Food & Drink

Food & Drink

Your food and drink requirements for a day in the hills are different to a normal day. Calories are your friend!

Food & Drink 

Food & Drink

Eating is something that we all know to do, but when it comes to a day in the hills there's a little more to it. That’s because you’ll use more energy than a normal day, and if it’s cold, calories are required to keep your body producing heat. Your norm may be to eat a meal in the middle of a normal day, but in the hills you need to eat a little and often if you’re to maintain energy and keep warm. Try to keep small snacks handy so that you don't have to stop to eat.

Water is also important, and not just when it’s warm. It’s easy to become dehydrated, so drink when you’re thirsty, and drink a little and often even if you’re not thirsty. In cases of hypothermia it’s quite common for people to be dehydrated.

Try to avoid food that has a high fat content, as fat takes longer for the body to convert to energy and needs more fluid to do so. At the other end of the spectrum, don't be tempted to try to survive on energy gels or such, as they are heavy in sugar and will give you short bursts of energy, followed by sugar crashes. Eat food that releases energy more slowly, but have some of the quicker release food too (such as sweets!)

Typical Menu

Your menu for the day may include some or all of the following:

  • Sandwiches (not too fatty)

  • Oat cakes - they have a massive amount of energy but are dry by themselves. Primula squeezy cheese brings them to life

  • Cereal bars (tracker bars, fruisili bars - loads of other types available) - great slow release energy

  • Lightweight chocolate bars (caramel bars are a favuourite)

  • Dried fruit – raisins and cranberries are good - cranberries especially when you don't fancy eating much else

  • Other snacks to your fancy (bombay mix, sunflower & pumpkin seeds - all high in energy)

  • Banana or other fruit

  • Midget gems, jelly babies (especially in winter) or wine gums. Great for the way down to maintain energy levels at the end of a long day


Many types of sports drinks are available these days, but the most appropriate liquid for the hill is water. Some people prefer to make the water more isotonic by adding a pinch of salt and a dash or orange cordial, but plain old water is just fine.

The quantity of water is of more importance, and don't under estimate your water intake requirement for a day in the hills. But also don't forget that each litre of water weights 1kg, or 2.2 lbs. On a 'normal' walking day, take a minimum of 2 litres of water, increasing that if the weather's hot, or reducing slightly if cold (as your water requirement reduces too). However, even in the cold you must drink sufficiently, as dehydration is one of the causes of hypothermia.

For long walks on hots days it may be impractical to carry sufficient water for the whole journey. Try to plan your route to pass streams to replenish supplies (although care has to be taken to take only water from moving water, possibly also adding water purification tablets or using a filter.) Also on really hot days, you're unlikely to be able to replenish your body's electrolyte levels (aka salt levels) sufficiently by food alone, and supplement tables for adding to water are available. Maintaining electrolytes is essential so that you don't become tired, which would lead to a fall. Read more about dealing with heat.

In cold weather, take a small flask containing hot water. If part of a group, someone should carry a flask as part of a 'first aid kit' should anyone in the group start to succumb to hypothermia

View drinks containers in the MountainSafety Shop

Lunch Stop

On a nice sunny day stopping for lunch on the top of side of a hill is a great experience. Being out in the open, great views and often great company. However, when the weather is poor, perhaps raining hard, the willingness to stop for lunch is perhaps a little less appealing, as sitting down and getting rained upon is no fun.

That situation is a dilemma. Physical exertion on the hills requires a greater calorie intake than a normal day at home or work, but failure to stop to eat can lead to energy levels depleting, thus leading to exhaustion, and a perfect storm for hypothermia to develop. Having storm shelters available in a quantity to house the whole group is something that sensible and experienced parties take with them.

mountain safety - lunch top in storm shelter / bothy bag

Eating lunch in a storm shelter, staying warm and dry in the process. Picture thanks to Darren Sainty

Emergency Food

Always take a little extra food for the time that you're either out walking on the hill for longer than expected, or you have to spend a forced night out due to an emergency situation. Remember, our bodies need food to stay warm, and if you're out all night, you will need to eat. Pumpkin & sunflower seeds carry a massive amount of energy for their weight, and would be ideal candidates for emergency food, combined with a few sweets and even a small block of marzipan, which is like rocket fuel!


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