6 Backcountry Snacks You May—Or May Not—Enjoy
Food usually tastes better eaten with a titanium spork—you probably know this already. And it certainly isn’t because titanium is a particularly delicious tasting metal. It’s just that the only time you use that special spork is before, during or soon after outdoor activity. And putting any food in front of somebody in these circumstances will most often be met with a gracious smile and a positive reaction. But some foods are simply more satisfying than others during a long day out—and some foods simply do not pack well.
From processed to gourmet, if you’re looking for some new trail food ideas, here are reviews and ratings for a handful of the more noteworthy snacks I’ve enjoyed outdoors.
My friend Cass makes a spectacular creamy mushroom risotto. Sometimes I get lucky and we have leftovers. Cass is overly humble about their cooking and I think the risotto is a true standout in their repertoire. It doesn’t bother me that I don’t know the nutritional information, because on this day, it lifted my emotional spirits enough to charge up another summit.
Rating: 3/5. Cold risotto rarely ever tastes good, but this time around it was good enough to encourage me to keep hiking.
I’m typically not the biggest fan of asparagus. It has to be cooked well and seasoned appropriately. But there are some days when I decide to get creative with the food I pack. I spend a lot of time outside and eating the usual food everyday gets pretty old. Bringing it into the mountains was questionable decision, because by the time I ate it, it was a few days old and wilted. It really put my idea that “all food tastes good in the backcountry” to the test. Although I didn’t hate it, this probably won’t become my new normal. I’ll save the veggies for a different time and place.
Rating: 2/5. I’d be interested in trying to cook asparagus on the summit next time. Perhaps I’d have different results. Sad and wilted vegetables rarely go over well.
I asked my friend Jack (pictured) to tell me his thoughts on this pizza pretzel we enjoyed together. He says, “Although I try to be gluten free and paleo as much as I can, I occasionally have cheat days. The soft texture of the pretzel combined with its ability to end my hunger is unparalleled among common trail food. The only downfall is its lack of environmental sustainability, as it is not a wholesome vegan snack. However, once finished, I am back on track to my normal organic and non-gmo lifestyle.” Clearly, Jack was enthusiastic about eating a pizza pretzel before descending 6,000 feet off a glacier and into a rainforest. I’d count this as a huge success and give gratitude to the bargain grocery store in Canada where we bought it.
Rating: 5/5. Eating processed food can be good for the mind, body, and soul.
These pies are about a dollar at any gas station and have as much sugar, half the protein, and twice the calories as a lot of energy bars. On longer days, I always carry one of these with me in case I get tired. I personally guarantee that you’ll feel very energized (sugar high) after eating it. I haven’t looked into the exact science behind eating pie, but I’m fairly confident it’s a superfood. I recommend pairing pie with coffee (shown in the picture) for an even better experience.
Rating: 4/5. The vibe on this particular day called for an apple pie, but I only had blueberry. Also, I’m not sure why I don’t eat pie every day of my life.
Traditional Protein Bar
My friend Zach normally has a more cultivated culinary taste, but we all bring bars with us from time to time. He reported back to me his thoughts on this peanut butter granola bar: “I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I can’t exist exclusively off of bacon, maple cookies, and ice cream. Granola bars are my solution. They go down easy and have things like protein that allegedly keep me sustained for long periods of time beyond the sugar rush of my typical diet. Although the science is still unresolved, I am optimistic that protein and folic acids will prove to be beneficial to my health in the mountains.” It seems that Zach is surprisingly happy with his slow and subtle entrance into the world of protein and granola bars.
Rating: 2/5. Although a necessary staple to outdoorsy folks, I think that there are much better protein bars available than the chewy peanut butter flavor. I expect better of Zach.
Dark Chocolate and Kettle Chips
Perhaps these should be two different reviews, but I think eating them at the same time is quite delicious. I also think that part of fast-and-light alpinism means shoving all the food I can fit into my mouth at the same time. My friend Jamie introduced me to the world of kettle chips as a snack in the outdoors. The weight-to-calorie ratio is one of the best. I now find myself carrying a bag of kettle chips with me on pretty much any day in the backcountry, whether it’s mountain biking, climbing, backpacking or skiing. I’ll even toss a few kettle chips in my pocket before a trail run and try to make sure I eat them before they get sweaty. The dark chocolate complements the chips nicely, and I recommend carrying both at all times in the backcountry.
Rating: 5/5. I’m covering all my bases here by eating sugar and salt while getting all the texture I need with good crunch and chewiness. I need nothing else.
The intersection of food and the outdoors is an important one. For many of us, one of the best parts about long days on summits and ridgelines is the food we get to eat before, during, and after. While some folks put a lot of thought, science and effort into figuring out what to eat outside, I prefer a more simple approach. If it tastes good, makes me feel good, and helps me get to my objective, then I bring it along. Variety is important—but the true message here is that all food tastes good on the summit of a mountain with your friends.
Photos by Giles Cranston and Jack Klipfel.