Your quick reference guide for great snacks: Granola, Jerky, Nut Butter, Dried Fruits, Tuna, Chocolate, Drinks
There’s something quite liberating–and empowering—about carrying everything you need to sustain yourself in your backpack. With the freedom to roam, you can hike deep into the backcountry to get away from civilization, get back to nature, and get a deeper appreciation for, well, just about everything.
But enjoying that kind of fulfillment on your wilderness sojourn requires plenty of planning, especially when it comes to food. First, consider the facts: Backpackers can burn as much as 500 calories an hour. When you’re negotiating rugged terrain with a heavy load on your back, keeping a steady supply of energy is crucial. In addition to a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks play a major role in keeping your body’s energy stores filled. And those snacks need to pack a serious nutritional (and caloric) punch to save space and weight in your backpack while nourishing your body.
A good starting point while shopping is to look out for products with both sugar and carbohydrates to give you an immediate energy boost, plus fats and proteins to help you sustain energy over the long term. And as you’re considering the ingredients, make sure you have a variety of items that taste good, so you’ll actually want to eat them. For example, if you stock up on only one flavor of a particular protein bar—or try to choke one down that tastes like tree bark—snack time becomes a chore, instead of a highly anticipated break, which can lead to your energy levels flagging and your adventure compromised.
With a few insider tips, however, you can take your trail snack game to tasty new levels. Here, our favorite foods to stash in your pack the next time adventure comes calling.
There’s a reason granola is the classic hiker snack: It’s convenient, delicious, and nutritious. Granola doesn’t have a ton of ingredients that you can’t pronounce (nuts, raisins, chocolate chips are standard staples), and it provides the carbs and sugar needed to kick-start tired legs into action. Choose granola that includes nuts for an additional dose of protein. And go for a brand that has tasty flavors—apple walnut, blueberry almond, or chocolate nut, anyone?—so your next snack break becomes something to savor.
When it comes to savory trail snacks, jerky is a favorite of many outdoorsy types. Salty, chewy jerky—whether it’s beef, turkey, bison, or some other version—is packed with protein, yet still lightweight (thank you, dehydration!). Depending on which you choose, this snack can provide about 7 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat per 20-ounce serving. Jerky is also available in a wide variety of creative flavors like teriyaki and black pepper to keep picky palates happy. Plus, many jerky makers don’t add lots of artificial ingredients, so you’re likely to find a healthy alternative.
Peanut butter is a tried-and-true favorite (and when in doubt, a PB&J always makes for an excellent trail snack), but to diversify your protein intake, consider almond or cashew butter, too. These yummy alternatives, especially almond, contain plenty of healthy fats for long-term sustenance. Another bonus for nut butters? These days, many varieties come in handy single-serve packets, making it easy to take in the calories you need without the additional weight of a bulky jar.
It can get old to nosh on thick protein bars, especially when it’s hot outside and you’re already working hard. Dried fruits are a refreshing reprieve from all those carbs, and they’re tasty enough to feel like a treat. Dried apricots, in particular, contain the carbs, protein, and sugar you need in a trail snack. Plus, they’re filled with potassium, which helps your body retain its fluid balance—a big plus when you’re sweating plenty on the trail. In fact, dried apricots might be the best possible recovery trail snack when you consider that potassium-rich bananas don’t exactly travel well.
Near the end of a long day on the trail, your body naturally craves protein. While tuna is an excellent source of the nutrient, it hasn’t always been a convenient choice for a backpacking trip, thanks to those heavy, inconvenient cans. But these days many manufacturers also package tuna in foil packets, including resealable ones that minimize the scent of the fish (and, in theory, reduce the risk of wildlife sniffing around). Whether you stick with the classic flavor or check out some of the newer, zestier varieties, tuna often has 15-plus grams of protein per serving, which will leave you feeling ready to crush your adventure.
Sweet tooths, rejoice: This indulgent treat delivers plenty of calories, protein, fat, and sugar without adding much weight to your food bag. It’s not as processed or filled with artificial ingredients or sugar as milk chocolate or a candy bar, and just a small square makes for a perfect pick-me-up on the trail. Plus, dark chocolate often has 10-plus grams of fiber per serving, which is especially appealing during a multi-day backpacking trip. When you’re shopping, look for bars that contain 70 percent cocoa or more, as these are more nutritious.
Water is a non-negotiable for any outdoor excursion. But when you’re out on the trail for hours or days at a time, it’s always a good idea to mix up your hydration game. Electrolyte tabs come in dozens of tasty flavors and add the salt and minerals you need to recover after a big day of hiking. Plus, they’re super convenient: They take up virtually no space and dissolve quickly in a liter of water. Some even contain caffeine, so check the label before you ingest (these are perfect for a midday boost, but not so much right before you crawl into your sleeping bag). For colder days, bring along some tea bags or a packet of hot cocoa for a soothing drink that helps maintain your core body temperature.
If you’ve been planning a backpacking trip, you’ve no doubt put some thought into your main meals, but don’t forget about the snacks. Instead of dashing into the grocery store to buy snacks at the last minute—which every outdoor enthusiast has done at some point—take some time to experiment a bit. Try a few of the different types of granola on the market, sample some jerky or tuna flavors, and figure out what works for you in the great outdoors. When a tough day in the backcountry begins to take its toll, a fulfilling snack can make all the difference in boosting your energy level and mood, getting you back on the trail–and back to your adventure.
Written by Emma Walker for Matcha in partnership with Olde Man Granola.