Extended backcountry trips can quickly leave the body’s fuel tank on empty, both mentally and physically. These practices are designed to keep energy sustained and motivation high during your next big expedition.
Pursuits like ski touring, mountaineering, and alpine climbing all require auxiliary fuel reserves, especially when extended to multi-week trips. Oftentimes, these “reserves” come in the form of nutrition. But this definition can extend to include anything that will help the body adapt to — or recover from — large efforts in the backcountry.
Feeling strong midway through an expedition isn’t just about proper caloric intake or balanced micronutrients. There’s no denying the importance of this (it’s practice No. 2 on this list), but enduring strength and, more importantly, mental stamina is derived from a handful of items and processes beyond nutrition.
The following practices come from time spent backcountry skiing and climbing but are applicable to any activity that involves extensive amounts of time there.
How to Improve Stamina, Focus on Backcountry Expeditions
1. Have a Strict Pre-Trip Training Regime and Stay Consistent
We won’t dive into the sciences behind training, as that isn’t the purpose of this article. However, it’s impossible to consistently perform at a high level during extended backcountry trips without having a strong base level of fitness to draw from. This is true across the board for any sport or activity and stems from months and months of gradual, repetitive training.
When tasks become even more specialized (i.e. steep ice climbing, couloir skiing, etc.), it’s even more important that we add a layer of strength that’s more specific to the action. Books like Training for the New Alpinism and Training for the Uphill Athlete are great resources if you’re unsure about how to train for these styles of objectives, or if you simply want to broaden your foundation of knowledge regarding mountain fitness.
2. Nutrition & Hydration
This should be top-of-mind when thinking about performance during extended expeditions. A healthy, well-balanced diet in the backcountry can go a long way in providing stable energy output and recovery. Each dinner during our expedition included extensive amounts of vegetables, along with good carbs like quinoa, rice, or pasta. Most often we would supplement this with a protein like ham or sausage. Breakfasts included a starch like oatmeal or cereal, along with walnuts and either dried blueberries or apricots. Regarding hydration, it is important to take advantage of rest days. This is your chance to recover from previous efforts and begin hydrating for the upcoming days.
An on-route, or “during” approach to nutrition and hydration is completely different. We need consistent energy throughout the day to endure long bouts of physical exertion. Often times this comes in the form of high-sodium energy chews and meal replacement bars. These have their place in a backcountry user’s diet, but supplementing this with real food is important. Foods like nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky, and tuna packets are great for this. Often these leave the body feeling better, as they are less dense and contribute less to large swings in blood sugar.
Hydration methods also differ during an activity. Each person understands their body best when it comes to hydration needs. However, often times water itself can seem unappealing at points throughout the day. This is especially true when temperatures drop or higher altitudes are involved. Beyond the positives of added electrolytes, a sports hydration mix can help liquids seem more attractive at later stages in the game. Mixing this before leaving camp will help save time and make hydrating later in the day easier. For both food and hydration, spend time beforehand finding items you know will taste good. Nothing is worse than biting into a bar you haven’t tried before and immediately wanting to throw up.
3. Recovery Supplements
CBD health and recovery products are becoming heavily integrated into outdoor recreation, and for good reason. These products can help relieve tension, aches, and soreness throughout the body and are great alternatives to other medicines like Ibuprofen or Advil.
CBD comes in many different forms of application, depending on the preference of use and location of needed relief. cbdMD, a premium CBD company committed to the highest standards, provides a full suite of thoroughly tested, high-quality CBD products that aid in recovery. You can apply topically with something like cbdMD Freeze if the soreness is localized, or you can take it digestively with oil capsules for more general relief after intensive workouts or for long days spent in the mountains.
This can make a huge difference over an extended expedition where quick recovery is essential. Often times, these trips require large efforts over consecutive days, and CBD products can help you push through that morning-after soreness. You can read here for answers to questions every athlete has about CBD.
The great thing about CBD is that it works synergistically with your body to target those problem areas, whether that be mental or physical discomfort. If you’re new to CBD products and not sure where to begin, try a cbdMD Bath Bomb to relax and revitalize after your excursion. If CBD isn’t your cup of tea, consider experimenting with other nutritional supplements. Whether its muscle recovery powders or a certain type of food, figuring out recovery supplements is an essential component to long-term expeditions.
4. Take Building Your Basecamp Seriously
We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t shit where you cook.” Well, that’s applicable when building your basecamp, too. If you’re staying in one spot, take the time to build a camp that’s comfortable given what you are doing and your party’s size. It goes without saying that a team’s bathroom should be a generous distance away from camp.
Although not necessary, other comforts include having a tent that is sized for one person larger than your party (i.e., use a four-person tent for a party of three) and building out additional space to congregate outside of the sleeping and cooking areas. Think about adding space with benches for lounging and organizing gear, along with potentially digging out more storage units around your tent for duffel bags and accessories. These options aren’t always feasible but when they are and are taken advantage of, it will be greatly appreciated.
When camping on a glacier, it’s a must to shovel out a kitchen tent. Take the time to create shelving for dish and cookware storage, and dig out a proper ‘fridge’ for storing food. An insulated cooler or large, plastic bin will help food from spoiling or being poached by critters. Use the insulating properties of snow to your advantage by burying foods that need be kept cold. More generally speaking, you want to start by digging a deep camp and add to the height of the walls with snow blocks. If in a forested area, say, on an approach, you should stay as sheltered as possible using trees and larger boulders to your advantage. Having a thoughtful, well-built home to come back to is a comforting feeling after a big day in the mountains.
5. Take Time to Stretch, Foam Roll
Now that you’ve taken the appropriate steps to build a comfortable camp, there should be plenty of space to stretch, roll out and recover. Bring a couple of items that allow you to massage tight muscles and hit trigger points — it’s worth the extra 2 pounds. Our bodies are constantly abused, so a lacrosse ball or stretch strap is a great addition to your kit for recovery after a long day of climbing or skiing.
The same goes for a short, lightweight foam roller. If you’re really in a pinch, a Dyneema sling works great as an impromptu stretching strap. It’s a lux item, but the R8 from Roll Recovery is a fantastic deep tissue recovery tool to have. It can target a plethora of different areas and adjust easily to any user. After spending an hour stretching, apply something like cbdMD Recover Inflammation Formula to any area that needs extra attention.
6. Implement Active Recovery, Rest Days
Sitting in basecamp all day can sometimes be draining. Often times when weather high in the mountains is poor, it’s still suitable for activity in and around basecamp. Or, maybe you are coming off of a bigger day, but you still want to enjoy some light movement. There’s no need to sprint up the nearby obscure peak (although this could be fun), but do get out for a walk or ski tour if possible. This is a great way to keep your body moving and enjoy being out in the mountains without any pressure. If you want to stay busy but don’t want to expend much energy, take the day to rehearse skills or go through the next day’s agenda. Rest days are great for practicing crevasse rescue, digging snow pits, or dialing in the “escape options” for your next route.
7. Achieve Restful Sleep
A single night of poor sleep isn’t the end of the world, but consistent restlessness will quickly deplete the body’s energy over time. Make sure you have the appropriate sleeping equipment for the given environment. This means having a sleeping bag rated properly for the range of temperatures that might be encountered and have a minimum of two sleeping pads. The combination of one inflatable and one foam pad works great. Bring a repair kit to plug any unwanted holes. If you’re going to bed cold, try filling a Nalgene with warm water and placing it near your feet. This provides additional warmth and will help dry out any apparel or boot liners you have stored there for the night.
Earplugs are great for when the wind is howling, and a sleeping mask can work wonders when it’s June in Alaska and facing daylight nearly around the clock. Other notable mentions include a pee bottle and melatonin.
8. Bring Books, Movies, Games
On extended trips, there are times when you don’t want to think about the objective at hand. Or you might be stuck in the tent due to a poor weather window. Either way, it’s nice to get lost in something with a storyline. Here’s where good books and movies come into play. Having a funny movie to watch is a real boost when morale is low. The same goes for an engaging book. It’s a time where you can reset and get out of your own head. Additionally, games like chess or checkers are easy to pack and are great options to have in the tent. There’s nothing better than a novel and a cup of coffee to start your storm day.
Everyone has their own processes for keeping themselves strong, healthy, and comfortable in the backcountry. It’s near impossible to hit on each subject, and by no means is this an exhaustive list. Use this as a beginning reference, and then get out and experience the backcountry for yourself. You’ll come back with a handful of tips to add to this list.