Refueling your body is an important part of hiking. For a short hike, less than three hours round trip, you might be able to get away with just using an energy gel– but for most hikes, you need more nutrition than that. Food is one of the Ten Essentials, so you should never hike without it.
The food you take with you hiking includes the snacks you’ll eat as you walk and the food you’ll prepare and eat when you make camp. Today, we’re going to be focusing on the things you eat as you walk.
What Makes A Good Hiking Snack?
Not every food makes a good hiking snack. When you choose hiking snacks, you need to think about the role that the snack’s nutrients play in your ability to keep going.
All food is made of three basic macronutrients (often called macros): carbohydrates, fats (or lipids), and proteins. All of these are necessary for life, but while you’re hiking, you want to choose snacks with a high amount of carbs and protein. Carbohydrates are broken down quickly, and protein provides a longer-term boost of energy. Fat is the slowest to digest, so snacks high in fat are better to eat before you hike or as you recover.
For many years, carbohydrates have been put forth as a primary nutrient and energy source for endurance athletes. However, recent reevaluation of this research has seen a new emphasis on the role of fat and protein.
Experts point out that both fast-digesting simple carbs and slower-digesting complex carbohydrates are both ideal as recovery foods, and that all carbs will be quickly absorbed by the body immediately after exercise. This means it’s good to bring carb-heavy snacks with you as you hike and for recovery after you’re done!
Lots of athletes tout the effects of eating lots of carbohydrates before physical activity. The idea is that the carbohydrates amp up your muscular glycogen stores. Glycogen is the primary fuel your body uses during activity. However, there is substantial evidence that boosting your muscles’ glycogen stores doesn’t immediately improve your performance.
Instead, loading up on carbs’ immediate effect comes from the calories in carbohydrates. Your body is good at breaking down carbs and quickly using their energy. Carbs digest faster than fat and protein, so you can access this energy quicker.
Secondly, elevating the glycogen in your muscles does have an effect, just not on your immediate performance like many people think. Elevated starting muscular glycogen delays fatigue during endurance exercise lasting more than 90 minutes– meaning it can help you go longer while hiking. That’s what you should expect carb loading to do for you!
Micronutrients: Sodium and Electrolytes
In addition to the three macronutrients, the food you bring with you has many micronutrients. Some of the most important are sodium and other electrolytes.
There’s no mineral called “electrolyte.” Electrolytes are a group of minerals that includes sodium, potassium, and chloride as the primary (or significant) electrolytes. Other important electrolytes include:
Technically, electrolytes are any substances that have a natural positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water. This electricity is how your nerves transmit information and how your cells make your muscles contract, so low levels of electrolytes can cause some serious issues. Different electrolyte imbalances have different symptoms, but common symptoms include nausea, fatigue, confusion, tremors, muscle spasms (cramps), and dizziness.
Sports drinks and energy tablets, gels, and other products are good ways to quickly recover electrolytes. The following table provides information where you can typically find each of the primary and important secondary electrolytes.
|Sodium||Table salt, any processed food, beets, spinach|
|Potassium||Bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, yogurt, beans|
|Chloride||Table salt, tomatoes, lettuce|
|Calcium||Dairy products, almonds, fish, spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables (kale, collard greens)|
|Magnesium||Spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables, Swiss chard, legumes, whole grains, dark chocolate|
|Phosphate||Animal products, whole grains, nuts, sunflower seeds|
|Bicarbonates||Citrus fruit, mineral water with bicarbonate content, spinach, kale, baking soda|
For electrolyte replacement, we recommend a quick, easily digestible source of many electrolytes like Honey Stingers gels and chews. The nutrients in these are quickly consumed and absorbed, making them better for a quick boost.
Even if a food has all the right macros, you still might not want to take it hiking with you. There’s a reason we pack beef jerky and not an entire t-bone! Hiking snacks need to be lightweight, easily portable, and easy to eat on the go. For this reason, many of the best hiking snacks are durable and designed to be tossed in your backpack. These snacks should be easily eaten by hand and have minimal packaging that’s easy to pack out with you as trash.
The best hiking snacks have a good density-to-size ratio. This means that snacks that are more nutrient dense are better than a snack that takes up the same amount of space with less nutrient density.
Fresh fruit, for instance, is mostly water and doesn’t have a lot of nutrient density for its size. Fruit leather, which has been dehydrated, has a much higher nutrient density to size ratio.
It probably goes without saying that you want your hiking snacks to be lightweight. Think nut butter packets instead of the 32 ounce family sized jar.
Granola and Energy Bars
Bars are a great hiking snack. They can contain lots of macro and micro nutrients, and often have electrolytes and fast-digesting sources of energy. We’ve listed a few of our favorites below, but be ready to experiment and find what you love!
Greenbelly’s stoveless meals and bars were invented by thru-hikers for thru-hikers. These bars are extremely nutrient dense and come in several flavors. These bars have a very light, crispy puffed rice texture, making them less physically dense than other energy bars– for some hikers, this lighter texture is easier to eat.
We like Greenbelly bars for the high caloric count to weight ratio, the high sodium content for the sweaty days, and the overall mixture of macronutrients.
Honey Stinger Waffles
Honey Stinger waffles are an outdoorsy take on the Stroopwafel cookie. They come in several flavors and varieties, including gluten-free options. Even if they’re not exactly bars, they’re too good (and tasty) to leave off of our list!
Waffles are what we often use for trail runs where we want to eat while moving and get the electrolyte and carbs we need. They taste great and are easy to eat.
Lärabars are organic, minimally processed nutrition bars that use fruits, nuts, and spices in their bars. Plus some dark chocolate chips, sometimes. They are gluten free, lightweight, easy to pack, and highly nutrient-dense. We love larabars for their flavor, and ease of eating even if it is extremely cold and frozen.
Nature Valley Bars
Listen, Nature Valley Crunchy bars are simply a classic. They taste great, work whether it is hot or cold, and feature fast acting calories. On top of that, they tend to be on the budget friendly side when compared to other granola bars. Therefore, we love them.
Another great benefit is that you can buy them at just about any grocery store in the U.S.
Clif bars have been feeding hikers since 1992. They’re made with whole ingredients and have balanced nutrient macros to give you quick energy and help sustain you throughout your hike. They were the first nutrition bar to be formulated with outdoor sports in mind, and while they’ve added new flavors, they’ve kept an outdoors-first ethos since their start.
We have eaten so many Clif bars in our time that we only have them very occasionally now, but it is hard to go wrong. Generally speaking, we only eat one per hike and use other snacks in replacement to avoid any stomach discomfort.
Easy Grocery Store Purchases
You don’t have to go to an outdoor store to find good hiking snacks. Some of the best hiking snacks are hanging out at your local grocery store.
Chicken, Salmon, and Tuna Pouches
Packaged fish and chicken is easier to eat than their canned counterparts, doesn’t require anything special to open, and is both lightweight and easily packable. These packaged snacks are a great source of protein and are easy to eat on the go. Animal products also contain calcium and phosphate, two important electrolytes. You can find small pouches like this that fit just about anywhere and we like better than cans for backpacking.
Jerky, meat sticks, summer sausage– these cured, shelf-stable meat products have little moisture and lots of protein. They’re a good, easy to carry source of protein, and hold up in any weather. Look for jerky that’s made without too much added sugar, and watch the sodium levels, especially for meat sticks and other sausages. There are tons of great jerky options available at just about every retailer.
In addition, jerky generally has high sodium content, which is often needed on those days where a lot of sweating is occuring.
Nuts and Seeds
Mixes of nuts and seeds are one of the best hiking snacks, providing a highly nutritious and tasty source of energy during your hike. They are packed with healthy lipids, essential electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, and abundant micronutrients. High quality mixed nuts that contain power-packed nuts and seeds like peanuts, almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds have high amounts of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidant properties, which all are vital to keeping you moving. Nuts aren’t a carb source, but are a great calorie source for long hikes.
Nut butter includes peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, and more. You can also get seed butters, like sunflower seed butter. The easiest way to transport these is by buying them in pouches. RX makes nut butter with egg white for extra protein. Justin’s Nut Butter is another popular option carried by many grocery stores, as well as on Amazon.
Premade popcorn is a great complex carb (it’s a whole grain!) to take with you on the trail. It’s lightweight, but bulky. However, you can make Jiffy Pop on your camp stove, charcoal barbecue, or over an even bed of embers alongside your campfire.
Premade Trail Mix
Don’t want to make your own trail mix? That’s fine, the grocery store will have some! Some stores, like Target, are known for their elaborate trail mixes, but these aren’t always ideal for hiking due to extra sugary or fried components that don’t offer much nutrition.
To pick a pre-made trail mix, use the following guidelines:
- Avoid nuts coated in sugar.
- Look for mixtures that are mostly fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Check the sodium content– you want sodium, but not too much. Hypernatremia is rare, but possible if you have too much salt and not enough water while hiking.
- Find something extra you’ll enjoy. For us, we love little bits of dark chocolate.
Homemade Hiking Snacks
Here are some hiking snacks you can make in your kitchen at home. Most of them don’t even require an oven!
Dehydrated fruit leather is a great way to get carbs and nutrients without having to sacrifice space. If you don’t have a food dehydrator at home, you can make fruit leather in your oven by turning it into pulp in a food processor, pouring it onto a lined baking tin, and letting it dry in your oven on the lowest setting for 2-8 hours until it is tacky to the touch.
Of course, you can also buy fruit leathers online or in stores.
This golden oldie is a hiking classic for a reason. GORP, or Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, is the simplest trail mix you can make- and it’s a great hiking food. The salt, protein, and fat in the peanuts provides satiety (a feeling of fullness), replaces your electrolytes, and gives you some long-burning fuel. The simple carbs in the raisins will give you a quick boost of energy.
GORP isn’t necessarily just raisins and peanuts, many people refer to GORP as just about any trail mix, and it can easily be mixed in millions of different variations to your own preference.
We particularly love trail mixes that have some chocolate and peanut butter flavor for the trail.
Be sure to check out some of these awesome GORP recipes.
Homemade Granola Bars
Want to know exactly what’s in your granola bars? Make them yourself! Homemade granola bars are easy to make and highly customizable. You can add protein powder for an additional boost of nutrition and energy. You can make it as salty and chocolaty as you want. Or avoid the chocolate and go for fruits. Here are some great recipes.
No-Bake Energy Balls
No-bake energy balls are made with the nut butter of your choice, flaxseed, oats, honey, and mix-ins like dried fruit or chocolate chips. They provide all three macros in an easily digestible, tasty format. You can customize them to include whatever you like! The only downside is that they can lose their shape in the heat, so if you’re hiking where it’s hot, you might want to freeze them. Here are some great energy ball ideas.
Trail mix is another easily customizable snack. You can put all kinds of things in it, although it typically includes nuts, dried fruit, and something sweet, like chocolate chips. Trail mix is great for replenishing your electrolytes, since salted nuts and dark chocolate are good sources of magnesium, sodium, and phosphorus.
Energy Chews and Gels
Energy gels and chews are highly technical, engineered energy products that use cutting-edge food science to provide fast access to energy that can keep you going as you move. These gels and chews are absorbed rapidly
Clif Blok Chews
Clif’s approach to outdoor nutrition continues in their energy chews. Clif Bloks are packed with electrolytes and quickly-absorbed carbohydrates. They use organic ingredients and are faster to eat than a more substantial Clif bar.
Clif also used to make an energy gel, but that product has been discontinued as of May 1, 2023. You can buy remaining stock here, and can use the coupon code “BLOKS23” for 15% off of new Bloks orders. We will be using mostly Honey Stinger gels in the future.
Gu Labs Energy Gel
Each packet of Gu contains 100 calories, 450 milligrams of amino acids, and at least 50 milligrams of sodium to replace lost electrolytes. Many Gu flavors are also caffeinated, providing you with another source of energy.
Honey Stinger Gels and Chews
Honey Stinger uses natural organic honey as the basis for its energy gels and chews. Honey naturally contains electrolytes as well as easily-absorbed carbohydrates, so their products are good for you, easy to digest and absorb, and delicious.
We trust Honey Stinger with our biggest days and athletic events, like ultramarathons due to our comfort with them.
Drink Powder and Liquids
Adding a source of energy to liquids is an easy way to get the extra energy you need while hydrating. Drink powders can also help prevent a rare condition known as hyponatremia. Drink powders are essential for long duration exercise. They allow athletes and adventurers to supplement carbohydrates and electrolytes that are essential for staying hydrated and keeping electrolyte levels up.
Hyponatremia occurs when you overhydrate and don’t have enough sodium in your system. This can cause swollen hands, along with other symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps. While this condition is very rarely caused by hiking, drink powders can prevent it and other types of low electrolyte conditions (like cramping).
Skratch Labs Hydration Powder
Skratch Labs’ high carb hydration powder is a great way to keep your energy and electrolyte levels up while hiking. Scratch Labs uses cluster dextrin, a sugar that digests steadily like regular food, so it’s very easy on your stomach. This is our go to ultramarathon and long hiking day hydration powder. We don’t experience any intestinal issues, and it gets us all of our liquid nutrition.
Gnarly Nutrition Hydration Powder
Gnarly is a new addition to our hydration repertoire. They recently sent us a few samples and we’ve tested them heavily pretty quickly. We love the flavor, we love the carbohydrate, sodium ratios, and the ability to choose a high sodium flavor (salted margarita) for the super hot days. We haven’t experienced gastrointestinal problems during longer events, and therefore we love this product.
Gnarly Nutrition Discount Code: Use code HIKEFISH15 for 15% off the Gnarly website. (Limit to one use per customer)
Gatorade was America’s first sports drink, and while carrying around several bottles of it might be annoyingly heavy, the good news is that it comes in powdered form. It has all the electrolytes and quick-absorbing carbs of regular Gatorade, but only a fraction of the weight.
Gu Labs Energy Tabs
These energy tablets are low on calories but high in electrolytes; they pack a whopping 320 milligrams of sodium and 55 milligrams of potassium, making them perfect for electrolyte recovery on the go.
Tailwind Nutrition Powders
Tailwind makes two different types of drink mix. First, their Endurance Fuel keeps you going with electrolytes. Then, when you’re done, their Recovery Mix keeps you going with protein to help your muscles recover and repair themselves. These powders come in lots of great flavors, but there’s also an unflavored option if you don’t like flavored drinks.
Tailwind is heavily trusted by ultra athletes. We use it less as we don’t like much caffeine in our powders due to our sensitivity to it, but overall it is an amazing product.
Candy is a great hiking snack. It’s easy to carry, fun to eat, and while it might not offer much protein, it’s great for a quick hit of energy. Hard candies or gummies are better than chocolate, since chocolate tends to melt on a hot day.
Some good candies to take hiking include:
- Gummy worms
- Peach rings
- Swedish fish
- Butterscotch discs
- Mike & Ikes
Non-Processed/Minimally Processed Hiking Snacks
Technically any food that isn’t eaten directly as harvested is processed. An apple is processed if it was picked and packaged to be sold. But that’s not how most people use the term “processed food,” and the snacks featured here are all foods with few preservatives and little to no processing. You’ll find most of these in the produce aisle!
- Fresh fruits like apples, clementine oranges, and berries
- Fresh vegetables like baby carrots and jicama sticks
- Dehydrated beet chips
- Freeze-dried fruit
- Lärabars (that don’t contain chocolate) – these bars use raw ingredients ground together with minimal processing
- Nut butter that’s just ground nuts without added oils or sugars
Specialty Diet Hiking Snacks
Plenty of hikers follow specialty diets, and there are plenty of great hiking snacks that can meet their needs.
Vegan hiking snacks don’t have any animal products, which means that anything containing honey, meat, eggs, fish, or dairy products is out.
- Dried Fruit: Traditionally dried fruit like raisins and apricots or crispy freeze-dried is a good source of vegan-friendly carbs.
- Energy Bars: As of a chocolate chip switch in 2019, Lärabars are completely vegan
- Nuts and Seeds: Good source of vegan-friendly fat and protein. Make sure to avoid honey roasted nuts.
- Vegan Jerky: Want a pop of protein that’s more than a handful of nuts? Vegan jerky, which is typically soy based, can give you just that.
Diabetic hikers and hikers who want to avoid added sugars or simple sugars may prefer sugar-free hiking snacks. However, lots of sugar free snacks aren’t good for hiking, because the sugars are replaced with artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols. This can make you think that you’re getting the energy you need, but your body actually isn’t. The following snacks are low-carb and free from added sugars (not necessarily great for performance).
- Dry roasted nuts and seeds
- Unmarinated jerky
- Wild Zora meat and veggie bars
- Baked sliced veggies (seriously – we use potato wedges in the air fryer with a little salt….AMAZING for a race or big day snack).
Gluten-free hikers need to avoid wheat, which isn’t actually that hard to do when picking hiking snacks! Make sure that any packaged snack has gluten-free labeling, which usually looks like the letters GF in a circle printed in black or green.
The following are examples of gluten-free hiking snacks:
- Fruit leather
- Dried fruits and veggies
- Greenbelly bars
- Honey Stinger gluten-free waffles
- Roasted chickpeas
- Tuna, chicken, and salmon pouches
Additionally, most energy chews and gels are gluten free.
As you can see, the list of hiking snacks is long and varied. What snacks are you going to pack for your next hike? Perhaps our list can inspire you to try something new!
*Disclaimer & Our Experience
We have tried hundreds of different hiking snacks. We are trail runners, hikers, backpackers, backcountry skiers, and food lovers. We therefore have tried a lot, and care a lot about our performance and nutrition. We therefore take snacking quite seriously. While we use affiliate links in this article, is is truly our opinions that are backed a bit by science, and lots of experience.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about