Foods that are high in carbohydrates and contain protein are good for hiking. Things like pasta, fruit and nuts are perfect. Avoid any food that might cause GI distress like heavily spiced foods, curry or fried food.
Lets take a look at some good foods that will give you what you need during a day on the hills, and not take up too much space in the pack.
Tail mix is a mixture of nuts, seeds and fruit that can be bought pre-made or you can make your own. When making your own, you will need to source dried fruit that you like, such as apricots, raisins or dates. I have also tried a pre-made mix that I bought on Amazon for a reasonable price of about £10 for 1kg.
The one that I tried was made by Happy Belly and contains a combo of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews and raisins. I think if I was to make my own I would include a slightly higher raisin to nut ratio, but that’s just personal preference. I really enjoyed my Happy Belly Nut and Raisin Mix, it certainly helped me keep going on some of the longer days. I even used it as a bit of an incentive, allowing myself a small handful every hour or so.
You will only need a few handfuls to keep you going for a day, so 1kg of trail mix will last you a while. I tended to split the bag into about 4 or 5 smaller bags and take them on different day walks. So for a £10 investment, you can get a few days worth of trail mix. Not bad value at all!
A cereal bar is usually made of things like oats and other cereals, nuts, fruit and chocolate. The oats are great for energy, fibre and iron and when coupled with fruit/chocolate the carbohydrate levels shoot right up. Bars are much easier to carry than a bag off oat mix, so I tend to opt for a relatively solid bar (that can handle been thrown around in your rucksack) that consists of oats and cereals with a sweeter element like honey or chocolate on top.
My favourite that I have tried so far are the Nature Valley bars. They come in a variety of flavours, in fact you can get a pack that has Canadian Maple Syrup, Oats & Dark Chocolate and Oats & Honey bars all in the same box. The reason I like this option is that not only are the bars quite hard and don’t get squashed, but they are really tasty! A great little pick me up that can be eaten at a lunch stop or equally on the move when you are hiking along a trail. Each packet (consisting of 2 biscuits) comes in at around 200 calories which is a nice little boost during a hike. As they are mainly wholegrain rolled oats, they will also fill you up for longer too.
I would normally take 2-3 bars for a day out on the hills, so the pack that I have linked to above will last you 4/5 outings. For the small fee of £2.50, they are a bargain. This is also way cheaper than buying them from the supermarket.
There are loads of different flapjack recipes out there if you are into making your own. You can also buy flapjacks on the go if that’s not your thing. Many a time I have been known to buy a few flapjacks on the route to the hills. Not only are they delicious, but you’re supporting the local economy in a small way.
Flapjacks are typically a combination of oats, golden syrup, sugar and butter. You can also find recipes for ones that add dried fruits like raisins, cranberries or nuts. They are similar in this respect to cereal bars, except cereal bars are not just limited to oats. They contain a good amount of carbohydrates from the syrup and sugar, as well as fats from the butter. They can be quite heavy too, so they will fill you up for not a lot of space in the pack.
I personally have never made my own flapjacks, although several of my walking buddies have made their own with all manner of additional ingredients. My favourite so far was one made with chocolate pieces and dried apricots.
Here are some great flapjack recipes:
Personally I think there is some debate about including sandwiches on the “best” foods for hiking. Some people swear by them others avoid them like the plague. Normally, I quite like a sandwich for lunch, but a couple of sandwiches are not the first things on my list.
The reason for this is that in my experience, they crush and damage easily meaning after a few hours walking, all you are left with is a mess of bread, butter and filling. If you don’t put the sandwiches is some sort of hard container you’ll be left with a mess in your pack. Usually all over your spare clothes or something equally important.
Imagine pulling out your map and having butter all over it. Navigation is difficult enough, so don’t want to be trying to use your map through a film of butter. Saying all of that, if you do decide to go with sandwiches – and they are a popular option – what fillings should you choose for maximum benefit out in the hills?
First off, go with things you like. If you are a fan of something, you are more likely to want to eat it. If you are looking forward to your lunch break, it can be a motivator during difficult parts of the walk. Also, if you are used to having certain foods, you are less likely to have GI issues after eating it.
I would go for fillings that are high in protein that will give you longer lasting energy, foods like meat and cheese. They will survive well form the movement inside your pack, taste good, are not overly spicy and provide a good level of longer lasting energy.
Conversely I would avoid sticky, runny fillings like jam as they will not travel as well and are full of sugar that, whilst good for a short term energy boost, will leave you running on empty after a while.
It’s up to you if you look to sandwiches for your hillwalking food, it is up to each person preference after all. They don’t often find their way into my pack, but if you want them take them! Just be sure to choose your fillings wisely to reduce the risk of a mess in your pack.
Chocolate and Sweets
Having an easily digestible, quick and easy sugary snack is an important part of my nutrition plan whilst I’m out walking. Not only do they provide me with fast energy returns, I sometimes also use them as a motivator and a pick me up if I am feeling a little down or tired. Couple a handful of sweets with a few cereal bars and some trail mix and I can go for a day on this. As long as I plan on having a hearty meal (coupled with a pint) afterwards, this is plenty for me.
Personally I tend to avoid chocolate as in warmer weather it will melt, making a mess. In cold weather is will freeze and will go so hard as to break your teeth! I would usually go for things like jelly sweets (Haribo) or jelly beans as they won’t melt and are super tasty.
One thing to be cautious of though is overusing sweets might cause a repeating cycle of sugar highs and lows making it difficult to maintain a consistent effort when walking. Just be aware that piling through a whole bag of Haribo at 10 in the morning is unlikely to do you any favours for enjoying you day out.
Another key item I put in my bag are tough fruits like apples or pears. They are tasty, can stand up to being thrown around in your pack and provide good levels of energy during your walk. If protected/packed well I would also add oranges and bananas to this list too.
Things to watch out for though are over ripe fruits as they will get squashed and make a mess. Similarly softer fruits like strawberries or raspberries as probably best avoided.
Water and other Drinks
Probably even more important than the food you take is the fluid that you drink. You won’t last long on hot summer days without drinking a lot of fluids. Even in winter, the physical demands of walking in those conditions will mean that you will still need to drink plenty.
The first and most obvious option here is water. It is easy on the digestive system and readily available throughout most of Scotland. Even in the hills there are generally water sources at hand should you need to top up supplies. So how much should you drink?
A good general recommendation is about a half litre of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink 1 litre of water or more per hour.
If you are out walking for 8 hours, are you going to try and carry 8 litres of water or are you going to fill up along the way? I have never had an issue with refilling along the way, however be sure to follow all the usual water safety guidelines and purify the water where you can. Generally though water in the hills in Scotland is safe to drink from the stream.
Other drinks are also worth considering. A flask of hot tea or coffee can be an amazing pick me up on a cold winters day. Just be aware of the diuretic nature of these options. Its a good way to fight off the chill and the caffeine can help if you are feeling a little deflated or tired.
Isotonic sports drinks too are a good option to boost your carbohydrate intake. You will need to replace electrolytes and salts that you lose when you sweat so these drinks, which are specially formulated to do just that, can be really useful. You can manage this electrolyte loss with salty snacks (like peanuts or crisps) and water, but an isotonic sports drink is sometimes a bit easier. Just be sure not to over do it as you may find you are entering that sugar high/low cycle.
I tend to have a small stash of snacks and drinks in the car for when I have finished walking and it is in this stash that I keep an isotonic drink. I will drink water during the day and then top up any lost electrolytes with a sports drink afterwards.
Some swear by a wee dram of something a bit stronger whilst out hill walking. It’s quite iconic to have a hip flask of a lovely Scottish single malt whilst enjoying the Scottish countryside. It certainly helps keep the chill off on long winter walks. Just be careful not to enjoy it too much!!