Kendal Mint Cake at the bottom of my pack

“What on Earth is that?”

I looked across to the far side of the room at my walking companion. His tone was one of disbelief. We were soon to depart for Lakeland’s Great Gable, and I was repacking my rucksack before we left. By chance, I had found a long-forgotten emergency ration at the bottom of the pack and was now holding it proudly between finger and thumb for my friend to see.

“Kendal Mint Cake,” I replied, letting the white, rectangular bar dangle by a corner. For a long time, I had wondered where it was, and had now found it by accident.

Quiggin's - the original Kendal Mint Cake (courtesy Quiggin's). “Get rid of it,” my companion instructed. “Yuk! It’s so out-of-date I can barely read the label.”

He was right. I had carried the bar in my pack, in case of emergency, for many years. Over time, I had experienced several mountain crises, yet I never ate the bar. There had always been something else available. It was now stained, greasy, and the definition of poor hygiene.

Since I was tiny, I had regarded Kendal Mint Cake and walking as natural companions. The energy source was first made in 1869, apparently by mistake, and has been taken on global expeditions ever since. Antarctica with Shackleton, Everest with Hillary, and round the world by motorcycle with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. It is part of outdoor history and is both mascot and energy source.

My unused bar highlighted a problem that affects many outdoor walkers. How much thought does any of us give to the food we carry in our rucksack? Are we hoping to balance energy intake and output, or do we choose our grub based on how it looks and tastes, without worrying about content?

Energy in, despite plenty of eating, is less than energy out – the weight is falling off (courtesy G McFall). Balancing intake and output may be harder than it sounds. An Everest summiteer will expend 20,000 Calories on the day they reach the top of the world. Unless they intend to be permanently munching, there is no chance of eating 20,000 Calories daily. Despite the difficulty of equalising energy in and energy out, when it comes to food, it is worth being scientific.

First is carbohydrate, a common one being glucose. We need it to keep us going, but as it depletes, so we start feeling wobbly. When walking the fells, much of our glucose comes from the breakdown of another carbohydrate – glycogen – which is found in muscle and liver. As our glycogen decreases, so we must replace it, which we do by eating carbohydrate. I aim to guzzle 50 grams of carbohydrate hourly when on the hills, which is roughly one-and-a-half Mars Bars. I want carbohydrate to form 60% of the calories for my daily diet.

Fifty grams of carbohydrate is roughly one-and-a-half Mars Bars. Second is fat, which the body can also turn into glucose. I aim for 5 grams of fat hourly when walking and make it 25% of my daily calorie intake. To me this is difficult, as I find fat tasty and would like to eat more. Show me a tub of ice cream and it will disappear in moments.

Third is protein, which I need for my muscles and blood cells, as blood takes oxygen to muscle, and muscle keeps me going. I aim for 5 grams of protein hourly when walking and make it 15% of my daily calorie intake. The protein can be from any source.

Although theory tells us what we should eat, on the fells I doubt many pay much attention. To check on my concern, I stopped by a Lakeland shop, Cotswold Outdoor in Grasmere, and talked with its two managers.

Ready-to-Eat chocolate pudding. My unquestionable favourite (courtesy Cotswold Outdoor) “Few come for grub,” they said. “If they do, then dehydrated food is popular, as are ready-to-eat meals. Mostly they come to buy clothing and equipment. We placed energy bars near the till, to encourage opportunistic shopping.”

I looked towards the shelving near the cashier. It was burgeoning with energy bars, instant food for those who had little time to stop.

I leaned across, retrieved a bar, and looked at the list of ingredients on its back. The tiny typeface showed it to contain 279 Calories, and at least my hourly allowance of carbohydrate, fat and protein.

“How many look at this?” I asked, pointing at the list of ingredients.

“Few,” the managers replied, in almost unison. “Content is rarely considered.”

Clif Bar - hard on the teeth but full of energy (courtesy Cotswold Outdoor) Which worried me. Mountain food is important, as it keeps wobbly legs at bay. When you walk the fells, have sufficient grub with you, including an energy bar, to replace some of what you expend. Try to balance energy out with energy in if you can. Stop regularly to eat, even if in a hurry, and do not end up like me, with expired Kendal Mint Cake at the bottom of your rucksack, looking greasy, stained and past its best.

If you seek outdoor food

My favourite shops for outdoor food are:

Cotswold Outdoor

Ellis Brigham


Ideas for mountain food

Water: Essential – I have not covered it here, but where would we be without water?

Nuts and dried fruit: Rich in fat and protein.

Fish: Brilliant source of protein.

Bananas: Fantastic as an energy boost and comprise mainly carbohydrate and water.

Cheese: Lots of protein and calories.

Oatmeal: High in fibre and carbohydrates, and good for lasting energy.

Eggs: Filled with protein and simple to carry.

Vegetables: High in fibre and carbohydrates.

Pasta: Brilliant source of carbohydrate.

Hummus: Filled with carbohydrate, fibre and protein.

Meat: Lots of protein and, when lean, not much fat.

Energy bars: Good for a quick fix when walking.

My favourites are:

Clif Bar (68g white chocolate macadamia nut flavour contains 279 Calories, 42g carbohydrate, 7.4g fat, 9g protein)

Chia Charge (50g dark choc and ginger chia seed flapjack contains 241 Calories, 27.7g carbohydrate, 12.2g fat, 4g protein)

Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake (85g White Kendal Mint Cake contains 322 Calories, 83g carbohydrate, 0g fat, 0g protein)

Mars Bar (51g Mars Bar contains 230 Calories, 35.3g carbohydrate, 8.6g fat, 2.2g protein)

Ready-to-eat meals

Based on the Meal-Ready to Eat (MRE) for the Army, I keep a supply of these to hand. They are quick to prepare, need no extra water, may be eaten hot or cold, but have a shorter shelf life and are heavier than freeze-dried meals. One of my favourites is Wayfayrer.

Freeze-dried food

Lightweight, plenty of choice, and a long shelf life. Just add hot water. One of my favourites is Summit to Eat.

Dehydrated food

Often mistaken for freeze-dried food, dehydrated food is different. It is slightly heavier than freeze-dried food and has a shorter shelf-life. It is possible to dehydrate food oneself. 

More information

Expedition Nutrition Tips

The best snacks to pack for a long hike

Best foods to eat while hiking

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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

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