Training: Crisis Nutrition The craft shuddered as the four large rotor blades hammered the air, creating a deep thumping in our chests as the helo flared onto the landing zone. We quickly unhooked our tethers and exited the bird, staying low as we ran to a safe location while it departed. The calm and quiet of the remote patch of ground was stark in contrast to the previous forty-minute flight. Three of us had flown down to the south end of Kodiak Island with five days of supplies on our backs, intending to hike a high route back to town along the north, south spine of mountains. Our navigation plan prescribed covering 20+ mountain miles a day as we raced a storm expected to lash the island in less than a week. We didn’t delay our departure as the thought of getting stuck on a granite ridge, or one of the small glaciers exposed to the full fury of an epic Alaskan Gale was not appealing. Ending the first 12-hour day of hiking and navigating, we felt depleted and nauseous from the effort. Even though we desperately needed to eat, none of us felt hungry. I choked down my standard, supplemented freeze-dried meal of chili mac with beef jerky and oil, and was ready to go to bed. However, my friends continued to prepare their large meals of dehydrated food, supplemented with noodles, tuna, cheese, and oil. Ultimately the volume proved more than they could eat, and the calories were left uneaten in the Ziploc bags. This scenario continued to play itself out each evening. While I consumed my bare ration of food, my friends left half of theirs to feed the Kit foxes. However, each evening, we began to crave the almond oil we’d brought to supplement the meals with fat. We joked that Almond oil had replaced bourbon and tequila in this wilderness setting during happy hour. The storm crashed into the island two days early, lashing us with high winds, drenching rain, and low fog hampering navigation. Near the end, energy gels and electrolyte drink mixes sustained our efforts as our bodies and minds struggled to meet the demands. I first heard the term “crisis nutrition” from Mark Twight, a professional alpine climber and one of my mentors. Mark described the alpine climber’s predicament regarding nutrition and hydration during arduous multi-day climbs. The climber, soldier, and backcountry hunter can only carry so much on their backs into harsh, unrelenting terrain while expending high physical effort. Crisis nutrition is the term prescribed for these unique dietary dilemmas. No one wants to be driven out of the mountains by the weather, and we certainly don’t want to kick our own ass, letting something we can control, like food and hydration, ruin the trip. When putting out a considerable effort with limited resources, we will not be able to eat and drink at optimal levels. Still, we must be able to eat and drink well enough to maintain adequate physical and mental performance under duress. Regardless of the trip’s style or your physical ability, backcountry travelers are mountain athletes, and the stakes can be high. There are no aid stations or easy evacuations if your body falters. The mountains are unrelenting and indifferent to your strict dietary requirements. Accept that you will not be capable of eating the same in the wilderness as you do at home. Understanding how your body responds in these stressful situations during training is crucial to informing your dietary selections. I’ve learned that the body can become nauseous during arduous trips under extreme physical effort, and eating isn’t appealing. Of course, fueling the body is what’s required to perform, yet it becomes increasingly challenging under adverse conditions, especially at higher altitudes where food begins to lose taste. It’s imperative to eat and hydrate as best you can under these other than ideal situations for sustained performance in the backcountry. It’s often about consuming the minimum mandatory calories vise filling your belly with a large volume of food it can’t handle. I love to cook and try new recipes at home, but I keep my menu pretty basic in the mountains. I know what I can eat to fuel my body, no matter how run down I feel. It’s not a gourmet menu of custom foods, exotic supplements, protein powders, and a strict feeding schedule; it’s spartan but adequate every time. Experiment with nutrition and supplements before the season during training sessions and trips closer to the road to determine what works best for you. You can’t afford to bonk 20 miles into remote wilderness with no safety net, and this realization can be sobering the first time you begin to crash. Establish what food works for you and how much water is required in any circumstance – no matter what. The only way to achieve this is by acquiring information, gaining experience, and applying knowledge in the field – learning through trial and error. Test new foods and elixirs during extended training and observe how your body responds. I’ve experienced and witnessed some adverse effects from supplements and new foods while in the field. The backcountry is not a place to “get healthy” or cycle off your respective vise. If you dip tobacco or consume caffeine daily, you should probably consume small amounts on your trips. If you choose to leave them at home, understand in advance how you’ll respond to going cold turkey. I’m not a fun guy if I haven’t had some coffee in the mornings. I’ve witnessed others get splitting migraine headaches without a daily dose of tobacco. One time a guy broke out in hives and needed an Epi-pen injection from a previously untried supplement. Eat your gourmet camp meals for dinner and see how palatable they are. These meals should be extra tasty. If you can’t enjoy the meal in your home, there’s no way it will be appetizing at 10,000′ in Colorado after three days of exertion. If you can’t consume the food you’ve brought, it’s useless weight. Food and hydration fuel the body and, just as significantly, the brain. If mental cognition falters, decision-making, good judgment, and fine motor skills are compromised. Land navigation becomes more complex, shooting accuracy declines, and you begin making poor decisions that can lead to catastrophic outcomes. Maintaining adequate cognitive functions in the middle of nowhere becomes critical to your survival. Because of the risks, we need to train with our food & supplement plans to ensure they work under other than ideal conditions. After fasting for 12-16 hours, go on a hike and see how you respond. What pace can you sustain, how is your clarity of thought, and what foods do you begin to crave? Don’t bring more food or water than you’d typically carry on a multi-day wilderness trip. It’s better to hit that wall in training, find your limitations, and then factor those lessons into future trip planning. Backcountry trips can be long and grueling, ultra-marathon-like endeavors. The best clothing and equipment aren’t worth much if you can’t climb the next steep ridge or carry your pack for a week. Crisis nutrition is a nod to this fact and a realistic approach to meal planning. Gear Locker: Hilleberg Soulo Tent (reb label) Shelters in the backcountry are a bunker from the weather and the space you crawl in to seek safety and recover. You’re in a world of hurt if caught in a storm with no place to hide. The shelter you take into the wilderness is a tactical decision based on expected weather, trip duration, experience, and threshold for suffering. I’ve chosen the wrong tool for the job or lacked the knowledge to use what I’d brought and gotten lucky a few times. I’ve also had some poor experiences winding up damp and miserable for days. I’ve witnessed tents leveled from winds, rendering the occupants homeless, been buried under feet of snow, and sat up all night bracing tent poles, praying they didn’t snap. These experiences provided real-time feedback on shelter decisions and drove a sharper focus when choosing which backcountry shelter is correct for a trip. I’ve relied on Hilleberg tents for almost two decades, using them from remote winter expeditions in Alaska to spring backpack trips. I’ve experienced many weather conditions during that time, testing both me and the shelters. Hilleberg tents have proven consistently reliable and versatile, which is reassuring when riding out a savage mountain storm. The Hilleberg Soulo has become my go-to tent for most wilderness outings. It’s a strong, durable, free-standing, double-walled tent large enough for one person and some gear. It features a small vestibule, critical for equipment storage in inclement weather, and mosquito netting for bug-infested environments. A unique feature of Hilleberg tents is the ability to leave the inner tent at home and bring only the rain fly and poles. This feature provides a sturdy minimal shelter on quick-strike trips in permissive weather or as a bomber cook shack for fly-in expeditions onto glaciers and remote pack trips. The Hilleberg Soulo comes in both Black and Red label models. The Black series is heavier and intended for when absolute all-season strength is your priority. I usually select the Reb label series, seeking a compromise on all-season strength, stability, and weight. While there are certainly lighter one-person tents on the market, most don’t offer the strength and versatility of the Hilleberg Soulo. Ounces become meaningless when rocked by a fierce mountain storm that threatens to leave you homeless. Hilleberg Soulo Tent (Red Label) $795 www.hilleberg.com Packed weight: 5lbs. 5 oz. (from manufacturer) Minimum weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz. (field weight minus tent stakes) Fly & Pole weight only: 3 lbs. 20.5 square ft. inside; 86″ L x 28″ W x 37″ H 6.4 square ft. vestibule The Closet: Sock Systems Through the green glow of the night vision goggles, I could see the squad dragging ass as they moved towards the extract vehicle. It had been a tough five days, with schizophrenic weather dropping snow and rain with temps fluctuating in the low to mid-thirties. As the squad approached, I observed a guy limping near the back and made a note to ask the corpsman after he performed his med checks. After the debrief and gear clean-up, the corpsman called me to the medical department to look at the Student’s feet. He was clearly in pain lying on the exam table, with large blisters on his toes, showing red, blue, and purple hues. I inquired nicely about how he was the only one suffering this affliction and why we were just now finding out about it. Forty-nine other students lived in the same environmental conditions and had the same equipment and clothing, yet no one else had suffered the same fate. Apparently, he’d gotten his feet wet early in the patrol and never changed his socks or dried his feet over the five days. The near-freezing temperatures had damaged his feet but luckily, not permanently. If temperatures had been much colder, he would have suffered frostbite and possibly lost more significant parts of his toes. As it turned out, he lost skin and all his toenails and dealt with severe pain during several weeks of recovery. The Student could have avoided this outcome if he had paid more attention to his feet, particularly the sock system. Socks play a significant role in foot health when living outdoors for extended periods. Because of this, we need to construct our sock system with the same performance attributes as a technical clothing system. A holistic sock system should manage moisture, provide comfort and protection, dry quickly, and keep feet warm. In wet and or cold weather, the sock system is often the difference between healthy feet or a painful journey with a possible visit to the emergency room. Once assembled, the system should be test fit with the intended boots to assure a proper fit. Assemble unique sock systems for individual excursions based on length of trip, expected weather conditions, and your unique physiology. Below is an overview of the types of socks to consider when building this system. Liner Socks Liner socks are your feet’s base layer, quickly wicking moisture away from the skin, keeping the foot dry and the skin intact. Liner socks can also reduce the friction caused when hiking, reducing the chance of blisters. Carry an extra pair of liners, rotating them nightly, and an additional pair of liner socks for each consecutive five days afield. Liner sock: REI Silk Liner Crew Socks $13.95, www.rei.com Injinji Liner Socks Liner Crew Nu-Wool $13.00, www.injinji.com Hiking Socks Hiking socks are the active insulation in a sock system, are often made of wool, and come in numerous heights and thicknesses. Hiking socks lose their loft and cushioning and become abrasive with salt from sweat. To limit this, carry an extra pair of hiking socks, rotating them every night to dry out. Carry another pair of hiking socks for every 2-3 days longer you’re in the field. Rotating them will help keep both the socks and your feet functioning better over time. Hiking sock: Darn Tough Hiker Mid-weight hiking sock $26.00, www.darntough.com LeBent Lightweight hiking sock $24.00, www.lebent.com VBL Socks Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL) socks are a non-breathable barrier, like rain gear, protecting the feet from cold, wet boots on multi-day trips. VBL socks, layered over the hiking socks, create a warm atmosphere inside, reducing the foot’s exposure to the elements. While the atmosphere inside will become damp over many hours from sweat, it’s a better option than exposing the feet to wet or frozen boots, potentially leading to medical issues like trench foot, frostnip, and frostbite. VBL sock: Rab VBL socks $35.00, www.rab.equipment/uk Puffy Socks Puffy socks are the static insulation in a sock system, providing extra warmth on cold-weather excursions. Puffy socks are a thinner version of the bulkier camp bootie, saving room in the pack when ounces matter. These insulted socks allow you to move around camp and keep your feet warm when sleeping. Puffy socks are not intended to be worn inside hiking boots, so there’s no need to test fit them with the boots. Puffy sock: Rab Hot socks $65.00, www.rab.equipment/uk Anti-Perspirant Many people’s feet sweat profusely, causing socks to wet out quickly, setting the stage for cold injuries in the right conditions. One option is treating the feet daily with an antiperspirant spray or stick. Like the armpits, this treatment will reduce the amount of sweating, making the feet more comfortable for an extended period. Antiperspirant: Carpe antiperspirant lotion $19.95, www.mycarpe.com Painful and damaged feet are a liability in the wilderness. Socks are integral in ensuring we stay effective and mobile. Assemble this critical system with the same performance characteristics as your technical clothing system for the best performance. Media: How to Get the Most Out of Gore-Tex Rainger This clip was filmed at the Sitka Retail store, where I presented gear maintenance tips. This video discusses how to care for Gore-Tex rain gear. The Word: Student of the Game It was the first time I’d seen how “The Pros” did it. Everything from packing and nutrition to moving through the environment was dialed. There was no wasted effort or emotion, just efficiency. I tried to absorb all I could, taking notes at night in my tent. The four-day trip changed how I approached the mountains regarding the planning, training, and mindset required to succeed consistently and survive in the wilderness. Upon return, I started on the path to being a Student of the Game, taking every advantage to gain foundational knowledge and skills. I realized that no detail was too small if I wanted to be an expert at my craft, and I began the lifetime journey of mastery. I used gear as a crutch to help achieve some objectives but slowly weaned myself, supplanting them with experience and wisdom. Equipment became mere tools and meaningless if not understood and properly integrated. I realized that knowledge weighs nothing and costs little but time to acquire. The Student of the Game commits fully to the training, struggles, and pain, learning from success and failure. They are their harshest critic and rarely satisfied; understanding when it counts, you either fall back on your experience and training or merely fall.