Our Favorite New Bars, Gels, and Meals for the Trail

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This article was originally published on Backpacker

Every year the bar gets just a little higher for backpacking snacks and meals. This season’s batch brought nostalgic treats, natural, high-energy gummies, and international culinary inspirations. While we’re still wading our way through a shelf-stable cornucopia of samples for the 2024 summer gear guide, these snacks and dinners have already made lasting impressions on the backcountry kitchen test team.

Itacate Sunset Caldo (Photo: Courtesy Itacate)

Trying a new brand of dehydrated meals is daunting. My stomach, in particular, can’t handle most things that the freeze-drier sends its way, so I tend to gravitate towards meals with recognizable ingredients I can pronounce. Itacate checked that box, and as a lover of Mexican cuisine, I enthusiastically dug in to a hearty dinner of Sunset Caldo during a chilly fall hike in Washington’s Central Cascades. Caldo Tlalpeño is a traditional spicy central Mexican soup, and while it’s typically made with chicken, Itacate’s vegan version offers plenty of protein (16 grams per serving) for a soul-warming, veggie-packed soup complete with rice, garbanzo beans, squash, and lime. It’s got a rich, moderately-spicy chipotle base—a little kick to warm you up when the chill sets in, but nothing crazy. The single-serving pouch delivers 490 calories, which was perfect for a light dinner, but did leave a few extra hungry hikers in search of second supper.

Skratch Labs Crispy Rice Cakes (Photo: Skratch Labs )

Skratch Labs’ Crispy Rice Cakes are basically adult Rice Krispie Treats; sweet, chewy and easy to digest after long hours on the trail. I had on a handful of these backpacking snacks on an overnight trip on Washington’s Mount Baker earlier this summer, and loved the texture of the crispy rice blend (brown rice, red rice, wild rice, and quinoa). The 180-calorie bars are subtly sweet (Salted Maple + Mallow is my favorite), hold up well while in the pocket or brain of a pack, and feel like a unique departure from the unimaginative cement-like blocks of carb and protein that many granola bars are boiled down to.

Salted Citrus UnTapped Energy Gels (Photo: UnTapped)

There’s something so simple and refreshing about taking a slurp of UnTapped’s maple syrup-based trail snacks in the middle of a big hike. A major bonus? No added colors, stabilizers, or stimulants. The gels are made of maple syrup (the real Vermont stuff), lemon juice, lime juice, and sea salt—a tasty little zap of electrolytes that keeps my legs moving. I loved UnTapped’s citrus gel on hot days when I was particularly sodium-depleted (like a long traverse in the Dolomites in July), but gravitate more towards the maple- and coffee-infused packs for chillier weather. One packet is just 100 calories, perfect for a little burst of energy when you’re either not hungry enough for a major snack or working hard enough to have trouble digesting real food. The only downside: the sticky maple wrapper can wreak havoc in your bag; stick it in a zip-top sack to avoid a mess.

Honey Stinger Oat + Honey Bars (Photo: Honey Stinger)

Honey Stinger’s new Oat + Honey Bars are kind of like a guilt-free candy bar, featuring an oat and quinoa crisp outer and a creamy peanut, oat, and honey center. (The caramel coating in between layers is slightly less guilt-free.) Crunchy, salty, creamy, and filling; what’s not to like? When I’m up early, I’ve found it can be a nice pre-hike snack if I’m not in the mood for breakfast. They’re a little slower to digest than Honey Stinger’s chews and waffles (designed to be eaten during high intensity exercise), which makes them nice for slower-paced days on the trail ,or even dessert after that dehydrated dinner settles. It’s something I actually look forward to eating as a backpacking snack, which is surely the baseline for a good trail snack. They’re 190 calories each, and available in original, chocolate, or a mixed pack.

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