Welcome to part three of Get Out Toronto’s “Winter Hiking Tips” series. Today we’re going to talk about everyone’s favourite part of any experience...the food.
For the most part, the food and drink you need for a comfortable winter hike are not different from what you need on a summer hike; sufficient water to stay hydrated and easily metabolizable calories to provide energy. That being said, a few minor modifications to your typical trail snacks and drinks can go a long way towards making your winter hike extra comfortable.
You burn a lot of calories when you hike, to stay energized make sure to bring snacks high in carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates like those found in fruit and sweets, are metabolized quickly to provide near instant energy. To avoid the sugar crash that comes with eating just carbs, complement your snacks with some healthy fats which provide slightly longer lasting energy.
Our Favourite Trail Snacks:
Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruit (aka Trail Mix)
Apple and Peanut Butter
Winter Hiking Food
You burn more calories on a winter hike than you do on an equivalent hike in other seasons. First off, snow and ice on the trail simply require your legs to work harder and expend more energy. Furthermore, your body burns calories to keep warm, releasing energy in a process called thermogenesis, similar to the way a fire gives off heat by burning through wood. If you are cold, your body will burn through calories faster and adding calories is like adding wood to a fire, giving your body more fuel to burn in order to generate heat.
On a winter hike, we'd suggest keeping snacks in accessible pockets so you can continue to snack without needing to stop. If you do take a full snack break, make sure to layer up and avoid getting chilled.
To put it very simply, we need to drink water to replace the fluid we lose through breathing, sweating and urination. Even on a cold winter hike when we might think we’re not sweating - we are! We may not notice an accumulation of sweat because our sweat is immediately evaporating in the cold air but in reality we are losing large amounts of fluid, especially if we are exerting ourselves. Even slight dehydration can bring down our energy level tremendously and can have a substantial deleterious impact on our metabolism, further hindering our ability to gain energy from snacks.
As a rule of thumb, a half liter of water per hour of moderate exercise in moderate temperatures is a good baseline. If you are working harder, you should be drinking more and, if possible, it is best to space out your drinking over time. Chugging 2 liters of water at once in the middle of a four hour hike is not equivalent to drinking a half liter every hour over the same time period as our bodies are not always capable of absorbing large amounts of water at once and the water may go right through us. That’s why we’d recommend keeping water available in a side pocket or using a bladder system with a straw to make it easy to drink regularly throughout your hike.
If you are hiking for an extended period of time, or at a higher intensity level, it may be beneficial to have a sports drink with you to help replenish your electrolytes as well as for added sugar (carbohydrate) energy. For short/low intensity hikes, you will replenish your electrolytes naturally through a well balanced diet and do not require any specialized energy drinks.
Water in the Winter
Hiking in the winter, you are less likely to feel thirsty or to feel that you need water. You often won't feel the sweat you are generating, as it evaporates too quickly, and the cold has a capacity to suppress our thirst. Don't let the lack of thirst fool you, make sure you are drinking water regularly and staying hydrated throughout your hike.
If you need some extra encouragement, bring a thermos with a hot drink, it makes for a great mid-hike treat and will help keep you hydrated. (There is endless debate over whether caffeine is harmful, helpful or neutral during exercise. If you do bring a caffeinated hot drink, make sure to replenish fluids you may lose through increased urination.)
During the winter we highly recommend keeping your water in an insulated bottle or wrapping it in a towel or spare clothing layer to make sure it doesn't freeze during your hike.
We've now covered the winter day-hiking basics including, dressing properly, winter footwear, and food and drink. Next week will be our last blog post in the series, with our top ten tips for maximizing your winter hiking experience - stay tuned!