The long hunting hours that are often associated with backpack mountain hunts can be extremely challenging breaking you down physically and mentally. Carrying a 50-60 pound pack puts a lot of wear and tear on your body. Taking care of your body is your best safeguard to a good mountain hunt experience.
How you fuel your body on a mountain hunt can make a tremendous difference in your physical and mental experience. Packing the right food for an extended stay backpack hunt is extremely important to ensure adequate repair, recovery, and necessary energy for the body.
Individual caloric/nutrient needs vary significantly from person to person. At a minimum, most people need around 2300-2500 calories per day, however, some people may need 3500 calories per day or more on an extreme mountain hunt. This quantity of food can be difficult to manage and carry as that equates to 1.5-2.5 LBS of food per day if you plan the lightest weight foods possible. Because of this additional weight you are carrying, it is difficult to physically carry enough food for trips lasting longer than 10-15 days.
If your hunt is going to last longer in duration, or if you cannot carry the weight of the needed meals, then you may need to make arrangements to have additional food dropped by air or another form of delivery. If you fail to plan ahead, you may find yourself out of food and in trouble.
While on the hunt, it is important to balance your meals with carbohydrates, complete protein and fat at every meal to promote stable blood sugar. Having stable blood sugar will equate to more energy, quicker recovery times, and more efficient use of stored body fat as a fuel source.
There can be a lot of mental comfort when you include foods that you enjoy eating making a physically demanding hunt, that much more enjoyable. Below you will find some ideas for lightweight, quick and nutritious foods that will help fuel your next backcountry adventure.
Old Fashioned Oatmeal is one of the best carbohydrates you can eat for long stable energy and the great thing about oatmeal is that you do not have to cook it, just simply add cold water and enjoy. If you don’t care for plain oatmeal, plan to add any ingredients that you find palatable in advance. Adding a bit of cinnamon, dates, dehydrated apple slices, and even a few walnuts to your oats before you enter the field will make them much more enjoyable on the mountain. Quick or Instant oats come in a variety of flavors but beware that there is a lot of added sugar and the processing of the actual oats causes them to break down quickly in your system and therefore do not offer as stable and long-lasting energy as old fashioned or whole oats. If you do go with quick oats, be sure to bring at least 2 packages per person per breakfast.
At breakfast the addition of protein is critical, Wilderness Athlete Protein powder can be consumed alone or added to oatmeal which can be mixed with cold water or powdered milk.
Off-Grid Food Company makes some delicious oatmeal options that come pre-packaged with protein powder and powdered milk with two different flavors, Blue Raz and Strawberry Mango.
There may be days that you can afford the time luxury of a hot breakfast and if that is the case Mountain House and Peak Refuel dehydrated foods make delicious dehydrated breakfast options that are light-weight and calorie-dense.
It is ideal to eat frequent small meals throughout the day, so try to time your first snack roughly 3 hours after your breakfast. Jerky is a great complete protein source as it is very lightweight. Keep in mind that 1 ounce of jerky is equivalent to 2 ounces of hydrated meat. You do not need to carry as much as you may think for the nutritional benefits of getting in a good complete protein source.
A perfect snack would consist of some jerky, a few mixed nuts, and a small serving of dried fruit or granola. Pepperoni or cured salami is a wonderful fuel source on the mountain, especially when you couple it with a carbohydrate such as dried fruit.
In my opinion, the taste of my own dehydrated foods is far superior to the store-bought variety, making your own dried produce at home will save you money and you can be sure that you are getting top quality produce. My favorites are mango, pineapple, apples, and bananas with coconut oil and sea salt. If you own a Vitamix, puree together your favorite fruits like banana, strawberries, and pineapple, and add a little bit of Splenda or Stevia for taste and spread the puree onto wax paper, and dehydrate it in a food dehydrator to create backpack friendly, energy-giving fruit leather once dried.
Protein bars offer a quick energy source without a lot of bulk. Wilderness Athlete Pack Out Bar is loaded with 20 grams of complete protein while the Wilderness Athlete Pack Out Bite is a calorie-dense brownie that has 7 grams of complete protein.
Carbohydrates are easy to get in with there being a myriad of delicious granola-type bars on the market but you will want to consider the outside temperatures that you will be hunting before making your purchase. Many processed bars will freeze and become uneatable until thawed.
Freeze-dried fruit is super lightweight, however, the fruit squashes very easily turning into a powdery material. Try adding the freeze-dried fruit into foods that you will be hydrating with either water or evaporated milk and water such as homemade granola or oatmeal. Another option would be packaged fruit snacks which are lightweight and quite enjoyable as a mountain snack.
Once a day it is nice to treat yourself to a protein source such as tuna or chicken in a pouch. With many flavors to choose from the inclusion of tuna or chicken adds variety to your meals, especially when you are on a long hunting trip. The drawback is that the pouches add up in weight quickly at around 3 ounces each, but they are a coveted meal on a long backpack trip.
Your carbohydrate sources probably won’t vary much, so you can eat your tuna with oatmeal, dried fruit, granola, or even a candy bar. One of my personal favorite lunches is a pouch of dried soup. You simply add hot water to a Lipton and Campbells soup pouch in a cup for a hot lunch that is lightweight and offers a lot of comfort on a cold day.
Mountain House, Peak Refuel, and Off-Grid Food Company dehydrated foods are all great-tasting foods that are made here in the USA. There is so much variety out there that you will have seemingly endless options for meal types that suit the most discriminating palates. Many grocery stores will stock dehydrated mashed potatoes that you can also add to the mix. Be sure to watch the packaging on these foods as they may take up a lot of critical backpack space.
Packing a few basic spices is always nice to season any fresh meat that you may have in camp. Also, one of my favorites is parmesan cheese which will add a lot of flavor to meals and is easy to pack.
If you are a morning coffee drinker, don’t forget to include instant coffee. Furthermore, a cup of hot tea or cocoa is a nice way to wind down at the end of the day. To help prevent cramping and maintain electrolyte balance, Wilderness Athlete Hydrate and Recover is a great addition to your water during the day that will provide glucosamine for your joints and additional amino acids that will help with physical repair, rebuild, and recovery.
With your food choices being extremely limited, most likely you will not attain all of the essential micronutrients that your body needs from food, so be sure to include a high-quality multi-vitamin and Wilderness Athlete’s Green Infusion. Each serving contains the equivalent of five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Putting It Together
- Ration your food by meal. For example, place each serving of oatmeal in individual zip lock baggies. You can eat the oatmeal right out of the baggie, by simply adding cold water.
- Use a food scale to weigh out your desired amount of dehydrated fruit, jerky, mixed nuts etc. in per serving rations, then wrap them individually in SyranWrap. This will prevent you from overeating and running out of food or packing more than you need.
- Scoop the desired number of servings of WA Protein Powder and Green Infusion into individual quart bags. Include the scooper for in field measuring.
Place each food item/trip ration in a gallon zip lock bag for storage. Each day, remove your daily ration of each food item and place those in an easily accessible area of your pack. Again, this visual will keep you from overeating and should also keep you from under-eating. It is critical that you stay on track with your meal intervals to optimize in-field performance and reduce extreme weight loss and muscle wasting.
One concern with any backpack hunt is that many of the processed dehydrated foods that we pack along on extended stay hunts are loaded with excessive amounts of sodium because it functions as a preservative. The concern for consuming too much sodium is that excessive salt intake causes water retention. If your body retains water, excessive sodium is not flushed out properly and it can put your kidneys and blood pressure in jeopardy or cause kidney stones. The opposite of that is Hyponatremia which is low concentrations of sodium in the blood. This is what all endurance athletes and hunters are worried about with too little salt consumption. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, headache, lethargy, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps. None of the above are a good thing to have on an extended stay hunt.
Every “body” is different in regards to how much sodium is tolerated and or needed, especially when on a grueling hike for a long degree of distance and days in the field. The fact of the matter is when we are carrying heavy backpacks up steep mountainsides, we are going to sweat out salt and salt is an essential mineral and electrolyte within the body.
So what should you do?
The best course of action is typically to increase your salt intake which is very easily done with high sodium content freeze-dried and /or dehydrated foods and jerky. For the typical, normal, healthy individual increasing sodium levels for a short duration of time should be perfectly safe and will help combat hyponatremia. Consult your physician if you have specific concerns in regards to sodium intake.
While on the hunt, be sure to consume at least 64 oz. of water each day to flush excess sodium out of the body, which can prevent the formation of stones and retention of water.
With this, good health to you on your next backpack hunt.