Snacking is an often overlooked part of hiking that is actually vitally important. Snacking can mean the difference between having an exhausting hike and an exciting one. Make sure you give your body the fuel it needs to conquer the trail by finding the most delicious snacks. Stuck for ideas?
Check out this list of the best hiking snacks for day hikes and backpacking trips to figure out what to bring on your next hike. Whether you just want store bought convenience, or you’re looking for inspiration for homemade snacking, we’ve got the list for you.
Why Hiking Snacks are Important
Your body needs fuel in order to function. On a normal day at the office, you can exist on a lower amount of food and calories because you’re not doing that much activity. But on a hike, your body is working very hard to get you to the top of that mountain, and you need to feed it accordingly.
The best hiking snacks will have a well-balanced mix of the three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Macronutrients are three food groups that our body needs in order to repair tissue, gain energy, and build new muscle. If you don’t fuel your body during a long hike, you’ll end up irritable, tired, and sore.
The best hiking snacks change depending on whether you are planning a day hike or a long distance backpacking trip. For day hikes, fresh foods like fruits and veggies are a great idea. The fresh fruit has a high water content to hydrate you and provide fiber to keep you full. Additionally, before and after a day hike you can eat a big meal in town, so you don’t need to worry about eating high calories during the hike.
For backpacking, snacking becomes much more essential. As a rule of thumb, the higher the calories, the better the snack. You want to give your body enough calories to keep up with the exertion of climbing mountains with a 25 pound pack on your back. Snacks like energy bars, peanut butter, and other calorically dense options are very sensible.
Whatever you choose, make sure you pair it with drinking lots of water, and preparing ahead of time. For weekend warriors, that might mean a quick trip to your local grocery store to pick up whatever granola bars and trail mix they have on the shelves.
For hikers with more time, there are plenty of ways to get creative and make some homemade snacks to bring on the trail. The thing that matters most is bringing a variety of snacks that won’t bore your tastebuds, and will give your body the fuel it needs. Do that, and you’ll set yourself up for some amazing hiking.
Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Trail mix is number one on everyone’s list of top hiking snacks and for good reason. This snack food hits all the criteria for solid hiking snacks, and there are practically limitless combinations of ingredients. The base for all trail mix combinations remain the same: nuts, seeds, dried fruit, something sweet, and something salty. What ingredients you choose is up to you.
This snack, along with being delicious, is also a nutritional powerhouse. The nuts and seeds provide much needed calories, proteins, and fats. The fiber in the nuts will fill you up, while the fats and proteins will help heal sore muscles and give long lasting energy.
The sweet ingredients and the dried fruits give a boost of carbohydrates, supplying your body with immediately available energy. And of course, the salty ingredients help you retain water, preventing dehydration on the trail.
Here is a list of ingredients for a killer trail mix:
- Salted Peanuts
Fill up a liter bag of this for an overnight hiking trip and snack throughout the day for sustained energy.
Serving size: 1/4 cup fruit
Another all natural snack food that saves you money and space in your bag, dried fruit is a favorite among day hikers and overnight backpackers alike. Dried fruits have a wide range of flavors, bulk, and caloric value, so you can adjust your snacking to your needs.
For a simple day hike, lighter dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, or apple chips are a good choice. They’ll give you quick energy without overloading you on sugars.
But for overnight backpackers or long distance thru hikers, a higher calorie snack is called for. Generally speaking, the sweeter the fruit, the greater the caloric density. Go for dried mango, pineapple, or papaya for a sugary kick that will see you through those 15+ mile days.
Crackers and Cheese
Serving size: 6 crackers 1 slice of cheese
This snack doesn’t get the love it deserves on the hiking trail. Possibly because most people think that since cheese is kept in a refrigerator, it can’t be taken on the trail. Well, it’s time to set that belief aside, because cheese and crackers is a delicious and filling hiking snack.
Choose your favorite kind of crackers, generally salty ones are a good idea to help with electrolytes, and pair them with your favorite cheese. A note on the cheeses though, the harder the cheese, the better, especially if you’ll be on the trail for multiple days.
Good choices are aged gouda, sharp cheddar, or parmesan. Terrible choices are brie and camembert, but hopefully you didn’t need us to tell you that.
Serving Size: 1 packet
This one almost goes without saying. It is a time-honored, time-tested hiking tradition to bring jerky on the trail, and we understand why. Traditionally made from beef, these days you can find salmon jerky, pork jerky, and chicken jerky all available at grocery stores and outdoor shops everywhere.
Jerky has the nutritional benefit of being a protein powerhouse. Since jerky is dried spiced meat, it is literally almost entirely protein. It will fill your belly and give you the much needed nutrients to repair sore muscles. Great for day hikes, jerky is also the most optimal snack for long distance backpacking trips.
On a day hike, you can easily have a protein heavy meal for dinner once you get back into town. But on long backpacking trips, not getting enough protein leads to fatigued and sore muscles, and lowered energy levels.
Today, thanks to its popularity among hikers and casual snackers, there are a wide variety of jerky flavors and meats available in most grocery stores. Choose from teriyaki to barbecue to more. Whatever your favorite flavor, you can probably find it on the shelves. Or, if you’ve got more time on your hands, you can make your own jerky at home.
Serving Size: 1 bar
The idea of granola bars as one of the best hiking snacks was started by brands like Nature Valley. The choice of summer camp kids everywhere, granola bars are a great snack idea for day hikers and thru hikers.
The main benefit to prepackaged or homemade granola bars is portability. These snacks are small and lightweight, so they’ll give you energy without weighing you down. Granola’s main ingredients are oats, nuts, dried fruit, and sugar, meaning these snacks are packed with fiber, carbs, and a bit of protein.
In stores today you can find granola bars in every flavor imaginable, from sweet to savory. Cinnamon and sugar, honey caramel, or chocolate chip are some of the most popular. But for those who want to get creative, whipping up homemade granola bars is pretty simple, you just need a bit of time, and an oven.
Serving Size: 1 bar
A step up from your routine granola bars, energy bars are high calorie, dense snacks that are great for intense day hikes, or long term backpacking excursions. Usually store bought, you can also put together your own homemade version using high calorie dried fruits like dates and figs.
The most popular brand of energy bar in the U.S. is the hiker’s favorite Clif Bar, but other well-known brands include Powerbar and Balancebar. The advantage to these foods is their high calorie and protein content. They’ll give you carbs, proteins, and all the calories you need to get through a whole day of hiking.
Carrying these with you can eliminate the need for you to stop for lunch, letting you put in some huge mile days on your trek. For the adventurous hiking chef, a homemade energy bar can be pretty easily created using dates, figs, other dried fruits, and high calorie nuts and seeds.
Some versions of this snack don’t even need to be baked, so you can eat them raw. A word of caution, however, if you are going on a long thru hike, perhaps it is better to make a baked version, or get the prepackaged store brand, to avoid having your food go bad.
Fruit & Peanut Butter
Serving size: 1 fruit, 2 tbsp peanut butter
For day hikes, fresh fruit and peanut butter make a filling and delicious snack. Consider easily portable fruits like apples, pears, or bananas, and stay away from easily crushed fruits like strawberries or blueberries. Bring along a jar of peanut butter to add some much need fats and protein to your carb driven fruits, or buy some of the portable packs of peanut butter like those sold by Justin’s.
For long distance backpackers, fresh fruit isn’t really an option, unless you don’t mind carrying the weight of the world on your trek. Instead, consider bringing some dried apple or banana chips, and packets of peanut butter. This will have the same nutritional value as the fresh fruit, but it will be a bit less filling because the dried fruit doesn’t have the same water content as fresh.
Veggies and Hummus
Serving Size: 1/2 cup veg, 2 tbsp hummus
Another snack that is best left to day hikers, hummus and veggies provides all the filling fiber, nutrients, carbs, fats, and proteins that you need to find sustained energy for the duration of your hike. Pick up a bag of baby carrots or celery at the grocery store, and a packet of hummus for dipping.
Most grocery stores should have a huge selection of hummus flavors available in the deli section, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can prepare a batch of homemade hummus by tossing chickpeas, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, and tahini into a blender.
But if tahini sounds like the name of a tropical island to you, better off just buying store-brand hummus. We promise it’s still delicious. A great addition to this veggies and hummus snack, if you have room in your bag, is pita bread.
Try snacking on pita stuffed with cucumbers, bell peppers, and hummus next time you’re on the trail. It is a delicious snack that also hits all the major nutrition points.
Serving Size: 1/2 cup
While this may sound like a bit of a hippie snack, sometimes the hippies are on to something. Roasted chickpeas have the elegant simplicity of a more traditional hiking snack like trail mix, with the ability to take on almost any flavor profile and spice up your regular hiking snack routine.
These days you can buy roasted chickpeas packaged up in the grocery stores, but this snack is easy and quick to make at home as well. Buy a can of chickpeas, rinse them off, coat them with salt, oil, and a bit of spice, then roast them in the oven for around 10 minutes.
They’ll turn into crunchy balls of flavor that provide you with the fiber, carbs, and protein you need to make it up the hill. This portable snack is great for day hikes, but can also make it a few days into a long backpacking trip.
Homemade roasted chickpeas, however, will get a bit stale after three or four days. If you’re looking to bring them on a two-week excursion, better to go with store bought.
Serving Size: 1 packet
After all those healthy options earlier on the list, pop-tarts may seem like a bit of an outlier. But the truth is, what is not so healthy for you during your everyday life, can be the caloric boost you need when you are on the trail.
Pop-tarts have that magical combination of high calories, high carb, and addictively delicious flavor to get them included on the list of best hiking snacks. They are an especially good choice for long distance backpackers who can’t be bothered to cook a hot breakfast before heading out in the morning. Just open up a packet of pop-tarts and enjoy.
They come in a huge variety of flavors these days, from more traditional strawberry and blueberry to some whackier flavors like s’mores and cookies’n’cream. Find the one you think is most delicious and get snacking.
Serving Size: 14 pieces
Continuing on the junk food train of thought, gummy bears are another sugary options that is generally a no-no in everyday life, but can be a godsend on the trail. The good thing about gummy bears is that, unlike most candies and chocolates, they won’t dissolve when subjected to heat.
They more or less maintain their form and their flavor, even when sitting in your pack in the hot sun all day. This snack food is high in calories and very high in sugar, so they will give you an immediate energy burst when you need it most. For long distance hiking, gummy bears are a great snack for the days when you’re facing a monster of a climb, or a huge number of miles.
Serving Size: 1 oz
This choice of snack can sometimes be a polarizing issue, and if you’re on team milk chocolate, than you can go ahead and consider this a suggestion for that. But dark chocolate has an advantage over milk in its concentration of cacao. Cacao, the bean that forms the main ingredient for all chocolate, is packed full of caffeine.
In our daily lives, most of us drink coffee pretty regularly for energy, so why not try something similar on the trail? On top of that, dark chocolate is such a nice reward when you finally get to the top of the massive climb. A word of caution, however, if hiking in very hot conditions, dark chocolate, or any chocolate for that matter, is likely to melt in your bag.
Serving Size: 1 Bar
Rounding off our list of best hiking snacks, Snickers has been the hiking snack of champions for decades and no list would be complete without it. Why is Snickers one of the best hiking snacks of all time? Because it hits all the major criteria exactly as it needs to.
Snickers is lightweight, portable, sweet, savory, delicious, and packed with carbs, fats, and protein. As a rule of thumb, always bring at least one Snickers on any long distance backpacking trip. For day hikes, we’ll forgive you if you forget to bring one every now and then.
Next Steps: Snack Planning for Your Next Adventure
Now that you’ve got a solid list of the best snack foods for hiking, you can begin to make your plan for your next trip. If it’s a day hike you’re planning for, try to spice things up and get a bit creative. You have much more flexibility since weight isn’t really an issue.
If you’re planning for a backpacking trip, calories become much more important. Focus on filling your pack with high calorie food to carry you from one day to the next. Now get out there and hit the trail.