You're decked out for a day on the trail, sturdy footwear and all. But if you haven't prepared a few healthy snacks to sustain you on your adventure, you might not get very far. Food is fuel, after all — and packing the perfect hiking snacks requires you to think about what your body needs on the trail.
How to Pick the Best Hiking Snacks
Carbohydrates are crucial because your body converts this nutrient into blood sugar to power all of your activities, according to the Mayo Clinic. "That's really where your immediate energy source is going to come from," James Lucas III, RD, an exercise physiologist, certified specialist in sports dietetics and founder and owner of JLucas Nutrition in Dallas, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Having a source of protein can also be important, especially on longer hikes, explains Laura Smith, RD, a doctoral student in the department of nutrition at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health in Chapel Hill. "Protein provides the building blocks for the repair and maintenance of your muscles," she says.
And there's no harm in including some healthy fats in the mix. Fat can keep you feel full for a longer period of time so that you're not reaching for snacks every hour, points out Danielle Lockard, RD, who works with Crozer-Keystone Health System in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
The type and quantity of snacks to squirrel away in your backpack may depend on the length of the hike, its intensity and the weather conditions. If it's hot and humid outside or you know you're going to be sweating a lot, think about choosing a salt-containing snack. Salt, or sodium, is one of the minerals your body needs to maintain proper fluid balance.
Climbing rocks or blazing an uphill trail? "You will need some energy to fuel that endeavor so you don't crash," Lucas says. Even if you're planning a shorter excursion, it's always good to be prepared, especially if you haven't mapped out the hike ahead of time. What if you get lost or encounter more rigorous terrain than anticipated? "You want to have some sustainable snacks with you," he says. Here are a few hiking snacks that dietitians recommend you take on your trip.
While hiking is a great way to burn calories, your body needs energy to keep your muscles moving. That's why granola is a great choice.
Complex carbohydrates, like those found in oats or other whole grains, are more slowly digested than simple carbohydrates like refined or processed sugar (think: candy bars and baked goods). The complex carbs and digestion-aiding fiber you get from granola will help keep you full for longer, Smith says.
No wonder why jerky has long been hikers' go-to snack. It's portable, nonperishable and packed with protein. One ounce of beef jerky supplies more than 9 grams of muscle-maintaining protein. If you're looking for something leaner, go for turkey or chicken jerky.
We especially like Country Archer's beef sticks because they're made with grass-fed beef, are free of nitrites and are super easy to eat on the go. Another jerky alternative? Biltong like Kalahari Biltong is a type of dried, cured meat that originated in South Africa and is sugar- and preservative-free.
There are good reasons to go bananas if you're on the trail. "Bananas are one of the highest carbohydrate-containing fruits you can eat," Lucas says.
A medium banana provides almost 27 grams of carbs. It's also a rich source of potassium, which is an essential mineral for keeping the heart healthy and battling fatigue during exercise, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
The dried fruit in trail mix is high in sugar and calories, but dietitians like this snack for hikers because it provides that instant energy boost. Just make sure you're choosing a trail mix that doesn't contain added sugars. Plus, "You're going to get a decent dose of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, depending on the fruit," Lockard says.
The nuts in trail mix give you protein and fat to keep you full longer and give you lasting energy, she adds.
Adding salted nuts to trail mix can help replace some of the salt or, more specifically, sodium chloride, that you lose when you sweat. Inadequate levels of these minerals are associated with muscle cramps, according to the NASM. And no one wants to deal with the pain of a stiff calf mid-hike!
Not a meat eater? Here's a yummy way to get a protein boost. An ounce of roasted chickpeas provides 5 to 6 grams of protein and 17 to 18 grams of carbs, depending on the brand you buy. Plus, they're high in fiber and super easy to make (try this roasted chickpea recipe).
Slather peanut butter or almond butter on whole-grain crackers for a balanced and delicious snack. A day before your tip, try mixing peanut butter with granola and mashed banana to make energy balls that you can freeze and pop into a cooler pack for the trail.
"Nut butter energy balls are a great snack because they contain protein, complex carbohydrates and they also have banana, which is a great source of potassium to replenish some of those electrolytes," Smith says.
Talk about an easy grab-and-go snack. One medium apple provides 25 grams of carbs — and since it's made up of about 86 percent water, it can help keep you hydrated. Oranges, peaches and pears can quench your thirst and provide a carbohydrate kick.
Although fruit contains natural sugar, the fiber in fruit helps slow down digestion to give you more sustained energy, Lucas explains. Pair your apple with a piece of cheese to ward off hunger.
But if you're looking for a snack to provide extra energy on the trail, you might want to go for a brand that's carb-heavy yet still made with whole foods, like LÄRABAR, Lockard suggests.
Pretzels with Hummus
Toss pre-packaged hummus with pretzel dippers into your cooler pack and you'll have a handy snack that covers the bases — crunchy, salty and contains carbs, healthy fat and protein.
"The biggest role protein is going to play on your hike is that it's going to keep you full," Lucas says. "When your appetite is fulfilled, that's going to help make your hike more enjoyable."