food on a route

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  • #3679


    Last week I climbed the Pierre/Alain on the Petit Dru in Chamonix. It was winter conditions and cold temperatures down to at least -15 to 20 at night. There are two things i want to discuss and get feedback on.

    1. using fuel at altidude and at – temperatures
    2. what food people eat on route in winter

    First of all I made the call to bring a pocket rocket burner as opposed to a jetboil. This was a mistake as there was no shelter from the wind. Having said that, the main cause of the problem was the cartride gas (butane) and its lack of function at – temperatures. As i said above it was likely that it was between -15 to -20 that night, the bivy at the base of the route was at an altitude of 3000m.

    It took me two hours to make 2.5ltrs of which we only boiled 1 litre for the freeze dry meal. When we added the boiling water to the meal and left for 10min, the water had not been absorbed. It was still tasty and gave us liquid to have.

    While making the water the flame would eventually lose its power and at that point i would hover the other cartridge over the flame to warm it up and then switch.

    What are peoples experience with this, suggestions, alternatives anything out of interest and related.

    One idea i had was to use neoprime as used to insutlate nalgene bottle for the cartridges. I then read that it does not work?

    In the end we had 1 litre each over two days and one night, totally dehydrated and post climb, found it really hard to recover. I also found it hard to eat, which brings me to the next problem!

    What to bring on route, in winter!?

    I have experimented a lot over the years and in the summer although never perfect i have found that cheese bites and dried sausage work well, although to much sodium can be a problem.

    I brought a bag of cheese bites and saussison mixed with apple. The cheese and apple froze and took the flavour of the sausage which made me dry wretch. i did not eat for two day barely.
    I can`t eat wheat which cuts out a lot of other things you might bring.

    Again lack of nourishment, major reason for slow recovery, i imagine.

    I am going to experiment with energy balls and homemade bars, such as the one’s in new alpinism.

    What do you guys and girls go for?


Posted In: Nutrition

  • Participant
    Colin Simon on #3680

    To answer the stove question, I find the single most important factor is how warm the fuel canister is. If you don’t keep it warm, the fuel will trickle out, and you will use MORE fuel to melt snow or boil water.

    Keep in mind that as the fuel exits the canister, it is going to lose heat on its own. Even in a warm place, it will get colder. This means if you use a neoprene or cloth insulator on its own, the canister is going to just get colder.

    Your answer then is to actually apply heat to the canister.

    There are several decent methods:
    1. Simplest: grab the canister with your bare hands. It isn’t fun, but it works.

    2. Use gloves(ideally ones that you do not care about) and alternate between grabbing the hot pot of water(which heats the gloves) and then grab the canister. This is more effective, but you will likely damage the gloves you use. Ice climbing gloves aren’t typically cheap…

    3. Once you have some snow melted, pick up the cold canister and dunk it in the water. This works amazingly well, but you find yourself juggling fuel canisters. I like to use nearly-empty fuel canisters to keep the pot of water warm while I dunk a full canister in the pot.

    4. Construct a device that channels the warmth of the pot around the canister. This could be a series of wires that create a harness around the canister. This is hard to make, because the wires easily burn whatever container they sit in. I haven’t seen a good system yet.

    5. Keep the canisters pre-heated in your jacket or sleeping bag before you use them. If you just do this and then keep it warm using strategies 1-3, you’ll probably get by.

    Something to be careful with:
    You can use a plastic container, fill it with water, and submerge the canister into the water puddle. At a cold bivy in Alaska, the canister got so cold that the puddle of water froze to the canister, and we had to carry around a piece of ice or throw chip it away, and then it was still attached to the plastic. If you are going to use this method, make sure to use a larger amount of water, ideally hot water.

    Also, I find jetboil stoves are less and less useful the higher you go. I have bivied with the MSR Reactor with no problem at 20,000ft, and seen jetboils fail over and over again at altitude. If you are not using a tent, the Windburner might work better.

    Finally, make sure to test out your new system on a normal day of winter climbing before taking it somewhere huge.

    I’ll let someone else answer the food question!

    Steve House on #4211

    Hi rhysmacallister,

    On the stoves. Todd Bibler (of the old Bibler stoves and Bibler tents, now Black Diamond Tents) showed me this trick in about 1995: Buy a piece of hollow thin-walled copper tubing, you’ll need 50cm or less. Pound it flat. Then cut the length so that the ends of the copper are on the edge of the flame and the middle of the length of tubing wraps very tightly around the base of the fuel canister. Then use an old foam sleeping mat and tape to make an insulating cup for the fuel canister that also will keep the flattened copper heat-transfer tubing tight to the fuel canister. This works great. Much better than any other system I’ve seen.

    Secondly, food. Here is my system:
    Breakfast: 1-2 bars that go well with my tea/coffee. I like a hot drink in the morning but don’t want to cook anything.

    Lunch: Starts shortly after breakfast and extends until shortly before dinner. What you bring will depend on the intensity of the climbing. If you are moving fast and working at a high intensity, you’ll want mostly easy to eat carbohydrate gels. If the climbing is slow and technical (like the route you did on the P. Dru) then you want more variety, in this case I might actually bring things like bread and cheese. And nuts. I always bring nuts. It’s up to you if you bring dried fruit as well, I like raisins and apricots. But nuts, especially roasted (not salted) almonds, are my favorite. I also like (toasted) walnuts and cashews. Chocolate is something I’ll bring if the climbing is slow, but not if the climbing is fast. If the climbing is fast then the sugar in the chocolate makes me crash.

    Dinner: I do it like this: Have nuts available for the pre-dinner snack and start eating as soon as the stove gets turned on. You can’t digest nuts well if you’re working really hard, but now that you’ve slowed down and can start to drink again, the nuts will get you a good balance of fat and protein to kick start your recovery. If you’re going super-light, try a ‘recovery drink’, I like the “chocolate smoothie” Recovery Brew from GU Energy. This is the lightest option and has stuff like Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) which are very helpful, especially on a longer term expedition.
    Then make a pot of tea. Share with your partner.
    Then make a pot of hot water: Make 2 freeze-dried dinners. (I like the spaghetti best generally.) And put them in the drop in pockets inside your parka to keep them warm. They HAVE to stay as warm as possible. They also take easily double the amount of time to rehydrate as the directions will tell you.
    then make a pot of soup. Share with your partner.
    Then make a pot of tea. Share with your partner while you eat your food.
    Then fill bottles and maybe make another brew.
    Break out a good chocolate bar for desert. Share with your partner.
    If you’re going super light, like you have to on big alpine routes, especially at high altitude, then forget hot water. Drink plan warm water. You don’t have enough fuel or enough time to bring a pot to a boil.

    Hope that helsp.

    Alasdair Fulton on #4218

    Rhys – is that Rhys as in the one that climbs with Jack?

    We got on ok bivvying using a jetboil, but the new MSR reactor does seem to work well up at altitude in the cold. A mate got on really well with it in Alaksa this spring.

    Food wise – as Steve says, routes like the piere allain have enough stops that you don’t need to survive on gels. I always get on well with bagels, peanut butter and honey (or jam). I remember on the Eiger finding a big (200g) bar of chocolate was a winner for the bivvy! I woke up roughly hourly through the night and ate another few squares. It seemed to keep me warm and help recovery. If you know you’re bivvying before, and maybe after on a route like the PA – go reasonably heavy on the approach! Bring cookies or whatever nice snacks you like.

    Andy K always swore by adding olive oil to any dinner. You could bring a small bottle and just pour it straight into your freeze dried? Steve (unsurprisingly 😉 0 is spot on with the advice of keeping the food pouch in your jacket. Just be careful not to spill any!!

    Nice one getting on the PA early December!

    gglumac on #4219

    Hi rhysmacallister,

    this is not directly related to your questions but I believe it should be mentioned.

    Based on my experience, what you consume in days prior to the climb can have a significant impact on your consumation of food and drinks during the climb itself. This has a big impact on shorter routes (1- 2 days) because it enables me to take even less food and water. Basically I try to drink a lot in 1-2 days prior to the climb. Also I pay attention on the food. Mostly carbs and fat while avoiding protein imput. Especially dinner in the day prior to the climb. If I eat salty food I tend to drink much more during the climb.

    I know this is not something new for most of professionals but I believe it can have a big impact on what and how much do you eat during the climb.


    thrlskr on #4220

    It helps to realize that canister stoves use different technologies. Most use a valve not a regulator to control the fuel going to the jet. The regulator is the MSR Windburner and Reactor’s cold weather secret sauce. If you want something lighter/smaller like the pocket rocket, the Soto’s Windmaster has a good regulator too. A regulator will provide more consistent boil times at lower temps and with nearly empty canisters.


    boglins on #4221

    No, this is a common misunderstanding. Fuel regulators have little or no effect at low temperatures at helping mitigate the effects of cold on stove performance. Regulators are very capable of lowering pressure, but they cannot raise the pressure of the source fuel. The only way to raise the pressure of the source fuel is to increase its temperature through some sort of heat exchanger: the method Steve suggested, placing the canister in a pan of water and using the water to help keep the canister above freezing, and choosing canisters with higher percentages of propane and isobutane rather than butane, as they vaporize at lower temps.

    thrlskr on #4232

    Perhaps I’ve fallen prey to marketing, but how else do you explain the reports above regarding the MSR Reactor vs Jetboil or other non-regulated stoves like the pocket rocket?

    Soto Windmaster

    boglins on #4234

    There is indeed a lot of marketing in regards to the benefits of regulators and their effect on cold weather performance. The truth, though, is that regulators cannot raise the pressure of their fuel. However, there is one other thing going on that may help explain the difference in some stoves’ performances: non-regulated stoves should be designed for all conditions, including when it is hot outside. Non-regulated stoves have to be safe to use when it is 100 degrees out. In order to keep those stoves safe to use, some non-regulated stoves are intentionally handicapped by making their gas orifices smaller. That way they don’t let out too much gas when ambient temperatures are up. Those stoves will have poor performance in the cold, but they will be safe when it is hot. Regulated stoves can have bigger gas orifices, as the regulator simply closes off flow in warm ambient temps and higher gas pressures, but the regulator can fully open in lower temps and the resulting lower gas pressures. So some non-regulated stoves have smaller jets than some regulated stoves. In that way, some regulated stoves may perform better than some non-regulated stoves in the cold.

    However, a definition of “cold” is necessary. The canister will be cold from ambient temps, and it will get colder with use due to the physics of evaporation as the gas inside expands. If the temperature of the canister drops below the temperature that the fuel inside evaporates, no canister stove will work with or without a regulator. The fuel will simply sit in the canister as a liquid. Butane boils at 31 degrees F, isobutane boils at 11F, and propane boils at -44F. The temp where your canister will put out gas will be based on the amount of each of those fuels in your canister.

    Some stoves get around the problem of evaporation by having inverted canisters or canisters on hoses that allow you to flip the canister. This allows liquid to enter the line, presumably pressurized by propane in the mix. This is fed to a loop of fuel line within the flame of the stove. This acts as a heat exchanger of sorts, vaporizing liquid fuel in the fuel line and powering the stove

    boglins on #4236

    How much difference does bigger orifices make? It would be hard to make generalizations. It is too dependent on the fuel blend, the ambient air temperatures, the ambient atmospheric pressure, the specific stove model, and how long you’ve currently been using the stove and thus lowering the temp of the canister. It may mean that below -5F on the chart above, both stoves stop working entirely. And that does not say anything about what happens 4 minutes into using the stove at -5F. At that point, the canister itself may have cooled through evaporation to -20F or -30F, rendering it mostly useless.

    NateGoodwin on #4242

    Yup, its all just PV=NRT….keep the canister warm and just about any self contained canister stove will do (jetfoil, reactor, etc.). I swear by the bowl of warm water trick that Colin talked about, like he said keep it topped off with warm water so it does not freeze to the canister, at the very least ket a hang kit or foam pad to insulate the canister. The only time I’ve run into a problem was at a balls cold bivy in Alaska when our bowl froze to the bottom of the stove, had to smash it with an ice tool to use the stove. We could barely get the reactor to crank out 3 L by the time we went to bed even though we were warming and swapping out the canisters. Moral of the story; have a backup plan because even water losses of 2% begin to affect performance, and just a 5% loss in water will decrease your capacity by 30%.

    As far as food on route goes I swear by carbohydrate replacement gels and shakes when my heart rate may/is elevated and the workload is moderate to hard( favorites are Hammer gel and perpetuem) anything else, for me, won’t digest fast enough due to the decreased percentage of blood flow to the stomach during exercise. But I have found that really long days involving a ton of running on an all gel diet will cause stomach and bowel issues. Not fun.

    Any “regular” solid food is restricted to long belays, brew stops, and bivis, but even then my rule of thumb is to keep it simple so that its easier to pallet (almond butter packets and salami). For hot meals I’ve found the best bang for your buck are the instant mashed potato packets mixed with olive oil, tuna, and some sort of seasoning. Depleted glycogen stores love the starch and the high fat content will keep you warm through the night. Oatmeal with some almond butter and coffee in the morning.

    Ive heard about more ultra runners fueling with more fat centered food while racing/training and trying to avoid carbs. It would be cool to hear what Scott has to think about this issue from a physiology perspective, specifically if it could at all carry over to alpinism.

    Anonymous on #4245

    First off I want to reiterate what Steve said about using the copper heat conductor that runs from the flame to wrap around the fuel canister. Todd Bibler used to supply this funky hand hammered copper tube thing with all of his bivvy stoves and, like Steve, I found this device allowed the fuel canister to produce a hot flame, run till actually empty and totally cured all the winter cooking issues you guys have been discussing. It literally is like using the same stove in summer conditions. It costs $1 in scrap copper tube and a chunk of an old sleeping pad and some duct tape. Bingo, problem fixed. I think I have one of these old Bibler stoves at home and will take a picture so you can see how simple the whole affair is.

    As for eating type foods. Here is the axiom anyone engaged in long duration events should apply:

    Train on Fats…….Race on Carbs

    Getting really well fat adapted will allow you to use a higher percentage of fats for fuel even at higher intensity thus preserving your precious glycogen stores. It will allow you to recover faster both on the short term such as at belays but also in the medium term such as overnight (bivvy) and also longer term like after the climb so you are not so wrecked for days after a hard effort. You know that deep fatigue feeling after a major effort? This is predominately caused but the depletion of muscle glycogen. After a multi day climb that leaves you feeling like Rys did after the P-A on the Petit Dru, that sort of depletion can take many days to replenish.

    This is one big reason we push fat adaptation. But, you need to fuel in a carbs during the actual event. If the climb is moderate and allows stops then you can eat normal food as Steve suggests. If you are running a 50-100km trail race then you will probably be relying mainly on gels.

    I hope this helps. Definitely rig yourself up a stove canister preheater. You’ll be loving life on those cold bivvys.


    J.Nilsson on #13550

    Scott / Steve

    Is there any chance that you could take that picture of the Bibler stove with the coppertube?

    “I think I have one of these old Bibler stoves at home and will take a picture so you can see how simple the whole affair is.”


    Steve House on #13594

    I don’t have this set up anymore. Here is a sketch.

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    J.Nilsson on #13692

    Thanks for the sketch Steve!

    radicalsloyd on #13701

    Exactly how I solved it! A copper heat conductor, from flame to canister!

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