When it comes to backpacking food, the name of the game is calorie density. The easiest snacks are pre-made, and they’re usually really high in sugar or processed starchy carbohydrates. Common trail snacks are candy bars, Twizzlers, traditional GORP (“good old raisins and peanuts” – which usually contains M&Ms or chocolate chips as well), Cliff Bars, Luna Bars, Power Bars, etc.
You may operate just fine on these snacks, but I’ve found that I tend to do better on a low-carb Primal / Paleo style of eating. This means that I need to replace the energy dense sugar and starch with something. Fat is more than twice as calorie dense as carbohydrate/sugar, and it’s a perfectly natural fuel for the human body, so it makes perfect sense as a replacement. But it’s just as important to me that I consume the right types of fats as it is that I minimize the sugar.
Here’s a list of my favorite foods, and why I love them:
- Now Foods Dry Roasted Macadamias. These aren’t micronutrient dense, but they are super calorie dense. At an impressive 208 calories per ounce, a handful of these will supplement your trail menu with a ton of slow-burning, healthy-fat calories. Any macadamia nut will be calorie dense, but Now Foods found a way to keep theirs very rich and buttery, and charge a similar price to that of inferior, less expensive brands. (Trader Joe’s has some good ones too, but not as rich.) When I say healthy fat, I mean that it’s full of monounsaturated fat, like the kind found in olive oil.
- Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate, 85%. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese, and has a decent fat profile (high in monounsaturated fat and the unfairly maligned saturated fat). This bar in particular is delicious, carries a respectable 175 calories per ounce, and contains very little sugar. It’s not a great thing to keep in your pack on a hot day though. I’ve had it turn into chocolate soup.
- Fruit Leather. If made with the right fruits and veggies it can be pretty low in sugar. It’s not extremely calorie dense, but it’s lightweight, micronutrient dense, and delicious. I shared one of my own recipes, but you can search the web for hundreds of others. (I make one with banana, pineapple, and coconut cream that’s calorie dense, but will become greasy in 78+ degree weather.)
- Epic’s Bison Bacon & Cranberry bar. I don’t bring a bunch of these because they’re expensive, but they have a nice 11g shot of protein and they’re around 130 calories per ounce. On top of being pretty delicious, the company that makes them has a great set of values, and places a great deal of importance on sourcing quality ingredients. I haven’t been a huge fan of all of their products, but this bar and the uncured bacon jerky are often in my backpack.
- NOW Foods Raw Energy Nut Mix. This has a mix of nuts and seeds that offer a good mix of micronutrients, and it’s not a bad trail mix at 147 calories per ounce. It’s a little high in sugar for my preference, so I limit my daily consumption to the recommended serving or less. (Or I let my kids eat a bunch of the raisins before I head out to the trail.)
- Jerky. You’re going to need protein to fuel your hike, and to recover. The USDA recommends that a young, inactive woman of average height and weight consumes around 50 grams of protein every day. If you’re larger, active, older, male, or any combination of those descriptions, you’re going to need more protein than 50g per day. Hikers are using a lot of energy, and our leg muscles are doing a lot of work, so it’s important that we get adequate protein. I haven’t found any store-bought jerky (other than the Epic uncured bacon) that doesn’t contain a fair amount of sugar, so I save money and leave out the sugar by making jerky at home. Nick’s Sticks are less like jerky and more like a Slim-Jim, but contain no sugar and are great if you don’t want to make your own preserved meats. I like their regular grass-fed beef sticks, and the spicy turkey sticks. Once I’ve discovered the perfect jerky recipe I’ll share it in a future blog post.
- Veggie chips. (Or fruit chips.) Take your favorite veggies and bake them. Some veggies might need to be boiled first, then baked. You can get large doses of micronutrients, plus you can get larger doses of calories in the form of fat if you bake them in good oils. Look up veggie chip recipes for seasoning tips. I’ll share some of my favorites in future blog posts.
I prefer to make homemade snacks because I can control the quality of the ingredients that I put into my food, and I can save a ton of money on the ingredients by shopping in-season and buying sale items. But if you don’t have the time or the kitchen equipment, all of the products I listed above are of great quality. I’m picky about the quality of my food and I use each of them frequently.
Stay tuned for future recipes. I’m experimenting with a lot of homemade trail snacks, but I’ll only post the ones that I absolutely love.
Please share your favorite trail snacks and recipes in the comments below.
P.S. If you buy anything through the Amazon links above it will not cost you any more money than usual, but I may earn a small commission. Any commission earned will help me offset the cost of hosting this blog.