In preparing for a backpack hunt there aren’t many places where we can increase our performance:weight ratio and save money at the same time. Luckily (since it’s an expendable or one-time-use item) food is one area where with a little extra at-home preparation and research, one can increase the calorie density of their consumables while saving money over the course of a season.
The most simple way to start is by making your own calorie-rich snack or energy bars. We burn so many calories in the mountains that persistent re-fueling is essential to maintaining our drive day in and day out. Keeping convenient trail food handy is the only way to assure frequent eating on the go. Unfortunately, altitude, physical exertion, and fatigue have a way of curbing hunger, making proper eating habits easier said than done. This is where the calorie density of our food becomes incredibly important: when we don’t feel like eating, every bite we take matters.
Some type of store-bought bars, whether they be Cliff Bars, Power Bars, etc. can likely be found in nearly everyone’s pack at any given time. You can do better though… read on to learn how.
Making the Bars
Making your own high-calorie bars that put the store-bought stuff to shame is quick and easy. You might spend more time wandering around the store looking for Dried Dates than you will making the bars. And don’t worry, there’s no oven involved so this isn’t considered “baking”. The only kitchen supplies you’ll need are a food processor, a bread loaf pan, measuring cups, and some wax paper. If you want to accurately calculate the calories in each bar, a kitchen scale will come in handy.
- 1 1/2 Cups Dried Dates
- 1 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
- 2 Cups Dry Roasted Peanuts
Chop the two cups of peanuts in the food processor until they look like mine below. Consistency should range from sand-like to pea-sized. Pour the peanuts into a bowl and put the cranberries and dates into the processor. Run these together until a thick paste forms.
Put everything together in a bowl and mix evenly by hand.
Line your loaf pan with wax paper and spread the mix evenly on top.
Add a second sheet of wax paper on top and press mixture into the bottom of the pan by hand or with some kind of roller. The tighter you can pack to down, the better your final product will hold together.
Once pressed hard and tight, the mix will keep its shape. Take it out of the pan and lay it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to harden.
Once hardened in the freezer, take it out and cut into bars. By weighing and adding up the calories of the entire batch, you can cut your bars to any desired per-piece calories by weighing them out.
Wrap individually with saran wrap and you’re done. Store them in the freezer, fridge, or wherever you want. They’ll last a few weeks unrefrigerated, and much longer if frozen.
Now let’s look a little deeper into what we just made, and compare it to what we would usually buy at the store.
- 1 1/2 Cups Dried Dates (792 Calories)
- 1 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries (660 Calories)
- 2 Cups Dry Roasted Peanuts (1, 642 Calories)
- Total Weight ~1.4 lbs (22.4 oz)
- Total Calories ~3, 094
- Total Protein ~74 grams
- ~138 Calories/Ounce
- This puts the 3.15 oz bar pictured above at 434 calories!
By Comparison, a 2.4 oz Peanut Butter Crunch Cliff Bar supplies 104 Calories/Ounce, for a total of 249.6 calories. Sure, if the Cliff Bar weighed the same as the homemade sample above it would be closer at 327 calories… still 107 calories short, and you’d have to buy another Cliff Bar.
For the sake of another mainstream comparison, PowerBar’s latest Performance Energy bar weighs 2.01 oz and offers 220 calories, for a less than stellar 109 Calories/Ounce. At least they have catchy packaging.
Lastly, while not necessarily apples to apples, Mountain House’s most calorie-dense dinner entree option is Mac and Cheese, coming in at about 130 Calories/Ounce.
So just how much difference does it make to eat the homemade 434 calorie bar on the go vs a 250 calorie store-bought bar? According to a popular online calorie estimate calculator, the extra 184 calories in the homemade bar is enough energy to allow a fit 175 lb man hike about a mile while wearing a 30lb pack.
Substitutes and Additions
One could easily add and substitute ingredients to the recipe. Apparently orange zest in the mixture enhances flavor, although I have not tried it as I like the taste as-is. By using Macadamia nuts instead of Peanuts, the calorie density would increase slightly, although the protein would drop significantly.
Whether you decide to stick with the recipe above or play around with ingredients on your own, rest assured that you’ll end up with a final product that adequately addresses your backcountry nutritional needs. Good luck.