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Are you looking to hit the trail for a day hike, but not sure what snacks to bring? Learn how to pack the ideal snacks for a day hike.
The sun is out, and the season is thawing. So, it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors. Grab a small pack, find a trail and don your hiking shoes - it’s time to go for a day hike. Beyond your urban jungle, the mountain vistas, and babbling brooks await.
But before you skip out your door, you’ll need to get prepared, and pack along some trail snacks. Unless… you plan to forage of course. No? I didn’t think so. Yes? Good on you mate, no need to read any further!
So, what are the ideal snacks for a day hike? As we’ll discuss, it’s important to pick nutritious hiking snacks that provide energy, without making you crash. And, you’ll want a balance between your macronutrients.
But, first thing’s first – remember to pack your water.
The amount of water you’ll need can vary based on the temperature, trip length, and trail intensity. But there are some general recommendations you can follow.
First, before you set out on the trail, drink about 4 cups of water (24 fluid ounces) to make sure you’re well hydrated. Then, as a rule of thumb, plan to drink at least 2 cups (16 fluid ounces) of water for every 1 hour you spend hiking. If it’s a hot day you’ll need closer to 4 cups of water per hour.
Most people hike at a pace of 2.5-4 mph on flat ground. So, if you’re doing a 10-mile hike, you’ll should take at least 24-32 fluid ounces of water.
If you’re hiking along a river or lake, you can also bring a water purifier with you and resupply on the trail to lighten your pack weight.
Long-distance trail hikers sometimes burn up to 4,500 calories per day. Of course, your exact calorie needs are going to depend on the terrain, hours spent hiking, pack weight, your weight, and your gender. But, in-general, a 160 lb person burns about 425-450 calories per hour when hiking.
So, based on that rule, you’ll need about 1,700 – 1,800 calories for a 4-hour hike if you’re 160 lbs. From here, adjust those calories up or down if you’re above or less than 160 lbs.
A lot of times, it’s tempting to toss some cookies, and candy bars in your day pack, and call it good. But just because you’re getting some exercise, don’t use hiking as an excuse to eat junk food.
Instead, you’ll feel better and perform better if you plan your hiking snacks to include food from all three macronutrients. Most of your energy will come from a combination of carbohydrates and fat, while protein will primarily help with recovery.
A lot of nutrition advice tends to emphasize the importance of carbohydrates when exercising. That’s because carbohydrates are the most quickly and easily processed source of energy. They’ll more quickly break down into glucose and give your muscles the quick extra kick they need to push up a steep hillside.
So, yes, carbohydrates are important when exercising. But we also need to consider the activity we’re performing. Carbohydrates are more important for high-intensity anaerobic exercises when your muscles can’t get enough oxygen to quickly metabolize fat. Conversely, your body will burn more fat in light intensity exercises when oxygen is more readily available.
Hiking is considered a moderate intensity exercise (although the subsequent muscle soreness may argue otherwise). While you might encounter a steep hill and rugged terrain, hiking is essentially the same as walking.
Your body actually burns a higher percentage of fat than carbohydrates when you’re walking or hiking. That’s because it has more oxygen available to do so.
So, what does this all mean? Should you only pack fatty snacks with you for your day hike?
Although you’ll burn more fat when hiking, you’re always burning a mix of both fat and carbs. The split of those just changes based on the intensity of your exercise.
So, it’s a good idea to bring both. Plus, if you push yourself too hard, and “bonk”, you’ll be happy you had a quick source of carbs on hand.
This is when you run out of gas. You might start feeling lethargic, or even show signs of a low blood sugar. You may feel light-headed, clammy, or get a headache. If this happens, you’ll want to reach for a sweet snack, to help boost your blood sugar back up, and fuel the rest of your hike.
One way to avoid the bonk is to snack consistently throughout your hike and include about 15-30 grams of carbs per hour. One fresh banana or apple is equivalent to about 15 grams.
Although fat and carbs are the preferred energy source for your body, you can also metabolize protein. For long distance hikers it’s very important to consume enough calories because they’re body will start to burn both fat and muscle stores. So, you also need to consume enough protein to restore those muscle stores.
This isn’t as much of a concern for a day hike, but protein is still important. Not only will it help you with muscle repair, but it’s also well paired with carbohydrate snacks.
When you consume carbohydrates with protein, you’ll slow the absorption of the sugar, resulting in a less severe rise and drop in blood sugar. Plus, by combining your protein with your carbohydrates, your snacks will feel more fulfilling. Although proteins and carbs both have 4 calories per gram, protein has a higher satiety level. So, you won’t feel hungry as quickly.
So, let’s put this all together, and pack your day hike snacks.
Ideally, you want snacks that are nutrient dense, and that fit the criteria discussed above. The denser your snacks, the lighter your day pack will be.
Fruit – Fresh fruit can be a great option as a quick carb source on the trail. You can pack along an apple, banana, or some grapes. But sometimes fruits can tend to get smooshed in your backpack, so another option is dried fruit. This will lighten your pack as well. I personally love dried mango on the trail.
Nuts and Nut Butters – Nuts tend to be great snacks on the trail because they’re calorically dense. They tend to be high in fat too, which is good for hiking. They also contain protein so they’re a fairly well- balanced snack that are easy to eat on-the-go. When I’m hiking I tend to fill my pockets like a squirrel and then snack as I hike. Good nut options include almonds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, and pecans.
You can also get a lot of nuts in the form of butter, such as almond butter. You can just eat straight if you want or combine with bread for a tasty PBJ snack.
Energy and Protein Bars – When I hike, I also like to bring along a few protein or energy bars. That’s because they’re a quick snack when you need a pick-me-up and if you pick wisely you can find bars that have a balanced supply of nutrients. Exo’s energy bars are good because they have simple ingredients, which include nuts or seeds, cricket powder - with a ton of benefits, fruit and other natural ingredients that I recognize. They basically take the snack foods I’d normally pack hiking, and then they smoosh them into a bar. (And if you're wondering do crickets have protein? Of course!)
With all that said, you should be ready to pack your snacks, and hit the trail.
Oh, and before you go, what's the one place you think every serious hiker should hike at least once in their life?