A good breakfast will get you through the first few miles of your hike, but at some point, you’ll to need to fuel-up. Stopping for lunch isn’t always practical, so a good energy bar is a convenient way to stave off hunger and get an energy boost. Some of these are not much better than candy though.
Does it matter which one you buy? It turns out that a little nutritional knowledge can help you make a healthier choice. We’ve reviewed some of the best energy bars for hiking. Pack a few of these in your backpack and enjoy the energy boost when you need it most.
At a Glance:
- ProBar Meal Bar – best overall for taste & ingredients
- GreenBelly Food Bar – great meal replacement, pricey
- ClifBar – hiker’s favorite for many years!
- Nakd Bar – fruit & nut bars for a sweet boost
- Macrobars – organic, vegan and delicious
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon
What You'll Learn
- Taste on the Trail: Best Energy Bars for Hiking
- Why eat an energy bar?
- When Should I Eat My Energy Bar?
- Protein Bar vs Energy Bar – What’s the difference?
- Energy Bars & Your Hiking Style
Taste on the Trail: Best Energy Bars for Hiking
- High caloric density – 390 calories from 3 oz (85g)
- Great balance of protein, carbs and fat
- 70% – 90% of ingredients are organic
- 100% non-GMO natural ingredients
- Taste great – flavors actually taste like their name!
The Pro Bars have a decent amount of low glycaemic carbs, fiber, and fat for long-lasting energy levels. The nutritional balance is great and we love that most of the ingredients are organic and non-GMO.
The consistency is good, and it feels like you’re eating real food rather than processed garbage. Being gluten-free and vegan-friendly give them wide appeal to all kinds of hikers. If you’re looking for something less filling but with a quicker energy boost then check out the ProBar Bolt energy chews.
- High nutritional value
- Really filling – like eating a proper meal
- Chewy consistency without being sticky
- Easy-open resealable packaging
Each pack comes with 2 bars (5.47oz total) offering a total of 650 calories. Made from high-quality ingredients, with great nutritional value, they do come at a hefty price tag.
They’ve got a consistency like granola, so are easy on your teeth, but aren’t sticky like a lot of others are. They work great as a breakfast or lunch replacement and will easily keep you filled up until dinner.
Chris, the owner, has done a great job with these – as a thru-hiker and ultralighter himself, he knows the value of good nutrition in a convenient package when putting in the miles.
- Moist, chewy consistency
- 20 great flavors to choose from
- Good caloric density – ~260 calories in each 2.4oz (68g)
- Majority of the ingredients are organic
- Great value
- Some flavors are a little too sweet for some palates (not mine!)
You get a great-tasting endurance bar made from mostly organic ingredients. The nutritional info reflects a good balance between fat, carbs, and protein.
The chewy, moist consistency is great. Clif Bars have been around for as long as I’ve been hiking, and have stood the test (taste?) of time! There are loads of flavors to choose from, to suit the fussiest palate.
- Whole-food simple ingredients
- GM free and vegan friendly
- No added sugars or syrups – not overly sweet
- Taste great
- Portion sizes too small
- Caloric density a little low
I love these – they were a staple on my last Kilimanjaro trip, gave me a good boost and were easy to eat – even at altitude, when I was feeling a bit nauseous.
They’re a great option if you prefer your food wheat, dairy and gluten free. They are small though so you’ll probably end up eating two at a time.
- High nutrition and caloric density
- 100% organic ingredients
- Not overly sweet
- Flavors are a little bland
Each 2.5 oz (71g) packs in 290 calories for a very respectable caloric density of just over 4 calories per gram. We like the focus this company has on making sure their ingredients are responsibly and ethically sourced.
Even their chocolate chips are fair-trade. These may be a really healthy option, but the flavors are a little bland.
Why eat an energy bar?
An energy bar is a convenient and effective means of increasing sugar (glucose) levels in your bloodstream. Ideally, you want to be eating energy-dense real foods, but these can be a convenient option when hiking.
So if you need sugar, then why not just swallow the stuff neat or munch on a Snickers? Not all sugar sources are equal and what you take in determines how effectively your body can use them as fuel.
The “glycemic index” refers to how quickly a sugar source raises the sugar level in your body. Highly refined sweeteners and simple sugars pump up your blood sugar fast.
Your body then cranks out plenty of insulin to cope with this surge in sugar, which leaves you feeling flat pretty soon after – when your blood sugar drops again.
The best backpacking food will contain low-glycemic sugar sources. These elevate your blood sugar levels gradually and sustain those levels for longer periods of time without spiking your insulin levels.
High Fiber Complex Carbs
Your body turns simple carbs like white bread or rice into simple sugars, giving you the same sugar spike and crash you’re trying to avoid.
Low-GI (Glycemic Index) complex carbs, like oats or whole grains, convert to sugar slower and the high fiber content slows the absorption for a more sustained boost.
If you’re trying to figure out which is going to give you the best bang for your buck then these are the most important things to consider:
The whole reason you’re considering eating one of these is that you want an energy boost. It needs to have sources of energy that your body can metabolize and use. i.e good fat sources, protein, low glycemic index sweeteners, and complex carbs.
A calorie is a unit of energy so the number of calories indicated on the wrapper gives you an idea of how much energy it’s going to give you.
How many calories do you get packed into each gram? This is calculated by dividing the number of calories by the number of grams.
The higher the number, the better. You want more calories packed into a lighter amount of food. This is important when you’re on the trail because your pack weight is always an issue – and you’ll probably be carrying a bunch of these.
You want to be carrying nutrient-dense food with high caloric-density so the added weight is worth it. Oats and almonds are examples of high caloric density foods, which is why you’ll often find them in energy bars.
Taste is an important factor. If it tastes horrible, you’re less likely to eat it. You hike for fun so why spoil the experience by having to force down something that tastes evil?
When Should I Eat My Energy Bar?
A good hiking snack will give you a steady and sustained increase in your blood sugar and will take a little while to digest.
This means you should be eating it an hour or two before you think you’ll need that extra boost. Note that if you want a real “boost” you’ll likely want something with caffeine in it. What we’re talking about here is nutrition, not your caffeine-fix!
What I find works best is to eat before I’m hungry. I know we go hiking to get away from schedules, but if you’re tackling a tough trail you’ll need to have at least a basic schedule for when you need to eat.
Don’t wait until you’re ready to kill your hiking buddy. And please, unless it’s “just” a day hike, leave the calorie-counting and diets at home.
I don’t like sweet stuff. What are my options?
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. There are a number of unsweetened options like the Nakd bars that have no added sugar or syrup.
If it contains fruit, it’s still going to be a little sweet. You also get savory flavored snacks like the Mediterra bars. They offer flavors like kale and pumpkin seed or black olives and walnuts.
KIND also have some spicy savory options.
Protein Bar vs Energy Bar – What’s the difference?
Protein makes up the building blocks used for muscle repair. If you want your muscles to recover after a long day on the trail, you’re going to need some protein.
A protein bar will probably have some sweetener and carbs but will be heavy on the protein content. It might not give you the sustained sugar levels you need for endurance activities.
Energy bars are for use before and during your periods of activity. Their function is to elevate glucose levels so your body has fuel to power your muscles, and might not be high enough in grams of protein to help muscle recovery.
Just to confuse matters, you’ll find most that are labeled as “protein bars” have plenty of fats, good carbs and sugars and be perfect for your hiking needs.
If you’re looking for a boost for your workout then a higher sugar content will do the trick. For hiking and backpacking, you’re going to need the long lasting energy levels that a low-GI (Glycemic Index) snack will give you.
Basically, ignore the name tag and check the ingredients. If it’s got a decent amount of carbs, fiber, fat, and no added sugars then you’re onto a good thing. If they’ve thrown some protein in there too, even better.
Ingredients – What’s in my energy bar?
The shorter the list of ingredients, the better the chance you’re eating something healthy. If you need a PhD to pronounce some of the ingredients, they probably shouldn’t be passing your lips.
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Here are a few ingredients that you’ll come across:
Nuts – high caloric density, good source of fats
Sweeteners – Try to avoid cane sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup and opt for raw honey or fructose.
Fruit – Fruit and berries contain fructose. These give you a great natural flavor with a low-GI sugar source.
Caffeine – Great for a quick boost. Often comes in the form of green tea extract or other natural sources like Guarana.
Protein – Most energy bars that contain protein will use plant-based proteins or eggs.
Oats – Rolled oats have a low glycaemic index and a high caloric density.
Flavoring – Make sure they use natural sources for flavoring like fruit, spices or unsweetened chocolate
As a general rule of thumb, if you struggle to pronounce an ingredient or if it has a combination of numbers and letters in it then you should probably avoid it.
Energy Bars & Your Hiking Style
If you’re trying to find the best energy bar for your hiking style it’s worth knowing a little about macronutrients and macro ratios.
The macronutrients in your food are carbs, fat, and protein. Each of these have different roles in the body. In simplistic terms, carbs and fat are burned as fuel, and protein is used to repair and build muscle.
If you’re engaging in energetic activity, you want more carbs.
Fats are great for picking up the slack when the carbs are burnt up and are important for longer duration, less intense, endurance activities.
If you’re trekking at altitude, spare a thought for your digestion. At higher altitudes, your body prioritizes blood flow to your brain, heart, lungs, and muscles. This can mean digestion takes a back seat, so you want to avoid too much protein as your stomach isn’t going to process it easily.
Do Protein Bars Contain Allergens?
If you’re allergic to nuts then you probably already know you need to carefully examine the label on anything you plan on eating. A lot of these snacks contain tree nuts or ground nuts (peanuts). Most will also contain common allergens like wheat, dairy, and soy. If you’re pregnant then you should also avoid ones that contain caffeine.
Energy Bars And Your Diet
Which diet are you on this month? Keto, Paleo, high-carb, low-carb?
You may be intolerant to certain foods, like gluten or wheat, or you may be avoiding certain foods for other health or even ethical reasons.
The hiking community, in general, is focused on healthy living so there are plenty of options that are free of gluten, wheat, soy, animal proteins or GMO ingredients.
Just remember that fats and carbs are where your energy is going to come from. If you avoid these then don’t expect to have a spring in your step.
Energy Bar Alternatives
You don’t have to shell out for pre-made. Any whole foods would do, and even a bar of dark chocolate with nuts might be sufficient.
A bag of old-fashioned trail mix (GORP) is a great alternative.
Some people like to snack on beef jerky. The salts and protein content are going to help with muscle recovery and your electrolytes, but the lack of carbs can mean they’re not a ready source of quick energy.
For a quick boost, there are some good gels or chews available. These contain sugar carbohydrates that deliver a faster boost but they don’t contain any fat, protein or fiber.
If you’re moving fast they can be a convenient top up, but don’t count on them as a meal replacement.
DIY It: Homemade Energy Bars
Buying these can get expensive. Also, the only way to be 100% sure what’s in your food is to make it yourself.
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There are some good homemade energy bar recipes available online like this one. Just remember to use low-GI carbs and sweeteners. If you’re combining nuts, oats, dates, peanut butter (or other nut butter) and raw honey then you’re off to a good start. Throw a few chocolate chips in there if you’re feeling decadent!
Crushing, blending and smushing the ingredients together will give you a denser texture, but the consistency is sometimes more pleasant when it’s less mushy and has a little crunch to it.
As with any good activity bar, the lack of preservatives means they won’t keep for very long so don’t make them too far in advance of your hike.
If you’re looking for the best energy bar for hiking then begin with basic common sense nutrition. Aim for whole foods with no added sugars.
Carbs are the main fuel your body burns to produce glucose but make sure you’re getting low-GI carbs for sustained endurance levels, without the sugar crash.
It’s worth paying attention to the list of ingredients, even if you aren’t sensitive to allergens. A high-performance engine needs quality fuel. Making informed, healthy food choices can have a significant impact on how your body performs on the trail.
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