Hiking snacks come in all shapes and sizes. Go on a long enough hike and they'll turn into basically the only thing you talk about. Fantasise about that slice of cold pizza or packet of midget gems. Regret not putting nuts in your trail mix or packing any fresh fruit. Make plans for the next time you see a shop.
This article is going to make you hungry. So if you're even slightly peckish, go and grab a biscuit to fortify yourself against the snackfest to come.
Why do I need snacks for hiking?
How important you think hiking snacks are probably depends on if you're a grazer in everyday life. If you munch your way between lunch and dinner, this might not be a hard sell. If you've got a hunger graph with three delta-functions at 7:30, 13:00 and 18:00, then hiking snacks probably need some explaining.
The thing about going on a hike is that you use up a lot more energy than if you are sitting at a desk all day or lying on the sofa watching Netflix. While you might get away with eating just three big-ish meals in a normal day, on a hike that will most likely leave you hungry before and wanting a nap after. The mountains you're climbing couldn't care less whether it's nearly lunch time either. So if you're hanging out for your designated lunch slot, you're probably going to find that ascent much harder.
We're not scientists, but you can think about yourself a bit like a machine when you're hiking. Food in means fuel and therefore energy to keep your legs going. Yup, clearly got a PhD in sport science there. And since you're always moving throughout the day, you're better off having a constant level of energy than one with big peaks and troughs. So lots of small meals - aka snacks - throughout the day are better. Savvy?
What makes a good hiking snack?
There are so many factors involved in finding the best hiking snack, one that's perfect for your hike. Firstly, the weather and temperature where you're going hiking is a big one. Take the humble chocolate bar. Too hot and it turns to a suspicious squidge inside the wrapper. Too cold and its so hard it'll break your teeth. The same goes for things like caramel and other sugary bars - there's a reason people claim to have belayed off frozen Mars bars.
Then there's the shelf life, how long your lovely hiking snack will stay fresh and tasty. This is far less of an issue for day hikes, but if you're on a long distance walk or trek you should consider it. Fresh fruit and veg might go mouldy, for example. With this is the structural integrity of your snack: how well can it cope with travelling? Will it survive being crammed in a side pocket of your rucksack?
Another fact to consider is the snack's weight, size and packaging. Ultralight hikers will usually tut at the idea of carrying anything in a tin. It's bulky and heavy compared to a ziplock bag, for example. You could carry fresh fruit or dried fruit - less space and weight, less refreshing on hot days. Ultimately it's your choice, but remember you have to carry it all!
Finally - and critically - will you actually want to eat the snack while you're out hiking? This might sound mad. Of course I'll want to eat my favourite brand of biscuits! But you might find your tastes change while you're hiking. Or, more often than not, foods that taste amazing in the mountains taste pretty mediocre back home. It's also a rookie error to pack your body weight in sugar and be sick at the sight of Haribo by the end of the trip. Balance is key, but we'll cover that in more detail later.
A bad snack is one that you don't want to eat or regret carrying. Or one that gets so destroyed you can't eat it (melted chocolate bars, we're looking at you). Or something with a huge amount of packaging that's a faff to carry and dispose of. But don't worry, most of us learnt this all by trial and error. If you go hiking often enough, you'll quickly discover what works for you.
How many hiking snacks should I bring?
How many hiking snacks you bring with you really depends on what type of hiker you are, how far you are walking, over how long, and how much ascent is involved. Basically, are you going to need lots of energy to make it through the day? Okay, you'll certainly need more than in a standard day at home. It's just whether you'll need enough to munch on every hour or so to keep you hiking fast, or if it's such a challenging route you'll want extra pick me ups on top.
If you're going on a multi-day hike, you'll probably find you want more snacks per day the further into the trip you get. Anecdotally, this is because you've used up some or all of the energy reserves you had when you started. Make sure to pack yourself something especially tasty.
So the unhelpful answer is, unfortunately: you should always bring enough hiking snacks to last you. It's a terrible feeling to run out of food and not be able to get any more. But equally, if you have to carry all your food, you don't want to overdo it and have a rucksack so heavy it slows you down.
Example snacks you might take
As we've said, the best sort of hiking snack is one that you'll actually want to eat. We also find that the less like 'proper' hiking food your snack is, the more exciting. It's far easier to get excited by pizza than another handful of raisins. Unless you're really into raisins.
As tempting as it might be to simply pack sugar, it's important to get a balance of food groups. Sweets are great for a quick burst of energy, but you want some slow release too, like carbohydrates. Over longer trips - say a week or more - getting a balanced diet becomes more important too.
For most people, it'll be a choice of sweet and savoury. So without going into the details of macronutrients and all that jazz, here are some examples of things you might like to pack on a hike.
Run to the biscuit aisle of your favourite shop and help yourself. Well, obviously pay, but biscuits and cereal bars are a staple for hikers. Flapjacks, digestives, chocolate-coated Hobnobs... go wild. The same goes for packets of sweets, whether it's marshmallows or liquorice or emergency jelly babies. Every now and again you'll find someone eating jelly cubes neat out the packet.
We'd also put dried fruit in the sweet section, although it's probably better for your teeth than Haribo. Raisins and sultanas are classic. Apple, pineapple, mango and banana all come dried. Dates are basically pure sugar. You could definitely mix up dates with oats and seeds to make your own energy balls too.
Where to even begin... If you can fit it in your rucksack sensibly, you can eat it on a hike. There are so many options. You might pack crisps of any variety, or nuts and seeds. The fabled Trail Mix is usually a mixture of dried fruit, nuts and seeds - and sometimes M&Ms.
To get your protein in, people pack mini pork pies, scotch eggs, cocktail sausages and pasties. If you're going for more than a couple of days, Peperami or jerky won't go off so easily. Cheese can last a few days if the weather isn't too hot. Squeezy cheese (ugh) and squeezy bacon cheese (screaming intensifies) are common sights on expeditions. They're a bit like Marmite, either you're a fanatic or won't go near them.
Some sort of veggie spread might work for you. Or perhaps another classic: peanut butter. Whether you eat it on crackers and oat cakes or straight out the tub is down to your life choices. You can even buy it in squeezable pouches, a bit like baby food - another thing that occasionally makes it onto expeditions.
Fresh fruit and vegetables will taste better during a hike than they ever have. Choose things that are unlikely to get squashed or wrap them up carefully. Apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, plums, melons... anything goes! Make sure to take any peels or cores back home with you. As for vegetables, think cucumbers and carrots - anything with a refreshing crunch.
You've got a rucksack full of snacks! How about a hiking adventure to go with it?