12 Recovery Strategies for Backcountry Hunters
If you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you. Hunting takes a toll on your body, and recovering properly can reduce injuries while preparing you for the next outing. Whether you realize it or not, as a backcountry hunter you’re a performance athlete, so you should be recovering like one.
There are many methods of recovery - where what you eat and drink is just as important as sleeping or using therapeutic techniques. In fact, the simplest methods often have the greatest return on investment.
We've compiled 12 different strategies to help you recover from your remote adventures. Learning each of the following recovery methods will help you have a long and successful hunting career. While you may not use each technique after every hunt, it’s good to have a full arsenal of tools so you can use the best fit for whatever type of recovery you need. Without further ado, here are the 12 recovery strategies for backcountry hunters that are backed by research:
Even if you’re not in a scorching-hot climate, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. It's often taken for granted, but hydration is crucial to performance. Even slight levels of dehydration can impact your ability to concentrate and perform at the highest level.
You should monitor your hydration levels throughout a hunt. Although not the most appealing method, one of the easiest ways to test if you're hydrated in the field is simply checking the color of your urine. You want it to be a mild-yellow to clear color. Darker yellow means dehydration.
Another trick is to weigh yourself before and after a hunt. The amount of weight you lose is at least partially attributed to fluid loss, and dehydration occurs at around 2% of body weight lost. Aim to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water per pound of body weight loss when you’re done trekking.
To rehydrate, water or sports drinks with few additives will go a long way in your recovery. In a hot climate where you’re sweating a lot, adding electrolytes to your drink during and after a hunt will help you rehydrate faster. You can always use electrolyte tablets, pills, powder, or drinks that already have them as well.
Similar to hydration, it’s hard to know if you’re eating enough when you’re adrenaline is pumping on the mountains. But more likely, it's hard to know if you're eating right while hunting. Packing nutritional foods goes hand-in-hand with keeping your body functioning properly - just like staying hydrated. Doing so will keep your energy levels high.
While we often equate signs of hunger to our stomach, when you don't get enough nutrients, you'll lose focus and strength, since you burn many more calories in the backcountry than you do at home. This is a quick way to miss an opportunity, but also extremely dangerous in an already hazardous environment.
So what's the answer? Well, in its simplest form, it starts with doing your best to eat balanced meals that won’t spoil while in the wilderness. Protein bars are a great option, as well as dried fruit and nuts. In a more complex view, your nutrition should be fully mapped out before you start your trip, accounting for the calories you'll expend and what you need to replenish. Plus, nutrition doesn't start on your visit to the mountains, it begins months in advance as you train your body for the hunting season.
When you return from your hunting trip, it's also important to get the right foods to help you recover properly. Eating protein is important because it helps your body recover from strenuous activity and promotes muscle growth. Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but they're vital in recovery, particularly if you have a quick turnaround and need to go out again the next day.
Aim for about .25-.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in each meal when you’re on the trail and after your hunt. Use the higher end of that range immediately when you return to boost recovery.
For carbohydrates, you should have around 5-7 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. After a long hike, try to eat 1 gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight within four hours to replenish your energy. This can be applied to not only your daily hikes but also when you get back to civilization for a full recovery.
Taking care of tight and sore muscles not only feels great but is also important to staying physically sharp. The most cost-effective and convenient way to do that is by stretching. If you've spent any days hunting in the remote wilderness, you'll appreciate the effects of stretching.
This starts with developing a stretching routine that you can do after a hunt that targets the right areas. For example, you need to take care of your hips and lower back - since they take a beating in the backcountry. From deadfall to side-hilling, the strain adds up and one of the best ways to relieve this is stretching. Try something called the "world’s greatest stretch", a move that targets the hips, hamstrings, back muscles, and shoulders in one convenient movement.
The good thing about the "world’s greatest stretch" is that it doesn’t take long to work a large amount of muscles - you can use it after a day of trekking or before you sleep to loosen tight joints. It’s also good for warming up before you set out.
4. Rest and Sleep
We'd argue that sleep is the most underrated and under-utilized tool for recovery. It seems so simple (because it is), yet few people get enough sleep. In general, you should get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night to perform at your best physically and mentally.
When you're hunting, getting enough sleep can be a bit tricky since you're roughing it to some degree. A pad goes a long way in creating some level of cushion under your sleeping bag. And it's critical to make sure you have the right sleeping bag for the climate - nothing will ruin your sleep under the stars faster than being too cold or too hot. Both are elementary to backpack hunting, but nonetheless crucial to proper rest and sleep.
Carrying on with the basics, if predators are a concern be smart about how you dispose of food waste and storage. And of course, you'll be battling the chorus of nature at night. For some, this is an ambient background to peaceful sleep, for others, it's an audible nuisance that will keep you up all night - if you're in the latter camp, wearing earplugs can help you sleep.
5. Cold Therapy
You've probably heard of cold therapy before, but you may not be aware that there are a ton of different forms of cold therapy. Perhaps the most convenient is cold showers, which can wake you up in the morning with the same effect as chugging any amount of coffee. Ice baths and cryotherapy are becoming more popular, but require more time and money.
Each form of cold therapy has slightly different benefits and drawbacks - but let's face it, they’re inaccessible if you’re out in the backcountry. However, if you have access to a body of water that’s 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can do cold water therapy. Simply immerse yourself for 10-20 minutes.
Immersion is more effective than taking a cold shower because it covers your body. Taking a cold water bath can help you recover by cooling superficial tissues. When you get out of the bath your body will work hard to warm your extremities, promoting extra blood flow to areas that need it.
Immersion would still be a luxury item in 99% of hunting scenarios, given the timing and location of backcountry hunting, but worth noting just in case.
You don't need us to tell you how great a massage feels. Booking one for the day you return from a hunt is a great way to jumpstart recovery. While it won’t enhance your performance on your next hunt, massage therapy improves your range of motion and reduces muscle soreness.
If only you could bring a massage therapist into the backcountry... there are some basics you can apply yourself by hand when you're camping for the night.
Even back home, simple tools can help you work out the kinks in your muscles if you're unable to get a proper massage upon return. Massage guns are a popular option and are very easy to use. You can also get a lacrosse ball or tennis ball to roll out specific areas like your feet, hips, and shoulder blades. There are also trigger point release tools that help you target specific knots.
7. Compression Gear
It's easy to think of compression gear as the attire for our parents and grandparents, but it's useful for anyone doing strenuous activities. Particularly if you have issues with blood pooling in your extremities. Compression socks, for example, promote more blood flow through your feet and lower legs.
When you’re moving around, the contraction of your muscles helps blood move through your body. When you stop to rest, blood moves slower. Wearing compression garments helps blood return to your heart faster, promoting muscle recovery and boosting performance.
Throwing on compression tights or socks at night after a long day of hiking can improve recovery and reduce soreness. Feet after a 10-mile trek are notorious for ballooning once you take your boots off and relax them a bit. So compression socks can really help in this regard. You can also wear compression gear at the end of a hunt to hasten your recovery.
8. Foam Rolling
In terms of return on investment, few recovery techniques and tools have a higher rate of return than a foam roller. Rollers are fairly inexpensive and they don’t take much time to use. There’s a small learning curve because you need to know the proper technique for each muscle group, but after that, it pays for itself in dividends. Check out this technique video for a crash course on foam rolling.
Because pack weight and capacity are such valuable commodities in hunting, you may not have room to pack a foam roller, but they're fantastic options for after workouts or simply when you get off of the mountains. You could even keep it in the car and use it before you set out and right when you get back from hunting. Using a foam roller before exercise can slightly improve performance and doubles as a warm-up.
Rolling after a long day of hiking or after your hunt can improve performance the next day if you need to go to the gym or get back on the trail. Plus, it can reduce muscle soreness and pain the next day.
9. Active Recovery
An old method for getting over hangovers is to drink the hair of the dog that bit you. The same is true for exercise. One way to reduce soreness and get your body moving again is by doing the same motion that made you sore, or a similar activity like jogging or yoga.
For a backcountry hunter, that probably means getting back on the trail and climbing or hiking. You can also do an active recovery workout with bodyweight movements like squats and lunges to prep your body for the work it needs to do.
If you’re doing a lot of starting and stopping, this technique will be extremely useful. If you’re hunkering down in one position for a while, you’ll probably get tight. Active recovery workouts will keep blood moving through your body and prevent your joints from locking up.
10. Yoga and Mobility
Practicing yoga has many benefits, such as improved sleep and reduced stress. And while you might equate it to hippies and gurus, it's a powerful tool for backcountry athletes as well. That's because it’s a low-impact active recovery method that improves flexibility.
Whether you’re out in the wilderness or back home from a long hunt, yoga will help you care for your body. Gentle vinyasa yoga is perfect for hunters but stay away from more intense alternatives like hot yoga. They can drain your body rather than replenish it - the antithesis of what you need during recovery.
If you're like many hunters who find this interesting but have no idea where to start, check out MTNMVMT. It’s a yoga and mobility-focused program that’s geared towards backcountry athletes.
While you can use the techniques in MTNMVMT to stay loose in the wilderness or to recover when you get home, they should also be used in your day-to-day routine. Consider adding some of the moves from this program to your post-workout stretch or on your off days to stay loose.
11. Mental Recovery and Mindfulness
We're big believers that a successful backcountry hunt is as much mental as it is physical. And we're not alone in this thinking either as research shows promising effects of mindfulness techniques on archery skills. If you're scratching your head on this one, think of it this way: shooting requires both focus and relaxation, both of which rely on a strong mind.
Employing mindfulness techniques, before, during, and after hunting, will go a long way in keeping you mentally solid for your trek. There are many ways you do this, but one of the simplest and most effective is mindful meditation.
Mindful meditation involves focusing on something tangible like your breath for as long as possible. It sounds simple right, but it's challenging to do as the mind can wonder. The key is to not be frustrated when your mind loses focus during meditation, but to simply reset and refocus. The list of benefits is lengthy, but perhaps the most notable include reduced anxiety and pain.
You can even practice mindfulness while you’re in the backcountry. One form of mindful meditation is walking. By simply concentrating on each step and remaining aware of your surroundings, you’re practicing mindfulness.
Hunting offers another area of mindful meditation: body awareness. When you’re preparing to shoot a rifle or bow, you need to check in with your body and control your breath. Then, you need to release tension from your arms and hands so that you don’t make any sudden movements that can throw off your shot.
12. Epsom Salt Baths
While everything on this list to this point is backed by science, this next one is up for debate. But, we found it valuable to include since its reputation trumps any sort of data. While Epsom salt baths are relaxing and soothing, there’s not enough credible research to prove that they boost recovery, but as you know, many people still swear by them.
The debatable benefits of Epsom salt baths include: reduced inflammation, relaxation, and decreased muscular pain. It was thought that the mineral salts would dissolve and enter the body through the skin, but scientists now know that’s impossible. So, there’s no clear explanation as to why Epsom salt baths might be effective.
Interestingly, one study points out that taking a hot bath helps reduce pain whether or not you add Epsom salts. So when you return from the backcountry, soaking in a hot tub or taking a hot bath at home might be one of the best ways to relax and wind down, with or without Epsom salts.
You're An Athlete - Recover Like One
Having a long and successful hunting career starts with taking care of your body. While you’re out in the wild, simple recovery techniques can make you feel fresh and alert rather than sore and tired. And this is also true for when you return from hunting.
Staying physically sharp will, in turn, help you stay mentally sharp. Hunting is as much about the mind as it is about the body. Building the mental toughness required to endure long treks and hours of waiting is just as important as training your body.
Learning and committing all these techniques to memory will give you a wide range of techniques to recover regardless of where you are. Hydration and nutrition are non-negotiable, but other recovery methods aren’t required and you can mix things up to be more relevant to your situation.