Winter Camping 101 – What’s on the Menu? – Part 2

“I can’t believe you eat so much butter!?!” I get a lot of comments and jokes to that effect. But it is true. On polar expeditions I do eat a lot of butter and other tasty fats.

In the previous installment we discussed how fat is the key ingredient to properly fueling the body in the cold or during high exertion. Fats carry dense calories that allow a person to minimize the weight of food for any given calorie intake. Foods with a lot of fat generally satisfy the stomach and taste pretty darn good, which is really important. If you need to eat a ton of calories in order to sustain yourself, then it helps a whole lot if those calories are appetizing.

Visions of mountains of hashed browns topped with piles of eggs benedict sometimes dominated my thoughts during 12-hour ski days on the way to the North Pole. But that dream of a big diner breakfast was just another on-ice mental fantasy floating lazily around my head. Diner style breakfasts – while possible with some winter camping kitchen creativity (see future Pro Series posts) – aren’t practical on expeditions.

In fact, many of my food fantasies simply focus on the next meal, because on well-supplied expeditions we love the food.


During polar expeditions we typically eat more than 5,000 calories per day and often we are unable to consume as many calories as our bodies are burning through. Not many off-the-shelf camping meals contain the calories and ingredients necessary for activities of that intensity.


Calorie Dense Camping Meals


So, we boost our meals in two ways. First, we add high calorie fats like butter, olive oil, whole milk powder, and coconut oil. Second, we increase the volume or serving size. Meals with an element of creaminess do very well with those fatty additions and maintain their original flavor profile.

High-octane granola is perhaps the most common breakfast food on polar expeditions. Backpacker’s Pantry granola breakfasts fit that description. They are made with real butter, and are one few off-the-shelf meals that don’t need any boosting to meet extreme exertion needs. Since my palate much prefers savory over sweet, I’ll often eat dinner meals for breakfast. I find eating dinners for breakfast gives a good hearty caloric foundation for the day and offers a wider variety of flavors.

Dinner is the jewel of an expedition day. Sitting in a tent with my teammates, good and tired from the day’s efforts, while cradling a one liter bowl full of hot food is a truly wonderful feeling. If the dinner tastes good, satisfies our raging appetites, and has the slow burning caloric density necessary to keep us warm through the night then that feeling is amplified several levels. The mental side of all this is not to be underestimated. If we know that the meal is going to deliver on those different aspects, then it lifts morale and projects an important sense of comfort and control. It can also go the other way. If the dinners are lacking then those deficiencies are readily apparent and we go to bed knowing that we are likely to wake up cold during the night with empty gas tanks, i.e. stomachs.

The most satisfying dinner meals for me almost always include noodles and meat in a sauce that has a hearty high calorie creaminess to it. Throw in some extra olive oil and/or butter if needed and get the volume right for your metabolism. Boosting these meals can take a little planning and preparation, but fully satisfying dinners are well worth the extra effort up front.

Some of my favorites dinners from Backpacker’s Pantry are the Outdoorsman Beef Stroganoff, Outdoorsman Chicken Lasagna, and Outdoorsman Cincinnati Chili with Beef. These meals are calorie dense and packed with protein.  

If I have extra cheese, meat, or butter leftover from my lunch then I will sometimes add that into the dinner too. A big high calorie savory dinner with partially melted globs butter and cheese and pieces of deep fried thick cut bacon, now we are talking.

That’s right bacon, butter, and cheese snacks – all day long. These lunch and snack foods are a separate category of expedition food and will be the topic of next month’s post.

Thanks for reading everybody.