All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
One of the most perplexing things to me when I first got into backpack hunting was food. My paranoia for getting hungry and not having enough out there got the best of me more than a few times. To think about how much food you actually need is sort of unnatural, right? I know there are plenty of folks out there who keep track of everything that they eat, but, for the most part, it’s pretty far removed from our daily routine. We just eat when we’re hungry. So, how do you know how much you’ll need for the trip and if you’re getting enough calories? I’m going to give you a rundown of how I figured out food in the backcountry. Keep in mind, there is more than one way to skin a cat. The things listed below are just what has worked for me personally. You might be different and that’s totally OK. Let’s dig in!
Before we dive into the actual food itself, let’s chat a bit about how you can figure out how much to bring along. The short and easy answer to this is by basing your decision off of calories. A good rule of thumb thrown around the backcountry hunting world is to shoot for 3,000 calories per day. That’s a great all around number, but there is something else to think about. All of us are different. That number might be not enough, just right, or even too much for a person. For me, I find that 3,000 calories is pretty hefty out there. So, because we all are a bit different with our needs, here’s what I suggest: Head out into the field with too much food on purpose. This doesn’t have to be a backpack hunt. It can be a day trip for scouting or even just a hike. Throughout the day, eat when you are hungry and until you are satisfied. At the end of the day, write all of this down. Write down what you ate and how you felt. Were you satisfied? Did you overeat? Doing small day trips like this a few times will give one a pretty good idea of how much food to bring with you on a hunt. Bring too little and you’ll be hungry and lack energy. Bring too much and now you’re packing unnecessary weight. Find the balance for you and you alone.
Breakfast! The most important meal of the day. Waking up in the backcountry and enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee with a tasty breakfast is a great way to set the day in gear. For coffee, there are many instant options on the market that will do the job. My personal favorite is by Dark Timber Coffee. It actually tastes like drip coffee and it’s always in my backpack. I’m a coffee guy and this stuff hits the nail on the head. As for food, there are a few different options. Plenty of prepackaged meals are on the market. These can be hit or miss, so it’s important you try before heading into the hills. However, they are very convenient for the person that might not have time to make their own. If you do, in fact, have some spare time, making your own breakfast is awesome and easy. I like to do rolled oats with dehydrated fruit and cinnamon. Add hot water, let it steep and you’re golden. Throw an almond butter packet in there as well for some added flavor. Or a vanilla protein powder packet, which really sets it off. Of course, this is all applicable if you even want breakfast. Some folks just enjoy their coffee and won’t eat until later, which is totally fine.
Oh, snacks. Who doesn’t love snacking throughout the day while glassing for that elusive buck? Snacks are where a lot of backcountry hunters primarily live. They don’t do the normal “breakfast, lunch, dinner” routine. Hunters will just snack throughout the day and that works for them. Remember: this is about finding what works for you — not doing what works for someone else. So, let’s chat about some snack ideas. Just like breakfast, there are plenty of prepackaged snacks that you can buy online or at the grocery store. Bars seem to be a staple in every hunter’s food system. A few of my favorites are RXBar, Larabar and Epic. Those are much more healthy options than a lot of what’s out there. Another favorite snack of mine are Heather’s Choice Packaroons. They are a small coconut cookie of sorts. Delicious and without any weird ingredients. Other options include trail mix, jerky, dehydrated fruit leathers, etc. Some you can make on your own. Eating homemade venison jerky while glassing for deer? Talk about bringing things full circle.
Lunch happens during that time of day when you generally need a pick me up. It’s the middle of the day, hunting is often slow, and our tank is running dry on energy. In my eyes, lunch gets us ready and fueled for the evening hunt. A famous option for this meal is the bagel, peanut butter, honey and bacon sandwiches. Hearty, filling and tasty. Even without the bacon is good as well. I did this for years and years. It does get old with time, though, and sometimes that time is fairly short for some folks. If you’re not into the bagel life, maybe consider the tortilla life? Tortillas are much more packable than bagels. A great option is tortilla with almond butter, shredded coconut and honey. I’ve added apple chips to that mix as well and been pleasantly surprised. Tuna packets are also something that you can throw in a tortilla. Pick up some mayo and relish packets at a gas station, throw those in the tuna and slap that bad boy on your tortilla. Tuna rolls! Of course, there is always the snacking option throughout the day, too.
I’d like to briefly touch on supplements in the field as they are part of our diet out there. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to bring a whole bunch of supplements out there as something that is vital to your hunt. However, something that I have found through the years that really does help is a quality BCAA to aid in muscle recovery. Wilderness Athlete Hydrate and Recover is something that is in my pack on every single backcountry hunt that I do and it has been for years. Admittedly, I have forgotten it a time or two and have definitely felt the difference. Whether it is that particular BCAA or another, I’d strongly consider looking into one. Plus, it breaks up the monotony of water.
Now, for my favorite meal of the day: dinner. Having a tasty dinner to look forward to after the sun has said its goodbyes really caps the night off well. A hot meal is even better in my opinion. It’s soothing. Just like the other meals I’ve already mentioned, there are a load of store-bought routes a person can take. Most of them are pretty darn good, but there are some that don’t deserve the time of day in my opinion. That is something you’ll learn through trial and error of course. If store-bought isn’t for you, not to worry! A motivated backcountry hunter can totally prepare their own dinners right at home with a dehydrator. This is something that I do every year to spice up my options for dinner. A favorite of mine is bear or elk chili. Make a crockpot full of that and you’re looking at five to six meals after you have some for dinner at home. And for no more than $10 if you already have seasonings stocked up. This is definitely a great way to save money because store-bought meals can really add up. With the average running about $10, you’re looking at $100 for a 10-day hunt just in dinners. A lot of times, I’ll run half and half to save some dough.
The options for food in the backcountry are vast and, with a little digging, you’ll absolutely find something that works for you. I’ve often heard people complain about their food back there. This always saddens me because it doesn’t have to be like that. Food shouldn’t be this thing that you don’t look forward to. For me, food lifts my spirits and offers another layer of camaraderie if you’re hunting with a buddy. Sitting there and having dinner with a friend while recounting the day’s events at camp is pretty special after a strenuous day of hunting. So, whether you buy everything from the store or you make everything at home, put some love and attention into your food game on backcountry hunts. That is a decision that will definitely “sit well.”