Hiking is an energy-intensive pursuit and anyone looking to hit the trail needs to have the right snacks on hand to power them through those tough uphill climbs. Thankfully, there are plenty of protein bars, energy chews, and other easy-to-eat snacks that you can pack with you when you head outside.
But what is the best energy food for hiking, you might ask?
The best energy food for hiking is anything that’s easy to eat and that has a good mix of carbs, proteins, and fats. Some of our favorite hiking energy foods include trail mix and mixed nuts, beef jerky, sandwiches and wraps, dried fruit, and homemade energy bars.
With so many different trekking snacks out there, though, it’s hard to know what food you should pack on your next adventure. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what kinds of energy foods are best for hiking and how you can fuel up for your adventures on the trail.
The Best Energy Foods for Hiking
A quick Google search for “what is the best energy food for hiking” will give you a lot of different suggestions for snacks to bring on your next trek.
But the reality is there’s no such thing as the world’s best energy food for hiking. Rather, there are dozens of different snacks and meals that you can bring with you into the mountains to ensure that you stay energized during your adventures.
Some of the most common suggestions we see for good hiking foods include energy bars, energy chews, and other individually-wrapped sports nutrition snacks. This includes everything from Clif Bars and Honey Stinger Waffles to Clif Bloks and GU Energy Gels.
All of these snacks are worthy options for on-trail nutrition as they are specially formulated to help you stay energized, but they have a few notable drawbacks. These include:
- Price – The biggest downside to these classic prepackaged hiking snacks is that they’re expensive. You can easily spend $2 or $3 on a single energy bar or $2 on an energy gel packet. This might not sound like much, but it definitely adds up over time.
- Nutritional Value – While these energy bars, chews, and gels are designed to fuel you on the trail, they’re often jam-packed with sugars, preservatives, and other ingredients that you probably can’t pronounce unless you have a Ph.D. in chemistry. It’s okay to eat these things once in a while, but they’re not your go-to for long-term snacking.
- Plastic Waste – The vast majority of pre-packed hiking snacks come individually wrapped in plastic wrappers and containers. This makes them super easy to transport, but it also produces a lot of waste. Beyond its negative environmental impact, plastic waste is just plain annoying on the trail as you need to pack it out and dispose of it properly back at home.
- Lack of Variety – No matter how many flavors a protein bar comes in, at some point, you’ll probably find that you no longer crave them like you used to. A lot of this has more to do with the texture and the sugary nature of a lot of these snacks than their actual flavors and this lack of variety isn’t a huge deal on day hikes. But if your only snacks for a 30-day thru-hike are protein bars, you’ll probably regret your meal planning decisions by about day 7.
With all that in mind, you might be wondering what is the best energy food for hiking if it’s not an energy bar, gel, or chew? Well, there’s no simple answer to this question as it all depends on your unique tastes and nutritional needs.
The key thing here is that you get food that you enjoy eating and that comes packed with a good blend of proteins, carbs, and fats. Carbs are ideal for those short-term boosts of energy while fats and proteins can provide longer-term energy as you make your way uphill.
Some of our favorite nutrient-rich hiking snacks include things like trail mix, beef jerky (there’s vegan jerky out there, too!), sandwiches and wraps, dried fruit, and homemade energy bars.
You can definitely add some energy bars, gels, and chews into the mix when packing for your hiking trips as well as granola bars and other sorts of classic snacking foods, too. But just be warned that these snacks generally aren’t as affordable or nutritious as homemade and whole food alternatives.
Ultimately, the goal here isn’t that you have the “best energy food for hiking” because no such food exists. Rather, what’s key is that you have a diversity of nutritious snacks that you enjoy with you whenever you head into the mountains.
What Should You Not Eat Before Hiking?
All of this talk about the best foods to eat while hiking might have you wondering if there’s anything that you shouldn’t eat in the mountains.
The short answer is that, no, there’s no one food that you should always avoid before or during your hikes. Everyone is different and what some people might think of as a bad pre-hike meal might be another person’s ideal snack.
As a general rule, you want to avoid eating anything that you know typically upsets your stomach or makes you feel sluggish before you head out on a hike. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, eating half a cheese pizza and a tub of ice cream before a 20-mile (32 km) hike might not be the best move (but you probably knew that already).
Other than that, there’s not really any food that you should always avoid before going on a hike. You might feel better on trail if you eat a well-balanced meal with a good blend of complex carbs, proteins, and fats (think scrambled eggs with whole-grain toast and fruit for breakfast), though it’s up to you to figure out what you do and don’t like to eat before a hike.
How Often Should You Eat While Hiking?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how often you should eat while hiking as it all depends on how much energy you’re expending and how much you normally eat during the day.
We’ve personally found that it helps to stop for a quick snack break every hour or two to keep our energy levels up. Additionally, it can be nice to take a longer meal break every three to four hours so you can eat something a little more substantial than trail mix.
But there are plenty of people out there who can hike for two or three hours without eating anything. There are also lots of hikers who stop more frequently for a snack break.
Our advice? Take a snack break whenever you feel yourself starting to get hungry during your hike. It’s better to be proactive about your hunger while outside than it is to let yourself get hangry and irritable. Your hiking buddies will thank you later.
Energy Food: The Key to Success on the Trail
From trail mix and beef jerky to protein bars and dried fruit, there are plenty of awesome energy foods out there for you to enjoy on your next hiking trip. The important thing is that you find the right balance of nutritious snacks to pack during your adventures so you can stay both energized and happy while you’re in the mountains.
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.