Rethinking Backcounty Calories & Nutrition

In 36 hours so, I’ll be heading out for the first Fall hunting trip. I drew a either sex Elk rifle tag for CO, which is good for Oct 10th-14th, but we’re heading in 4 days early to get some scouting in. After last year’s experience with backcountry hunting, I began to rethink my food situation as I felt that I had a real shortage of fat consumption and the resulting high carb intake left much to be desired  in terms of “sticking to my ribs”, much less keeping me sufficiently warm. Over the last year, I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with fat intake, fast carbs and slow carbs in relation to training and intense activity. You start looking at off-the-shelf backcountry food labels and, with the general exception of peanut butter, you’ll notice a real shortage of food and calories from fat. The reason for this is simple: Fat tends to be heavy and it does not store well long term.

Addressing this issue head on, Heather’s Choice backcountry meals “crack the code” of including not only calories from fat, but nutrient dense calories. Particularly, the buckwheat breakfast meals might very well be THE perfect backcountry hunter’s breakfast: 530 calories, 240 of which are from fat. 57 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, 27 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat.  Looking at the ingredient list, it looks like she gets around the lack of fat problem by using beef gelatin, an ingredient you probably won’t find in Mountain House meals. The Buckwheat breakfast meals have enough carbs to get you to where you are going and enough fat to keep you warm and feeling full once you get there. IMG_3341

Other changes I made was to add some Sopressa charcuterie, Bacon+Honey+Peanut butter and bacon grease sandwiches (easy 800+ calories that will keep will for a number of days or weeks) and a mixture of butter and coconut butter that I will add to coffee, tea and hot meals as needed. That’s an easy shot of calories and fat. I also added a second breakfast option of freeze dried eggs for a couple of days near the end when when I start getting strung out. That’s a 2oz meal that contains 340 calories. Overall food weight is up this year, but I have found that I perform considerably better with a minimum of 4,000 daily calories. 4,500 is even better, but I just couldn’t justify that much weight. In addition to upping the fat intake, I also brought more fast carbs in the form of gel shots, honey stingers and energy drink mixes for intense climbs. Essentially, my calories are either focused around fat intake for longterm “slow” energy and warmth while sleeping, glassing or sitting still, and “fast” carbs for immediate bursts of energy to power through intense and demanding climbs. Though my food intake does include some slow carbs in the form of rice etc with dinner, I did try to focus more on the two ends of the spectrum: fat and fast carbs. If you think about backcountry hunting, you require sustained and intense levels of activity, sometimes for hours at a time, which are best powered by carbs, but you also need the ability to stay warm in the intense cold and avoid the sensation of excessive hunger while sitting still for hours at a time. The stock, off the shelf backcountry meals do little to address these two extremes, rather they tend to focus more in the middle with slow carb options, which is not necessarily optimal for hunting purposes.

Sadly, I did not get around to making batch of venison pemmican for this trip, but I’ll be sure to include some for my December Coues deer hunt.

About Go Carnivore

Lifestyle of Meath Enthusiasts
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4 Responses to Rethinking Backcounty Calories & Nutrition

  1. Neal Zeller says:

    Looks a lot like how I pack grub, except for the Heather’s Choice, not tried that yet. I’ll be interested to see how it goes on the trip. Always looking for something new.

  2. kendall says:

    There’s a group of serious back country hunters that have been discussing nutritional requirements of hunters at 10,000 ft in October at the the Kifaru forums for nearly two decades. As the old adage goes: “there’s nothing new under the sun”; Folks had this figured out a long time ago. In a nutshell? Ghee is your friend, tipis, small game, and wood stoves beat the shit out of being hunched over in a backpacking tent and choking down Mountain house entrees and heating water with “Jetboils”.

    • Go Carnivore says:

      Good to know. I don’t follow the Kifaru forum, but my experience with this discussion amongst most backcountry hunters has led me to believe there are two primary camps when it comes to backcounty food: Mountain House + whatever else fills out 3,000 calories a day or the “I don’t have time to rehydrate so I eat MREs” school of thought. It’s seems like this 3rd camp of high fat/higher calories/performance rating rather than just squiring calories, while not new, is still a tiny, tiny minority.

      • kendall says:

        Agreed. Absolutely a small minority. It takes some thought and effort to build a lightweight, high (fat) calorie backpacking menu. It also requires the ability to cook which requires more fuel than can be carried. Hence the need for the ultralight SS or stoves. Like most forums, anything worth discussing was done early in the life of the forum. For Kifaru this was 2002-2003. Patrick Smith has spent a good part of his life solo with a pack. You might want to read some of his articles.
        Cured meats are an excellent source of animal protein and fat for backpacking. Lots of folks use olive oil for their cooking. I was raised “country” so my preference is butter, (ghee). Doesnt spoil, tastes great, goes well with anything. Precooked bacon, elk jerky, dehydrated meats, hard cheeses, and of course, fresh killed small game.
        My son and I both filled our elk tags a few weeks ago. Crocked a shoulder roast for dinner last night. One of the challenges of wild game cooking is maintainig or adding moisture into the large lean cuts.

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