Food. Nothing is more connected to walking than talking about, thinking about and eating food. And when you go a long way or are suffering in the weather, the hiking snacks that you pick can mean the difference between misery and joy. I am not even exaggerating. I keep a bag of emergency jelly babies near my first aid kit for exactly this reason. A little boost of sugar can turn a cold huddle on the side of a mountain into a memorable tale. A surprise chocolate bar that’s been in your bag so long all the writing has rubbed off – but you’re going to eat it anyway because you thought you ran out of food an hour ago. The crunch of a packet of crisps that you’re going to have to drink most of the packet because they’re so crushed. The refreshing taste of an apple on a scorching summer’s day in the hills.
This article is going to focus on snacking. That’s all the bits of food available to eat in between your scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner on a walk – even if you partake in first and second lunch. This can be a bit of a mystery to many people new to walking. I see it a lot with the young people I take through Ten Tors training on Dartmoor, as well as adult clients new to the mountains. If you’re not used to grazing in daily life, it can be hard to know what to pack, how much to pack and when to even eat it all. Let me make no assumptions and walk you through it.
Why do I need hiking snacks?
Food is fuel. When you’re walking far more than you would in a normal day, you’ll be amazed at how hungry you get. And because you are walking continuously throughout the day, you probably won’t be hungry only at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea of having snacks is to make sure that you don’t spend the time between meals ravenous. We’re here to enjoy a hike after all, not spend all our time thinking about our next meal.
You may also find that you boredom eat. This is less of a thing for day walks, but if you’re going a long way with a lot of kit and your life has descended into simply plodding onwards, having something to chew on can add variety. Either way, if you’re going to carry snacks, it’s important that they’re easy to get to or you won’t bother eating them. Stashed in trouser pockets can work, but can be uncomfortable when walking. I stuff the waist belt pockets on my rucksack full, and put the rest in outside pockets so that a friend or teammate get them out for me without having to take my bag off.
How often should I eat on a walk?
The rule of thumb is every hour. Mostly I boredom eat, which is to say I eat before I’m hungry. One leader when I was younger suggested that you should eat an energy bar when you see the hill you’re about to climb. That way you’ve got the energy in your system by the time you hit the ascent, rather than trying to eat and breath and walk uphill all at once. Although if you eat something every time you see a hill, you’ll probably need a bigger rucksack.
The benefit of eating little and often is that you spread your energy out evenly throughout your day. That means you don’t have huge spikes and troughs – like the post-lunch slump where all your blood goes to your stomach instead of your legs. You’ll feel a lot better for snacking and splitting your lunch in half. Think of it like a fire, where your carbs are big logs and your sugars are kindling. Little and often keeps the fire going, but you still need some substantial fuel or the fire will burn through quickly and go out.
What kinds of snacks?
The key to hiking snacks is to get a balance. Do not be a teenager I know who decided it would be a fun idea to try to eat his body weight in sugar on a walk. It’s fun until you get a massive energy low and a banging headache. Here are what I’d consider the main types of snack. A few of each makes for good variety. But don’t panic if you can’t tick all the boxes. It’s only on much longer expeditions that you have to start worrying about nutrition.
- Sugar – for quick hit energy: basically pure sweets (boiled, gummy etc) and chocolate.
- Carby – for longer burn energy. This is a sliding scale into sweet: crackers, oat cakes, cereal bars, fruit cake. There are a growing number of protein bars about, but unless you’re on a special diet I’d say they’re very expensive for what you get.
- Salty and Savoury – again, this can be a sliding scale out of carbohydrate: oat cakes, crackers, crisps, popcorn. I mostly carry these for a change of texture and a break from sweet. Nuts are also a great choice, as long as no one in your group has an allergy. You can buy in big packets and portion them out for day walks in ziplock bags or similar. Then there’s true savoury: proteins like biltong, jerky, pepperami and cheeses – which can work, but not when it’s too hot because there is nothing sadder than sweaty cheese! Also in summer it’s a good idea to ensure you have some salty snacks to replace the salt you’re losing from sweating.
- Vegetable (and fruit) – yes really. Often forgotten, there are a lot of things that come in their own packaging and travel very well. I particularly like carrots and cucumbers. Apples, oranges and bananas are more common, but leave you with waste to carry out. Look for things you can eat entirely and that don’t squish too easily.
As an example, I spent most of my Ten Tors walks getting my carbs in lunch, breakfast and dinner, then snacking on dried fruit and fairly sugary cereal bars. On day hikes at university, I would take some bars but also apples and carrots because I could put the core in the bin within 8 hours, rather than have it fester in my bag for 2 days. (Top tip: pair an apple with a packet of crisps, so you can wrap the core inside the empty packet to take it home.)
You’ve probably never had to think about how your food performs in certain weather. But here are the things to think about when choosing snacks for the UK’s weather conditions in particular.
- Cold: will you be wearing big gloves? It can be hard to open fiddly things, like some wrappers, while wearing gloves.
- Very cold: some snacks freeze solid, making them very hard to eat (even tooth-breaking!), especially chocolate bars and some cereal bars. A high percentage of oats or wafer tends to be fairly freeze-proof.
- Wind: delicate or easily spread food, like crisps, can get lost in the wind and that’s sad.
- Rain: not all food is water repellent and a soggy snack is a sad snack.
- Very hot: chocolate and even sweets can melt. I’ve had a sad situation with an entire packet of chocolate hobnobs that melted together and wouldn’t come apart, making them inedible. Liquid chocolate bars are another common issue.
Where can I buy hiking snacks? And give me some examples!
Luckily for you, there are lots and lots of places to buy hiking snacks. Here are some of the common ones, ranging across price points.
Specialist hiking snacks
These can be found online or in outdoor shops. They are designed specifically with adventure in mind, so tend to be high calorie and low volume/weight. They’ve usually also thought about weather conditions and packaging. Out of all the ones I’ve tried, Outdoor Provisions are by far my favourite. They sent me a box for going to the US and I am absolutely sold. Their energy bars look like dried fruit and taste like cake. Their nut butter sachets range from tasting like pre-party nibbles to praline, but all with high energy and compostable packaging. Other popular brands are Kendal Mint Cake (don’t tell your dentist) and Cliff Bars, which are energy bars that come in a huge range of flavours – they just don’t taste that fantastic in my experience.
Another suggestion: these aren’t really designed for hiking but Fruitina Fruit Snacks have been my constant hiking companion since I was under 10 years old. You can occasionally find them very expensively in health food shops or in bulk on the internet. Would highly recommend.
The aisles of the supermarket are your playground. For sugar, I love Jelly Babies, Haribo Tangfastics, Wine Gums or Sports Mix, Mentos… the choice is really between would you rather chew or suck the sweets. I prefer suckable sweets for days with a lot of uphill because you can tuck it behind your teeth and still be able to breathe (again, don’t tell your dentist!). Brunch Bars are my go to cereal bar at the moment – because Chewie bars seem to have gone. Penguins too – anyone who’s walked with me will know I’ll accost people with these jokes whenever I want to eat one. Also Orange Club Bars in winter are moving onto my favourites list for not freezing.
For multi day walking, poppy and sesame seed crackers are great because they are savoury (for when you’re sick of sugar) but still have good taste. Chocolate coated hobnobs are a perfect combo of texture and sweet, plus those boxes of flapjack or brownie bites you can get in big supermarkets are a top notch snack when put in a ziplock instead. And have you really lived if you haven’t eaten crumbs out of a bag with a spoon? I used to also carry neat jelly cubes when I was younger.
As for the more savoury, I’ve yet to find a good meat stick I like. But tastes change while you’re walking, so it’s definitely worth experimenting with. Similarly with cheese – I’ve done the classic thing in France of buying cheese but I just can’t stand it when it gets warm and slightly sweaty. However I have seen lots of people successfully carry Baby Bell, Cheese Strings or similar. And we’ve already mentioned the adventure cucumber. That’s more of a summer thing for me, but carrots I will carry all year around.
Some homemade cakes are perfect for walking. In particular things that are dense or sturdy in some way, like fruit cakes, protein balls, flapjack or tiffin. The hardest part is the packaging, but greaseproof paper is surprisingly versatile and water resistant. Bees wax wraps work well too. Pictured below are my breakfast flapjacks (no sugar) that I took on the Spanish 3000s.
How can I possibly choose?
Like so many things in outdoor activities, the very best way to learn is trial and error. Do it again and again. With time and tweaking you’ll work out a system that’s perfect for you. Think about the weight of the food and how far you’re carrying it. You can get away with a lot more on a day walk or short weekend than on an expedition. So try things, experiment on short walks and by the time your on a serious expedition, you’ll know what you need.
Although do remember that having fun with food makes the whole hiking experience more fun. A little bit of the ridiculous (like the adventure cucumber) really adds something to the walk. Everyone else eating serious cereal bars and you’re there eating doughnuts. Just because you haven’t seen it on this page doesn’t mean you can’t carry it. And there are bound to be things I’ve forgotten – like many Europeans I’ve walked with carry boiled eggs. Still, I hope it’s a helpful start to your culinary adventures in the mountains!
Please share your favourite hiking snacks in the comments too. I am always looking for inspiration!
Fed up of my sporadic use of social media? Then you need to be in the Adventure Squad! More like a chat with a cuppa and as far from doomscrolling as possible. Or while you’re here, have a read of some of my other mountain adventures in walking, mountaineering and winter. If you’re new to the blog (hello!) you might want to start here first. I’m a female adventurer based in the UK who works as a Mountain Leader, mostly based on Dartmoor.