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Dayhike foods? You're kidding, right?
Throw a few granola bars and a water bottle into a pack, and you're done with your hiking snacks!
Sure, you can get by with eating like that on a day hike.
But why just "get by", when you can have abundant energy and stamina by eating the right dayhiking food?
Here's a short cut to some day hike lunch ideas that will help you keep going mile after mile:
But let's not overlook the convenience and nutrition of energy bars as good hiking snacks.
Allow me to share my favorite day hike snacks with you!
Not the "cocktails" kind of bars! That comes later, when you're celebrating your energy filled hike.
I'm referring to the hiking snacks that keep me going between meals during a fabulous hike, in all kinds of weather.
To be on the sanctioned Hiking For Her list of favorite dayhike foods, they have got to be delicious & nutritious.
They must pass scrutiny of their ingredients (no fillers, artificial dyes or colors, or cheap corn syrup).
Another thing I look for is the ability to buy these in bulk. If you purchase them one at a time, the price adds up fast.
I need to be gluten free, so that's also a strict part of the criteria for a great trail bar.
If you want to go organic, here are some tips.
With all that in "scrutiny" in mind, let's take a glance at my current favorite day hike food in the form of trail bars (also known as a partial answer to best hiking food for dayhikers).
Lara Bars have been around for awhile.
When they first came out I was overjoyed by how short the ingredient list was and how much flavor they packed.
These bars rely upon nuts, so if you're nut intolerant (I will skip the easy joke here, and you're welcome) these are not for you.
The variety of flavors is mind boggling.
My current favorite is Cashew Cookie, but I have been known to buy a case of mixed flavors to keep my taste buds from dozing off:LÄRABAR 16-Flavor Variety (Pack of 16).
ZING bars are designed by nutritionists who paid attention to nutrient ratios but also got the taste right.
These bars don't get rock hard in your pack overnight, and they don't melt in the heat (the same could be said of Lara Bars - but those will get smooshed if you subject them to high pressures like sitting on your pack).
I love the blueberry flavor, but truthfully, I have yet to meet one I don't like!
The chocolate coconut bar really hits the spot sometimes but for some reason I keep gravitating back to blueberry.
These can be quite expensive if purchased one at a time, so consider the bulk buy option and split some with trail buddies:
Kind bars are a bit on the sweet side, but if I need lots of glucose in my bloodstream to tackle some elevation gain, I enjoy these.
If you like savory and sweet combined, you should try these for sure.
Warning: They rely heavily upon nuts.
If you are allergic to a particular type, read the labels. Most of the names shout it right out, such as my current favorite, Almond & Coconut.
My apologies for the name of this one: Caveman Bars.
However, I'm willing to overlook the name and focus on their taste.
Because I was introduced to these bars on a back country trip through ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), and they kept me fueled through 10 days of rugged terrain and temperature extremes.
I kept looking forward to rest breaks so I could eat another one!
Remember the Hiking For Her calorie rule:
They don't count when you're working hard, so don't count them!
Favorite flavor? I couldn't decide! They are quite tasty and filling.
The descriptive names will help you navigate away from nuts, if necessary.Caveman Foods Primal Performance Caveman Bar Variety 1.4oz Pack of 10
Go Macro Bars are toothsome and satisfying, and the ingredients are a dream: no additives or preservatives, USDA organic, and can easily fit into dietary restrictions:
The glucose is derived from 100% brown rice, making it a grain based source of carbohydrates.
Lots of flavors to tempt you, too!
Great hiking energy is a bit more complicated than trail bars, dear hiker.
Your body requires a steady supply of carbohydrates, fats and proteins throughout the day in order to keep you chugging along on the trail during a day hike.
Some of this cellular fuel comes from the stored glycogen (sugars in skeletal muscles, liver) and adipose (fat) from what you've eaten in the past, but most of it comes from what you eat that day.
So an energy bar and a few sips of water is a good start, but not nearly good enough to make your day.
Which day hike foods can deliver a good balance of fuel while you glide down the trail?
Ah! Glad you asked!
For a brief overview and some ideas for choosing the best hiking food, stick with me here for a bit.
Because your mood and your food on the trail are related.
Let's start with carbohydrates as an important nutrient to include in dayhike foods.
In fact, they're the most important of the "big 3" nutrients mentioned above! You'll see why in a moment.
Carbohydrates are sugars, either "simple" or "complex".
Simple sugars will flood your bloodstream with glucose ("Whoa! Burst of energy!"), then leave you to crash and burn ("Whoa! I gotta sit down").
Candy bars and sugary/caffeinated drinks are notorious for that quick hit of energy, but you should avoid relying on them for sustained energy on the trail.
An exception would be a candy bar with lots of nuts (sources of fat/protein), 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 thruhikers, those dedicated hikers who specialize in serial day hikes along the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Superior or Wonderland Trails every summer.
Of course, a candy bar presents other issues:
Those simple sugars are high maintenance items!
I just skip all of the drama...
with one notable exception: I suck on hard candy when I have to work hard on steep uphill sections of the trail.
My day packs have crafty little zippered pockets within easy reach on the hip belt, and I stash my favorite candy there. Each season I tempt myself with a new flavor.
These little flavor bombs keep my mouth hydrated (the saliva reflex), and take my mind off the hard work at hand.
And because the sugar is released quickly and steadily, it fuels my skeletal muscles and keeps my brain alert.
Heads up: If you're sensitive or politically opposed to corn syrup, be careful about buying cheap bags of candy because the cheaper it is, the more likely it is there's high fructose corn syrup in it.
Read the labels! And know that there are dozens of words for sugar.
Here are two of my favorite trail hard candies. The first one tastes like coffee with a hint of caramel cream in it:
The second one fills your mouth with fruity (organic) goodness, so stock up and stash a tin in each of your packs!
For all other trail work, the goal is slow and sustained energy release.
That's where complex carbohydrates from grains or fruit, plus a dash of protein, come into the picture - and your lunch sack - as appropriate dayhike foods.
If you'd like details on how to calculate your exact nutrition needs as a dayhiker, I recommend my e-booklet on this very subject, which you can pick up here.
I created it based on the questions dayhikers were asking about what to eat on the trail.
If you're serious about good trail performance as a dayhiker, the information in these booklets will get you pointed in the right direction (so to speak).
Some dayhikers like to stop every hour to snack on handfuls of trail mix or gorp, or to gulp down an energy bar (see above for recommendations).
These hiking snacks, in the category of very best hiking food, try to deliver all 3 types of fuel at a sustained rate into the bloodstream:
Unfortunately, stopping often to eat may work against you.
Your skeletal muscles will slow you down as your body tries to digest the frequent food because your blood is being diverted from legs and arms 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, and the temperature, too.)
That gnawing sensation after a few hours forces me to break out a handful of trail mix or an energy bar, along with plenty of water to wash it all down.
This isn't just a matter of getting the peanut butter off the roof of my mouth.
No, it's a cellular energy insurance policy! Water is a solvent, and if you don't have enough of it in your body, your energy levels will suffer.
My best trail tip is to snack on raw nuts and dried fruits, especially if you haven't found an energy bar you really like.
My favorite source for fruit and nut mixes as trail snacks is Trader Joes.
Here are a few suggestions to try for this important category of dayhike foods.Trader Joe's Omega Trek Mix with Fortified Cranberries (12 oz)
Protein and fat, as already mentioned, can be obtained via nuts or nut butters.
NOTE: Be sure to purchase high quality nuts. If they've been sitting around for awhile, the fats become rancid (see storage tip above).
Sometimes you'll notice the "off" flavor, but not always. Your body has a harder time processing rancid fats, and they make weaker cell membranes.
Avoid rancid nuts at all costs.
Another great source of protein is jerky (dried meat).
But beware! Not all jerky is created equal.
Some jerkies are chock full of preservatives and strong flavorings.
Tip: Buy a small package before committing to an expensive large pouch.
I love buffalo jerky because it seems to "burn clean" (no digestive upsets, no weird tastes, no burping) ... an important consideration for choosing your dayhike foods.
I found a particularly flavorful and "clean" buffalo jerky because of a trail recommendation (Yes, I've been known to stop total strangers and ask about something, and this time it was along the lines of "Hmm, what's that? It looks good!").
Here's the product. A bit pricey, yes, but geez it's great as trail fuel!
I have to pace myself because I tend to gobble it down. The cranberries add a moist deliciousness that is amazing to experience.
Thankfully, this package lasts for several hikes:
To save time driving to the trailhead, smoothies are an option.
When I finally stop for lunch, I make sure my slices of bread (complex carbs) have protein and fat between them, in generous amounts.
On hiking days I don't worry about calories, because I know that if I'm out for even just a few hours I'll be running a calorie deficit.
Some days, if I'm working hard on the trail, I even have Second Lunch!
These are my favorite day hike food ideas:
Hiking in warm weather? Read my tips for day hike food safety here.
Anything I eat on the trail as dayhike foods has to be a great combination of flavor and nutrients backed up with good quality ingredients.
You can find lots more tips for the best protein sources here.
I'm working hard, so I want to really enjoy my food.
I strive to avoid preservatives and artificial ingredients because they keep my liver & kidneys distracted from their important tasks: pulling nutrients from my bloodstream and dumping waste products from my body.
Also, I don't want my taste buds to become used to fake flavorings, lots of salt and sugar, or intense flavor combinations.
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!!
I respect my hard working liver and kidneys too much to throw all of that at them - especially on the trail when they're already working hard to get the right balance of blood sugar and water.
And only the best dayhike foods are part of that plan.
This overview of dayhike foods should get you started snacking on the trail.
Be sure to share your dayhike foods with your trail buddies! They aren't picky about flavors :)
P.S. Just kidding. Don't train these camp robbers (gray jays) to eat human dayhike foods.
They're much better off with bird foods.
But I couldn't resist the glint in this one's eyes.
If only I could maintain such focus on the best dayhike foods...
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