Throw a few granola bars and a
into your pack and you're done, right?
Not so fast.
Your body requires a steady supply of
carbohydrates, fats and proteins
throughout the day in order to keep you upright on the trail during a day hike.
Some of this fuel comes from your stored glycogen (skeletal muscles, liver) and adipose, but most of it comes from what you eat that day.
Which foods can deliver a good balance of fuel while you hike?
Ah! Glad you asked!
For the short, sweet answers,
For a more involved answer, let's start with carbohydrates as an important nutrient to include in dayhike foods.
Carbohydrates are sugars, either "simple" or "complex". Simple sugars will flood your bloodstream with glucose, then leave you to crash and burn. Candy bars are notorious for that quick hit of energy, but you should avoid most of them on the trail.
An exception would be a candy bar with lots of nuts (sources of fat), which can slow down the release of the sugar and provide a more sustained, even release of nutrients. I hear that Snickers are favorite dayhike food for through hikers, those dedicated hikers who specialize in serial day hikes along the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails every summer.
Of course, a candy bar presents other issues: Will it melt (if chocolate coated)? Is it packaged in layers of wrapping that you have to keep track of? Will it crumble to dust in your pack? Will it give you indigestion if you wolf it down?
I make one notable exception with simple sugars as dayhike foods: I suck on hard candy when I have to work hard on steep uphill sections of the trail. My daypack has a crafty little zippered pocket within easy reach on the hip belt, and I stash my favorite candy there.
It keeps my mouth hydrated (the saliva reflex), and takes my mind off the work at hand. Because the sugar is released quickly, it fuels my skeletal muscles and keeps my brain alert.
If you're sensitive to corn syrup, be careful about buying cheap bags of candy because the cheaper it is, the more likely it is there's corn syrup in it.
For all other trail work, the goal is slow and sustained energy release.
That's where complex carbohydrates from grains or fruit, plus protein, come into the picture - and your lunch sack - as appropriate dayhike foods.
If you'd like details on how to calculate your exact needs as a dayhiker, I recommend my e-booklet on this very subject, which you can pick up
Some folks like to stop often to snack on handfuls of trail mix or gorp, or to down an energy/granola bar. These hiking snacks try to deliver all 3 types of fuel at a sustained rate into the bloodstream: carbs from rice or wheat or dried fruit, fats & proteins from nuts.
Unfortunately, stopping often to eat may slow you down as your body tries to digest the frequent food. Your blood is diverted from leg muscles to your gastrointestinal tract.
For that reason, I prefer to rely on my stored glycogen and fat for the first 3 hours of a day hike, then stop for a snack when I receive strong hunger signals. (This depends upon what I had for breakfast, the type of terrain, the temperature, too.) That gnawing sensation forces me to break out a handful of trail mix or an energy bar, along with plenty of
to wash it all down.
Protein and fat, as I already mentioned, can be obtained via nuts or nut butters. Another great source is jerky.
But beware! Not all jerky is created equal.
Some are chock full of preservatives and flavorings.
I love buffalo jerky (Trader Joe's) because it seems to "burn clean"... an important consideration for day hike foods.
When I stop for lunch, I make sure my sandwich filling has protein and fat in it to complement the carbs in my bread.
Suggestions: peanut butter and banana, almond butter and strawberry fruit spread, tofu "egg salad" - extra spicy!, chicken and mayo, cheese & mustard, tuna & avocado.
Anything I eat on the trail as dayhike foods has to be a great combination of flavor and nutrients. I'm working hard, so I want to really enjoy my food.
I avoid preservatives and artificial ingredients because they keep my liver & kidneys distracted from their important tasks in pulling nutrients from my bloodstream.
Also, I don't want my taste buds to become used to fake flavorings, lots of salt and sugar, or intense flavor combinations because I don't want to miss out on savoring great food.
Did you know that the American food supply contains over 3000 ingredients to boost flavor, extend shelf life, and create certain textures? That's a lot of chemicals!!
My favorite trail bars
for day hike foods include Lara Bars, Zing Bars, Kind bars, PURE bars, and once in a while a Luna Bar.
Check out their labels, and you will see only a few ingredients. Each brand has a lot of flavors to choose from, and I'd be surprised if you couldn't find at least one that you liked.
And they're all
wheat & gluten free.
You might also want to
consider hiking chocolate
as a viable day hike food!
Dayhike foods can get expensive, if you completely rely upon store bought sources.
Here's a super easy inexpensive favorite of mine: In your food processor, grind up a cup of your favorite nuts (almonds, cashews, or pecans work well). Be sure they're raw (not roasted or salted or flavored). Don't let them grind to mush, but make sure they're in fairly tiny pieces.
Then add a cup of pitted dates. I buy mine at Costco or a local food coop (Medjool), and only bring home small quantities because they don't keep very well.
Along with the dates, add a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom, or other favorite baking spice.
If you don't have a full cup of dates in your cupboard, you can add raisins or apricots - something with a soft and chewy texture.
Process the dried fruit along with the ground nuts for a minute or two.
When the nut/fruit mixture begins to fall away from the sides of the container, it's time to add about half to one-third of a cup of nut butter.
Use your favorite, and be sure it's the good stuff. You don't want artificial flavors or preservatives, or too much salt, to slow you down on your hike. Currently my favorite is almond butter, but I've been known to use cashew or peanut butter, too.
Now for the fun part! Take off your rings to avoid getting this stuff stuck in hard to clean places. Carefully remove the wickedly sharp food processor blade (ask me how I know).
With clean hands, roll some of the yummy concoction in your hands until a ball forms. The size of the ball is up to you. I try for about the size of a large cherry tomato.
If you want to be super fancy, roll each ball in some unsweetened shredded coconut, or press a whole nut into the top. I've been tempted to try chocolate chips, but haven't yet. Maybe a high quality cocoa powder? Hmmm...
The "energy spheres" (as my husband refers to them) are DEE-licious when they're fresh, but after about 5 days they begin to lose their soft texture and the flavor begins to slip. I keep them in an airtight container on the kitchen counter.
The thing I love about these little balls of goodness is how much energy I derive from just one!
And I've expanded their use beyond dayhike foods. Now I take them to work with me, and when I feel that mid-morning dragging feeling, I eat one of the spheres along with a cup of green tea and Voila! I'm able to forget about hunger or brain fade for another few hours.
Want more information about women's hiking? Leave dayhike foods behind and return home...