It's the dawn of a new meat-bar era.
It's the dawn of a new meat-bar era. (the little red house/Flickr)
Gear Guy

What’s the Best Trail Snack?

I'm going on a long backpacking trip and am looking for a good, healthy snack that won't weigh down my pack or my stomach.

It's the dawn of a new meat-bar era.
Bob Parks

My personal favorite snack for the trail is wild salmon jerky. It’s all-natural, sustainable, and packed with more protein that any other snack, bar none. An ounce of dried salmon has about 15 grams of protein for about 80 calories. That nudges out beef jerky with 12 grams of protein for about the same calories. And forget about standard chocolate-coated energy bars—protein gains come at a sugary price. It’s not like I’m on some kind of low-carb diet, but a big protein infusion early in the day feels good on a long hike.

To many people, wild salmon tastes great, and it seems fitting on the trail. But jerky is not for everyone. The first impression is that it’s salty. Really salty. It’s something you’d only want to snack on with plenty of water nearby.

For a Gear Guy taste test, I ordered samples of three premium salmon jerkies from the Pacific Northwest. Gear Girl weighed in with her gourmet opinion as well. And then, just so as not be accused of glamping, we tried out other varieties of jerky from less exalted brands—venison, antelope, alligator, as well as several unnamed meats that must have somehow made their way into the processing plant. 

How our trail snacks stack up nutritionally.
How our trail snacks stack up nutritionally. (Outside)

Alaska's Best Wild Salmon Jerky

In our tour de force of Pacific Northwest jerkies, Alaska’s Best boasted great fish flavor. It was still mild, however, with a smoky pleasant character. At around $2.83 per ounce, Alaska’s is the least expensive, but it contains high-quality, ocean-caught fish and a spare, all-natural ingredient list (along with a whopping 630 milligrams of salt per ounce).

My favorite fun fact about Alaska’s Best: if you are fishing in our nation’s 49th state, feel free to drop off your catch at the company’s headquarters. They will turn it into jerky, and then ship it to your home.

SeaBear Smoked Salmon Jerky

As you can see in the image above, there was no SeaBear left to photograph because I snarfed it all. As soon as I took one bite, there was no helping it. The SeaBear had the strongest, most delicious flavor, which was sealed in thick, hefty chunks of fish. The various-sized cuts in the bag revealed a different favor each time—some mild, some very strong. (One note: SeaBear’s product contains potassium lactate, which helps to preserve the fish. While that’s technically still natural, it does constitute an additive). At a cost of $4.80 per ounce, the SeaBear fish was more expensive than Alaska’s Best and there was an astonishing 910 milligrams of salt in each ounce (almost half your daily allowance), but damn if it wasn’t worth it.

Venison, Antelope, and Alligator Stick

To close out the review—and to cleanse the palate of any sort of hale taste of wild salmon—I decided to go in search of the ordinary type of jerky you can get at any gas station. Almost all of these products contain sodium nitrate, but they hit the spot from time to time and many of us have been there.

To find more exotic varieties than I can get in my local Sonoco, I went on Amazon, where there are more than 5,000 types of jerky. There's ostrich, kangaroo, pheasant, alligator, caribou, beef, emu, moose, ox, cuttlefish, ahi, bison, turkey, buffalo, bacon, lamb, boar, antelope, elk, squid, venison, chicken, duck, tuna, and reindeer. We tried the antelope, ostrich, alligator, kangaroo, and venison. I’m sure there are exemplary varieties of these jerkies, but the gas-station ones we tried all tasted like Slim Jim, but gamier. I got a nitrate headache. I do recommend the ostrich, however. Bon appetite.

Lead Photo: the little red house/Flickr