Kristina’s Complete Guide to Alpine Start Breakfasts

Nobody should have to think at 4 a.m. Plan your calories now and you’ll be oh so happy later.

It’s 4 a.m. It’s dark, it’s freezing, and the last thing you want to do is eat. Your cozy tent and warm sleeping bag are calling your name, but you must get up and force food down your pie hole because you’ll be spending the next ten-ish hours climbing a mountain, and filling your belly with calories is just good common sense.

The question is: what to eat? When picking a breakfast for your next alpine-start, you need to consider three things:

  1. Prep time.
  2. Cleanup required.
  3. Risk-ratio of tastiness to potential vomiting/diarrhea.

Personally, I much prefer food that doesn’t need hot water and leaves behind minimal waste. The tradeoff is that I sometimes make choices (like, Snickers bars) that don’t feel so good a few hours later. You live, you learn, you pack poop bags.

Whatever you decide, the important thing to note is that this is your choice, and your choice alone. Don’t let anyone try to tell you what to eat or when to eat or how to eat it. Hell, if you aren’t a breakfast eater, DON’T EAT BREAKFAST. Put some snackies in your pockets and be on your way.

Bottom line: your body needs fuel for big days and you need to feed it continually. The moment you’re hungry, it’s too late. I try to eat every time I even think about food, which is roughly every 30-minutes. I keep gummies in my pocket and snack on those, then have something of substance every one to two hours. Keep those snacks handy – you won’t want to stop to dig through your pack – and chew away throughout the day for a happier, more successful trip.

To help you pick your next alpine-start breakfast, I’ve created a menu of five options preferred by the backcountry community. Each is rated related to the three ‘considerations.’ Pick your poison.

The Standard

Oatmeal. Tear open a bag of your favorite flavor, put it in a bowl, add hot water, and voila – you have breakfast.

Pros: you can add basically anything you want to oatmeal – fruits, nuts, peanut or almond butter.

Cons: It’s oatmeal, which is a slimy, messy concoction that requires two hands to eat and about 40% of people find it absolutely inedible.  

Prep Time: 
Cleanup Required: High (you’ve got a dirty bowl, a spoon, and the trash to deal with, unless you prepare the oatmeal directly in the packet, in which case you prep time is Medium)

V/D Ratio:

The Simple

Mountain House. Biscuit and Gravy or Scrambled Eggs or Breakfast Skillet or Spicy Southwest Hash. You name it, Mountain House has got it. Why make your own breakfast when you can have freeze-dried solutions for half the work and twice the price.

Pros: You can pick your own flavor and go to town.

Cons: You generally want a partner, as it’s a lot of food for one person that early in the morning, and I have yet to eat one that doesn’t upset my stomach.

Prep Time: 
High (first you have to boil the water, then wait for the food to ‘thaw’)

Cleanup Required:
 High to Medium (a dirty spoon is one thing, but leftover MH is no good and will spill all over your bag, even when you think the package is empty)

V/D Ratio:
 High (at least in my experience)

The Savory

Bagel Jerky Delight. Take a bagel, add cream cheese, then add jerky. You’re welcome. (can also be done with muffins and or non-jerky meat solution).

At the end of the day this is a sandwich, and you can make pretty much whatever you want and call it a sandwich; also has a good mix of complex and simple carbohydrates, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Can get messy with the whole hole-in-the-middle thing.

Prep Time: 
Medium (advanced planning required)

Cleanup Required:
 Low (you can use the baggie you pack it in for trash later!)

V/D Ratio:
 Low to Medium

The Sinful 

Sin Dawgs. A cinnamon bread roll ‘concoction by Dave’s Killer Bread that is allegedly the most delicious, appetizing breakfast ever.

just looking at it you can tell it’s delicious, and you can eat it with one hand.

you’ll probably eat the entire thing in one-sitting, and might screw yourself out of breakfast for the rest of the trip.

Prep Time: 

Cleanup Required: 
Nope (put that plastic pouch in your trash bag and forget about it)

V/D Ratio: 
High (have that poop bag handy)

The South-of-the-Border

Breakfast Burritos. Whatever you want wrapped in a tortilla and eaten cold or warmed on the stove, with or without sauce.

It’s a burrito. Why am I explaining this to you?

 There are no cons to a burrito, because it is perfect.

Prep Time: 
Medium to low (requires advanced thinking and preparation, but day of there’s basically zero prep, only to heat it up in a skillet should you so choose).

Cleanup Required:
 Nope (eat with one hand, wipe hand on pants, continue climbing)

V/D Radio:
 Low to Medium (put normal stuff in it and you should be just fine)

Other suggestions that didn’t have a quippy title:

  • Pop Tarts
  • Bacon jerky
  • Ramen
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Croissants
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mac n’ Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Banana and/or banana bread
  • Odwalla (super-food is highest in calories)
  • Red Bull
  • Muscle Milk
  • Chocolate milk/hot chocolate
  • Beer

And coffee. Lots of people drink that but not me so I don’t care about your caffeine fix. Excuse me while I have another slice of leftover pizza. Happy eating! 


Showing 10 comments
  • MATT

    I really like Greenbelly’s Meals2Go for a fast filling and easy to digest meal.

  • Chris Kantarjiev

    I’m a big fan of Core Meals bars for breakfast. It’s basically oatmeal in a bar – 400 calories and no cleanup. I also like VIA (or Alpine Start, if you prefer) instant coffee. It means boiling water, but it’s sooo worth it.

  • Ory

    Dave’s Killer Sindawg. Dank. You will thank me later.

  • robert

    with oatmeal you don’t need a bowl just pour the water into the little brown bag and stir it up. been doing that for decades now. the only mess is the spoon and really who washes a spoon?

  • DanO

    salmon cakes I make with almond flour, fresh parsley and lime cilantro dressing. Take them out of the fridge, microwave for 40 seconds, add dressing and put it on a slice of Dave’s thin slice bread. Protein, good fats, and can be combined with anything from eggs to noodles.

  • Myla

    PB & J. Simple and tasty.

  • PaulD

    Oatmeal is my favorite breakfast as it takes quite a while for your body to break it down (meaning you get a good, long run of continuous energy) and its super convenient. I like gluten-free oats which are hard to find (but do exist) in the little brown bags so I buy them in bulk (cheaper) and load them up with some walnuts and dried blueberries or cranberries. Portion them out into a small ziplock bag and throw it in your pack. Before you nod off to sleep, add water, put the bag of oats in your sleeping bag with you. In the morning, your oats will be quite warm and ready to eat while you lay comfortably in the coziness of your sleeping bag. Oh yeah, I don’t use a spoon. I just tear off a thumb-sized corner of the ziplock and pipe the goodness into my mouth. This makes your oats portable too in case you need to move earlier than expected.

  • Meredith Everett

    How the heck is oatmeal prep time high (literally boil water, add to oatmeal) but breakfast burrito is medium?

  • Christina

    This is a great list and reminds me of my alpine breakfasts pre-Celiac diagnosis. I too went through that Snickers bar phase. Thank goodness that’s over, haha! I’m struggling to come up with easy gluten free breakfast adventure fuel. Would you consider an allergen inclusive list as your next blog challenge? 🙂 I like the idea of hard boiled eggs!

  • Oryx

    Surely the weight and longevity of each thing should be the most important factor, assuming you’re backpacking, which given it’s about alpine starts…?

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