What do you eat on a hill day? How many calories on an average hill day?

Few will know that I was a Caterer by trade and when involved with RAF Mountain Rescue food was an important part of the team. We all took it in turns cooking not easy as a young 17-year-old for a team of hungry people after a hard day on the hill. As the cook you were up very early especially in the winter and cooked a full breakfast and porridge for up to an 20 people. They were out for most of the day and there had to be a soup ready by midday ( in case of  a call out) and then a big evening meal and soup. I was lucky my mother had taught me some basic skills like a breakfast, making soup and mince and tatties simple fair but a great start.  If the meal was bad you got hell and swum in the nearest river! You soon learned to cook and we all had to do it as this was part of the team and the meals was so important.

Food for our Diran Expedition to Pakistan

Food for our Diran Expedition to Pakistan

As a Caterer in the RAF I managed to get a few extras from the butcher and messes and we were given a slightly higher allowance of money due to the task we did.  We also got a Rum allowance for difficult tasks in these early days but that soon stopped. It was not much but we ate well simple food and as much as you could eat. The hill food at the time was sandwiches and a bar of chocolate a great luxury at the time. The hill days were long many up to 12 hours and the calorie  usage and intake incredible. At the time there were a few ideas on calorie intake I am sure in the Mountaincraft and Leadership  by Eric Langmuir giving details.


I have given mine away a few years ago so I have not got it to check. Would I be right that it was 4000 calories a day in the mountains they were suggesting ? Anyway I managed to get our allowance increased as I moved up the ladder and we had some great meals in the end. Often we would be on the go straight after a day on hill on a call – out that would last all night. For these extra hours we could use our emergency Composite rations made especially for the military with a big calorie intake. When I became part of the Catering establishment and after Lockerbie I was asked to re write our allowances for food and we ended up with double the rations of the normal day for our arduous duties.

By now I had done several walks across Scotland and had learned what was practical in the way of food for the hill at the time. These were huge days of massive hill days on average 20 miles a day a 25 lbs bag and 6000 feet of ascent sometimes longer days and few days off.

I never took a lot of interest in the hill food but always ensured I ate a good breakfast of porridge and had lots of snacks for the hill, oatcakes, cheese, nuts, sandwiches, fruit bananas, sweets and in the old days even more chocolate.   I took things like treats  for the hard days, call out sweets and plenty of water and a hot flask in winter.

Porridge the best meal of the day.

Porridge the best meal of the day.

Nowadays there is plenty of other things to eat, so many bars and gels I find awful but I still enjoy the porridge, sandwiches, fruit, oatcake, cheese and a bit of chocolate and sweets.  It was this weekend that I was asked to advise how many calories we may use on a hill day about 6 hours and 3000 feet of ascent. It may be old age but when I looked into it was vague. There are great “Apps” on phones and gadgets that tell you what and how far you walk and the calories you used for your age and weight. None as far as I can see take into account the height or the weight of the hill bag or the effect of the wind.   Or is it me that is missing some thing?

Treats - Jelly babies

Treats – Jelly babies for the hard days?

Calories and the hills

Is there a simple chart for calories use on a hill day that gives height climbed, weight carried, wind speed, terrain covered ( deep snow, rough ground etc)?

“The number of calories burned hiking depends in part on your body weight. In general, a 160-lb person burns between 430 and 440 calories per hour of hiking. A 200-lb person burns approximately 550 calories per hour of hiking. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn in an hour of hiking.

Backpacker Magazine suggests a calorie estimate based on body weight and the general intensity of the day’s activity. For a strenuous day of backpacking with a “heavy” pack (no weight range specified), they suggest 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight. Using my 185-pound self as a proxy, that’s 4,625 to 5,550 calories.

As you’ll notice, estimates vary pretty markedly. For the criteria I used (185-pound person backpacking for eight hours with a moderate to heavy load), estimates  range from roughly 4,600 calories to more than 6,300 calories.”

Anyway over the years I have got far more interested in food and most of the expeditions I was lucky to be on I planned the food like on Everest in 2001 in Tibet. A three month trip where the food was vital part of a successful expedition.




About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What do you eat on a hill day? How many calories on an average hill day?

  1. ptsd17 says:

    Never once had a bad meal on the weekend outings, though I do remember the stunning food prepared for us by the Salvation Army at Lockerbie. Best thing in my Rucksack was the tins of compo hard boiled sweets!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Hill Food ? Any ideas? | heavywhalley

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