Plan for a Climb

On my first major climb, I ate nothing but canned tuna paella and sardines. I never touched another can of tuna paella after that. Since then, I’ve made efforts to make a meal plan before a climb. It’s not always very good but at least I don’t have to eat out of a can in every meal.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been going nuts trying to finalize the meal plan for a multi-day climb. There were a lot of factors to consider: dietary restrictions, individual preferences, limited water sources, food spoilage, budget constraints, et al. After so many discussions on how long pre-cooked chicken lasts and what to feed people who don’t eat meat, we finally came up with something that resembles a workable menu.

I’m relatively new to mountaineering so creating a meal plan particularly for a group is something I’m still getting used to. It can be fussy and annoyingly taxing but it has also been a good learning experience for me. Here are a few lessons I managed to pick up so far:

1. Take note of food allergies, dietary restrictions and preferences of the team members. Discuss the menu during the pre-climb meeting and ask for suggestions on what meals to prepare.

2. It’s customary to include the guide and porter on your meal plan. Consider their preference as well or any religious dietary prohibitions they may have. Our guide in our upcoming climb is a Muslim so we have a separate menu for him whenever there’s pork in a meal. In such a case, make sure to cook their food in a separate pan as well. Don’t fry the danggit (dried fish) on the same pan you’ve just used for cooking the longganisa (native sausage), with leftover oil and pork bits still sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Kuya Tanyo and Kuya Erio, our Manobo guides in Mt. Kalatungan, Bukidnon. They didn’t have any food restrictions and were nice enough to like my cooking.

Kuya Tanyo and Kuya Erio, our Manobo guides in Mt. Kalatungan, Bukidnon. They didn’t have any food restrictions and were nice enough to like my cooking.

3. Prepare nutritious meals with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Make sure to include potassium and sodium in your diet to prevent muscle cramps. A good and convenient source of potassium and sodium is the salted-egg-with-tomatoes combo. It’s easy to prepare and doesn’t spoil right away.

4. Be aware of the availability of water sources when planning the menu. If the nearest water source is four hours away from the campsite, then you might want to prepare meals that don’t consume a lot of water. If you’re camped next to a flowing spring though, then go ahead and have a big pot of sinigang for dinner.

Bulod Spring, the only reliable water source on the traditional trail of Mt. Guiting-Guiting.

Bulod Spring, the only reliable water source on the traditional trail of Mt. Guiting-Guiting.

5. Consider the shelf life of your food particularly if your climb will last for three days or more. Canned goods and daing (dried fish) are obvious choices for food that won’t spoil but you can still make home-cooked style meals even on the campsite. Pre-cook meat before the climb and pack in clean, sealed containers or Ziploc bags to prolong its shelf life. Another common trick is to cook meat in vinegar (e.g. adobo) to make it last longer. Vegetables can also last for days although leafy veggies will usually start to wilt by the second or third day.

Daing: cheap, lightweight and easy to cook.

Daing: cheap, lightweight and easy to cook.

6. Assign cooking tasks to team members in advance. This is mainly to avoid what we call the siraan-ng-pagkakaibigan (end of friendship) scenario. When you’re on a strenuous multi-day hike and you’ve just had a long day of trekking, everyone would be tired and no one would want to do anything anymore. Having a designated person/s beforehand to prepare the meal would minimize the turuan (finger-pointing) and hintayan (waiting for others to do the job). And it’ll ensure you’d still get to eat.

7. Bring ready-to-eat food such as canned food, corned tuna, sausages, beef jerky, bread and crackers. There may be times when you won’t be able to cook anymore due to extreme exhaustion, horrible weather, delays in reaching the campsite or other emergencies. You should have readily available food to tide you over in such instances.

8. As much as possible, buy your food supplies in the town near or most accessible from the jump-off of your climb. It’ll help the local economy and you won’t be lugging around five kilograms of uncooked rice when you leave the house. Check first the opening and closing schedule of local stores, and make sure you have enough time on your itinerary to buy supplies. Markets and stores close early in small towns. In some rural areas, there are designated market days in which more stores are open and more products are available. You may have limited options on non-market days.

Buy local.

Buy local.

9. Try to adjust your menu depending on what’s locally available. Don’t go looking for Worcestershire sauce or broccoli if you’re on a small island in Romblon. When I was in Bukidnon, I had a hard time looking for patis (fish sauce). Apparently, patis is the local term for what I know as toyo (soy sauce) and fish sauce is not a very popular condiment there. I was stubborn though and scoured every single sari-sari store in the market until I found a pouch of patis, and I mean the fish sauce kind. I’ll make my life easier next time and settle for soy sauce.

10. Adjust your cooking fuel supply based on your menu. You’d need more for meals cooked from scratch such as tinola compared with just fried meatloaf. You’d also consume more fuel at higher altitude and in cold environments. Experience is the best gauge for how much you’d need to bring on a climb. When I went on a three-day trek in Mt. Malindang, two butane canisters were good for six meals for two people. On our Kanlaon climb which also lasted for three days, 10 cans were not enough for eight meals for 11 people. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how this goes so any helpful advice would be most welcome.

How do you make your meal plan for a climb? What lessons and good practices do you think should mountaineers learn?

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15 thoughts on “10 Lessons on Preparing a Meal Plan for a Climb

  1. Naldy

    Hi Tin,

    Just some additional info:
    #2 – is ideal to prepare nutritious food but limit the amount of Protein. Protein are stored in the muscles and are not usually burned (use by muscle builders). You should usually eat lots of this during the preparation for the climb. But during the climb its more on potassium, sodium and carbohydrates. I remember I had ‘eat all you can’ meal night before a climb in a shabu-shabu resto (almost no rice place) and my legs was so stiff and feels llike they have weights. Lesson learned for me.

    #5 – consider to consume the pre-cook meals before the one with the longer shelf life. To ensure that non will have a chance to spoil, specially if your brought just enought meal (which we always do).

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Thanks Sir! Very helpful points. I’ll keep this in mind. And #2 is a great excuse to devour lots of cheeseburgers during climb prep. Hehe.

      Reply
      1. Naldy

        Hahaha!

        But seriously, minimize burgers for they have unwanted fats and calories. Have clean protein like steak and fish. I remember when I was preparing for G2, I was eating steamed chicken (yukk!) after every workout. I’ll stop now, dont want to sound like a nagging dietician. hehehe. Maybe we can talk about when we get to hike again. 😉

        btw, yer welcome.

        Reply
        1. Tintin Post author

          Well great. You just made me feel bad for having a huge burger for dinner. Uhmmm, but it’s homemade. I cooked it! And I got the lean ground beef (ayon sa tindero ng meat shop). So that makes it healthier, right? 😀 And I just had fish yesterday so that also balances things. Makahanap lang talaga ng excuse. Hahaha!

          Yes, I owe you a barrel of coffee! 😀

          Reply
  2. Adrenaline Romance

    A few other tips:

    * Prepare the ingredients beforehand. For instance, if the dish requires sliced carrots and onions, minced garlic, etc., then have those ingredients sliced and minced before heading out. Place them in zip-lock bags or Lock n’ lock containers. It saves time and effort during cooking time up in the wilderness.

    * To ensure there’s enough food for everyone (and perhaps for emergencies), each person should bring his/her own supply of meals (and perhaps, a little more). For instance, if it’s a 3-day trek, then each person should bring for himself/herself meals good for 3 days. Thus, if you combine all that food at the campsite, you’d have more than enough for everybody.

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Let’s revise that to: If the universe hates you and the water sources inexplicably dried up, then you’re screwed. Magbaon ng maraming daing at magsanay nang kumain ng bigas. Hahaha. Curious na akong malaman kung anong nangyari sa climb nila Nelson, kung may tubig na ba sa Paray-Paray at Tabud. Kasi kung meron, as you said, WHAT THE HELL, UNIVERSE?

      Reply
        1. Tintin Post author

          Sabi ni Mayo may tubig nga raw sa water sources although gapatak lang sa Paray-Paray. But still, meron. At may clearing sila sa summit. At walang bagyo. At sobrang naiinggit na ako. Hahaha.

          Reply
          1. worddruid

            e babalik naman tayo di ba? Permit lang talaga yun eh. Kagawad, I’m calling you out, buksan ang main water line ng Manta next time ha? hahahahahaha

            Reply
            1. Tintin Post author

              Oo nga Kagawad… Wag nyo na pong ipasara ang gripo please… Hindi na namin kaya, mauubusan na kami ng survival mode tactics next time. Hahahaha. Nag-aaya na nga si Mayo na balikan daw natin ang traverse, tayong mga may issues sa Manta. Sabi ko mag-soul searching muna ako. Hehehe.

  3. mikeallanmviernes

    Nice post. Very informative. I especially like number 6. Haha. I usually get the short end of the stick and always get the task of cooking in camp. Not that I mind, but sometimes I get to pack my stuff last when breaking camp since i am busy cooking while the rest are taking down their tents while waiting for the food to cook. One thing i can share is try dehydrated food. I have personally dehydrated cooked rice and its fast to prepare at camp. You just need boiling water to cook 2 cups in 10 minutes. Saves your fuel a bit. Only down side is you have to have a dehydrator and that would mean a spike in the electric bill.

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      The first thing that came to mind was “What on earth is a dehydrator?” followed by a quick Google search. Hehe. Thanks for the tip! I don’t have one though so I guess I can’t have that option for now.

      Reply

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