Colorado’s third rifle season for elk and deer starts on Saturday morning, and so over the next few days I’ll be finishing my preparations for our backpack hunt. Tonight, the task at hand was food. I thought I would share some tips and a list of what I’m packing.
We are inclined to pack our fears. We don’t want to sleep cold at night, so we pack an unnecessarily warm sleeping bag. We are concerned about encountering a bear (even in non-bear habitat), so we pack bear spray or wear dreaded bear bells. And, yes, we are afraid of starving, so we pack an excessive amount of food.
My standard recommendation is to carry 2,250 to 2,750 calories per person per day. If you are a young, muscular, larger-bodied male on an ambitious trip, you should plan to be at the high-end of this range. If you’re the opposite, expect to be at the low end. These recommendations do not apply to multi-month thru-hikes.
It is impractical to sum the calories of all your food items, especially on a longer trip. The more efficient approach is to simply weigh your food. If you assume that your food has an average caloric density of 125 calories/ounce, you would need to carry 18 to 22 ounces of food per day.
When meal planning for a backpack hunt, caloric density is an important concept. It is the total number of calories in a meal or food item divided by its weight. Pure carbohydrates and proteins (e.g. instant mashed potatoes and beef jerky) contain 100 calories per ounce. Pure fats like olive oil contain 250 calories per ounce. Fritos, which is mashed corn fried in corn oil, have 150 calories per ounce.
Because your body needs a certain number of calories per day, you can carry less food weight by packing fattier foods. Your legs will thank you, and maybe it’ll make the difference of getting that elk or not. For example:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Fried snack foods like Pringles, potato chips, and sesame sticks
- Chocolate candy like Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and M&M’s
- Oils and butter
Water provides no calories. So food items that contain water — like tuna packets, tortilla shells, and some cheeses — will have a lower caloric density, often less than 100 calories/ounce.
Each food prep session involves overhead time: planning, shopping, setup, packaging, and clean-up. At the beginning of each backpacking season I prepare dozens of days worth of food and store them in plastic totes. This allows me to quickly get out the door on overnights and weekend trips without having to dedicate a few hours to the process. Read more time-saving tips.
Prepackaged food (e.g. energy bars, freeze-dried meals) is convenient, but most of mine is not. Instead, I buy it in bulk and bag it myself. I weigh each serving or meal with a postal scale. I do not measure it out in cups or spoons, which does not scale as well. It helps to have a half-dozen containers of the same size and weight so that you can prepare a number of servings before needing to bag them.
Backpack hunt food list
We are driving out on Friday night, and will either camp at the trailhead or in the field, depending on what time we arrive. The season starts on Saturday morning, and due to work obligations our last hunt will be on Tuesday morning. That amounts to three full days plus a breakfast on the fourth day.
But I’m prepared to put something down on Tuesday morning, in which case we would not reach the car with our first load of meat until Tuesday mid-day. I am also leaving some food in the car, in the event that we need to haul out meat through Tuesday night.
In general, I did not go crazy with my food prep for this trip. It’s a short outing, and my food stockpile was largely eaten up over the summer and fall.
My go-to breakfast on personal trips has become cereal with protein powder. It sticks to my ribs, and I can have it hot or cold. Read the recipe.
Throughout the day I will nibble on small snacks, each about 3 ounces. This keeps my energy level sustained, and no meal is so big that it puts me into a food coma. Items:
- Candied pecans and honey roasted almonds
- Protein bars
- Chocolate bars, M&M’s, and chocolate-covered cashews
- Honey mustard pretzels
We will be eating in the field for three nights. On two nights I will be having my favorite dinner recipe, Beans & Rice with Fritos & Cheese. On the other night, I’ve twisted a breakfast recipe, Cheesy Potatoes, to make a suitable dinner, by adding olive oil, salami, and green onions.
Elsewhere on my website I have posted more dinner recipe ideas.
With the nights being so long now (and cold), I’m packing a small midnight snack so that my body has some calories to burn, once it’s exhausted dinner. Without a midnight snack, it’s more likely that I will get cold in the wee hours of the morning.
So that I can endure brisk daytime temperatures and cold nights more easily, I will be making a hot drink at least twice a day, maybe three times, using my Fast & Light stove system.
Starbucks Via instant coffee is convenience, but expensive at $1 per packet (and $2 for a proper cup of coffee). I prefer to make cowboy coffee with real coffee grounds and then filter them out using a MSR MugMate.
E-book on recipes, rations, stove systems, and food storage
Earlier this year I released a 14,000-word e-book about backpacking food. The information is a mix of new and old. You can find the older content on this website, but some decide that the $5 cost is worth the convenience.
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