The two major categories that can most affect a hunter’s ability to make or break his pack weight are 1) clothing and 2) food. In this article, I’ll cover what my food strategy is for keeping my pack weight under control without starving myself. I do feel the need to state that I’m not a nutritionist and that hunting season for me is not viewed as a vacation.
While I do take fueling my body seriously, I’m not worried about eating food that necessarily tastes awesome. My goal is to pack calories, period. I’m not headed for the backcountry for fine dining. If you’re looking for ways to spice up your backcountry menu, this probably isn’t your read; this is for those hunters looking to shave some weight and who are willing to put the taste buds on hold until the holidays. I do take taste into consideration, but it’s secondary to its calories-per-ounce value. Basically, I consider the following factors when planning my backcountry hunting menu, in this order:
➣ Ease of preparation
➣ Counting & Accounting for Every Calorie
On most backpack-style hunts where my body is going to be working hard, I have been advised that I need to ingest far more than the typical 2000 calories, and more like 3500. While I don’t think that this scientific advice is poor advice, my experience is that this is not realistic on my backpack hunts. On a typical five to seven-day backpack elk hunt in the mountains, I’ll consume between 1900-2300 calories per day. For the record, I’m an average-sized guy – 185 lbs., 5’11” and 30 years old.
While I’ve packed close to 3000 calories per day before, in my opinion, it’s more work than it’s worth. You’re going to burn more calories by packing more calories – pretty simple math, but there’s a fine line here. I feel that I perform better when packing less weight and eating 1900-2300 calories a day than I do packing more weight and eating more.
It always boils down to what goes on your back and what doesn’t, and at that point, it’s all about calories per ounce. I always want the most I can get out of my food and currently I average 113 calories per ounce. I usually find it difficult to make myself eat 2000 calories worth of food per day on a backpack hunt, while at home it’s hard for me to stay under 2500. I just don’t do well when I eat too much and then try to hike all over the mountains, trying to close in on an elk with a pack on. The only time I have trouble with wanting more is on really tough hunts when I’m not seeing the numbers of animals I would want to see. Then I struggle with overeating out of sheer depression or boredom. Below I discuss a good way to avoid overeating.
Plan & Organize Each & Every Meal
One important part of effectively shaving food weight is to know you have enough. No matter how much experience you have, if your strategy is to just throw in your food at the trailhead and “eyeball” your food until it looks like there is enough, you’ll likely always pack more than you need. It’s a good strategy to separate your food in gallon-sized Ziploc bags, so you can easily see and count out everything. This allows you to pack efficiently and confidently, as well as helping you to eat at an even rate. This will keep you from eating too little each day in fear of running out of food early and also prevents you from overeating and running out of food before your hunt is over. This is a very simple system, but don’t overlook it if you really want to be efficient.
As you’ll see in my chart, I have a daily menu of items that go into a Ziploc bag, but I don’t put exactly the same stuff in for each day; I mix it up a little to give myself some choices in the field. I’ll mix up the granola bar selection, Mountain House flavor, oatmeal flavor, etc. while keeping my weight/calorie ratio in the 1900-2300 calories per day range. My daily food routine is as follows:
➣ Daybreak: hot oatmeal and coffee in the tent
➣ Mid-morning: two granola bars
➣ Noon: trail mix and crackers
➣ Late-afternoon: two granola bars
➣ After sunset: Mountain House dinner
There are times that the thought of one more Mountain House or bag of trail mix is hard to swallow. When I find myself needing a little change of pace, I’ll sometimes throw in a 4-oz. bag of Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (440 calories) that serve as a meal in place of a Mountain House. These come in several flavors, but my favorite is Four Cheese.
If water is easily accessible, I’ll usually also drink some warm chicken broth before or after dinner, by boiling a small cup of water and adding in a bouillon cube. This is especially nice when it’s been cold or wet.
Another thing I factor in is size. If a food item takes up too much room or is fragile, it’s not worth packing. I used to pack toasted peanut butter, bacon and honey sandwiches, and while they are good, they got smashed easily. Also, the six or seven of them required a lot more room than the equivalent caloric value in other food items that are a lot easier to prepare.
Daily Backpacking Menu:
[table id=4 /]
Totals 1 lb., 2.77 oz. 2,124
Average calories per ounce: 113
Note: Packaging weight included
The average of six of my favorite flavors: Rice & Chicken, Sweet & Sour Pork w/ Rice, Beef Stroganoff w/ Noodles, Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce, Noodles & Chicken, Chicken a la King w/ Noodles
While my backcountry menu won’t make most peoples’ mouths water, the area I haven’t compromised is with my cook stove. I could shave more weight by eliminating a stove and any food that needs boiling water, but I haven’t found a way around it yet. I’ve got to have my coffee, and the hot oatmeal is also a great way to start my days; not to mention I do enjoy the taste of the Mountain House dinners over other hot dinners such as MREs that don’t require a stove.
Water is the wildcard when it comes to weight. If you’re in an area with plenty of water, you have it easy and don’t have to pack it on your back very far or often. This is often the case on elk hunts vs. high country deer hunts, where camping close to water can be more of a challenge. Planning on when and where to get water is an issue when your main meal of the day requires it, as mine does with the Mountain House. There is much to be desired as far as taste goes in my backcountry menu, but it’s a trade-off I’ll happily make for seven days’ worth of food weighing in at just 8 lbs., 3 oz.!