By: Meg Atteberry
Nutrition doesn’t stop just because you hit the trail. Sure, you certainly want to pack on the calories for a big-mileage day. However, having an arsenal of healthy hiking snacks to choose from not only keeps you from crashing, but it keeps you on your feet. Here’s a look at a few handy healthy hiking snacks you can add to your pack.
Why Healthy Hiking Snacks are Important
It’s easy to hike with a handful of gummy candy and maybe some chips. Although both of these unhealthy options have their benefits (quick, sugary energy and replenishing salts), you want to balance these items with healthier options.
As you hike, you want quick, easy, digestible energy. This means carbs and healthy fats. But there’s a difference between processed carbs and fats and their natural counterparts. Aim for healthy trail snacks that are natural, like trail mixes and dried fruit.
Proteins are important too, but simply downing a protein shake and going on a hike will leave you feeling heavy. Proteins take longer to break down and use more energy. Instead, they should be eaten on longer breaks or towards the end of a hike to refill on longer-term energy for your hike.
Jerky: Beef, Pork, Turkey, or Fish
Jerkies in their various forms have a slew of benefits. First, they contain plenty of natural fats and salts. As you sweat, you use up salt. Drinking water may re-hydrate you, but it won’t replenish the lost salt. In hot environments such as jungles and deserts, you can actually get sick by not balancing water intake with salt intake.
Jerkies give you the salt and protein you need to keep going. However, since they are packed with protein, it’s a little more effort for your body to break down jerkies and get to the good stuff. Consider eating jerkies on longer lunch breaks or after you’ve completed your hike.
Of course, if you’re really hungry, jerky is filling and fine to eat while you hike. But if you find yourself getting a tummy ache after eating a lot of jerky, then try saving it for the end of your hike or a longer break where your digestive system can start breaking it down more easily.
Your Favorite Salty Trail Mixes
One might argue that salty trail mixes are the most healthy trail snack. Sure, nuts contain plenty of protein, but they also have healthy fats too. Not to mention, the fruits and chocolate pieces that you find in most trail mixes give you a quick boost of sugars and carbs, but not so much that you crash a few minutes later.
Go for salted varieties in order to refill on NaCl (the chemical name for table salt). Yes, health experts say that the unsalted trail mix is healthier, however, this isn’t the case when you hike. Your body needs salts to stay properly hydrated. It sounds counter-intuitive, but that white stain on the brim of your hat from sweat says otherwise.
High-Calorie Bars for Long Days
If you’re logging long, tough miles then you’re going to want something a little more heavy-duty to keep your fuel reserves up. Backpackers, peak baggers, alpine climbers, long-distance trail runners, and high-mileage (think 10-plus miles) hikers want a snack that’s worth the weight.
Natural, high-calorie meal bars are the perfect companion for these grueling days. While carrying a heavy pack or running over long distances, your body burns thousands of calories throughout the day. However, you don’t want to pack a meatball sub in your bag, so what do you do? Look for higher-calorie meal bars to supplement your energy. These bars typically have 300 to 500 calories per bar and focus on giving you carbs first, protein second.
Every brand has its own unique flavors and some are more natural than others. Stick to more natural ingredients and try a variety of flavors for a healthy hiking snack. Not that hungry? Just eat a bite or two and nosh as you go.
Fresh, Sauced, and Dried Fruits
Ditch the gummy bears (okay, maybe not all the gummy bears) and opt for fruit products instead. As you hike, your body needs energy quickly. The best way to do this is by eating healthy hiking snacks that are high in natural sugars. Yes, the processed stuff is great - it tastes awesome and provides you with both a mental and an energy boost, but too much of it can result in monumental sugar crashes.
Instead, try fruits. Regular washed fruits work well, but aren’t the most packable snacks (also, keep a baggie for your stems, cores, peels, etc). Dried fruits offer up the same healthy energy without the added bulk. Fruit leathers are an awesome healthy hiking snack. So are the packets of apple and fruit sauces. Each of these brings you easy, digestible energy for the trail.
Overall, choosing the right healthy hiking snacks means opting for natural sources of energy instead of processed foods. You’ll want to have a good balance of options that’s high on carbs, fats, and sugars, but also contains replenishing salts and proteins too. The result keeps a pep in your step and lets you hike further.
About the Author:
Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.