Elk are naturally mobile animals that seem to rarely stay in one location for very long. "Daily movements revolve around feeding and bedding areas. Elk may travel over two miles to feeding areas from bed locations, depending on the suitability and availability of bedding cover" Zumbo1. It doesn't take a hunting mastermind to figure out that if you want to harvest an elk you need to go where elk go. They can inhabit rough country that can take a tremendous amount of effort to reach. Your gear and personal set of outdoor skills need to be prepared and able to access this country when the opportunity presents itself. Last semester we focused on the basics of backpack hunting the Colorado wilderness. We covered some basic training, where to go, what to use and how to spend your hunting time out in the wilderness. For this season we will take a more in-depth look at backpack hunting Colorado's wilderness. We will get into the finer details of how and why to cut weight, backpacking nutrition, along with my favorite thing to talk about.....GEAR!
Reducing your pack weight can ultimately make hiking and backpack hunting easier on your back, joints and entire body. The heavier the pack, the more effort it takes to get up a mountain. More effort means more strain and that makes you more vulnerable to injury. Every item in your pack weighs something, whether it's a half ounce Chapstick or a 3-pound sleeping bag, all of it adds up to a total pack weight. You will need to document and record every ounce in your pack in order to successfully reduce your pack weight without leaving anything critical behind.
To get started, lay out all of your equipment and split it into categories or systems as I like to call them. All of your equipment can be broken down into a system (i.e. sleep system, navigation system, success kit, etc.) You will need to weigh EVERYTHING on a scale. Digital scales will give you a more accurate number but any scale will work. Create a back pack hunting gear list. The spreadsheet has two weight categories: a total weight and total pack weight. You can plug all of your gear into the sheet and store it. You can then customize your setup and pack weight for any hunt you plan - whether it's an early season archery hunt or late season rifle hunt. The spreadsheet will give you a quick and flexible option for putting your equipment into your pack and knowing the weight of your pack, without having to place anything in it. The process of weighing and entering your equipment forces you to truly think about equipment selection and what you plan to bring. You can then start to compare the weights of your equipment with other options on the market and start to cut back on your choices of what to bring with you.
Once you have logged your equipment weight into the spreadsheet you will need to start scrutinizing what you plan to bring. Rationalize whether or not you truly need it. Ask yourself: “Is there a smaller, lighter option, or is there any way to make my existing equipment lighter?” Personally, I have cut everything out of my equipment that doesn't serve a functional or safety purpose. It's far too easy to grab everything in the closet and throw it in your pack but then you will have a pack full of equipment that won't leave your backpack for the duration of the hunt.
Every item you carry not only has a physical weight but an effective weight. Effective weight is the number you give an item for its effectiveness in the field. This is sort of a subjective interpretation of equipment, so I encourage you to be critical and follow some of my recommendations on how to reduce weight. For example, a quality down sleeping bag would rank high on the effective scale for its weight. This is an item that could easily make or break your hunt. On the flip side of that, the effective weight of a tarp in your backpack when you already have a tent is rather low. This can be a subjective rating system, so the best way to apply this effective weight is through experience. Once you get home from a trip empty your pack and separate out the items you never used over the weekend. Then rethink your rationale of bringing them along with you. Obviously, survival items would not fall into this category as, god willing, they may never be used.
One of the more straight forward ways to cut weight is to find multiple uses for a single item. For instance, a down jacket makes a great back-country pillow and provides amazing warmth when you’re glassing. A small metal mug should be all you need for food and drink preparation while backpacking. There are hundreds of meal options that require little more than boiling water. My meal plans only require me to boil two cups of water and are eaten right out of freezer bags so there is no need for plate or other cooking utensils. Everything else I eat while backpacking is detailed below in “Backpacking Nutrition.” Some other great multi-use items are paracord, a handkerchief and Super Glue. I encourage you to be experimental and imaginative when trying to find multiple purposes for a single item.
Light Weight Gear
The quantity of options for gear could easily fill a book. For that reason alone I will only cover two categories: the best bang for your buck and top of the line gear. Broken down within these two categories are my light-weight suggestions for sleep systems, cooking systems and backpacks. Some of the products I choose may be a little different than most people are accustomed to using. For instance, I prefer to use a floorless-tent design, unless there is snow on the ground, where most people would prefer just the opposite. However the floorless-tent design removes a lot of weight from your sleep system and is still remarkably comfortable. My sleeping bag preference is the GoLite 3 season quilt. I know some of you might be saying: "there is no way I can get a good night's sleep in that thing", but I suggest you give it a try and read some of the other articles on quilts. They are surprisingly efficient, light and are great for those of you who toss and turn throughout the night. I won't go back to a full mummy bag again.
Best Bang for Your Buck:
System and Category
GoLite Shangri-la 3
2 lbs 7 ounces
Kelty Cosmic Down 20
2 lbs 3 ounces
Pacific Outdoors Elite AC
3 lbs 7 ounces
Top of the Line Gear:
System and Category
3 lbs 8 ounces
Golite 3 Season Quilt
1 lb 8 ounces
Snow Peak Titanium Trek
Soto Micro Regulator
Kuiu Icon 3000 w/Frame
3 lbs 15 ounces
There are plenty of other great resources for backpacking gear that go into great detail on a wide range of products. A great resource for me has been Backpacker Magazine, especially their annual gear review issue. They review a wide range of products and give awards to their top-rated gear.
Food is fuel and garbage in equals garbage out. Your body’s performance and overall backpack hunting experience rests greatly on what you put into your body. Sport specific nutrition is rapidly growing in popularity throughout athletic programs.
"Sports nutrition consists of the nutritional guidelines involving primarily carbohydrate, protein and fluid intake that are used to improve athletic performance," says Linda Richards2, a Registered Dietician, and Certified Health Education Specialist. “Optimal nutrition improves physical activity, athletic performance and recovery from exercise, whether one exercises recreationally or trains as a competition athlete. Consuming adequate food and fluid during, before and after exercise does several things: maintains blood glucose, maximizes performance and improves recovery time."
When planning your menu for the next trip you must consider not only the nutritional value but the weight of your food choice. As backpackers we realistically cannot carry the same food that we buy when camping from a vehicle. It would weigh far too much and spoil too fast without the cooler. To make things even more difficult, the workouts associated with backpacking will burn more calories than you can practically carry during your trip. For instance, according to Self Nutrition Data3, I will burn about 4,364 calories a day when undergoing a 2-hour hike while backpacking. Personally I prefer to carry only 1.5-pounds of food per day, give or take a few ounces. This keeps my calorie-to-weight ratio light but provides an accurate amount of food to fill me up and keep me going. Your calorie to weight ratio should be around 125 calories per ounce. So 1.5 lbs of food per day (this is a good, light weight) will add up to 3,000 calories per day. This is still short 1,364 calories that my body will have to burn from fat storage. However, there are some days I will hike less than a mile and those are the days I will gain back some of the calories burned from the day before. Everyone's body is different and will perform different so I suggest you follow Self Nutrition Data's recommendations and try to get as close as you can to their suggested calories without going overboard on the weight of food you carry. More than 2-pounds of food a day is going overboard in my book. This website will also give you suggestions on your daily allowance of how to portion out your carbohydrates, proteins and fats along with other minerals and vitamins. Do your best to accommodate these suggestions.
There are obviously other factors besides calories that determine foods nutritional value for backpacking. Complex carbohydrates, fats, proteins, simple carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals all play a vital role in how your body will act and recover from hiking. According to Dorothy Foltz-Gray and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan4: "high-fiber, complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole-grain pasta and brown rice are broken down slowly in your stomach, keeping blood sugar steady for sustained power. Make them about 50-percent of your trail diet." The rest of your trail food should be split into 30-percent fats and 20-percent protein. This balance will give you slow-digesting, long-lasting energy from the complex carbohydrates, along with, the required nutrients for muscle recovery and sustained blood sugar.
Diets and meal plans of old are starting to fade out. The adage of eating three hardy meals a day is falling to the way side and in its path follows a new way of eating that is proving to be far more efficient for your body. Five or six smaller meals a day will give your body a more consistent flow of calories and keep your metabolism up. By giving your body a steady flow of calories you avoid bonking after five miles of hiking or eating any single large meal, which can put you in the dreaded food coma (.i.e. Thanksgiving). My daily backpacking meal plan consists of a steady flow of calories which keeps my metabolism up and gives me all day energy. I have broken out a simplified version of my meal plan below along with some suggestions on what I prefer for food. There are other options for food out there and I recommend you experiment, when you can, to find a meal plan and foods you like.
Breakfast: slow burning complex carbohydrates for all day energy mixed with some minerals vitamins. Food options -whole grain oats, oatmeal, granola with powdered milk. Mix in dried fruit for antioxidants.
Snack: quick burst of energy from simple carbohydrates and sugars before a strenuous activity along with some protein for muscle repair. Food options - trail mix, energy bar, sports drink, jerky
Lunch: this will need to be a good balance of all complex carbohydrates, fats and proteins following the percentages mentioned above. Food options - energy bars, jerky, salami with cheese and mustard in a tortilla shell or tuna and crackers.
Snack: quick burst of energy from simple carbohydrates and sugars before a strenuous activity. Food options - trail mix, energy bar, sports drink, jerky.
Dinner: perhaps the most important meal for a good night's sleep and a good morning. You will need carbohydrates for energy tomorrow, protein for muscle repair, and antioxidants. Food options - pasta with meat sauce, chicken and rice, chili and macaroni.
Any meal or food mentioned above has a light-weight choice. Milk in any recipe can be substituted with powdered milk and sports drinks come in powder form and can be mixed with water once you are ready to consume. Meals like pasta with meat sauce or chicken and rice can be found in freeze-dried form or made at home using a dehydrator. Take a look at the food preparation resources and product links I have provided below. They offer a wide range of dietary needs and options.
Author Recommended Links:
(The mention of products, services, and websites in this article does not constitute expressed or implied endorsement by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.)