Picture of Backpacking Food Bars
My brother and I recently completed a ninety mile backpacking trip on the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail in Vermont. As part of the provisions we carried with us we both made food bars from scratch. They were easy to make, easy to carry, and had twice the food value of common commercially available products at a comparable cost.
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Step 1: Ingredients:

Picture of Ingredients:
Crunchy peanut butter (1/2 cup)
Caramel cubes (1/4 cup, approx. 10 cubes)
Semisweet chocolate chips (1/4 cup)
Sweetened condensed milk (1 cup)
Oatmeal (1/2 cup) (wheat germ may be an even more food-dense alternative)
Protein powder (1.5 cup)
Walnuts, diced (1/2 cup)
Raisins (1/4 cup)
Craisins (1/4 cup)

When purchasing materials in the store, be sure to compare brands to get the product with the highest food value per unit volume. I focused on calorie, carbohydrate, and protein content.

Step 2: Tools

Picture of Tools
Mixing bowl
Mixing spoon (good and sturdy)
Measuring cups
Jellyroll pan
Pots for double boiler

Step 3: Wet Ingredients:

Picture of Wet Ingredients:
Set up the double boiler on the stove, filling the larger pot to about one third full with water and setting the burner to slightly less than medium heat. In the smaller pot mix the chocolate chips, caramel cubes, peanut butter, and sweetened condensed milk. Heat and stir occasionally until all ingredients have melted into an even consistency.

Step 4: Dry Ingredients:

Picture of Dry Ingredients:
In the mixing bowl, stir together the oatmeal, protein powder, walnuts, raisins, and craisins. Stir in the melted ingredients from the double boiler until mixed evenly. Press the mixture into a greased jellyroll pan so that it is flush with the lip of the pan. I found that my fingers were actually the most effective tools for manipulating the sticky mixture.  One recipe should fill about a third of a standard size jellyroll pan

Step 5: Baking:

Picture of Baking:
Preheat the oven to 300F and bake the mixture for 30 minutes. This step may be optional. My brother did not bake his mixture, and it worked out just fine. However, it does have the benefit of driving off excess moisture and reducing weight.
Hello! You've definitely got the right idea with these bars - so much better (flavor/nutrition) and, of course, you won't spend near as much. I've been working on some myself and calling 'em calling "lembas bread" (hehe).

Anyway, while these are super-customizable and totally up to you, there are some things I've learned which have made mine more nutrient-dense and tolerable on those long journeys as my original goal was to make something that can sustain for literally months at a time in the wilderness.

Protein was one of the big things for me too (especially because I'm vegetarian) so including quinoa as the basis ups the complex protein content quite a bit, not to mention that it's rich in other things you need. Combine this with a bit of rolled oats.

I discovered that the addition of small nutrient rich seeds is a great way to pack in the odds and ends of nutrition. For example, mine now include chia and flax seeds for fiber, antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids and even a good bit of the vitamins and minerals you'll need. (I've even heard that chia seeds aid in maintaining better hydration)

Fruits and berries carry a lot of vitamins and good stuff, so mine now include goji berries (a little on the expensive side, but super-rich in vitamin C) and dried apricots.

Instead of peanut butter I switched to almond butter, for higher fat content, and only slightly less protein.

For sweetening (a must) I use honey for a more subtle taste and better sugars. I also lace chocolate syrup on top when baking. 

Nuts are obviously a great inclusion in any trail food, so my waybread has almonds, cashews, peanuts, and (oddly) soy nuts which are even higher in protein than peanuts. Try all the nuts glazed in honey and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar... soooo tasty. On shorter time-scale journeys I include milk and a banana in the 'dough' too.

In the end these are dense, filling you up with much less than other bars I've tried and like yours also carry a much better food-value. Also the flavor is complex but mild (kind of sweet and salty) so I don't tire of them as quickly.

I'm very sorry for the long comment, but it's exciting to see someone else exploring quest-nutrition. And, as you can see, I've probably thought about this for too long and wanted to share. Thanks again, good instructible, good luck and good journeys!
Grand Wanderer (author)  machine accent3 years ago
Sounds like you're ready to create an instructable yourself. You've upgraded from my Wal-Mart ingredients to some quality Whole Foods ingredients, which I think a lot of people around here would appreciate.

I think I've eaten goji berries once, and I have to look up what quinoa is. That was actually one of my limitations in creating these things. I had to think "what foods do I know of that are high in protein, calories, and carbs? Well, peanut butter is pretty good." A table with the food value of a wide variety of nuts, grains, and dried fruits would be invaluable in this process.

Somthing you and my brother brought up is nutrition beyond the three components I focused on. If these bars are your primary food for an extended period you would need more complex nutrition than my candy ingredients provide.

One value you might want to measure when putting together your bars is cost. It was a primary goal for me to make something that was the same price or cheaper than commercially available food bars. Obviously nutrition is critical in an extended exertion situation, so your bars would probably be well worth the price, but I would be curios to see the cost/meal.
Haha, yeah these are bit pricier but not as much as one might think. I'm a BIG cheapskate so price was one of the things which compelled me to try it. You're totally right about availability on a good bit of the items, and I found the key to be a good store. Whole Foods here (most likely everywhere) is hugely overpriced, but not far we have something called a Sunflower Farmer's Market (I live in Salt Lake City right now). What you're looking for in the end is a good bulk section.

My total shopping list was admittedly pretty pricey but with the bulk amount I purchased I could make at least 3-5 batches with about 8-12 bars each - more than a weeks worth of sustenance. In the end it's cheaper than eating even regular meals for a week.

I'm trying a comprehensive table right now actually, since I've finally arrived at something both palatable and successful in nutrient-density. I'm trying to figure out the price per batch ... maybe I'll make another trip and just get what's in a single batch and let them figure it for me.

As for places not here, I found that it really depends on where exactly you are. For example, when hitch-hiking through N. California there were cheap and plentiful markets all along the way, but in Texas, from whence I hail, you're not likely to find anything of the sort in most cities.

In the end I'd say that the basic component that makes the biggest difference is quinoa as the base, as it's near miraculous in it's nutrional value. Also like I said before get lots of little power-seeds and nuts - a little goes a long way - and dried fruit. And you're spot on with including nutrition supplements like protein powder too.

I'd love to let you know when I figure out the end sum.
Until then, sage travels.
awesome and very filling
oompa3 years ago
Well, evidently the loader ain't gonna work!
Anyhow, thanks again for posting your recipe.
oompa3 years ago
Oops - images didn't load the first time - the original bar is the one on the plate.
oompa3 years ago
Going on a 5 day hike in the Dolomites where I live and trying to come up with a lunch that can be eaten on the go so I tried your recipe with vanilla flavored protein powder and baking chocolate (dark) instead - these came out quite tasty and not very sweet, with a flavor similar to a "carob" bar. They were a bit harder than I expected so I tried another batch using honey instead of condensed milk and put them in my homemade dehydrator for 24 hours - these came out much softer plus I cut them up into smaller bite-sized pieces. Good stuff, great idea and great recipe - thanks!
The Maestro4 years ago
You could conceivably make these last as long as Clif bars if you cut 'em up hot and vacuum sealed them (particularly if you use mylar). That would seal out any bacteria or oxygen so there'd be little risk of anything happening except by breakdowns internal to the bars themselves.

I don't know what consistency they are right out of the oven, but even at room temperature with a clean knife you could probably seal them almost sterile, and you'll know if they go bad when the package swells up. Just toss it and don't even worry about the smell!
l8nite4 years ago
these sound good even when your not hiking ! I know that condensed milk will last for quite awhile in the can but I'm not so sure about long term after being used in a product (the middle of any trail would be a bad place to come down with a stomach bug) Did you consider using honey? it's a great energy source, is hydroscopic (attracts moisture) and is a natural perservative, it may make the current recipe overly sweet though
Grand Wanderer (author)  l8nite4 years ago
I had not considered honey, but you're absolutely right about its potential value.

I was concerned about the stability of the condensed milk initially but my at-home testing seemed to show that it was alright. Both my brother and I used condensed milk in our recipes and neither showed any sign of turning after six days of hiking even though his weren't even baked. Still if you're looking to make something that would last for two or three weeks instead of just one, honey would definitely be the way to go.
flamesami4 years ago
uummm...what are "crasins"?
good instructable,and the recipie is easily personalizeble...kinda looks like what we call flapjacks-crushed cornfakes, oats and syrup, cooked into a caremelized biscuit/cookie. This one looks healthier than that though.
Grand Wanderer (author)  flamesami4 years ago
hahaha, maybe "crasins" are more of a regional thing. They are dried cranberries.

You are absolutely right about the customizability, especially if you used vanilla flavored protein powder so that you have more room to create your own flavor profile. I didn't use any seasonings in my recipe, but my brother used cinnamon in his, so there's all kinds of room for experimentation there. If you truly intend to use these as backpacking food, the only real limitation you need to stick to is using ingredients that are as shelf stable as possible.

I had thought of making an apple pie version with dried apples, all caramel instead of chocolate chips, and lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. Maybe I'll do that next time.