Backpacking Food Bars 2.0

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About: 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 the privileged of visiting nearly half of the national parks in the US....

Even though it was posted over a year ago, I’m still receiving a surprising amount of interest in my Backpacking Food Bars.  I’ve refined the recipe a bit and taken it on another trip, so I thought I’d share an update.  This new version is significantly more nutritious and tastier than the previous iteration.

The purpose of these bars is to provide a concentrated form of nutrition (specifically calories, carbohydrates, and protein) in a low weight, low volume package that’s easy to carry and stable across a wide range of temperature and moisture conditions.  The overall cost is lower than most commercially available food bars, and the recipe is infinitely customizable, allowing you to create bars that suite your own palate and nutritional requirements.

Step 1: Tools and Ingredients

Tools:
• Half cup measuring cup
• Food processor or cutting board and knife
• Bowl
• Spatula
• Jellyroll pan
• Grease for pan
• Oven

Ingredients:
• Protein Powder
• Glutinous Rice Flour (may have to hunt through local Asian grocery to find)
• Dried fruit (I used raisins)
• Nuts (I used walnuts)
• Peanut butter
• Sweetened condensed  milk
• Water

Step 2: Prep and Mix Ingredients

All ingredients are in half cup measurements.

Chop dried fruit and nuts.  You want fairly small pieces so they spread more thoroughly through the bars

Mix a half cup of each ingredient into a large bowl and stir until everything is mixed evenly into a smooth batter.

Step 3: Baking

Preheat oven to 250F

Spread batter on to a thoroughly greased jellyroll pan (I used vegetable oil) and bake for one hour.  This baking time is for bars that have been spread out to 1 inch thick.

Step 4: Packaging

Remove pan from oven and allow to cool completely.  Bars should be an even golden brown color and be firm to the touch

Once cooled, carefully lift the bars out of the pan.  No matter how well you greased things the bars will stick a little.

Cut the bars into the desired serving size, and wrap individually in plastic wrap.  This prevents the bars from grinding against each other and creating crumbs, which was a significant problem with my previous version.

Now you're ready to go out hiking.  I used a double batch of these bars as about one-third of the total food volume I packed.  They make an excellent quick breakfast or snack and are easy to eat while you walk.

Step 5: Nutrition

This new version of the bars has 25% more calories, 52% more carbohydrates and 7% more protein per cup.  This is thanks to a more streamlined ingredients list and the inclusion of the glutinous rice flour.

The glutinous rice flour was an important addition to the bars.  It offers over 1500 calories per cup and despite the name I don’t think it actually contains any gluten, in case you are allergic like a couple of my friends.

Once again I didn’t give much attention to vitamin, mineral, or fiber content, all of which are very important if you’re going to be on the trail for any length of time.  I’m still looking for ingredients to make up this deficit.  Wheat germ and quinoa have been suggested to me as possible candidates.

(see attached file for nutritional breakdown)

Step 6: Flavor

This time around I tried to pay more attention to flavor and palatability, so here are a few of my observations in that regard:

I used vanilla protein powder instead of the chocolate flavored and got rid of the baking chocolate, both of which contributed to a burnt taste in the previous version.

I found that the peanut butter is absolutely critical for a decent flavor as it covers up the slightly off taste of the protein powder. 

Where the previous bars were dry and crumbly, the glutinous rice flour helps the new version bind together with a more pleasant, moist texture that makes them easier to eat without large amounts of water.

I tried using dried cherries in the recipe but they turned the whole batter pink and gave it a strong flavor of bad cherry candy.  Not recommended.

Overall the bars taste a lot better, but now I find them to be too sweet.  I tried adding a few seasonings like cinnamon, and even salt and vinegar to mellow it out (it actually helped more than you would think).  The prime culprit is the sweetened condensed milk.  I may have to look for a substitute in a later version.

Step 7: Follow-up

It's been two weeks since I baked my batch of bars for this instructable, so I thought I should provide some follow-up on a couple of experiments I ran.

Open-Air Stability: I left a bar on the counter for about 12 days and nibbled on it periodically to see if it was still palatable.  It dried out somewhat, but didn't reach a point where it might be considered inedible. 

Packaged Stability: To my great disappointment some of the bars I kept wrapped in plastic began to mold after only a week.  This is a major step backwards from my previous version, and entirely unacceptable based on my stated purpose of supplying a stable food for backpacking.  My goal is at bare minimum a two week shelf life.  (I can't see anyone packing more than two weeks of food at one time.)  I believe the culprit is the addition of water.  To make the current recipe more stable it should be baked longer.  I suggest bumping the time up to 1.5 hours at 250F, or baking at 250F for one hour then dropping the temp to 100F for an additional hour.  Alternatively, you could try mixing the recipe with less water, or no water, from the beginning.  Of course you could always just forgo the plastic wrap too.

Hot Breakfast Application: I suggested to someone in the comments section that if the bars get inedibly dry and you have a camp stove on hand you could make a kind of porridge.  I tested the application with reasonable success.  With a little encouragement from a fork the crumbled bar dissolved nicely in hot water and thickened to a pleasant consistency.  Surprisingly the mix was a little bland and could benefit from some salt and sugar.

Notes for the Next Iteration:
  • Solve the molding problem by reducing or replacing water content.  I may try using an oil instead.  Coconut oil, for example, has been suggested to me as a nutrition-dense candidate.
  • Solve the sweetness problem by reducing or replacing the sweetened condensed milk.  Again an oil like coconut oil may suffice.  Finding more savory ingredients like roasted nuts or dried fruits that aren't as sweet may help too.
  • Experiment with peanut butter alternatives.  Enough people asked about a peanut-free variant that I figured I should give it a try.  I'm eying Nutella as a prime candidate.  The thinner consistency of Nutella may also help produce a softer texture without needing to add water.
  • Track and optimize a larger spread of nutrition values.  Next time around I plan to track fiber, sodium, and some of the bigger vitamins and minerals.  I'm also toying with the idea of developing a mathematical model to optimize the nutrition within volume constraints.  As I mentioned in the comments it's hard to add or change ingredients without radically altering the per cup averages, so I want a better way to visualize that process.

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    75 Discussions

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    photony

    1 year ago

    SAVORY....as a born Italian, I crave sun-dried tomatos, olives, and capers...can you come up with a SAVORY trail bar....don't forget the basil and oregano!

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    dwade9

    4 years ago

    Excellent recipe. I'm curious, have you thought about moving them to a dehydrator for a few hours after initial baking and/or using a vacuum sealer to further retard spoilage?

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    txdurk

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I used no water with only 1/2 cup of condensed milk. It was plenty wet enough to form the 'dough' in the baking tray without losing its shape. I'll have to try a saran wrap test to see if it molds. If it does I can try dehydrating.

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    EdsTwin13

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing-- this looks great! Have you tried making the bars in a greased muffin pan? They would be more uniform in size and possibly crumble less since there are no corners to get knocked off. (I didn't see anyone else mention that, sorry if someone has!)

    1 reply

    I had not considered that. I think it would actually work pretty well. You could also pack down the "pucks" (?) by pressing one muffin tin down on another. Pressed bars are also less crumbly (see my 3.3 version).

    The only problem I see is the possibility of slowing down your production rate, but that shouldn't be a an issue if you're planning ahead far enough.

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    koldham

    6 years ago on Step 5

    if you want minerals, just get the mineral supplement pill of choice and crush it up in the mix before you bake. you wont taste it at all.

    1 reply
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    jetrimmkoldham

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 5

    The human tongue can sense less than 1 teaspoon of sugar in a gallon of water. I think you would taste the pills (just based on the smell and taste of those pills) but that is a good idea! Maybe the other stuff will cover it up.

    You should be able to find True Lemon, True Lime and True Orange in any large grocery store. They are a powdered citrus juices which you could add to the batter to take down the sweetness without the changing the consistency. The zest from fresh citrus would also add a little bitterness. I've used True Lemon to brighten the flavor when I make lemon meringue pie if I didn't have fresh lemons. I add it both to the filling and to the meringue.

    Suzanne in Orting, WA

    2 replies

    I was just looking through old messages and remembered this: If you don't want a citrusy-sour, try "Sour Salt". You might have to look in the Kosher products section. It's dried citric acid.

    Suzanne in Orting, WA

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    gilliana

    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    GLUTEN-FREE HIKING BARS
    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

     Preheat oven to 325oF. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 inch baking pan.
     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.
     Chop any nuts, seeds, or dried fruit that needs chopping. Add to the flour mix and stir well.
     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.
     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.
     Add the peanut butter mix to the flour-fruit-and-nut mix and stir until combined.
     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.
     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.
     Let cool completely before turning the baked dough out onto a cutting board and cutting into 16 bars.

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    ZombieMonkey

    6 years ago on Step 7

    I'm wondering if Coconut Water may be a good substitute to regular water. Not sure on it's bacterial resistance, but it is a staple for the deserted island (though can cause diarrhea in large doses). It tends to contain more potassium per ounce than a banana, which is important for muscle exertion, and other electrolytes. Also other super foods such as Acai berries (which can be found dried as well), soy nuts (there is even a soy nut butter), and the like can add some nutrition density. The big trick is having the nutrition needed for physical activity. But so far great stuff

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    vref_guy

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I made these for an overnight hike when I climbed Katahdin. They were great and my hiking partner found them tasty enough to ask for the recipe. Thanks for posting this.

    I used Vanilla flavored Body Fortress Whey protein sold at the biggest box store there is. The rice flour wasn't as difficult to come by as I expected. I greased the pan and used parchment paper which was probably over-kill but the brick came out with no trouble. I divided it in half and frozen one portion which I plan to thaw this weekend during another hike.

    2 replies
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    Grand Wanderer

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Intriguing. Thanks for adding so much information to the discussion. I was dubious about wheat germs potential as a bonding agent, so thank you for saving me the trouble of testing that. I know plenty of people have mentioned almond butter, but I can't say that I've ever seen it in the store. Where did you find it?

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    kelociraptor

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hello and thanks for this great instructable. I am trying to veganize your recipe without compromising nutrition. I hope you don't mind the contribution.

    I substituted pea protein for whey protein, almond butter for peanut butter, wheat germ for glutinous rice flour (I couldn't find it), and virgin coconut oil for sweetened condensed milk. I warmed the coconut oil to liquefy it. Because there wasn't really a "bonding" agent in my mix, there wasn't enough to make a good batter, and it never solidified. It tasted good, in a bowl, and it was easy to clean up since I used parchment paper, but it didn't turn out.

    For those of you interested in trying those ingredients:
    1. Coconut oil is watery thin when melted. I recommend melting it (on very low heat) first; it's going to melt in the oven anyway. Adjust the amount of water if using coconut oil instead of condensed milk - I used no water.
    2. Almond butter is a fine substitute for peanut butter, but it usually has no added sugar, and it's generally thicker than PB. I added it to the coconut oil, warming it up to soften it before adding it to the dry ingredients.
    3. Wheat germ isn't enough of a bonding agent on its own.
    4. Pea protein is more expensive (but better in many ways) than whey, so if you aren't vegan and cost is an issue, you can find whey widely available for a lot less.

    This combination of ingredients is not sweet AT ALL since there's no sugar in the coconut oil or the almond butter. I added cinnamon and liked the combination of cinnamon and the occasional burst of dried cranberry, but others may want to consider adding a dry sweetener.

    For my next batch, I'm going to use quinoa flakes instead of rice flour or wheat germ, which would keep the recipe gluten free. In this form, quinoa has a consistency/taste similar to very sticky oatmeal, and since my issue was "too runny" I think it will be my solution. Also, since it's easier to digest as flakes, the quinoa adds calories, carbs, fiber, protein, calcium, and iron to the recipe.

    I'll let you know how it goes and post photos/nutrition info if it works. Has anyone else tried to make this recipe vegan?

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    RIverredd

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Try using parchment paper for lining the pan. Comes out easily, and bakes well. The wax paper coating tends to be absorbed into your food while cooking, but the parchment paper doesn't have a coating. Readily available as well..

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    AdSapien

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you,
    This was an amazing weekend activity. I threw two batches together; one Date/Coconut and one Raisin/Apricot, and they both turned out great.

    Is there any possible substitute for the peanut butter? Secondly, has anyone thought about molasses?

    1 reply
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    I'm glad you enjoyed the bars. I hope they served you well.

    There are many possible substitutes for peanut butter, it simple depends on your rational for needing to remove it. Nutella or any other nut butter is a prime candidate. Melted chocolate or caramel are possible options as well.

    I'm not too sure about molasses. The bars are already a little sweet for my taste, so molasses certainly wouldn't help that. I'm also not sure how it would bake. Since it is thinner than peanut butter, you may want to use less water in the recipe for example.