Introduction: Backpacking Food Bars 3.3

Picture of Backpacking Food Bars 3.3

My wife and I have had the privilege of living in Seattle for the past 3 months, and with almost 200 miles of weekend backpacking trips under our belts I’ve had plenty of time to work on improving my backpacking food bars.  I think the current results are much better than the original and 2.0 versions.

As with the previous versions of the bars, my goals are:
1. High in calories, carbohydrates, and protein
2. Shelf stable for at least a week under high temperature and humidity
3. Sufficiently palatable to be eaten multiple times a day for many days in a row
4. Easily and cheaply made from readily available ingredients
5. The Holy Grail: something that even my ever-skeptical wife would be willing to eat.

My apologies up front for the poor lighting in some of the pictures.  The lighting in my kitchen is pretty bad, which is made all the more embarrassing by the fact that I now work for a lighting company.

Step 1: Tools and Ingredients

Picture of Tools and Ingredients

• Mixing bowl
• Measuring cup
• Measuring spoons (if creating one of the flavor variants)
• Rubber spatula
• Food processor (or knife and cutting board)
• Jellyroll pan
• Aluminum foil
• Oven (preheated to 250F)
• Plastic wrap

• Sweetened condensed milk (2 cups)
• Nut butter of your choice (2 cups)
• Whey protein concentrate (1 cup)
• Glutinous rice flour (1 cup)
• Nuts (1 cup, chopped)
• Dried fruit  (1 cup, chopped)

Step 2: Prep and Mix Ingredients

Picture of Prep and Mix Ingredients

As with the 2.0 recipe, use a food processor or a knife and cutting board to reduce dried fruit and nuts to desired size.  Combine all ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.  The dough should have a crumbly/sticky clay-like consistency, but will vary depending on the consistency of the nut butter you chose to use.

Now it’s time for a new step that helps the bars’ consistency significantly: knead the dough with your hands for 3-5 minutes.  The dough should stiffen quite a bit and will seem to shrink.  It will also leak oil from the nut butter, so try and do the kneading on a plate to make cleanup easier.  And if you’re really serious about getting all of those calories, collect that oil and drizzle it on the bars just before putting them in the oven.

Step 3: Baking

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If you haven’t done so already, preheat your oven to 250F.  While the oven is preheating, line your jellyroll pan with foil (my deepest gratitude to everyone who suggested this in the 2.0 recipe’s comments).  Using your hands, press the dough into the pan up to the lip of the pan, and squaring off the end of the dough if it doesn’t quite fill the pan. 

Alternatively, if you happen to have a musubi press handy (which I do), or if you can improvise something else, you can press half-cup measurements of dough into perfectly formed bars.  I found that this method produces a bar that is much less crumbly than what you get with the hand-pressed method.

Put the bars in the oven for 30-60 minutes depending on how stiff the nut butter was that you used, and how stiff you want the end product to be. 

Technically you don’t have to bake the dough at all, it’s completely shelf stable as-is, but baking reduces weight slightly and, in my opinion, improves the flavor significantly.  Using normal peanut butter and the hand-pressed method I found that 30 minutes gave a pleasantly soft bar but after 60 minutes it’s a bit too crumbly.  However, baking a mechanically pressed bar for 60 minutes produced the most palatable and transportable results.

Step 4: Packaging

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Remove the bars from the oven and if using the hand-packed method cut the bars into the desired serving sizes while they are still warm.  Once the bars are cut, allow them to cool completely before proceeding.

Once the bars have cooled, wrap each one in plastic wrap, put the wrapped bars in a gallon ziplock bag, put the ziplock bag in your favorite backpack, and hit the trail.

Step 5: Flavor Variants

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Eating the same thing day after day gets monotonous.  Thankfully this recipe is incredibly customizable.  For this instructable I actually divided the batch of dough into four parts and made each a different flavor.  I scaled the seasoning amounts up for a full recipe and I’ll share those recipes with you here:

Follow the directions using your favorite nut butter and dried fruit (I used peanut butter and dried cranberries).  The end result has a pleasant, mild, sweet, nutty flavor that earned a “not bad” from my wife.

Apple Pie
Use dried apples as your fruit and mix in the following:
cinnamon: 2tsp
allspice: .25tsp
cloves: .25tsp
nutmeg: dash
ginger: dash
This version was described by friends who joined us on one of our trips as tasting like a desert at a high-end restaurant.

Use Nutella as the nut butter, and replace the fruit with chocolate chips

It was asked in the discussion on the 2.0 recipe if a savory version could be made.  I gave it my best but the results are pretty mediocre.  Here’s what I tried:
wasabi: 2tsp
garlic powder: 4tsp
onion flakes: .5c
dried chives: .5c
sweet soy sauce: 8tsp
cayenne pepper: 2tsp
salt: 1tsp
You could help yourself out a lot by using unsweetened nut butter, but the real problem is the difficulty of combating 2 CUPS of SWEETENED condensed milk.  I think the best thing to do is work with the sweetness and go for a sweet and sour, pad Thai, or barbeque flavor.  Just remember to ALWAYS use shelf-stable ingredients.

Step 6: Breakfast Variant:

Picture of Breakfast Variant:

It occurred to me that even if these bars get stale, as long as they don’t mold they’re still good.  So how do you eat a stale food bar?  Turn it into a hot breakfast cereal. 

Take 2 half-cup bars, crumble them into a bowl or pan, pour about a quarter of a cup of boiling water over the bars, and mix thoroughly.  You may have to heat the resulting porridge a bit if you like a really warm breakfast.

Step 7: Meeting My Goals

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Food Value:
I ate these food bars as part of two meals and two snacks every day while hiking 14 mile days with a 30lb pack and didn’t lose a pound of body mass.  They are also plenty filling and energizing.  Here are the actual numbers for a single half cup bar using peanut butter, dried apples, and walnuts:
calories 435.0
carbs 42.5g
protein 15.5g
fat 23.8g
Sa 0.21g
P 0.33g
Ca 14.3%
Fe 6.0%
A 2.0%
C 0.5%
E 10.0%
niacin 20.0%
riboflavin 10.0%

Shelf Life:
The current recipe, baked or unbaked, is completely shelf stable.  I left bars on my counter, with and without plastic wrap, for two weeks with no sign of mold or significant drying.  I’m confident these bars will last in your pack for as long as you could realistically want to carry them.  As you customize your own bars just remember that water, or any ingredients that contain water, are the kiss of death for shelf life. 

These are the best tasting version of the bars yet and could easily pass as some kind of desert.  The biggest improvement was replacing the Wal-Mart protein powder with whey protein concentrate.  Tragically it reduced the overall protein content, but it also got rid of the nasty artificial sweetener taste, which I consider a net gain.  When we went hiking with our friends they kept trying to nab my extra bars so they must have thought it was pretty good too.  Still, having only one flavor gets monotonous.  Towards the end of my trips I found myself avoiding the bars if something else was available.  I recommend splitting up the dough and making several flavors to take on your trip.  And if someone comes up with a viable savory variant, preferably one that tastes like kielbasa, I want to hear about it.

Sourcing and Cost:
If you’re using peanut butter, dried apples, and walnuts, the overall cost is $0.66 per half cup bar.  Obviously this is substantially cheaper than any other backpacking food bar you’ll find readymade at the grocery or camping store.

The only ingredient that might be a challenge to acquire is the glutinous rice flour.  Check your local Asian grocery.  If there’s even a modest Asian population in your area you should be able to find it.

The Wife Test:
As mentioned previously, my wife gave these a “not bad,” which is probably the best reaction I’m likely to pry out of her.

Step 8: Caveats

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Let me say up front that glutinous rice flour DOES NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN.  Here “glutinous” is being used as an adjective, not an ingredient.  Trust me, I have a friend with severe celiac disease and I managed to feed him at my house for ten days without killing him.

Beyond that, the obvious allergens are nuts and milk.  If you’re only allergic to some nuts you should be able to find a nut butter that will work for you, but if you’re allergic to all nuts, or to milk, I’m afraid you’ll have to look for a different food bar.

Complete Nutrition:
While this recipe is high in its target nutrients (calories, carbs, and protein) it is lacking in other areas that would be critical on an extended backpacking trip.  In the comments on the 2.0 recipe there was a robust discussion of potential ingredients to make these almost a complete meal, but I chose to pare down the ingredients to focus on this primarily as an energy bar.  Subsequently, these bars are low in dietary fiber and most trace nutrients.  Keep this in mind while planning your meals.

Step 9: Gilliana’s Recipe:

In the comments on the 2.0 recipe many people chimed in about their own adjustments to the recipe.  User gilliana even went so far as to offer a complete recipe with instructions.  I haven’t tried it myself yet, but I thought her effort and thoroughness deserved some recognition.

gilliana says:
I thought this was a lovely idea, so I thought I'd try, too. I am gluten-intolerant, so here's my gluten-free version. It lasted on in a Tupperware container on the counter for 3 weeks just fine and probably would have lasted longer, except people (including me) kept sneaking just a little bit. I used banana for the fruit base, pecans, cashews, and sunflower seeds for the nuts, and raisins, dried blueberries, and dried cherries for the fruit.

This recipe doesn’t use eggs, so it is allowed to lick the bowl. The combination of grain and chickpea gives a complete protein.

• ¼ cup amaranth flour
• ¼ cup chickpea flour
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp guar gum
• ½ tsp calcium carbonate (=600 mg calcium) - optional
• ¼ tsp sea salt
• ½ cup sunflower seeds or chopped pecans, cashews, and/or other nuts/seeds
• ½ cup dried fruit of choice, chopped if needed to the size of raisins or a bit smaller
• 1 mashed banana or ¼ cup apple sauce
• ¼ cup honey
• 1 tsp vanilla
• ¼ cup chia seeds or flaxseeds
• ½ cup peanut butter

c Preheat oven to 325oF. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 inch baking pan.
c In a large bowl, whisk together the amaranth flour, chickpea flour, cinnamon, guar gum, calcium, and salt. If at all lumpy, run the flour through a sieve.
c Chop any nuts, seeds, or dried fruit that needs chopping. Add to the flour mix and stir well.
c Mash the banana in a medium-sized, falt-bottomed bowl. Add the honey and vanilla and stir well. Add the chia seeds and beat with an electric beater.
c If the peanut butter is cold, put it in a small glass or ceramic bowl and heat it for about 30 seconds in the microwave until it is soft. Add to the banana mix and cream or beat together.
c Add the peanut butter mix to the flour-fruit-and-nut mix and stir until combined.
c Spoon the dough evenly into the baking pan. Use the bowl of a spoon to swirl and pat in delicate circles until the dough is spread out evenly and about 1” thick. A spatula helps to get all the dough out of the bowl and off the spoon.
c Bake for about 45 minutes, until the surface of the bars is lightly browned, the bars have separated slightly from the sides of the pan, and a probe inserted into the middle comes out dry. Put the probe in at an angle so you don’t scratch your baking pan.
c Let cool completely before turning the baked dough out onto a cutting board and cutting into 16 bars.


kakashibatosi (author)2015-10-20

have you tried roasting the nuts for the bar? or perhaps caramelizing them? Thanks for the cool ible ?

AlexanderP26 (author)2015-08-19

Did someone try to dehydrate it?

StephanieTaylor627 made it! (author)2015-01-23

I made three batches; almond butter with slivered almonds and cherries, brownie, and apple pie is drying in the oven now. The musubi press is a great idea. I highly recommend getting one. I got mine off eBay for less than $5. I did 1/3 cup of dough in each press. I find the brownie ones to be a bit sweet for my taste, but edible. I enjoy the almond cherry ones, and I'm looking forward to tasting the apple pie. They are great to take geocaching with me when I am out all day, and I will definitely take them backpacking with me when the weather gets warmer. I'm going to try a tropical bar with cashew butter and a tropical dried fruit mix. I can see these bcoming a staple in my backpack. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe!

StephanieTaylor627 (author)2015-01-16

Can you freeze these or will the oils separate? I'm looking at making three batches but I don't think even I can eat that many in 2-3 weeks!

txdurk (author)2014-09-23

I saw guar gum on one recipe. Diabetics should proceed with caution. I have the understanding it is hypoglycemic & interferes with diabetic medication like metformin.

jcastaneda5 (author)2014-09-12

Would it be a bad idea to bake until the middle is slightly soft then let them cool for a while, then put them in a dehydrator to completely pull all the moister out, then after cooling seal them up in a vacuum bag for a very extended shelf life?

srohwer made it! (author)2014-08-02

I made these today with regular rice flour and a commercial casein protein powder. I used natural peanut butter, pecans, and chopped dates. They turned out great! It made a batch of 11 and I ordered a musubi press off Amazon. After I use up the rice powder I'll see if I can find or order some GRF and see what the difference is. With all of the variations, it shouldn't take too long!

kretzlord (author)2014-05-01

This is awesome. I've been looking for a cheap, easy, calorie packed food! How about the name Bachaelor Bars

NaNaNaNaBatman88 (author)2014-01-24

These bars are fantastic! My personal favorite is the Brownie recipe. I got my chocolate whey protein from GNC. I could eat a whole batch in one sitting, but I may OD on calories lol.

wazzup105 (author)2013-07-20

Do you somewhere have like a base recipe in metric measurements (grams)? Like X grams dry stuff, Y grams wet stuff ?

Grand Wanderer (author)wazzup1052013-07-23

'fraid not. I keep thinking that all of my cooking and building projects would be so much easier if I could work in metric, but I'm stuck buying measuring cups and lumber in Imperial units. All I could suggest is the various conversion utilities online.

kjbender (author)2013-06-09

Excellent recipe! Thank you! My husband and son will be backpacking for a week in Yosemite on an upcoming scout trip. I ran a sample batch and they both really like them. I found Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour at a local market (asian section) and substituted 1/4 cup flax seed whole & 1/4 cup flax seed meal for the 1 cup of nuts. Mostly because I had some on hand and it's a little easier on braces. Baked for about 40 mins after kneading as described and pressing mostly by hand. Texture isn't crumbly, nor sticky. In fact looks and tastes like a slightly chewy cookie. They all fit into a medium ziploc bag (I separated them with parchment paper which they can burn in a campfire and reuse the ziploc when empty for other trash...leave no trace!). The parchment paper may not be necessary, but it should prevent them from sticking together in hot or cold temps. Thanks so much for a great instructable!

animal lover (author)2013-05-21

Where can I get whey protein concentrate and glutinous rice flour?

I was able to find both in the baking or health food isles at grocery store chains near my house. Bob's Red Mill brand offered both, if I recall correctly. You will probably have the best luck if you try more upscale or "natural" type stores. The glutinous rice flour can also be found at Asian grocers if there happen to be any in your area (make sure you're really getting unsweetened glutinous rice flour since there area multiple kinds of rice flour). And in a worst case scenario, you can always order stuff online.

Delta855 (author)2012-09-29

Wth my granola bars i have found the that the Glad Press&Seal wrap works pretty good as oposed to just normal cing wrap.

obax17 (author)2012-09-13

Have you considered/tried using something other than plastic wrap to wrap them up? I really like this idea but cringe at all that plastic... Not that it would stop me from making them and using something different myself, I'm just curious if you've ever tried a different wrap and if it affects the 'shelf life' of the bars at all?

Grand Wanderer (author)obax172012-09-13

For all intents and purposes shelf life is unaffected by wrapping. The wrap prevents dry bars from grinding against each other and creating a bag full of crumbs, or soft bars from mashing into a single lump. (Both of these are problems I have faced in the field.) Anything that you want to put in between them (foil, paper, etc.) will do the same job just fine.

obax17 (author)Grand Wanderer2012-09-14

Cool, thanks for the reply, 'tis good to know. I'll have to give 'em a try soon.

epplebear (author)2012-09-13

Try this
Sweeten condensed milk

1 cup powered milk

1/3 cup boiling water

2/3 cup splenda

3 Tablespoons butter.

Mix together in blender Start on low a minute Then on high until smooth.

I love this. I can't have sugar.

dacusa (author)epplebear2012-09-14

Thank you for that idea. I am a diabetic and having a snackbar for energy and sustaining carb loads is important for us diabetics but at the same time trying to balance exercise and sugars. I use Agave necter for liquid sweetener and Splenda for granular.

ehudwill (author)2012-09-08

What would you estimate the shelf life on these are?

Grand Wanderer (author)ehudwill2012-09-08

It's hard to say because I haven't yet been able to push a sample all the way to spoiling. I know they last at least two weeks, and I suspect they could go three, maybe longer. If you happen to have a quality vacuum sealer I'd venture individually sealed bars could last for months.

gen81465 (author)Grand Wanderer2012-09-14

Ziploc has a small pump-style vacuum sealer that I use. The sealer itself costs around $8, and quart-sized vacuum bags runs about $2.50 - $3.00 for a box of 15. As long as what you are sealing isn't too juicy, I find they work great. They also make gallon-sized vacuum bags, but I find quart-size to be perfect for individual servings or smaller quantities.

ehudwill (author)Grand Wanderer2012-09-09

Two weeks sounds good. I don't think they would last longer than that around my house. I might have to borrow a vacuum sealer from someone.

peppermintschnapps (author)2012-09-13

lol'd @ The Wife Test :)

pfsounder (author)2012-09-09

Can you replace the Sweetened Condensed milk with regular Condensed milk??
It would cut down the carbs and calories.

Grand Wanderer (author)pfsounder2012-09-10

Regular condensed milk has a much thinner consistency, so your batter would be thinner, harder to kneed (perhaps you would have to beat it with a whisk instead), and require more baking. You may also want to add some sweetener of your own or you risk some pretty bland bars. I'm also not sure about the shelf life of condensed milk.

The net effect would obviously be to reduce carbs and calories, like you said, but as I envisioned the recipe and it's uses the carbs and calories are the point. Lots of energy in an easy to carry, shelf stable package. If you're just going for a desert bar though, regular condensed milk might work.

b1g0af (author)Grand Wanderer2012-09-13

What about honey? It's shelf-stable for thousands of years (literally!), and should have a viscosity similar to sweetened condensed milk.

By volume, it's the same amount of calories, but the downside is that you're losing protein from the milk and adding carbs from the honey. I'd be willing to make that trade if it improves the shelf life, though.

Grand Wanderer (author)b1g0af2012-09-13

I tried a few experiments with honey, but the powdered ingredients didn't seem to want to mix with it. The end result was always a gritty suspension of particles in honey instead of a smooth batter. Maybe with more stirring, or better yet a stand mixer, I might have gotten something smooth eventually, but so far SC milk is the only shelf-stable liquid I have found that easily creates a smooth batter.

baldmosher (author)b1g0af2012-09-13

I have a recipe that uses just 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1 egg to make really good wheat-free biscuits. If the biscuits are baked dry, the egg doesn't spoil for weeks, so it could make an alternative binding agent (and fat/carb/protein source) for a savoury version. You'd be completely changing the recipe though so probably out of scope for this 'able.

"Ya' - Buddy"..!

tcarney57 (author)2012-09-13

In the early 1970s my mother did a lot of experimenting with texturized vegetable protein (TVP). It's made from soy--essentially it's tofu that's been puffed up, leaving a spongy texture. It's then dried in pieces about half the size of a peanut. It's available in plain or various meat flavors. Artificial bacon bits are made of TVP.

A well-stocked natural food store will carry it in bulk bins. It can of course be web-bought. I bet this would be a great thing to add to your bars, making lunch and dinner bars in addition to breakfast-y ones.

EmmettO (author)2012-09-13

On the note of nut allergies. Sunbutter is a sunflower based spread that could work. My wife is allergic to nearly everything (nuts, peanuts, citrus, peas, beans, lentils, celiac) can have Sunbutter.

vref_guy (author)2012-09-10

I made a close variant of these (version 2 I believe) back in the spring time this year based on this Instructable. Froze half the "brick" I made and took the other on a trip with a buddy. Both of us thought it was tasty and no worse than some of the alternatives. I thawed out the other half last week in my checked luggage heading to the Alps. It survived a week with temperatures ranging from the 90s to the 40s (F) and I ate it myself as my partner is not found of the peanut butter I had in them. Great Instructable!

blarg7789 (author)2012-09-09

is that up at flapjack lakes ???

Grand Wanderer (author)blarg77892012-09-10

That's Camp Siberia, just below Anderson Pass in Olympic National Park.

jack_of_all_everything (author)2012-09-09

for those of you out there with nut allergies you can substitute the nut butter with sun butter (sunflower seed butter) fig paste or partially dehidrated apple sauce and the nuts with toasted grains. if you want the extra calories that come from the nut butter you can add a few tablespoons of an oil of your choice like sunflower, coconut, soybean, palm kernal, rapeseed (canola), grape seed, rice bran or safflower oils to make up for the fats lost when not using the nut butters. also adding some flax seed oil and or meal will boost the omega 3 content in the bars.

contessa10 (author)2012-09-09

Just made a couple of batches of these bars and they seem to be a big hit at our house. The first batch was pretty much exactly as described, with peanut butter and a mixture of nuts and dried fruits...tasty! In the second batch, I used rolled oats instead of nuts (to increase the fiber content) and banana chips with peanut butter...extremely yummy!
A couple of suggestions: If you have a Kitchen-Aid (or other sturdy brand) stand mixer with a dough hook, use it! It makes combining the ingredients and kneading the dough a snap. And, if you went the hand-pressed route, use a pizza cutter to cut the baked dough into bars. So much easier than trying to keep a straight line with a knife. Happy baking!

richardsan (author)2012-09-08

the MRE "ranger bar" is pretty this very close to that? anyone have that recipe?

audreyobscura (author)2012-09-07

Oh man! These are great. I have had some friends tinker with customized super-bars for extended trips, but these look all-powerful. Thanks for the share.

About This Instructable




Bio: After spending 2 years traveling my wife and I have lived in 8 different cities across the United States. Among other things we've had ... More »
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