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Unsent: A Climber’s Guide to Food

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Unsent /un-sent/ 1. To have failed so badly on a route you had previously climbed that you negate your redpoint. 2. A humor column.


For decades, climbers have tried to answer the question “Why do we climb?” Here’s the honest answer: We climb so we can eat a ton of food when we’re done. The recommended daily calorie count for a sedentary male is 2,400, and for a female it’s 2,000. You can exceed that with one appetizer combo platter at The Cheesecake Factory. That’s no way to live. Here are some tips on climbing to eat.

Commitment Grades and Food

While rock climbs generally sport the YDS or aid-climbing grades we’re familiar with, they also can include commitment grades. These tell us how much time a route will require and how much you can eat when you’re done.

Grade I

A short route that shouldn’t take more than a couple hours. A healthy salad should cover your calorie deficit. Add grilled chicken or salmon to refuel protein-starved muscles.

Grade II

Routes that require up to half a day. Treat yourself to a cheeseburger tonight; you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!

Grade III

Routes that take the majority of a day. A sit-down restaurant meal—including appetizer, entrée, dessert, and a fishbowl-sized margarita—should quell your ravenous hunger before you end up in the papers for licking the roast beef posters outside an Arby’s.

Grade IV

A route that requires an entire day. Eating a whole pizza will supply your body with essential cheeses, sauces, and toppings to jump-start recovery, while preventing you from leaving the couch that night, which is also good for recovery.

Grade V

A route requiring more than one day. Upon completion, seek a restaurant that will put your picture on the wall if you can eat a disgusting amount of food in a limited amount of time. You will.

Grade VI

A climb that requires multiple days. To replenish all the calories you’ve burned, you will need to eat a Red Lobster—bricks, mortar, employees, etc. included.

Useful Terms

Climber Fat (verb) 1. When, compared to the average American, you would be considered fit and athletic, but compared to the climbing population you feel completely out of shape. Example: “Ugh, I’m so climber fat right now. You can barely see my abs and that V6 took me an embarrassing two tries.”

How to Safely Make It from the Summit to the Restaurant

It’s a fact that after getting past the major difficulties on a long route, 95 percent of your brainpower goes to what you will eat later. This can lead to poor decision-making.

  1. Feed the rappel rope through the anchor rings. Don’t think about how the rope looks like a giant spaghetti noodle, and how amazing it would be if they sold spaghetti as thick and long as a climbing rope.
  2. Tie knots in the end of each rope strand before tossing it. Ignore how awesome it would be if said spaghetti rope was hollow and came filled with chicken alfredo sauce, and how fun it would be if you could go to the store and say, “I’ll have one meter of chicken alfredo noodle tube, please!”
  3. Attach your belay device and rappel backup to the rope. Have your partner double-check your setup, and be absolutely sure that neither of you is daydreaming about an Italian burrito made with a flat, round noodle instead of a tortilla, filled to the point of bursting with various cheeses, meats, vegetables, and sauces.
  4. Try extremely hard not to realize that a pasta burrito is basically the same as a stuffed shell or manicotti. Don’t lament the fact that using the same old ricotta filling in shells and manicotti seems so humdrum and predictable. Wait, are you rappelling already? That Italian burrito would be so good though, right?
  5. Wonder how you got to the ground. Go home and invent the noodlerrito noodle burrito.

Power Foods

Eat these foods to set yourself up for success at critical times during a big day.

Before Climbing: Donuts


Donuts are full of calories, which our bodies convert into energy. More calories equals more energy for your objective. Donuts may be the only food available at 4 a.m. during an alpine start, so by default they are the best breakfast food.

During Climbing: French Fries


Food doesn’t do you any good if it’s stashed away in a pack. Luckily, your chalkbag is the perfect french-fry container. Just reach back and grab some fries any time you need a pick-me-up on route. Bonus: The grease helps chalk stick to your hands.

On the Summit: Beer


When you need energy fast, your body turns to carbohydrates, and beer is a liquid carb. Drink a lot of beer on the summit, when your carb stores are depleted but you still face a lengthy descent. Remember: The summit is only halfway!

Food for Thought

Some climbers believe that being lighter makes rock climbing easier. While this is true on days where you must perform at your limit, climbing while fat is actually an excellent way to train. It’s like wearing a weight vest on your entire body!