Backpacking Food Bars




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....

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.

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 bowl
Mixing spoon (good and sturdy)
Measuring cups
Jellyroll pan
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:

Calories: 788
Carbohydrates: 81g
Protein: 45g
Cost: $1.64

The full spreadsheet is attached.

Step 8: Testing

Temperature 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.

Fullness testing:
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.

Field testing:
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.



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    12 Discussions


    3 years ago

    What can I replace caramel cubes with?


    3 years ago on Introduction

    You said the recipe makes five cups of mix and that you divided the recipe into five one cup bars... but the photo shows the baked bars divided into SIX.

    Did I miss something?


    4 years ago

    awesome and very filling


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Well, evidently the loader ain't gonna work!
    Anyhow, thanks again for posting your recipe.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Oops - images didn't load the first time - the original bar is the one on the plate.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    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.

    The Maestro

    7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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

    1 reply
    Grand Wandererl8nite

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    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.