Looking for a quick power-punching, portable snack (…alongside your Greenbelly meals, of course) to munch on during your next thru-hike? Why not give one of these 7 simple and delicious DIY trail mix recipes a try! Whether you’re a sweet and salty or spicy and savory fan, we’ve got an easy trail mix concoction for you. But before we dive further into the recipes themselves, let’s take a moment to shed a little light on how trail mix first came about and what exactly qualifies it as a “trail-worthy” snack.
3 Reasons We Love Trail Mix as a Hiking Food
1. It's Healthy: Trail mix is traditionally made up of three ingredients: dried fruits, nuts and seeds. All three contain a healthy amount of antioxidants, unsaturated fats, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. Trail mix is thus inherently healthy. But watch out for additions as trail mix can often include extra ingredients that are packed with refined sugars and oils.
2. It Provides Great Fuel: The body needs sugars to produce energy. Thankfully, dried fruits are loaded with healthy, natural sugars that will fuel your efforts on the trail. Let's also mention that seeds and nuts both contain a healthy amount of protein which will help with trail recovery. Finally, trail mix is high in fiber which keeps you full for several hours at a time.
3. It's Calorie-Dense: Because of its high content in healthy fats, trail mix has a high calories-to-weight ratio - which, as hikers who obsess over keeping our pack as light as possible, is something we are always looking for. In fact, while protein and carbs deliver 4 calories per gram, fats pack a whopping 9 calories per gram. This is why trail mix is so calorie-dense and is a great food to replenish lost calories on the trail, whether you're hiking, running or cycling.
How to Make Your Own Trail Mix Recipe
NUTS (~40% OF MIX)
Nuts are the foundation of your mix. You can pick one or combine several to bring a bit more variety to the texture of your mix. Every nut is fair game: peanut, cashew, walnut, pine nut, macadamia, almonds, etc.
Use nuts to influence the overall texture and flavor of your homemade trail mix. Want to add a dash of bitterness? Toss in a couple of walnuts. Looking for something creamier? Cashews will do the trick.
SEEDS (~25% OF MIX)
A lot of trail mix recipes you'll find online omit seeds. We like to include them, mainly for their health benefits. Seeds are nutrient bombs and the perfect way to get a healthy dose of protein, iron, fiber and magnesium on the trail. We love pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, but you may also like flax, hemp or sesame seeds.
DRIED FRUITS (~25% OF MIX)
Dried fruit is fruit without its water content. In other words, it's fruit on steroids. It delivers all the goodies contained in your favorite fruits but is a fraction of the weight and tastes absolutely delicious. Because of their high sugar content, dried fruits are great for re-energizing during or after a demanding physical effort.
If buying dried fruits from your grocery store, watch out for added sugar and other additives. Alternatively, you can buy fresh fruits and dehydrate them yourself. As a starter, try mixing in some dried cranberries, raisins, dried mango, banana chips and/or dried cherries.
SEASONING (TO TASTE - OPTIONAL)
Some flavor combinations are beautifully complemented with a couple of spices. Looking to add a "Thai feel" to your trail mix? Throw in a bit of dried ginger and chili. Indian? A pinch of curry will do. You could also add a bit of salt to bring out the sweetness of your dried fruits or sprinkle in some cinnamon to mellow the taste of dark chocolate. Lastly, you can coat your trail mix in maple syrup if you've got a sweet tooth.
ADDITIONS (~10% OF MIX)
When all you eat for snacks is trail mix every day, it can get a little boring. That's why the GORP ('Good Old Raisins and Peanuts') has evolved into hundreds of sweet and savory recipes that unapologetically list legumes, candy, and dried vegetables in their ingredients.
To keep your trail mix healthy, consider those your "cheat ingredients" and limit them to 10% of your combo. Anything is good to go, just be mindful of the expiration date as a single spoiled item will ruin your whole mix. Here are some backpacking food ideas to get you started.
7 Simple and Yummy DIY Trail Mix Recipes
Instructions: For each of the following recipes, simply collect all the ingredients into a Ziploc bag or a mason jar and shake until evenly mixed. You can then start munching straight away or store for approximately a month, depending on the ingredients
The Classic (GORP)
- 3/4 cup peanuts
- 3/4 cup almonds
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup granola
- Optional: 1/4 cup M&M’s (or chocolate chips)
Why it works: A classic trail mix with just the right balance of salty sweetness, this steadfast combo of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, granola and dark chocolate will hit all the taste buds while packing a powerfully fueling punch.
- 1 1/2 cup cashews
- 3/4 cup sesame seeds
- 3/4 cup dried mango
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup kale chips
- 1/4 cup Teriyaki beef jerky
- 1/4 cup rice crackers
Why it works: With ingredients like mango, kale chips and even teriyaki beef jerky this trail mix might sound like it has a lot going on. Mainly because it does. But don’t knock it until you try it, sometimes the seemingly oddest food combinations have a way of creating delicious magic.
Peanut Butter Galore
- 1 cup peanuts
- 1 cup banana chips
- 1/2 cup flax seeds
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dark)
- 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
- 1/2 cup pretzels
Why it works: What’s not to love about a mix that includes bananas, chocolate and peanut butter? Perfect for those with a bit of a sweet tooth, the dark chocolate chips and banana pieces are sure to satiate those sweets cravings, while the peanuts and peanut butter chips provide healthy fats that’ll keep your hunger satisfied.
- 1 1/4 cup almonds
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup dried apricot
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/2 cup popcorn
- 1/4 beef jerky
- Cinnamon (to taste)
Why it works: Needing a little more fiber while out on the trail? This combo which includes popcorn — a very fiber-rich food — could do the trick. On top of your extra dose of fiber with this mix, you’ll also be loading your body with protein, good fats and antioxidant fruits and seeds.
- 3/4 cup pecans
- 3/4 cup almonds
- 1 cup hemp seeds
- 1/2 cup dried strawberries
- 1/2 cup dried blueberries
- 1/2 cup cheerios or Chex cereals
- Cinnamon (to taste)
Why it works: Think of this breakfast bite mix as a souped-up version of a basic bowl of Chex cereal. Minus the milk. Loaded with nuts, seeds, berries, energizing carbs and a dash of cinnamon, this delightful recipe could easily become a morning staple both on and off the trail.
- 1 1/2 cup cashews
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup wasabi peas
Why it works: Cranberries and wasabi peas might sound like an unlikely combination, however, when eaten together their pleasant blend is really something everybody should try at least once. The dried cranberries alongside the cashews complement the slight kick of the wasabi peas, which just so happen to be an excellent source of protein.
- 1 cup peanuts
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup sesame sticks
- 1/4 cup green peas
- 1/2 tsp chili
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Why it works: If spice is your thing, then the Cajun Mama trail mix is the one for you. Created with flavors like chili powder, cayenne pepper and cumin, this spicy and bold mix is one way to ensure you get that extra little pep in your step.
Tips for Creating Trail Mix Recipes
1. Experiment: the perfect trail mix is the trail mix that'll work best for you. That's why you want to experiment with your own recipes and flavor combinations. Sometimes it'll be a winner, other times a stinker. But eventually, you'll be able to come up with 3-4 recipes that are on point.
Here are a few things to experiment with:
- Flavor: test unusual flavor combinations and see if you can come up with anything remotely pleasant. For example, who could have guessed that topping vanilla ice cream with a dash of soy sauce would taste so darn good?
- Texture: beyond flavor, each ingredient has its own texture. Do you like your trail mix crunchy, crispy or smooth? Do you enjoy it more when it's dry or a little bit moist? Notice what happens to the overall texture of your snack when you add in more nuts, more fruits or more seeds.
- Energy levels: when it comes to physical performance, not all trail mix is created equal. Pay attention to your energy levels after snacking and make sure that your trail mix is actually energizing you. A trail mix loaded with artificial sugars may provide you with a short-lived boost of energy, but chances are it'll be followed by an abrupt crash, headaches, and possibly heartburn. If that happens, reconsider your "cheat" ingredients and try to rebalance your mix.
2. Do It Yourself: Tempted to grab that ready-to-eat trail mix pouch from your supermarket? Don't. A quick glance at the back of the packaging will likely reveal a collection of products you should stay away from - refined sugars and oils, additives, and flavor enhancers. Instead, choose to make your own trail mix at home. It takes seconds to prepare and the health benefits of doing so are undeniable. Take it a step further by roasting your own nuts (10 minutes at 350°F) and dehydrating your own fruits and vegetables.
3. Keep Perishability in Mind: When experimenting with ingredients, keep in mind that some will spoil quicker than others. Use a website like StillTasty.com to know how long your ingredients will be good for and plan accordingly. Commercially-popped popcorn, for example, will go bad after 1 to 2 weeks of being opened. Not ideal if you're prepping for a month-long thru-hike.
A Brief History of Trail Mix
A delicious and nutritious mixture of fruits, dried nuts, grains, seeds, chocolate chips, or really anything you want, trail mix is a lightweight on-the-go snack stocked full of nourishing carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
History’s a bit unclear in determining who first created trail mix, but there’s record of it dating all the way back to European countries during the 17th century. Another theory, however, is that Jack Kerouac first officially dreamed up the stuff when in his 1958 novel, The Dharma Burns, his main characters mentioned trail mix while planning meals for their upcoming hiking trip. A more popular theory, on the other hand, is that two California surfers invented it back in 1968 when they threw together a mix of peanuts and raisins in search of a quick, energizing snack.
Although we may never know who the original trail mix founder was, we can rest assured knowing the hundreds of trail mix variations that have developed since ensure there’s at least one version to appease every taste bud, specialty diet, or macro counting individual out there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which trail mix is the healthiest?
Pretty much any homemade option is healthier than store-bought ones that are usually stocked full of artificial ingredients and added sugars. To be considered “healthy,” a trail mix should have a mixture of nuts, seeds, unsweetened dried fruits and energizing carbs like popcorn or rice crackers. Mixes with these ingredients have a good balance of healthy fats, antioxidants, protein, fiber and vitamins.
Does trail mix make you gain/lose weight?
Portion sizes can be an easy thing to forgo when snacking on handfuls of trail mix. Especially since a single serving is equivalent to about ¼ cup. Nuts are naturally high in calories and a few handfuls can quickly go a long way in meeting (or surpassing) your daily caloric intake needs. However, since you’ll be torching calories like an ultra-marathoner while out on the trail, there’s also not likely a more suitable place to enjoy this higher calorie snack.
Can trail mix go bad?
Yes, especially if you’re using natural ingredients without fillers and preservatives. Also, if not stored properly in airtight containers and cooler areas, nuts can go rancid and dried fruit can harden. You always have the option to freeze your trail mix. When doing so, be sure to remove all excess air and store it in a resealable, air-tight container like a Zip-lock bag.
Can trail mix cause diarrhea (bloating)?
Trail mix can affect each person’s digestive system differently depending on their specific dietary needs. If you have a sensitive stomach, then stick to creating a trail mix out of specific foods that you know work well for your body. Something to keep in mind is that although nuts are healthy, they are also a heavier food that can be hard to digest. Especially for people with weak digestive systems. Soaking them in water for 8-36 hours can help reduce their acidic properties which upset stomachs. Another thing to keep in mind is that many dried foods like fruit and jerky are stocked full of sodium that can cause bloating, so be sure to check those labels.
Can trail mix cause heartburn?
High-fat foods can cause heartburn for many people. Since nuts and chocolate both fall into this category, this may be something to consider when mixing your personalized trail mix. Spicy ingredients like cayenne or chili powder and even salty foods are other common heartburn causing culprits.