Preparing a Backcountry Food System

Preparing a Backcountry Food System

By: Drake Dury

The wind caused the mountain pines to whisper as Luke and I sat on the edge of a cliff eating our lunch. The view was something out of a magazine. The sky was an everlasting blue that stretched to the horizon. The night before we endured a hailstorm mixed with drenching rain. On top of that, Luke’s tent failed to repel the running water from rushing into his floorless shelter, so Luke had to crawl into my “two person” tent with me. Imagine sleeping in a twin bed with someone else, now think smaller. It was no secret that by day seven we were beat up and the mountain had done its best to defeat us. Little annoyances started to become great tragedies. For me, one of these annoyances was a Chocolate Peanut Butter Clif Bar and for Luke it was Starkist Tuna. Day after day we sat down to eat and these items disgusted our appetite. Fortunately, Luke showed interest in my bars and I showed interest in his tuna. Much like a middle school lunch table, we would trade our undesirables in efforts to make out with an option we could stomach. To this day, I do not think Luke has eaten a pack of tuna.


Preparing a backcountry food system is a different process for everyone. Like most things there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to hunting. This means that your food system needs to be tailor fit to your own diets and habits. Calorie dense foods are the best option for the backcountry because you can pack more calories for less weight. A key fact to understand is carbohydrates offer four calories per gram, protein offers four calories per gram, and fats offer nine calories per gram. If you take this into consideration, you can pack your food in such a way that allows for the highest calorie density possible. Going into this article I want you to think about your body’s fuel source. The body can burn carbohydrates or fats as its primary fuel source. Carbohydrates tend to be a faster source of fuel that allows for quick energy, but often leads to a quicker crash. Fats on the other hand burn slower which means that they are not optimal for quick energy, but allows for a long lasting source of energy through the day. For example, Luke’s body runs off carbohydrates and throughout our trip I watched him gas out, eat a bar, and jump right back into action. I, on the other hand, run off fats, so I had a lasting energy that allows me to remain consistent throughout the day. You should identify this and play to your strengths when packing for your trip. 


Your backcountry food system should be a well thought-out process designed to sustain vigorous activity in the mountains. I will say,  you cannot pack enough food to replace the calorie expenditure you will endure on the mountain, but there are some food ideas that can provide more energy and nutrients than others. My planning stage consisted of going to local grocery stores and taking pictures of different food’s nutrition facts and recording item weights. Once I was done with that, I put all this information into a Google Spreadsheet.


Old Backcountry Food System

Consider your Daily Diet

In this planning stage you should take into consideration your daily diet and keep your macro nutrients the same. The backcountry is no place for you to change your diet significantly, this can lead to irritable bowels and uncomfort on the mountain. Personally, eight-five percent of my diet is meat and dairy with the remaining being fruits and the occasional starch or processed carbohydrates. With that being said, a food system with an immense amount of carbohydrates would be disastrous because my body would not be used to it. I know this because that is exactly what happened on my first backcountry trip. I went from the diet I just described to the list of foods you see in the spreadsheet above. Boy, was that uncomfortable at times!

Comfort is King

Every single day the total food weight will decrease because you're eating the food. With that being said, I do not recommend skimping on quality food to save weight. This is exactly the mistake I made on my first backcountry trip, and it left me wanting and craving more. One thing I learned is I could not stand the taste of a Clif Builder Bar by day four and the morning oatmeal was losing its luster. These two items I supplemented by adding a half pound of deer sausage because it provides more sustenance and is a higher quality food. I used to contemplate trying the stoveless method in efforts of cutting weight, but after the trip I actually decided to add weight to my food system. This will allow me to have quality foods for optimal performance on the mountain.

New Backcountry Food System

How Much Food Do You Bring?

How much food do you bring? Well, it depends. The key factors on which it depends is: how much do you normally eat, are you bivy hunting or hunting from a basecamp, how much are you willing to carry, and how many days will you be out? All of these factors matter when it comes to tailor fitting your system to you. I like to aim for about 3000-3500 calories a day with a weight of 1.5-2.0 pounds per day for bivy style hunting. However, for a base or drop camp, I would look into taking 2.5 pounds per day to have higher quality foods. If you are not a food junkie like me and can thrive off bars and almonds you might even consider looking into the stoveless method to eliminate unnecessary weight. 


At the end of day there are so many options and preferences when it comes to picking your backcountry food items that it can almost seem suffocating. I hope this article gives you insight on how to go about structure your food system. The key takeaways from this article should be taking into consideration your current diet, understanding your body’s fuel source, and tailor fit your system to your specific hunt.

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