I was panting for air as we neared the top of our 3,000+ foot climb over Frigid Air Pass. A hiker about five miles back had warned us to carry extra water if we planned to camp and cook dinner on the other side of the pass. This meant extra heavy packs, over our steepest climb, smack-dab in the heat of the day.
To say we were exhausted when we reached the other side would be the understatement of the century. The three of us collapsed from fatigue, dehydration, and probably a smidge of sun poisoning. This was a serious wake up call for all three of us.
Meal planning for the backcountry isn’t just about packing in the calories! The devil is in the details (vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, etc.) when it comes to fighting fatigue in the backcountry. Today we’re going to discuss six strategies to help avoid exhaustion on your next adventure.
1. Micronutrients help us maintain energy while we hike
In our last post, we spent a lot of time talking about consuming a balanced ratio of macronutrients in the backcountry (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), but to maintain energy and athletic stamina, we also need micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We get these essential micronutrients by consuming electrolytes and/or taking supplements that contain Vitamins A, B & C.
After collapsing from exhaustion on the other side of Frigid Air Pass, we all drank a delicious liter of water infused with a Wilderness Athlete Hydrate & Recover packet. I could feel the energy returning to my body with each refreshing sip! (In retrospect, obviously we should have consumed these delicious electrolytes before ascending the pass, to give us the energy we needed for the big push.)
2. Avoid dehydration! But seriously, do it!
What is the other enormously huge lesson we learned that day? Even when you think you’re staying well hydrated, you probably aren’t! We were each carrying 3-4+ liters of water, but none of us were drinking to the point of satiation because we were “conserving” our water until we got to the other side of the pass. Big mistake! Dehydration crushed us like bugs!
Get into a rhythm that works well for you to ensure you’re constantly consuming liquids. Whether that’s sporting a hydration bladder with an easily accessible straw or incentivizing yourself with yummy beverage mixes that contain electrolytes.
Note: If you’re looking at the photo above, you’ll see I’m sporting the classic thru-hiker water system; a Sawyer filter atop a disposable plastic bottle. This is NOT what I would recommend as a good setup for avoiding dehydration. In fact, quite the contrary. I watched jealousy as my hiking companions took long, refreshing sips from their Camelback straws and filtered water with ease using the Platypus Gravity system. My point being, find a system that makes it EASY to stay hydrated and works well for you.
3. Macronutrients matter too
Consuming a balanced ratio of macronutrients is an essential part of meal planning for any backcountry trip. What are macronutrients? All of the foods we consume are broken down into three categories of macronutrients: carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, grains, sugars, etc), protein (meat, eggs, etc), and fat.
It’s easy to consume a boat load of carbohydrates in the backcountry (Snickers bars, oatmeal, dried fruit, etc.), but you have to meal plan with intention to ensure you get a healthy portion of protein and fats, both of which are essential to maintaining athletic stamina.
Did you know endurance runners can actually fall asleep mid-run if they don’t have enough protein in their system? We can’t rely on the sugars from carbohydrates to sustain us. (Click here to learn more about mindfully meal planning macronutrients for the backcountry.)
4. Caffeine is your friend and your enemy
Here comes my favorite tip! Who doesn’t love to wake up to a hot cup of joe in the backcountry? Strategically dosing caffeine throughout the day can help you fight fatigue in the most delicious way possible. However, it’s a thin line between not enough and too much.
Half a cup of coffee or less is the effective dose for athletic performance. Anything more than that can have adverse effects. Try drinking one cup of coffee in the morning and one in the afternoon to maintain mood and energy during your final push into camp.
5. Proper conditioning will keep you going strong
Who made it over the pass first? Heather, our fearless leader, whose relentless efforts to stay in peak physical condition paid off in full force that day. She already had her tent setup and was productively shuffling about in the sand when the rest of us made it into camp. Such a beautiful reminder that everything we do in the front country affects our experience outdoors. Physical training is the gift you give your future self so you can be the one that conquers every mountain pass looking tall and strong.
6. Reduce weight in your pack
What’s a super simple way to avoid exhaustion? Make sure you get less tired in the first place by carrying less weight in your pack. Replace older, heavier equipment with new, ultralight gear. Cut non-essential luxury items from your pack. Get a lighter pack! Simplify your camp kitchen and carry nutrient-dense, ultralight backpacking food. What are your tips for reducing pack weight? We’d love your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!
This article was provided by Heather's Choice, a woman-owned company out of Anchorage, Alaska that makes healthy, delicious, dehydrated food for adventurers worldwide. Photos are courtesy of Kelli Spencer.