Tag Archives: backcountry

Shaping Up for Bowhunting

Getting in Shape for Backcountry Hunting

To succeed with today’s trophy bucks you need to start hunting where other hunters stop. The best hunters I know have no physical limits. They can get go anywhere the animals go, and then get the animal out after the shot.

If you want to spend more time hunting and less time recovering, you’ll need to put a pack on and literally run to the hills long before the season opens.

I won’t get into any specific work-out regimens here; just know that your regular work-out should include donning a heavy pack and doing some vertical hiking. In addition to cardio, a little weight training will do wonders to strengthen your back, legs, and core.

Cardio Training

Cardio training—aka high-endurance aerobics—is the best thing you can do to prepare for backcountry hunting. If your heart and lungs are sluggish, it won’t matter how big your biceps or quads are. Your cardiovascular system is what delivers necessary oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

Any cardio-type exercise will help prepare you for the mountains, but if you’re planning an extreme pack-in hunt, you’ll need to change things up a bit. A daily jaunt on the treadmill won’t be enough.

For backcountry hunts I recommend starting a high-endurance aerobic exercise regimen at least two months in advance. Running, biking, swimming, and hiking are all good activities. Do at least one of these activities three times a week for a minimum of one hour.

You should get your heart rate up to 60-65 percent of your maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for at least one hour. If your goal is to become an “extreme wilderness athlete,” you’ll need to bump your heart-rate up to 70-85 percent of maximum heart rate, and then keep it there for a minimum of two hours.

Note: To figure out your “theoretic” maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 30 years old, then your maximum heart rate is 190. To reach 85% of maximum heart rate, you simply multiply 190 by .85 (161.5 beats per minute). The only way to monitor your heart rate is with a fitness tracker. I use the cheap and effective Amazfit Band 5 Activity Fitness Tracker found on Amazon.

Again, it all depends on your style of hunting. If you’re sitting in a tree stand or ambushing a water hole, then you can get away with some pretty low-intensity training. A little jogging or cycling around the block a couple times a week would suffice.

Strength Training

After cardio, leg training should be your top priority. Your legs are the powerhouse of hiking and packing.

Trail running on uneven ground is an ideal exercise for your legs. In addition to intense cardio, running on uneven ground also strengthens the lower legs and joints. Like every joint in the body, the knees and ankles are surrounded by a vast network of tendons and muscles. Strengthening and tightening these joints also helps you to avoid injuries in the backcountry.

Trail running has the added benefit of preparing your body for high-altitude conditioning and endurance. This is especially important for low-landers since everything becomes more difficult with altitude.

Note:  If you are out of shape, trail running can be a very arduous workout. At the very least, you should begin with trail hiking, and work up from there. You’ll still get many of the same benefits of running.

Back and Core Muscles

Heavy packing relies on both your legs and your back. Dead-weight lifting and squats are the two best ways to condition your back and core.

In addition to weight training, hiking while wearing a heavy pack will help strengthen your back and core muscles. Taking extended scouting trips into the mountains is a great way to train while scouting for animals.


There’s no way around it; backcountry bowhunting requires you to be an athlete. Proper training for the backcountry means taking on a three-prong approach starting with cardio, then leg training, and finally back and core.

Best Foods for Hunting and Backpacking

Best Foods for the Backcountry

Napoleon once said, “An army travels on its stomach.” This certainly applies to hunters too. Hunting the Rocky Mountains is the most physically demanding thing many of us do each year, requiring nearly double your normal daily caloric intake. But finding the right foods with regards to nutrition while reducing weight can be a challenge.

Everyone has their own tastes when it comes to field food, but what we can all agree on is backcountry hunters need a steady diet of protein to build muscle in conjunction with a regular intake of carbohydrates for continual energy. In big buck country you’ll need plenty of both.

Prepare for the Worst

First off, carrying enough food is far more important than trying to save weight by bringing too little.  This is especially important in cold weather because you’ll burn far more calories trying to stay warm. I’ve been chased off the snowy mountain before from lack of food, and it’s a lousy excuse for failure. Fortunately we live in the era of an abundant supply of pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals that take up little space and weigh practically nothing. Just add water.

Pre-Packaged Meals

On backcountry trips where weight is crucial, your best option is pre-packaged dehydrated meals like Mountain House. When choosing pre-packaged meals be sure to choose the highest protein content since most lack adequate protein for some dumb reason. For this reason I augment my pre-packed meals with precooked tuna and/or chicken pouches. Add them directly to the meal or eat  it separately.

Note:  Most freeze-dried meals can cost a pretty penny. Fortunately you can save about 25% by purchasing the  #10 size can (10 serving size). Then use a vacuum sealer to create customized portions for your trip.

Carbs for Energy

You’ll get plenty of carbs from your Mt. House meals in the form of pasta or rice. Whenever possible you should avoid fast-burn, sugary foods such as candy, soda, white bread or crackers. Instead, reach for slow-burning carbs that will last all day and won’t burn you out. These include granola, oats (oatmeal or bars), beans, and whole-grain bread & snack bars.

Trail Snacks

For trail snacks in your daypack I recommend dried fruits, nuts, jerky (venison or beef), cereal bars, and boiled eggs. Dried fruit has plenty of natural carbs, plus much-needed fiber. Adequate fiber will further help you reduce weight in the field…for obvious reasons.

I always choose a variety of dried fruits with plenty of bananas. Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, three nutrients that help to ease muscle cramps.

Beautiful Boiled Eggs

Boiled eggs are a wonderful, high-protein, pre-wrapped food for both snacks and meals. I could live for weeks on boiled eggs alone, even without salt. The only drawback to eggs is they are relatively heavy and prone to freezing. Eggs are also perishable in warm weather so you’ll need a way to keep them cool. If possible store them in a small cooler, a stream, or snowpack. If eggs aren’t your thing, I recommend jerky or peanut butter for high-protein snacking.

Comfort Food

Other than nourishment of the body, food serves another purpose: nourishment of the soul. After a few rough days afield you’ll likely suffer some level of mental fatigue bordering on a breakdown. Hunger only exacerbates the problem. Therefore I recommend a small amount of comfort food (aka junk food), whether it’s a bag of Doritos, Snicker bars, or couple cans of Coke. This will cheer up your inner child and just might keep you on the mountain long enough to get the job done. Just take it easy on the snacking or you’ll just burn yourself out. Think “Emergency use only!”


Having enough good, nutritious food will do wonders for the hunter’s mind and body. Just remember, you’re not going to the mountain for a picnic, so keep it lightweight and simple. If things get really bad, you can always shoot an animal and eat that. We are hunters, after all!

Did I miss anything?  Let me know what you like to eat at 10,000 feet.