Ask any kid what they remember about an event, and snacks are probably going to come up. Kids love snacks (granted, so do grown-ups), and hiking snacks are of course a vital part of any hiking experience. If you’re hiking with kids, you might have questions about what the best snacks are to pack.
There are lots of great kid-friendly, energy-rich foods that will let you and your kiddo share a balanced diet on the trail. Here are some of our favorites, as well as the best tips for picking hiking snacks for kids.
Get your kids invested in the hiking experience by having them help pick snacks. Ask them what kind of sweets they’d like in the trail mix, or let them choose snack bar flavors. Older kids will like the autonomy and responsibility that comes from helping plan the day, while younger kids will be happy to know that something favorite and familiar is packed.
Getting kids’ help in snack prep can be as simple as just letting them choose snacks, or as involved as making treats together. If you make your own trail mix, let them dump everything into a big bowl and help you dole it out into baggies. Get their input on ingredients– you don’t have to give them total free reign, but you can let them make some choices. Dried cranberries or raisins? What kind of nuts should go into the mix? Choices like this don’t have a huge impact on the energy value of the trail mix, but do create a place for kids to contribute– and to have some fun doing so.
No-bake energy balls are another kid-pleaser that they can help make. They’re sweet and chewy, but have better nutrition than a cookie. You can use one of the many recipes available online, or come up with your own. Start with oats, pick a binder like peanut butter or honey, and add your favorite ingredients like nuts, chocolate or butterscotch chips, dried fruit, shredded coconut… basically, anything that can go in trail mix can go in an energy ball. Kids can help mix and form the energy balls– older kids can even make them on their own, since you don’t have to bake them.
Every child on the hike with you should have plenty of water. Even babies and toddlers held in a carrier the whole time will still get hot and need a drink.
Generally speaking, electrolyte drinks are fine for kids. Kids tend to like Gatorade and other flavored electrolyte drinks. However, be careful with caffeinated drinks, gels, or other snacks. Pediatricians and researchers agree: Children under 12 should not have caffeine.
You want to pack your youngest kids’ drinks in bottles made just for them. Toddlers are still learning how to hold things, sip from straws, and manipulate objects. Choose a water bottle that will be easy for them to hold and use. The CamelBak Eddy+ Kids and the Thermos Funtainer are both easy for toddlers to use.
Older kids can use the same water bottles that you do. CamelBak makes a kid-sized hydration system, if you prefer that option.
Special Considerations for Babies and Toddlers
When you’re hiking with babies or toddlers, you definitely need to bring snacks! For babies who aren’t eating solid food yet, bring a bottle or two, or be prepared to nurse. If you’re breastfeeding, you might want to bring a cover (or in a pinch, an umbrella) to protect your baby from the sun if shade isn’t guaranteed.
Once your toddler is eating baby food, squeeze feeders and reusable baby food pouches are a packable, sustainable way to bring baby food, applesauce, or homemade purees with you. You can also get commercially available baby food in squeeze pouches. These are easy to pack, since they can be flattened (unlike jars).
Toddlers who can eat solid food will appreciate their favorite finger foods. This could include dry cereal, slices of apple, pre-peeled clementines or Mandarin oranges, carrot sticks, crackers, cheese cubes, and other easy-to-grip, easy-to-eat food. Try to avoid anything sticky or too crumbly, especially if they’re riding in a carrier on your back.
Another important note: If your snacks have honey in them, make sure you don’t share them with the youngest kids. Pediatricians recommend waiting until your child is one year old before they have honey.
The Best Hiking Snacks for Kids
The most important thing to remember when picking hiking snacks for kids is that the best hiking snacks are the ones they’ll actually eat. For older kids, this is often less of an issue. But for toddlers, a hike is not an ideal place to introduce a new snack. Pack snacks based on what you know your child enjoys eating. Here are some of our favorite ideas for hiking snacks for kids!
Fruits and Veggies
Kids tend to love fresh fruits, and some kids even love their veggies. Individual baggies of sliced apples, grapes, carrot sticks, peeled oranges, and other pre-prepared fruits and veggies are great for kids. While they do weigh a little bit more than their dehydrated counterparts, in reality, you’re probably only going to be on the trail for a few hours tops and don’t need to worry about the small amount of weight these snacks add.
Fruit leather is another good kid snack. It resembles commercially available fruit-flavored snacks like Fruit Rollups, but with actual nutrients and far less sugar. This means that it will likely be familiar-ish to kids, and picky eaters might be more willing to try it than dehydrated fruit.
If you’re shopping at your local grocery store for fruit and veggie snacks, there are some really good options out there:
- Crispy Fruit is light-weight, freeze-dried fruit that has a fun texture.
- Dehydrated carrot sticks are carrot sticks with a chip-like crunch.
- Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps are made with peas. They also include some rice and a little oil, but don’t have much else in the way of added ingredients.
- That’s It fruit bars are a good dehydrated fruit option with no added sugar.
Baked (or air fried) sliced veggies are also a good option– they’re very tasty with a little salt, and they’re similar enough to fries or potato wedges that they’ll appeal to most kids.
Granola and Other Bars
Bars are a convenient snack that packs a punch. Granola bars are a lunchbox favorite and have a mix of simple and complex carbs for both immediate and long-lasting energy. Meal bars and breakfast bars are similar and may have even more balanced nutrition.
You have tons of options to choose from when shopping for bars. Look for bars without too many artificial ingredients, and pay attention to where the sugar in the bar is coming from. Some granola bars can have more sugar than a candy bar– which gives kids a brief spike in energy but won’t sustain them for long. (Do note that with long duration exercise, sometimes these simple sugars a great options for fast fuel).
When the sugar comes from fruit, it’s different. With added sugar, you just get the sugar. But when the sugar comes from fruit, you also have additional nutrients in the fruit. This includes fiber, which helps slow down digestion and improves sugar absorption. Fruit also has lots of micronutrients that will help maintain a balanced diet on the trail.
Protein bars can also be a good snack for kids, although the taste and texture might put off a picky eater. These can be really calorie-dense, so offer them to small kids in ½ bar portions. Once they’re hungry again, they can have the other half.
Some of our favorite bars for kids include:
- Clif Kid ZBars are soft and taste like favorite treats, including chocolate chip cookies and iced oatmeal cookies.
- Lärabar Kids (See on Amazon) bars are made with 9 or fewer ingredients and are gluten-free and dairy-free, so they’re perfect for kids with sensitive tummies.
- Madegood Granola Bars have extra nutrition from vegetable extracts– but don’t taste like veggies!
- RX Bar Minis are nutrient-dense bars that are a better size for kids’ nutritional needs.
You can also make your own trail bars. There are lots of recipes online, so look for some that have your kids’ favorite ingredients and flavors. With no-bake trail bar recipes, you don’t even have to turn on the oven.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, like peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, are great snacks– but not for the youngest children. These harder foods can be a choking hazard, especially if they haven’t mastered fine motor control and are shoving several in their mouth all at once.
Nuts and seeds come in lots of different roasts and flavors. If your kids have a sweet tooth, chocolate dusted almonds are a good choice. They have a rich chocolatey flavor and not too much sugar. Tajin peanuts are great for kids who like something a little zesty but not too hot.
Nut Butter Snacks
Peanut butter, almond butter, and other nut butters provide a great boost. You can serve these individually in packets, or combine them with other snacks. Peanut butter pretzels are easy to bring along. You can also make mini peanut butter sandwiches with crackers– or just cut a PBJ into smaller squares to make it into an easier snack.
Cheese has lots of good fat and protein for long-lasting energy. For kids in carriers, string cheese is both an activity and a snack. As a dairy product, cheese shouldn’t be left in hot temperatures for too long. Feed cheese as a snack early in the hike, or keep it cool.
These sweet treats taste great to kids, but most don’t have the high processing level and preservatives that you find in lots of commercial cookies and other treats. Kids don’t care about that, though– they just like how tasty they are.
Honey Stinger Waffles are basically a high-energy stroopwafel cookie. They’re seriously yummy and are easy to digest. Their mini waffles are just the right size for kids.
Dry cereal is a great hiking snack food that is especially perfect for kids. All you need to do is pour some into a baggie for them to eat dry. The cereals that work best are ones that are large enough to grab individual pieces– Cheerios are perfect for this. Opt for cereals that are made with whole grains and less added sugar if possible.
Don’t be afraid to introduce candies to your snack repertoire! Kids love candy, and it’s fine to have in moderation, especially during physical activity! Just leave the melty chocolate at home. Also, hard candies can be a choking hazard. Some good candy options include:
- Gummy candies
- Mike and Ikes
- Peach rings
Another variation on the theme of sweets is the no-bake energy ball. As discussed earlier, this is a snack that is easy to customize and make with your kids. They require a little effort– you do need to make them ahead and it’s best to let them sit in the fridge overnight so that they firm up. But they’ll last all day and the kids will love them.
Trail mix is a popular hiking snack for a reason. The combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and sweets provides a balance of nutrients. Specifically, trail mix has both simple and complex carbohydrates, as well as protein and fat. This means that it provides an immediate energy boost and sustained energy over time. These nutrients help sustain energy levels during a hike, keeping kids active and engaged.
Fill in the blank with your kid’s favorite snack, and you’ll have a question that many hiking families ask. Sometimes your kid is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, or just has to have Cheetos. Should you pack your kid’s favorite snack, even if it’s not a typical hiking snack?
Yes! First off, not every snack has to be the perfect fit for your daily macro count. It’s ok to bring whatever you want, so long as you’re ok with carrying it and eating it on the trail. Children, especially young ones, like routine. A hike is something new, and having a favorite snack on hand can help keep them feeling secure and happy in a new situation.
Second, a favorite snack can… well, it can work as a bribe. If your kids are tired and you sense some struggles coming on, you can promise them their favorite treat if they can just go a little further, or make it to the top of the hill. Hiking with kids can be a little unpredictable, and sometimes you just need something that works. It’s ok- every parent does it. They’re getting lots of great exercise on their hike, so don’t sweat it if you need to bring a bribe or promise them ice cream after the hike is over.
We hope that this list of snacks (and our article about the hiking gear kids need) will help you figure out what to pack when you’re ready to hit the trail with your kids!
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor 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. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about