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Back in the day, when I was on the hunt for snacks to keep me going on my next scout hike, I had two choices. One was my mum’s homemade flapjack and the other was Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake. Never being exactly the decisive type, especially when it comes to tasty sugary treats, my usual choice was to go with “a lot of both, please”.
In recent years, the number of different brands of energy bars has exploded in the UK. Go into any supermarket today and you’ll see whole aisles devoted to colourful packets of bars, in hundreds of different flavours, and pack sizes from “sensible amount” to “you could probably climb up Everest on that lot”.
How do you choose between them all?
Well, today, I’ve got a simple guide to choosing great energy bars for hiking. Along the way, I’ll also pass on my recommendations for some of the bars that I take with me whenever I go out for a ramble. I’ve even got details of the recipe that my mum uses to make her flapjack. Just don’t let on that I’m giving her secrets away.
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How to choose an energy bar
This isn’t the latest must-see episode of ‘Bake Off’, so I won’t harp on about making your own energy bars. That being said, the best bars are the ones you make for yourself. Why? Because you’re using a simple and short list of ingredients and you know exactly what goes into each bar. My favourite is homemade flapjack and the recipe that my mum uses (and I now do too!) is this one from BBC Good Food. Just go heavy on the golden syrup. 😉
There are a number of important things to consider when you’re picking energy bars for hiking. Let’s take a look at these now.
You will get bored
The first time I ever hiked part of the West Highland Way in Scotland, I was part of a team doing an event called the Caledonian Challenge. This was a hike that took in a 54-mile stretch of the Way and needed to be completed in under 24 hours. As part of the prep we spent quite a lot of time deciding what snacks to take with us and came to the conclusion that “a lot of chocolate” was the best plan.
The hike started off well and I’ve never eaten so much chocolate in my life. Trouble is that, when it’s the only thing you’ve got to snack on, it soon loses its appeal. Before the end of the hike I was sick to death of chocolate and desperately craving a piece of gooey flapjack, or my old favourite Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake.
To paraphrase an ancient Greek saying from Epictetus, “A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor a hike on a single type of energy bar”. Now, I don’t know much about ships, but he was spot on about the hiking. The best advice is to take a mixture of different energy bars (and other snacks) with you. That way, if you get bored of one type, you can move on to the next one in your arsenal.
Try before you commit
Being on a hike in the middle of the countryside somewhere, or halfway up a mountain, is not the best time to find out that the family-sized-multipack of “Flapjack bars with added dark chocolate chips, pomegranate chunks, juicy raisins, salted caramel, and a dash of creamy Irish liqueur” is not to your liking. You might be able to pick out the chocolate chips, but the creamy liqueur is a little trickier.
So, you’re going to have to do some enjoyable experimentation! Before you go hiking, get yourself a range of different types of bar. Try them all. Decide which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Buy lots of those. Then go for a hike to work off the calories from all that experimentation.
No-one said this was going to be easy…
Go easy on the protein
It’s important to have a good proportion of protein in your diet and, if you’re setting out on a multi-day hike, it’s essential to take in protein throughout. This will allow your body to repair damage to muscles during the way.
However, if you’re out for a day hike, then you don’t necessarily need protein during your walk and it can actually be counterproductive as it is difficult (and therefore takes a lot of calories) to digest.
There are a range of bars that now have added protein. Whilst they’re not bad to eat during your hike it’s best to eat them sparingly and mix them up with a range of other non-protein bars.
Grains are good
Grains, such as the oats in flapjack, are a great source of energy for a hike. They are a more complex form of carbohydrate (compared to sugar) and so get broken down into energy-giving sugars by your body over a longer period of time.
In practice this means that grains give your body a good longer-term source of energy, rather than just getting the immediate energy blast from chocolate, etc.
As with all things, a mix is good. Complex carbs from grains and simple carbs from sugars. And that, my friends, is why homemade flapjack is so good!
Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)
Another reason why homemade flapjack is so good for hiking is that it has a small list of ingredients (there’s only four: oats, butter, sugar and golden syrup). You know what they are and you know what they’re going to give you.
When it comes to some of the more weird and wonderful energy bars though this becomes a little harder. They may have ingredients that you’ve never heard of or E numbers additives that don’t mean anything.
Keep it simple and go with bars that have a short and understandable list of ingredients. Know what you’re putting into your body.
It’s nearly lunchtime and my stomach is rumbling. Researching and writing this article is not making this any easier. Sigh…
There are literally a thousand and one different energy bar brands available in Britain. With more and more springing up all the time. If you have the time (and the inclination) then my suggestion is to go with homemade and make your own flapjacks. They’re tasty and have a short and simple list of ingredients. You can even add in other things to vary the flavour – chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts all work great.
If that sounds a little too much like hard work, then go with a mix of bars that has a range of flavours. Pick something minty to start, a few bars of something chocolatey for your ‘main course’, and finish with a pudding of healthy oats (mixed with slightly-less-healthy golden syrup).
Variety is the spice of life and a variety of energy bars will put a spring in your step for your next hike.