After skinning up a couple thousand feet before lunch, you aren’t exactly picky when it comes to what’s to eat. And so you find yourself, exhausted and starving, rummaging through the bottom of your pack for another protein bar or long-forgotten trail mix. Hey, you’ll eat anything at this point.
But why should you?
You could be feasting on bagels and lox, braised brisket sliders with coleslaw, even sushi. But eating like a king in the backcountry doesn’t have to be that complicated. With a little preparation, some choice ingredients, and a few improvisational recipes, you’ll be able to whip up damn-near-gourmet snacks that will quench your hanger and have your tour buddies drooling icicles.
If you don’t have the time or the energy to make anything more involved than a peeled banana, you’re in luck; some of the best backcountry snacks don’t require any preparation. Packed with calories and bursting with flavor, each one of these advanced snacking staples is worth its weight in deliciousness.
It might seem obvious to a backcountry veteran, but to the uninitiated, salami is a bit of a game changer. Any type of charcuterie, really: dry-cured italian salami, summer sausage, spicy pepperoni, the list is long. Any way you slice it, it’s got the salt, protein, and fat your body needs to keep climbing all day long, and it tastes like bacon if bacon drank scotch. What’s not to love?
The only thing better than a paper-thin slice of prosciutto is a paper-thin slice of prosciutto wrapped around a slice of, say, smoked gouda. Or sharp cheddar. Or aged chevre. Even semi-soft cheeses easily last all day in the backcountry, provided you’re not on some late-April corn hunt, but the harder varieties will stand up a lot better in your pack. Though it will likely be gone long before that becomes a concern.
Dark chocolate won’t work as a meal, but it’s the perfect pocket snack for keeping your energy up on long approaches. Sure, you can get it plain, or with orange peel, ginger, or hazelnuts. But why not try mexican chocolate? The natural caffeine will keep you focused, while the slow burn of mexican chiles will help distract you from the burning in your legs. You’ll never choke down an energy gel again.
As you might expect, the staples were just the first step of your transition away from mediocre munching and into the upper echelons of advanced backcountry snacking. Homemade alternatives to mainstream quick-energy foods are easier to make than you’d think, and just as delicious as you’d suspect. And with many store-bought energy bars topping two dollars a pop, you stand to save a good chunk of change to boot.
Not surprisingly, there are a whole host of recipes floating around on the internet. Some good, some terrible. And the only way to tell if you’ve got a winner or a dud is to make it yourself. Are you really going to trust the online reviews? That’s the hard way. The easy way is to let some poor sap do the tedious task of sifting through the ocean of ideas for you. Well you’re in luck, because that poor sap is me. But boy was it worth it.
It turns out the best recipes aren’t recipes at all. They’re simply blueprints, with the details left up to you. This is key. By breaking recipes down to their naked architecture, they’re no longer something to follow, they’re something to have fun with. For brevity’s sake, we’ll limit it to just two of these “recipes.” I haven’t got all day, have you?
Breakfast “Cupcakes” are nowhere near as finicky as the name might suggest. Essentially, they’re just mini frittatas baked in muffin pans. With a foundation of eggs, milk, and hash browns, you can make them as simple or as complicated as you like. Obviously, you’ll want to try one with bacon or sausage. And one with cheese. And one with all three. But then you really start thinking, trying ones with roasted red peppers and asparagus, rosemary and goat cheese, smoked salmon and artichoke hearts, adobo sauce and queso fresco. All it takes is 15 minutes of prep and about 40 in the oven (at 350º F)—and since you’ll be making them six at a time, you’ll have plenty to share with your touring partners, who are probably not as excited about their gas station sandwiches as they’re acting. Don’t forget the hot sauce.
Once you’ve satisfied your savory tooth with a couple of cupcakes, you’re ready to advance to the next level in advanced backcountry snacking: making your own energy bars. The operative word being your. You’re not making these to appeal to active males 16-45, you’re making them for you. There’s a bit more to them than the cupcakes, but there’s no need for guesswork here, there’s no wrong way to make them (special thanks to the Salt Lake’s own Cake Pedaler for the recipe; cakepedaler.com):
CP’s note: These are so forgiving that you can add as much or as little of just about anything. Just make sure your base ingredients (oats, rice puffs, or cereal/granola) make up the majority of the recipe and you’ll be just fine. Happy snacking!
Rolled oats (not instant)
Rice puffs or granola
Chopped nuts (anything from almonds to hazelnuts)
Seeds (chia, sunflower, you name it)
Dried fruit (cherries, apricots, dates, etc.)
Sweets (dark chocolate chips beat just about anything)
Almond or peanut butter
Agave or honey
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract (or both)
1 egg white
Making them couldn’t be easier: simply mix the wet ingredients into the dry and press into an appropriately sized pan (greased, of course). Then bake for 12-15 minutes in an oven preheated to 250º F. Cool and cut into squares. You can store them in the fridge between wax paper for weeks, or in the freezer for months, and they’ll always taste as good as the day you made them. Careful though, these things are so good you’ll find yourself tearing into them even on your off days.
Maybe you’re starting to think this advanced backcountry snacking thing isn’t all that advanced. Well I thought you might think that, so I saved the best for last: a pair of recipes plucked from the dark, strange side of hunger—the side that whispers to you to use chocolate milk on cereal and turn bacon into candy.
Though cursed with an unintentionally suggestive name, Sesame Date Balls pack as much punch as a protein bar, yet taste like some sort of exotic, honey-dipped truffle. Yeah. And all you need to make them is a food processor and a handful of ingredients:
5 pitted medjool dates, or 10 deglet dates
½ cup roasted almonds, unsalted
½ cup cashews, unsalted
½ cup protein powder, chocolate or vanilla
one big squeeze of honey or agave
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup coconut water
Simply combine the first five ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well chopped. Add the coconut water slowly while continuing to pulse until the mixture has taken on a thick, batter-like consistency. Pop in the fridge for half an hour to cool, then form into small grape-sized balls and roll in the sesame seeds to coat evenly. Store in the fridge overnight before taking them out on a tour. The recipe makes about 10-12 balls, so you’re going to want to double it right off the bat. Trust me, they’re that good.
The second weird wonder is the kind of idea that smacks you in the head for not thinking of it before: French toast PB&Js. I know, right? The fluffy, eggy, buttery bread gives the tried and true PB&Jh formula a completely new dimension, transforming the normally normal classic into something new, something amazing. It’s breakfast and lunch all in one. And like all good recipes, it’s got plenty of wiggle room. Try it on cinnamon-raisin bread with almond butter and honey. Or on brioche with sliced apples and nutella. Or use an herb-spiced bread and fill with ham and cheese for a killer croque-monsieur. But however you make it, resist the urge to keep them all to yourself. That’d just be cruel.
Earn your bites
This is not a call for revolution, or for evangelism. This is merely a gateway drug to the world of high-class backcountry snacking, where store-bought granola bars are used as kindling and everyone on the skin track is packing a picnic. Get hungry, people. Get hungry for something better. Then make it.
Bacon ‘n Egg Salad Breakfast Bagels
Easy to whip up the night before, it’s the bacon that makes this odd take on a breakfast sandwich sizzle. No surprise there. Light and fluffy, egg salad is a welcome change from hot bagel sandwiches that invariably end up cold anyways.
6 eggs, hard-boiled & peeled
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
4 slices of bacon, cooked crispy & chopped
1 green onion, thinly chopped
dash of paprika
1. Peel and roughly chop the eggs
2. Fold eggs and rest of the ingredients together in a bowl
3. Slice bagels and hollow out the bottom half
4. Fill the hollow bottom half with egg salad, top, and wrap tightly in foil.