Buyer’s Guide: The Best Trail Snacks

May 27, 2020

by Drew Zieff
Buyer’s Guide: The Best Trail Snacks

Snacks hold a dear place in our hearts, as well as our stomachs. Snacks don't simply fuel our adventures; they're frequently the reason we exercise in the first place. (We also exercise for pizza. And beer.) When we're at our sweatiest, our stinkiest, our most fatigued, snacks keep us moving. They are the hiker's best friend, the mountaineer's motivator, the slowpoke cyclist's secret weapon. In pack or pocket, they are bite-sized boosts of energy. Suffice to say, we really, really love snacks—especially on the trail.

As such, we happily rounded up the latest and greatest treats from our favorite snack brands—we're talking energy bars, waffles, gummies, nuts, and more. Our team of snack aficionados (a dauntless squad of bikers, hikers, trail runners, splitboarders, and skiers) chomped through bucketloads of snacks in order to bring you the best, tastiest, and most nutritious trail snacks on the market. Below, you'll find our team's top picks—snacks so damn tasty, just reading about them might cause your stomach to growl.

Kate's Tiki Bars

Kate's Real Food Tiki Bars

Kate's Real Food was started by Kate Schade, who, at the time, was a Jackson Hole ski bum, waitress, and budding snack alchemist. Kate was unimpressed with traditional energy bars and wanted something different. So she whipped up her first batches of peanut butter and chocolate Tram Bars to keep her fueled up from first tram to last call, and her inspired R&D snowballed into a successful health food company.

From the Tram to the Tropics

While the Tram Bar is still a go-to, our favorite Kate's Bar is the Tiki. The chunks of mango and coconut go together like hammocks and palm trees, while almond butter adds protein, and brown rice crisps deliver slow-burning carbs. Finally, a touch of sea salt helps balance the Tiki Bar out—it's not sickeningly sweet like many fruit-forward snacks.

Best for: Hearty nutrition for long days in the mountains. Testers loved that the Tiki Bar is a hefty 260 calories and contains two servings.

Honey Stinger Energy Chews

Honey Stinger Energy Chews Starting at: $19.28

If there's one snack in this article that we would gladly eat for all of eternity, it would be these Honey Stinger Energy Chews. These are basically gummy bears for grown-ups, and they are, needless to say, delicious.

A Quick—and Satisfying—Burst of Energy

We love how practical these Energy Chews are on the trail. One mountain biking tester reported that he keeps a packet of Energy Chews in his jersey pocket and periodically scarfs down a few gummies without ever having to hop off his bike. Granted, you can't beat gels when it comes to rapid-fire, mid-motion energy boosts, and we're big fans of Honey Stinger's Energy Gels, which are essentially flavored honey and electrolyte cocktails. That said, Energy Chews are preferable if you want to space out consumption (half-eaten gels don't keep particularly well). Furthermore, our testers found the sweet taste and chewy texture of Honey Stinger's gummies satisfying beyond measure.

Honey Stinger's Wonka-esque Flavors

Honey Stinger's Energy Chews are available in a variety of tasty flavors. Fruit Smoothie and Lemonade are our favorites. Pomegranate Passionfruit is pretty delicious, too. If you need an extra surge of energy, Cherry Cola and Limeade are both caffeinated—giddyup!

Best for: Eating candy without feeling bad about it. Also—hiking, biking, climbing, backpacking, ski touring, so on and so forth.

Setton Farms Pistachios

Pistachios are one of our all-time favorite trail snacks. While almonds and peanuts are ubiquitous in the trail snack world, pistachios are less common and henceforth a welcome change of taste. Not only are they inarguably delicious, but, according to non-profit American Pistachios, the nuts are also a source of complete protein (other sources include salmon, eggs, and steak). What's more, pistachios are dense and filling, which means that a small bag goes a long way—just the ticket for backpackers and backcountry skiers who put a premium on pack sizing.

Roasted, Unsalted, Shelled Pistachios

If you love the simple, pure taste of pistachios, check out Setton Farms' Roasted, Unsalted, Shelled Pistachios, which are grown in the fabled farmland of California's San Joaquin Valley. If you enjoy making trail mix from scratch, these pistachios might just be the perfect base.

Pistachio and Cranberry Chewy Bites

Setton Farms Pistachio and Cranberry Chewy Bites Starting at: $6.93

Setton Farms doesn't just grow pistachios—it also whips up all sorts of pistachio-centric snacks, from chocolate-covered pistachios to savory chipotle bbq pistachios. However, our favorite trail snack from the pistachio heavyweight is no doubt its Pistachio and Cranberry Chewy Bites.

The Chewy Bites are delicious, bite-sized bars of unsalted pistachios and dried cranberries, which are glued together with agave syrup. The bars are gooey, tasty, and completely unlike traditional energy bars. At 105 calories each, the tiny bars are hardly noticeable in a running short or jersey pocket, but they still pack a considerable punch. A couple of these bars go a long way—especially when you're hiking or biking a long way.

Best for: Stashing in your pocket for an emergency snack.

Vega Protein Sports Bars

Vega Nutrition Sport Protein Bar Starting at: $34.45

Vega's got the plant-based nutrition game on lock. Most of our experience with Vega in the past has been with their protein powders, but they also make other supplements, daily vitamins, and yes, you guessed it, snacks.

If you're looking to recover after an unintended epic or build muscle after a heavy workout, Vega's Sport Protein Bars are worth checking out. These bars contain a whopping 20g of plant-based protein. Flavor-wise, Chocolate Mint is our top pick. A word of warning: the chocolate coating, while delectable, will melt into a sticky mess on a hot day.

Best for: Recovery after a hard workout.

Vega Protein Snack Bars

Vega Protein Snack Bars Starting at: $20.64

For everyday snacking and mid-adventure pit stops, we prefer Vega's Protein Snack Bars, which only have 10g of protein. They're less filling—our test team's favorite flavor, the Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Protein Bar, is only 190 calories as compared to the 290 calories of the Chocolate Mint Sports Protein Bar. Additionally, Vega topped the Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Bar with nuts and chunks of chocolate, which makes it taste more like a healthier Snickers Bar than a traditional protein bar.

Best for: A quick but substantial snack—ideal for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Honey Stinger Waffle

A performance-focused take on a European classic, these waffles sandwich a thin layer of Honey Stinger's sweet and syrupy namesake in between a pair of heavenly wafers.

Waffles for Breakfast, Lunch, and Snack

Honey Stinger Stinger Waffle Starting at: $21.36

Our testers justified scarfing these thin waffles down without restraint due to their simple ingredients, natural sugars, and mixed-carb nutrition. On long, tiring ski tours in the Wasatch, our testers were grateful to have a few of these waffles on hand to keep the energy high and the pace quick. 

Over the past several years, we've tested and thoroughly enjoyed Honey Stinger's classics (Salted Caramel, Honey, Chocolate, and Vanilla). But we recently fell in love with their Chocolate Mint and Strawberry versions. 

Pro Tip: If you're looking for a fun way to increase your caloric intake on a demanding adventure, try making a banana and peanut butter sandwich with a couple of Chocolate Waffles—it tastes even better than it sounds.

Best for: Quick pick-me-ups on the trail.

Skratch Labs Savory Miso Bars

Dr. Allen Lim, a cycling coach, sports physiologist, nutrition wizard, and the founder of Boulder-based Skratch Labs, first began experimenting with drink mixes to give his cycling team an alternative to the sugary sports drinks that then dominated the market. Skratch has since diversified into recovery mixes, energy chews, and energy bars, developing a loyal following in the process. 

Skratch Labs Anytime Energy Bar - Ginger Miso Starting at: $28.32

Not Your Average Energy Bar

Savory energy bars are tough to get right—there's a reason why the vast majority of energy bars are sweet. We weren't crazy about Skratch's Parmesan, Sun-dried Tomato, and Red Pepper Bar, but we were pleasantly surprised by its Savory Miso Bar.

The Miso Bar has 50% less sugar than your run-of-the-mill energy bar, although candied ginger chunks do add a welcome touch of sweetness. Red pepper flakes and soy sauce add a savory, flavorful kick that makes you feel as if you're chowing down on takeout on the couch instead of hammering through a taxing section of singletrack. Skratch's recipe also includes a variety of nuts, oats, and brown rice crisps, and the resulting well-balanced 220-calorie bar contains 6g of protein, 8g of sugar, 29g of total carbs, and 10g of total fat. 

Best for: This savory trail snack is the ideal energy bar for people who hate energy bars.

Snack On with Active Junky

Regardless of whether these snacks tickle your fancy or not, remember: start your search—for snacks, outdoor gear, and pretty much anything else you can imagine—at Active Junky and you'll earn cash back on every purchase.

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