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Trail Mix As Fuel:
How To Keep Your Energy Level
Sustained On A Hike

By Diane Spicer

Trail mix is a common (and tasty) hiking snack. Use Hiking For Her tips to choose wisely, and keep your energy high on the trail. #hiking #backpacking #hikingfood #trailsnacks #trailmix

What to eat on a hike to get the energy to keep going?

One answer, 4 words: trail mix as fuel.

Sounds like a hiking cliche, but slow down a minute.

The topic of eating the right food on a hike is nothing new around here.

Been around
Hiking For Her awhile?

If you’ve been reading the Hiking For Her website for a while, you know that I’m all about getting the most from what is eaten on a hike.

No exception for the best trail mixes!

  • My biochemistry and human biology background, combined with my hunger and thirst on the trail, make a powerful combination when it comes to designing my own high performance trail mix.

You can skip down to the next section on trail mix recipes if you’d rather not read a short description about why choosing the right ingredients for your trail mix, depending on what type of hike you’ve planned, makes good biological sense.

Or stick with me here for a brief glimpse into why you need all of the Big Three hiking nutrients if you're serious about carrying trail mix as fuel for lots of energy on your next hike.

Big Three:
mix up your hiking nutrients
to keep your energy flowing

Your body is a hiking machine.

That means it's built for walking hour after hour, as long as you keep fuel flowing through your bloodstream.

  • To go deeply into the topic of best energy sources for hiking, read this.

Here, let's be brief about how to keep your energy levels high during a hike.

simple or complex

Carbohydrates (carbs) are a fancy way of saying sugar.

Use simple sugars in your trail mix when you want a fast hit of energy.


Simple sugars are refined, processed and easy to digest.

  • In fact, crackers and other grain based carbs begin to fall apart in your mouth, attacked by digestive enzymes in your saliva.

That means they hit your bloodstream fast, and can be grabbed by your cells easily.

Complex carbs, on the other hand, take a while to be pulled apart in your digestive system.

While they have their place in hiking food lists, they don’t make much sense in trail mix designed for fast energy.

  • The whole point of trail mix is to keep you fueled up to respond quickly to changes in trail and weather conditions, right?

So go simple here.

Like this rice cracker medley from Trader Joes!


Proteins are molecules that have important functions (like the enzymes in saliva) and they also provide structure (like your thigh muscle fibers).

You don’t need a lot of protein in a trail mix, because it’s harder to digest than carbs.

  • Skip the stomachache and stick to carbs!

Plus, your muscle contractions on the trail don’t need protein until you’re recovering from your hike later in the day.

That's the time to hit the best sources of hiking protein hard.


Fats have a lot of nasty baggage attached to them, some of it undeserved in media hype about artery clogging or weight gain.

The reality:

Every human cell needs fat molecules (lipids) for structure, and some of them (like your brain cells as you process these words) need it for proper function as well.

So don’t omit fats from your trail mix!

But don’t go overboard with them, because it will slow down your digestion and work against your goal of maintaining your hiking energy at a sustained, high level.

Here are three dirty little secrets of fat in trail mix as fuel:

  • Fats just taste good,
  • they help to fill you up,
  • and signal to your brain that you’ve eaten something yummy.

Satisfying hiking food is a good hiking insurance policy!

But moreso on a long backpacking trip than on a day hike.

So go light on the fats in your trail mix on a short day hike.

Paleo hikers exception

Unless you're a paleo hiker, relying upon fat conversion into energy.

You've pushed your biochemistry into relying upon fat as muscle fuel, but you'll still need some glucose to keep your brain cells humming along (it's their preferred fuel).

Time to mix it up!
Three recipes for trail mix
as fuel on a hike

Ready to design a trail mix template that will keep you fueled and satisfied for three different types of hiking?

The exact ingredients you choose are up to you!

But I'll get you started with a few ideas.

Hike #1:
Moderate to easy terrain day hike
in clear spring or fall weather

Sounds like a great way to stretch your legs, right?

And because your muscles won’t be gobbling up calories (energy) at an alarming rate on this hike, a light mix of sweet, salty and savory will do the trick.

In fact, you can omit the salt entirely because you won’t be building up a significant amount of sweat (unless you’re carrying a toddler, or training for an upcoming hiking trip).

Or unless your shoulder hiking weather is unusually hot.

Hi, sweetie!

Sweetness can be delivered to a trail mix recipe with a handful of dried fruit.

Be conservative and stick with raisins, or go rogue with mango and papaya.

Or cherries and berries!

Unsulfured, pesticide free organic dried fruit may cost more, but is less likely to provoke an allergic reaction to sulfites, or make your liver work hard at detoxification.

My favorite convenient source for non-GMO dried fruit: NatureBox.

How to savor trail time

Savory encompasses the fatty, crunchy, satisfying stuff like nuts and grains.

You can stay firmly in the traditional GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) realm.

Or you can indulge your taste buds with rich, buttery macadamia nuts, like these.

But there’s no need to over think this trail mix.

Throw a few handfuls of dried fruit + nuts into a re-sealable bag, and you’re good to go.

Trail tip:

If weight maintenance or weight loss is your goal on this hike, be mindful of portions in your trail mix as fuel recipes.

Although you’re exercising, the amount of calories you are burning won’t allow for hefty portions of this trail mix.

  • Go for slow, thoughtful mouthfuls as you enjoy the mild weather.
  • Feed your mind and spirit with all that the hiking trail has to offer as you nibble a modest portion of your hiking snack.

Hike #2:
Strenuous day hike with significant elevation gain/loss in
moderate temperatures

On this hike your body is going to work hard to maintain your internal temperature.

Trail mix as fuel needs more consideration, and here's why:

Continuous muscle contractions over a long time interval will generate a lot of body heat.

And sweat, which carries away both water and salt.

It’s important to balance out how salty your trail mix will be with how much water you’re going to carry, or how much surface water you’ll have access to for purification.

  • Hiking hydration strategies here
  • Water purification tips here

Fast fix: Simply add salt to the trail mix you designed for your easy day hike (see Hike #1 above).

  • Salted nuts can replace the unsalted version, covering both your salty and savory bases.
  • Pretzels are fun to crunch, especially salty bite sized ones filled with something tasty.

Trail tip:

Get into the habit of buying ingredients in bulk when you dial in just the right combination of trail mix as fuel.

It saves not only time, but money.

  • And individual packages will keep the food fresher, and thus more palatable on the trail.
The best trail snacks deliver fuel and satisfying flavor during your hike. Use Hiking For Her's tips for high energy levels. #hiking #backpacking #trailsnacks #hikingfood

Hike #3:

Double digit mileage
wearing a heavy pack
through temperature swings

Unless you do this type of hiking for a living (wow, now there’s a job description), your body isn’t prepared for diverting glucose, fat and protein into your cells hour after hour to maintain your stamina and energy level.

So help it out with a trail mix that is easy to digest, delivering fast energy (glucose in the form of simple sugars) and other nutrients without queasiness.

How sweet it is
in this trail mix as fuel life

Sweetness is a big motivator for many hikers.

And thinking only of your hard working muscles, it's a smart move as a backpacker or rugged day hiker.

Here’s where high quality hiking chocolate enters the picture trail mix.

Note the "high quality".

It pays to be thoughtful about your chocolate choices.

  • You don’t want the super sweet, cheap stuff because it's usually loaded with unnecessary chemicals and fat.
  • It also trains your taste buds to demand huge hits of sweetness.

The good stuff i.e. high percentage cacao chocolate delivers a satisfying mouth feel and hiking energy:

  • satiety (satisfaction after eating something really delicious)
  • and the glucose you need as fuel for your hiking muscles.

Salty trails

Salt becomes more important on a backpacking trip for two reasons:

  • you’re losing electrolytes such as sodium over a long time period as your sweat evaporates on your skin to keep you cool(er),
  • and you begin to crave it as a natural reaction to this loss.

So mix something salty and fatty into your trail mix: salted sesame sticks like these will give you a nice combination of fats, carbs and salt.

Or you can carry small vacuum packed pouches of salty olives with various flavor profiles to add to your evening meal.

  • Enjoy as a salt replacing appetizer at your camp site or lunch spot, too!

Trail tip:

Packets of electrolytes like these, in addition to your salty trail mix, can help fend off muscle cramps on long, hot, sweaty treks.

Trail mix as fuel
only goes so far

Trail mix is easy to throw together, lightweight and so enjoyable on a hike.

But there is so much more to eating well as a hiker!

  • That's why there are lots more tips on hiking food here on this website.

Use the search box at the top of any page to find them quickly.

  • The TOP button over there on the right will get you there pronto.

A few quick links:

Enjoy munching your trail mix as fuel while everyone else just thinks of it as trail snacks ;)

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Best Trail Mix As Fuel Ideas

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