Extended backpacking trips into the wilderness, whether for hunting, hiking or otherwise will quickly drain the physical fuel tank, leaving the trekker on Low both physically and mentally. So a commonsense approach to wilderness trekking is necessary, and the following practices have been tested over the years and proven effective to keep energy levels high and motivation strong during long term wilderness camping and hiking.
We’re talking about the heavy duty kind of outdoor activity that can quickly deplete the body’s reserves — such as alpine climbing, mountaineering, and ski touring. This is especially true when these excursions last for several weeks at a time. Traditionally, extra reserves have been taken to mean extra nutrition, such things as micronutrition and increased caloric eating, and while this is an important part of the survival and enjoyment process, it is not the only thing that keeps a strenuous wilderness jaunt from turning into an embarrassment, or even something lethal. There are several effective strategies to help the body recover from extreme physical and mental exertion.
Preplanning and training
Don’t make the mistake of going on an extended wilderness activity when your are feeling under the weather. Your body needs to be in peak condition prior to leaving, and if you come down with a cold or a severe pulled muscle you’ll need to readjust your schedule to allow for the minimum amount of time needed to recuperate and be up to your best again. Needless to say, having a solid background of training under your belt is essential to the success of your trek. Some people make the mistake of thinking that a super challenging outdoor activity is what they need to whip themselves into shape, but that can not only be inconvenient but dangerous. Prepare your body long before you make the trip.
Strength layering for specific strenuous activities is one of the keys to staying refreshed and motivated during your excursion. Such activities a couloir skiing or steep ice climbing require particular exercises that should be initiated long before the actual activity takes place. There are plenty of books and videos online to help get you started on an appropriate exercise schedule for such things as new Alpine techniques and uphill breathing exercises. Don’t procrastinate building up the appropriate stamina and muscles just because you may not be familiar with how it’s done — google it and get ‘er done!
Hydration and nutrition
Of course this item should always be a priority when planning an extended expedition. Keeping to a healthy and well balanced diet when you’re in the back of beyond is not always easy, but it is always essential — it is such an important key to creating a stable energy source and providing for strong recovery and stamina control. Good carbs, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa, are needed on a daily basis. Preserved meats, while not recommended for years and years of constant use, are a good protein base for exertions in the wilderness — things like sausage and/or ham. Morning starches and carbs can include hot or cold cereals, and don’t forget freeze dried blueberries and unsalted nuts.
Along with good hydration you should schedule rest days when you cut back on the strenuous stuff so you can guzzle water and let your body absorb it instead of sweating it right back out again.
Save the granola energy bars for occasions when you might be away from base camp for more than six hours — while they are a good way to get a quick energy boost, they can also lead to debilitating energy crashes.
If you know you don’t care for plain water all the time, make sure to bring along some sports hydration powder — the brand is not important. Whatever it takes to get you to chug-a-lug throughout the day.
Needless to say, a long backcountry excursion is not the time to try out too many new recipes or brands — you’re a long way from the supermarket, and if your food proves to be unappetizing you’re just going to have to grin and bear it.
Make your basecamp a priority
The old saying goes: Don’t foul your own nest. Never more true than with your own basecamp. You want to keep it neat and clean, not just out of respect for Mother Nature, but for your own health and safety. Many animals, from the pesky to the downright dangerous, are attracted by food scraps. Even one discarded energy bar wrap can be enough to attract a horde of flies and gnats. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the latrine should be located as far away from the main camp as possible when you’re on a long trek.
Take special precautions for glacier camping
It seems ironic, but now that global warming is threatening our glaciers it’s suddenly become much easier to get a permit to camp for weeks at a time on certain glaciers in national parks around the world. If you do this, make sure to dig your kitchen tent into the ice at least five feet, to keep from staining the upper reaches of the glacier. Also, try to avoid any tents at all; building a simply igloo out of ice blocks will considerably lessen the carbon footprint you leave behind.
Don’t forget to stretch
When you’re on a strenuous long term trek in the outback you might not think you need to continue stretching and toning your muscles, but you do. Without those kind of preventive exercises and cool down procedures you’re liable to get some bad muscle cramps after a long day of rock climbing or wading ice cold rivers. So bring along some simple basic items like a lacrosse ball and a cheap latex yoga mat; this will allow you to keep up with your stretching routine before and after the day’s fun.
As mentioned briefly above, rest days are important for both your mental and your physical health — so make sure you schedule them in during your long term backpacking adventures, and keep them religiously. Of course, a day of rest out in the wilderness does not mean vegging out on the couch with a bowl of Cheetos while watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix. It means to avoid strenuous and day-long hikes and activities; to instead spend time at and around your basecamp cleaning things up, spending some time in meditation and journal writing, fishing, and just giving your mind and body time to relax and regroup for the next round of intense spelunking or alpine mountaineering. Varying between intense activities and quiet introspection out in the wilderness is a pace that will reward you with both better stamina and strength, and that glorious peace of mind that comes from communing with the wonders of creation all around you.
No fun amenities at all?
Nobody said anything like that. Bring some good books to read at night, or when the weather is inclement. A cell phone is both a good precaution against emergencies and can provide some mind-numbing games for when a little vegetative time seems appropriate. Transistor radios are relatively cheap and nowadays have broadband capability so they can pick up stations hundreds of miles away. Put some movies on your tablet, if you must. Maybe you need YouTube instruction on how to make s’mores.