It had been a grind. Eight days of rain. Eight days of up before dawn. Eight days of climb and descend, climb and descend. My tank was on empty, and I was starting to make poor decisions. Sound familiar? By the grace of God, with only minutes of light remaining on the hunt’s last day, I stumbled into a bull — a big 5x5. The shot was under 40 yards, but my arrow sailed harmlessly over his back. I’d hit a wall, and I simply couldn’t execute.
Days later, after finishing a 10-mile run, it hit me. I’d just run 10 miles, and I was eating and drinking. I was replacing spent calories with good body fuel. Why wouldn’t I follow suit on my backcountry sojourns?
That day changed me. That day I discovered the importance of truly fueling the machine while on extreme backcountry hunts.
Winning in the Backcountry
I get it. You’ve trained hard physically, your equipment is perfect, and you’ve invested lots of time and money. You want to go, go, go. You don’t have time for a solid breakfast, an on-the-mountain meal or a hearty dinner back at camp. The problem with this ideology is the harder you go, the more stress you put on your body and the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn that you don’t properly replace, the weaker you get.
A weakened backcountry body takes its toll physically and mentally. You’ll find you aren’t making smart decisions. You’ll take shortcuts. Instead of looping around the ridge to get the wind right, you’ll risk the swirling breeze and ever-changing mountain thermals. You won’t be able to cover distance quickly when needed. You’ll get tired and cranky. You’ll miss shots you normally make. Fueling the body is the key to winning on any backcountry adventure.
My stats and journal from that years-ago eight-day vigil showed an average walking distance of 6.2 miles per day. My pack weight varied, but the average weight was 32.3 pounds. My average daily ascent and descent was 1,825 feet. My average daily calorie burn was 6,234. Now for the scary part: my average daily calorie intake was 1,995. Not good!
Today, having immersed myself in research and enlisting the help of a qualified nutritionist, I would consume nearly 4,000 calories per day on this type of hunt. No, 4,000 doesn’t equal 6,000, but I’m consuming foods high in protein, good fats and carbohydrates — foods that stick to the ribs, stay with me for longer stints, and boost physical and mental endurance.
When you’re hunting hard in the backcountry, it’s virtually impossible to eat enough to keep up with the calories you’re burning. The key is having a good meal plan that you stick to.
Remember Your Protein!
While meal planning, one nutrient you certainly don’t want to overlook is protein. Protein is a macronutrient. In layman’s terms, this means you need lots of it. Protein charges your muscles and helps build and repair broken-down tissue. Another protein advantage is that it helps break down consumed foods. Better food breakdown leads to better nutrient distribution.
Packing steaks into the backcountry is a difficult task. The only time I get an in-the-woods steak is when I down a buck or bull. Until then, lightweight packs of Jack Link’s jerky and beef sticks deliver a lot of the protein I need. Jack Link’s also has meat offerings of chicken, pork and turkey. Offerings are lightweight, satisfy my hunger and are packable.
Build a meal plan before you go shopping for your backcountry hunt. Be specific. Plan out each day thoroughly, and pick foods that are packable and that your body is going to need. Here’s a good daily example, keeping in mind the aforementioned importance of protein.
Breakfast: One package of Purely Elizabeth oatmeal (240 calories). This comes in a cup, which I simply empty into a Ziploc bag prior to the hunt. I also consume half an ounce of almonds (82 calories) and one Honey Stinger Organic Waffle (150 calories).
Total breakfast calorie intake = 472
Snack Pack: I don’t single out a time for lunch. Instead, I consume necessary calories throughout the day. My daily on-the-mountain gallon Ziploc typically contains the following: Pro Bar Superfood Slam (370 calories), two Jack Link’s Teriyaki 100% Beef Bars (70 calories per strip), homemade granola (300 calories/2 ounces), Snickers Almond 2 To Go (210 calories), two Justin’s Classic Almond Butter 1.15-ounce squeeze packs (190 calories each), one Health Warrior Chia Protein Bar (190 calories), two Honey Stinger Classic Energy Gels (100 calories each) and one peanut butter bagel (380 calories).
Total snack pack calorie intake = 2,170
Dinner: Your body hurts and you just want to go to bed, but you should never go without dinner. I recommend a high-calorie Mountain House meal like the Pro-Pak (two servings) Rice and Chicken (540 calories) or Beef Stroganoff (520 calories). These meals are lightweight and take only minutes to prepare. In addition to my Mountain House meal, I also consume one tablespoon of coconut oil (130 calories), a few strips of Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky (80 calories per serving), one pack of peanut butter M&M’s (240 calories) and one Honey Stinger Organic Waffle (150 calories).
Total dinner calorie Intake = 1,140
Total daily calories from food = 3,782
Besides eating well, you need to be consuming at least 90 ounces of water per day. I know water sucks to carry, but it will save your life. Today’s high-tech filtering devices weigh mere ounces and filter water quickly, so there is no excuse for not staying hydrated. In addition to water, I also start the day with a cup of MTN OPS Enduro (28 calories). Enduro tastes great and replaces vitamins and minerals. At midday, I mix up a packet of MTN OPS Ignite (30 calories). Like Enduro, Ignite provides added flavor and improves cognitive function as well as mental focus and clarity.
Daily drink calories = 58
Remember, the better you take care of your most important backcountry tool — you — the more successful and enjoyable your hunt will be.