Introduction: 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:
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
Mixing spoon (good and sturdy)
Pots for double boiler
Step 3: 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:
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:
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.
Step 6: Serving
Remove the bars from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature. Cut the bars into the desired serving size. Because I based all of my nutritional calculations on one cup measurements and the sum of the recipe is five cups I divided the bars into five one cup servings.
Step 7: Data
Based on my calculations from the nutritional information and cost of each ingredient, a one cup serving of the finished bars contains the following:
The full spreadsheet is attached.
Step 8: Testing
I was concerned that the bars might destabilize in the kind of heat they might encounter on the trail. To test for this I stuck a meat thermometer into one of the bars and heated it to a little over 100F without any loss of stability.
Shelf life testing:
I thought that the bars might get stale quickly so I left one on the counter for a week. After seven days in the air the bar tasted pretty much the same as it had when it was fresh.
I ate these bars for breakfast for several days and they kept me fuller longer than anything else I typically eat, even while running four miles every morning.
I made two full recipes of these bars which comprised about a third of the food I brought for a six day hike and I noted a few problems. First of all, ten one cup bars in a gallon plastic bag in a backpack grounding against each other for six days produced about half a bar worth of crumbs. My brother’s unbaked bars did get somewhat smashed, but stood up better in a backpack. Second, I got very tired of my own cooking. I think that semisweet chocolate chips and chocolate flavored protein powder was too much chocolate. It wound up tasting a bit like carbon. I think that vanilla protein powder would make it more palatable. Despite these couple of issues, one solid testament for the nutritional value of the bars is that fact that I went into Vermont’s wet, rocky, wooded hills weighing 184lbs and 90 miles and 6 days later I came out without losing an ounce.