For years, I used to test how far I could go on day trips without eating. I don't know if it was some unexplainable machismo or just laziness, but that mindset changed about six months ago.
I’d gone on a four-hour run with an empty stomach and no food in my pack. About 12 miles in, I was seeing White Walker hallucinations from Game of Thrones. After that, I vowed to bring as many calories as possible on all future adventures. Never again will I intentionally put myself through the agony—and potential dangers—of low blood sugar in the backcountry.
The following trail snacks pack plenty of sustenance into small packages, making them easy additions to your daypack or running shorts. Here are six of my favorites.
Omnibar Cranberry Rosemary
Best for: Serious, sustained endurance events
Calories per package: 200
Weight: 2.2 ounces
The bold flavors of all of the Omnibars were delicious—and also the toughest to stomach if testers had any existing stomach issues. But once digested, these bars satiated our hunger longer than any other snack on this list.
We attributed the long-lasting energy to the ground beef (from cows grass-fed on the founders' ranch in Montana), which is the predominant ingredient in all Omnibars. These snacks were the toughest to chew, too, but testers didn't mind because of how calorie dense the bars were: Omnibars pack 200 calories into two fruit-leather-sized strips.
Probar Bolt Energy Chews
Best for: Sustained caffeine buzz
Calories per package: 180
Weight: 2.3 ounces
Of all the chews I’ve tried, the Bolts are by far the most delicious. Probar uses organic fruit powders that make these chews actually taste like fruit rather than something that’s heavily processed.
Bolt's caffeine comes from yerba mate, which thankfully doesn't make you feel like you were slipped recreational drugs if you consume a full pack of chews at once. There’s no precipitous crash either. Bolts gave testers a smooth energy ramp up and come down, making for sustainable energy on long runs and rides.
Honey Stinger Ginger Snap Waffle
Best for: Dessert
Calories per package: 160
Weight: 1.2 ounces
With just the right amount of ginger sandwiched into the gooey layer between two wafer-thin waffles, these things are tastier than the ginger snap cookies I ate as a kid. One runner even claimed the ginger—with anti-nauseating properties—helped bring back his appetite after a long run.
While these waffles didn't give any testers a gut bomb, their sweetness made consuming more than two during a run tough on the stomach. The structure also doesn’t do well when stuffed in a pair of running shorts, but that wasn't an issue in a bike jersey or a pack.
GU Salted Caramel
Best for: A pick-me-up
Calories per package: 100
Weight: 1.2 ounces
I keep my Gu in a special pocket during long training days so I know exactly where it is when I need an instant pick-me-up. The sweet-and-savory combo in the 100-calorie pouch tastes good enough to completely change my mood on a hard run.
It has the viscosity of a thin caramel, so it doesn't seem super processed. (Much better than nature-inspired flavors like banana.) This Gu is very sweet though, so use sparingly as you work out.
Bearded Bros Colossal Coconut Mango Energy Bar
Best for: Simple goodness
Calories per package: 244
Weight: 2.2 ounces
One of my favorite things about this bar? It only has six ingredients. It’s also very flavorful, especially considering it’s a vegan, gluten-free snack.
These bars were the easiest on testers' stomachs during an early morning run, and rivaled Omnibar in terms of satisfying long-term hunger. The thought of consuming six or seven of these snacks during an ultra-marathon is actually pleasant.
Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites
Best for: Caloric Density
Calories per package: 105
Weight: 0.7 ounces
These small squares with only seven ingredients packed the highest caloric punch by size of any snack on this list. Testers appreciated the tiny packages these bars came in, which made them easy to stuff into pockets
The taste was subtly sweet. "It really is just nuts and berries!" exclaimed one happy tester an hour into a mountain bike ride.