How to Stay Fueled & Hydrated on Long Summer Days

By Karen Bockel

Summertime and the livin’s easy… Beautiful sunny days have you up early and heading out in the hills.  Maybe you’re planning to scramble up a Fourteener in Colorado, hike to an alpine lake in the Tetons, or climb a glaciated peak in the Cascades.  Here are a few strategies to help you keep up your energy on long days in the alpine:

FoodDrink1) Breakfast of Champions

Don’t skip this important meal, even for a pre-dawn start.  Eat something that gives you sustained energy, instead of a flash fuel like simple carbs.  I often have a sandwich made with fresh whole wheat bread, an egg, spinach, and swiss cheese.  If I’m driving to the trailhead, I can eat it on the way.  Muesli with fruit and plain yogurt is another favorite.  Heading out on an overnight?  Bring a boiled egg and a croissant.

2) Drink Every Hour

Stick to a hydration schedule.  Half a liter of water (16 oz.) per hour for low to moderate intensity hiking and climbing works well for me on hot days.  It’s also true for hiking at altitude where you exhale more moisture due to increased breathing rates.

3) Know the Source

I admit it, I like going light and fast.  Carrying three litres of water on my back is, literally, a pain.  Instead, I use what’s out there.  I bring a steripen or iodine tablets so I can refill on the go, and I research water sources along my path ahead of time, so know how much water I need to carry for each leg of the trip. Springs, creeks, lakes are shown on maps and referred to in trip reports, and even a melting snowpatch can help.

4) Eat Early, Eat Often

It’s easy to blow off eating in the first few hours of your hike.  Before you know it, your stomach has gotten used to running on empty and the desire to eat vanishes…bonking happens next.  Avoid depleting your body by having small snacks right form the start of your day, just enough to keep your digestive system running.   If you’ve gone too long without eating, and don’t feel like putting any food into your mouth, try adding an electrolyte supplement with simply sugars to your water followed by some shot blocks or Gu to ease your stomach back into working.

Kitty Calhoun refueling with a tuna and cream cheese bagel on El Cap.

Kitty Calhoun refueling with a tuna and cream cheese bagel on El Cap.

5) Skip the Picnic

Have you ever had a big lunch on the trail?  I have, with the result of wanting to stop and take a nap.  Instead, I now have a few bites every hour on my days out.  If I am climbing something strenuous and don’t have the time to take off my pack, I make sure to keep snacks in my pockets for quick access.  A handful of almonds and some dried fruit at each break keep me going.I cut my homemade sandwich into four pieces.  When I am climbing in cold environment, I eat a bit of cheese and salami, and crackers.  At altitude, I keep it simple with easy-to-digest energy bars, candy bars and shotblocks.

6) Don’t Drink Like a Camel

It may sounds funny, but don’t overhydrate!  Drinking too much water without the appropriate amount of electrolytes to replenish what’s lost from sweat can lead to a serious condition called hyponatremia.You can feel nauseous, fatigued, and confused when sodium levels in your blood drop too low.  Avoid this by hydrating with electrolyte mix.

Hope this helps, and have a good day in the mountains!

Karen Bockel is an AMGA Certified Rock and Ski Guide and a new, proud owner of Chicks.  She spends a lot of her summers in the Alpine, hanging out above tree line, and climbing the Grand Teton.  Her favorite on the go snacks are dried mango and dark chocolate (well, she is German, after all).