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Gear Guy

What's the best emergency trail food?

With "just in case" in mind, I like to pack extra food when preparing for a day hike. Pound for pound and calorie for calorie, what's the best emergency trail food? Carrol Phoenix, Arizona

A: The best emergency trail food should be something that has a high calorie-to-weight ratio, is easily digestible, keeps well for an extended period of time, and tastes absolutely awful. That latter is an important consideration; it will ensure that the "emergency food" truly is saved for an emergency, not just a snack. Back when I started hiking, a food-like substance called "pemmican" filled that bill. Pemmican is a mixture of dried meat, rendered fat, and pretty much whatever else is handy—Gouda cheese, pine cones, stale chips, you name it. Tastes perfectly dreadful, but keeps for years.
These days we don't have to resort to such lengths. In my book, PowerBars fill the bill. Perhaps the original energy bar, they're an exceedingly good energy source, but in my book taste mediocre at best, plus have the texture of candle wax. They're also very hard, so can be stuffed anywhere in a pack or pocket. Other modern energy bars—notably Clif bars—are too tasty to pass the no-good-for-snacks test. PowerBars, on the other hand, always remind me of this old, 1950s-era British sci-fi film in which the hero finds a pack of aliens who have taken human form and are producing some chemical designed to enslave the world. Their cover: Making "synthetic food," something that probably sounded plausible in post-World-War-II Britain, where finding anything decent to eat was impossible. Anyway, whenever I bite down on a PowerBar, I always mutter to myself, "Ack...synthetic food!"

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