Spring is here, which means it’s time to dust off that hiking gear that’s been hibernating in the back of your closet all winter and get ready to hit the trails. From getting fresh air and exercise to enjoying scenic vistas, hiking is one of the best ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. But even for short and simple day hikes, you need to make sure you are always prepared and bring the right equipment. And that includes food.
You shouldn’t pack just anything for a hike. You want food and snacks that won’t spoil, don’t take up a ton of space in your backpack, and help you stay energized and feeling good all day long. You’ll want to stay away from highly processed foods that are full of preservatives and sugar, as those won’t help keep your energy up. Instead, stuff your pack with these healthy and tasty snacks that will give you the nutrients your body needs to perform at its best during the hike. And don’t forget to pack plenty of water as well and always pack out any waste or trash you brought with you on your hike.
Arguably the most iconic hiking snack of all time, no list of the best snacks to take on a hike would be complete without trail mix. Who among us wasn’t given a Ziplock bag of trail mix when going on childhood hikes, only for us to rifle through it and pick out the chocolate M&Ms? While the exact types of nuts and dried fruits can vary, trail mix consists of a combination of nuts like cashews, legumes like peanuts, dried fruit like raisins, and, of course, M&Ms. Not only does the mix of salty and sweet hit the spot on a long hike, but there are many health benefits. The nuts and fruits are packed with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and provide protein and fiber, which your body needs when exerting energy. You can make your own trail mix at home to match to suit your own tastes and preferences or get it ready-made at the store.
Another staple of the hiker’s diet: the eponymous granola bar delivers crunch, flavor, and filling calories. Made with rolled oats combined with sweeteners like honey or sugar and additional ingredients like nuts or dried fruits that are then baked into bars, granola is rich in protein, fiber, and other nutrients like iron and vitamin E. However, some types of granola are high in sugar and carbohydrates due to added ingredients like chocolate chips or the kind of sweetener used. Because it’s shelf-stable and will keep for a long time, hikers don’t have to worry about it spoiling on long hikes, and the clumped-up oats make it easy to snack on. Or, for the ultimate granola-on-the-go, grab some granola bars like Nature Valley or KIND. Sure, the granola may crumble a bit, but that’s part of the fun.
Either in fresh or dried form, fruits are a healthy choice for a hiking snack. Full of natural sugar, fiber, and other nutrients, apples, bananas, and oranges are among the most popular fruits to pack along for a hike. They’re easily transportable, don’t require additional wrapping and packaging, and provide tons of health benefits. The potassium in bananas, for example, aids in muscle function, allowing your muscles to move and stretch properly so you’re not feeling sore at the end of the hike. Apples are full of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium and vitamins including A and E. Plus, the natural sugars of fresh or dried fruits will give you an energy boost without the inevitable sugar crash of other high-sugar processed snacks. Dried fruit also has the benefit of tasting similar to certain types of candies or treats. It should be noted, though, that if you bring oranges or bananas, you shouldn’t discard the peels on the trail. Although they will biodegrade eventually, that process can take years and potentially be harmful to local biodiversity, so do the right thing and pack out your orange and banana peels for proper composting.
Another no-brainer hiking food is nuts. Easy to eat on the go and small enough to not take up a lot of room or weight in your backpack, nuts are full of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein that will keep you feeling strong and energized throughout the day. They also have a great calorie-to-serving-size ratio, so you can eat generous helpings to feel full but not overdo it on calories. And the sky is the limit for flavor options. You can stick to staples like almonds, pistachios, or walnuts, or mix it up and bring a mixed bag for varied texture and taste. And don’t litter the shells on the trail as you go. Although they are technically natural, the Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics lists nutshells as unnatural litter since “they are not natural to the places they are being left” and can attract wildlife.
Full of protein and delicious to boot, nut butters are on the rise as a must-pack for hikes. Available in easy-to-carry packets that you can either squeeze directly into your mouth or add to a slice of apple, they are convenient, low-maintenance, and won’t take up much room or weight in a backpack (which, as any hiker knows, is essential). Plus, the world of nut butters consists of far more than peanut butter. Hikers have their choice of cashew, almond, walnut, and more, and many brands add other all-natural ingredients like seeds and oils to their butters to boost the health benefits. Some also come in fun flavors like chocolate or coffee.
Another iconic site on trails around the world, energy and protein bars give hikers boosts of protein and carbohydrates in small, easy-to-carry packages. Few things feel as much like “hiking” as tearing open an energy bar at the summit of a hike and eating it while taking in the view. While there are plenty of health benefits to energy bars, like the high protein, in the past, these processed bars were also sometimes very high in sugar. But luckily, the industry is trending away from that, offering hikers more options for all-natural, organic, and fully healthy energy bars. Many also come in delicious flavors like chocolate or peanut butter. Some of the most popular energy bar brands for hikers include , Kind, and RXBAR.
For something chewy and high in protein that isn’t a vegetable or fruit, grab some jerky for the trail. The protein will keep your muscles in peak condition, and depending on the kind of meat, there are tons of healthy vitamins and minerals. Jerky also comes in tons of fun flavors like teriyaki or chipotle. For the most healthy choice, choose jerkies made from lean meats like salmon or turkey, but beef jerky can also be healthy provided it hasn’t been overly processed. You should also be wary of the amount of sodium that most jerky contains; you can quickly exceed your daily recommended amount and you’ll go through your water much quicker. But provided it’s enjoyed in moderation, jerky is a prime hiking snack.
Read more: How to Make Your Own Beef Jerky
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