I have accumulated around 500 snack bars in preparation for my thru-hike. I am not someone who generally eats snack bars in my normal life, but on the trail, I intend to make them a food group. I can stop in the middle of a big climb when I’m starting to run out of steam, pull one out of my hip belt pouch, and munch away while still pushing forward. I’m not saying you can’t do that with trail mix, but for me, bars are the easiest thing to eat on the go.
Many bars on the market have some kind of sugar as the second or third ingredient, often as brown rice syrup or tapioca syrup. I wanted to try to avoid these and find options that either don’t add sugar at all or use forms of it like coconut necar or honey which seem to work better with my particular body at not causing sugar crashes. I also wanted to keep the overall grams of sugar at less than 10 per oz, but a couple of the date-based bars with no added sugar stretched that a bit and I did make one exception for a bar with tapioca syrup but lower overall sugar than most of my options. I have a couple of other dietary restrictions: I don’t eat dairy, so that eliminated any protein bars with whey, and don’t eat meat, so the collagen ones were out, too.
I’ve got multiple flavors of some of these bars so I can have maximum variety and avoid getting sick of eating the same thing over and over, but for comparison purposes I picked one flavor of each.
Here’s how 11 snack bars I’m taking on the trail compare:
source: date paste and coconut nectar
source: nuts and seeds
Dietary preferences: Vegan, Gluten free
This is a great source of calories per oz, but I have to confess that it reminded me of slightly burned pressboard, though, to be fair, it was not as hard to chew or quite as dry as that description would suggest. I’ve heard from other people who enjoyed it more, so part my lack of enjoyment may be just me being used to raw nuts and bars with a flavor. Since TJ’s are pretty ubiquitous, it’s worth picking one up to see whether it suits your preferences better. I’m saving the few I picked up for some tough terrain where I really need the calories and will be hungry and tired enough to not care much about the taste or texture.
source: seeds and nuts
Dietary preferences: Gluten-free, raw, Organic
This is light and crunchy and I really like it. My only flavor complaint is that the various flavors it comes in all seem to taste almost the same. However, the taste they all share is fresh and seedy and nutty, so really it’s not too much of a complaint. It’s wonderfully calorie-dense, but the fact that it’s only a 1oz bar makes it less than ideal, especially when you consider the price. This one is best when fresh, so I’ll be eating them all up at the start of my hike.
source: organic honey
Dietary preferences: Gluten-free, organic, dairy-free, soy-free
I love that these come in savory flavors like sage and rosemary, but with the honey, coconut, and vanilla, they still come across as a sweet bar. Think shortbread rather than stuffing. Shortbread made of nuts and honey. I find them delicious. The nuts they’re composed of are chopped into small pieces, but with some chunks, which makes for a pleasing texture. I keep seeing an ad for 30% off of these with the coupon code SOGOOD.
source: tapioca syrup and honey
source: nuts and seeds
Dietary preferences: Gluten free
I like that this contains oats along with the seed and nut blend. I also like the little hint of savory that the nutritional yeast and salt give it. They donate 2% of their profits towards getting kids outside, so I figured that makes up for the tapioca syrup.
source: dates and coconut nectar
source: sprouted watermelon seeds
Dietary preferences: Organic, Vegan, Gluten free, Paleo, Raw
This makes me think of a lemon popyseed muffin! There is a slightly bitter component, which I assume is the watermelon seed protein, but I don’t find it unpleasant. I love the texture, which is less dense than many date-based bars. After seeing how well these compared in my chart, I stocked up and am really looking forward to eating them frequently on the trail. I wish that the other flavor didn’t have so much more sugar and also that there were more flavors because this is a cool plant-based protein source.
Dietary preferences: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, non-GMO, vegan
As someone who avoids added sugar, this is pretty much my equivalent of a candy bar. By comparison, a Snickers bar has about 14.6 g of sugar per oz. The nice thing about Larabars is that they are everywhere and easy to find discounted. If you haven’t ever tried them, they’re a dense, somewhat sticky date bar with a wide variety of flavors. The Peanut Butter & Jelly flavor very strongly reminds me of sandwiches from my childhood in the best possible way, so it is a comforting treat on the trail.
source: nuts and chia
Dietary preferences: organic, non-GMO, raw, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free
This has some seriously intense ginger going on, enough to make my mouth burn a little, which makes me happy. It’s another date-based bar similar to Larabars in texture and in relatively high sugar content, though maybe a little less sticky and with a fun crunch from chia seeds. And it’s got walnuts and more interesting flavors.. and costs twice as much. I get serious ginger cravings, so it’s worth it for me. They have recently made the bars smaller and lowered the price, but the bigger bars I bought might still be available through some retailers.
source: figs and coconut nectar
Dietary preferences: Gluten-free, organic, vegan, paleo, non-GMO
These tend to get somewhat crumbly after being shoved in pockets or bags, but for me that’s better than being overly dense. This has nice chunks of chewy dried apple and the crunch of fig seeds and feels more like real food to me when I eat it than some other bars. It’s also got vitamins and minerals rather than just iron and calcium. It’s towards the middle of the pack in terms of calories and protein, but I will be eating a lot of these on the trail just because I like them so much.
source: egg whites
Dietary preferences: No gluten, no soy, no dairy
The texture of these is somewhat like taffy, though less sticky. I like this texture more than most bars, though it might be more difficult to eat when it’s cold and I’m not sure how it will do in the heat. The blueberry doesn’t remind me of a fresh blueberry muffin the way I’d hoped, but it manages to at least do a decent job of making me think of the fruit. I have several different flavors of RxBars and I find myself actually craving them, probably due to the protein.
source: raw honey
source: seeds and nuts
Dietary preferences: Gluten-free, dairy free, raw, non-GMO
The cacao butter in these bars makes the texture nice under reasonably cool weather conditions, but does not seem like it will hold together in the heat, so I’ll try to eat these early on or freeze until Fall. The fat makes them satisfying and moisturizes my lips, while the spirulina delivers on nutrition and the flavor is fairly mild and really works for me, though I imagine could be less appealing to someone who doesn’t tend to want seaweed in everything. They sell variety packs so you can try all the flavors. Not all of them floated my boat like this one.
source: date paste
source: brown rice protein, sunflower seeds
Dietary preferences: gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, high fiber, vegan, non-GMO
These are a dense date bar, but with little crunchy bits, which seem to just be there to cause textural confusion. Or they may be there to distract from the slight grittiness of the brown rice protein. This doesn’t really strongly make me think of sunbutter or jelly, but it’s a perfectly fine protein bar and I’ll be content to munch them on the trail.
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