It was when I started shaking involuntarily that I realized I might have pushed myself to hard. I had hiked five miles out onto the tundra north of the Brooks Range in Alaska, then dropped my 60# pack and headed out after a caribou. Several hours and seven miles later I returned to camp, lightheaded, shaking and pale.
My father and cousin asked if I was ok, I mumbled something about needing to eat. As quick as I could I ate my dinner – cured wild boar loin, black coffee and Stoffers Stove Top Stuffing. I passed out and awoke in the pre-dawn light with a huge headache. It took me half the morning to feel “normal” again. As best my Doctor can tell is that I had dropped my blood sugar to a dangerous level. I had used up all the food energy I had eaten that day and my body was consuming its own muscles for energy. This is a common occurrence in endurance athletes but for those who are weekend warriors like myself burning fuel like that is dangerous. Especially in unforgiving grizzly bear country. I should have known better.
My diet needed regulated – I was expending fuel, but not taking any in. I had snacks in my bag, I just wasn’t eating them. I was to busy hiking and looking for caribou. My poor food choices led me to make mistakes that could have cost me my life. Since then I have kept a closer eye on my consumption of food in the backcountry. Managing intake, especially on an extended backpack hunt, can be critical. Pack to little food and you might end up hungry and doing foolish things. Pack to much food and you have wasted energy.
Back at camp later that morning, I needed to get my calorie intake in check. I caught a big Grayling out of the stream we camped next too. Then I cooked up the fish with a bit of sweet coconut powder, a pinch of curry and some minute brown rice. Quickly I had a hot stew of curried grayling and rice. After about an hour my body just felt “better” than it had in two days.
Why? Balance. Not only do you need to consider total calorie count with food you need to consider the nutritional benefits of what you are brining. I had ignored the signs and let my body deprive itself of proper nutrients.
As luck would have it, I went to a seminar recently on backcountry nutrition. The speaker was Heather, of Heathers Choice – Meals for Adventuring, and she was explaining the building blocks of backcountry nutrition. The Proper mix of calories for the backcountry it vital to success.
The proper mix looks something like –
- 30% Fat – This is the “fuel” for the fire. Fat from nuts and fish are the best, nutritionally. However, chocolate, summer sausage and hot coco are good sources as well.
- 50% Carbs, i.e. complex carbs, – This is the sustained burn on the trail. Things like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are best. They take your gut a lot longer to digest than “simple carbs” (white rice and white flour noodles). This longer span of digestion makes them a more reliable source of energy.
- 20% Protein – The Coals for the fire. Protein is the recovery food for the trail. It helps the body repair itself when you sleep. Meat is the best option for this – jerky, cheeses and my favorite wild game.
Looking back at my prior to now backcountry nutrition I was skipping a few things as far as food groups were concerned. My diet was mostly low grade carbohydrates – like stove top stuffing – and lean meat. While not bad horrible I was not giving my body any fat or sugar for that matter. I was setting myself up for failure. When I ate the coconut milk soup I filled my stomach with what it needed; protein from the fish, fat from the coconut and complex carbs from the brown rice. I felt better because I had eaten better.
Backcountry Snacks –
Pemican, like this recipe, is a great resource for fat, sugar and protein. Pemican is the old mountain man and Native American travel staple. It holds for years, and has just about all the calories and nutrition a hard working person needs.
GORP – “Good’ol Rasins and Peanuts” – AKA Trail Mix – the reason that this is well known to backpackers and hunters alike is because it works. Nuts provide the fat, chocolate gives you the sugar/carbs and the raisins are great little energy pills.
Hard Cheese and Jerky – the often-skipped food group on backcountry hunts is protein. A hard cheese, one that does not require refrigeration, has fat, protein and salt. All three are essential for proper backcountry nutrition. While jerky is inherently lean meat it is a very good way to get protein into the diet. Your body will eventually start consuming its own lean muscle mass if it deprived of protein for too long. (This will cause you to get tired faster)
Interview with Heather, From Heather’s Choice –
CITW: Out in the bush I tend to eat like crap. Does that affect my performance while hunting?
HC: Yes, the quality and quantity does have a dramatic impact on your backcountry experience, as well as your long-term health. While one meal will not wreck your health, if you plan on spending a lot nights out each year, the damage done by poor quality food can start to take a toll.
CITW: What can I do to supplement my dried food rationing?
HC: In order to supplement your dried food rations, you want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. When you eat fresh food, you can meet some of your hydration needs simply from the food you eat. Once you have figured out how you’re going to drink enough water, you also want to make sure your replacing the sodium that you lose through sweating. The bare minimum amount of sodium we need to survive is 500 mg per day, while we can lose a couple hundred milligrams per hour when we sweat. Make sure there is a good amount of sodium in the meals and snacks you have packed for the trail.
Additionally, I would encourage you to look at the protein, carbohydrate and fat content of your daily rations, and strive to get a balance of all three, rather than packing mostly simple carbohydrates or poor quality fats.
CITW: Protein seems to be important – how much should a 200lb guy get in a day and how do I do that in that backcountry for a week?
Getting enough protein in the backcountry is a real challenge. For a 200 lb guy, I would recommend getting 1 gram of protein per lb of lean body mass. This might mean you have at least 160 grams of protein to get each day. You can do this with a good quality jerky, some nuts and seeds, a high protein dinner, and high quality cheeses.
CITW: What separates your products from the competition on the nutritional scale?
HC: What sets Heather’s Choice apart from the competition is our selection of ingredients. We use only healthy, whole ingredients to create nutritious meals and snacks for the backcountry. Our products provide you with easily digestible fats, lean sustainably sourced protein, and complex carbohydrates.
CITW: Balance seems key – but on the hunt, I am never really balanced. Either I am camped on a ridge glassing for animals or I am pounding up a mountainside. How do you balance that out?
HC: Our experiences in the backcountry will rarely feel “balanced”. We are always pushing ourselves to the edge or past our comfort zone, which can be a beneficial stress on the body. Since the climate and exposure is generating stress, you can strive for balance by focusing on high quality nutrition and hydration to help your body recover.
CITW: I remember getting back to camp on the Tundra during a caribou hunt and I was physically shaking. I ate my food, passed out and woke up with a screaming headache in the morning. What did I do to my body and how could I have prevented it?
Screaming headache? I would guess hydration…if you were pushed to your limits you might have not rehydrated enough to fully recover. You know when you get a hangover; It’s largely from dehydration.
The Recipe –
This recipe calls for “bear” meat, but honestly, any protein will work. Slice thin to win with this stuff. Even the most leathery jackrabbit meat will be rendered tender if it is sliced thin enough. Just ask your local Mongolian BBQ place.
Curried “Bear” and Rice Soup
Serves 1 – designed for backpacking
1 tbsp canola oil
4 ounces bear meat, sliced super thin (really any meat will work here)
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup instant brown rice
2 tablespoons dehydrated vegetables (bulk from the grocery store)
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk powder (available online and in some grocery stores)
Salt and Pepper
In a small backpacking soup pot, add the canola oil. Heat until almost smoking then add the bear meat. Brown the meat then add the water to the pan. Bring to a boil.
Next add the rice, dehydrated vegetables, curry powder and coconut milk powder to the water. Turn to a simmer and stir. Cover and let cook for five minutes on low. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Enjoy.
(Pro-tip – the rice, veggies, curry powder and coconut milk should be pre-mixed at home and put into a Ziploc bag. That way you only take what you need into the bush and are not measuring stuff in the backcountry.)