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It’s Bear Month, the time of year that Backpacker celebrates the hulking ursines with whom we share the backcountry. We’re all about giving the living, breathing mammals their due, but those animals aren’t the only bears we love. I’m talking, of course, about gummy bears.They’re a staple amongst backpackers, and for good reason: there’s nothing like a hit of sugar to power you up steep climbs or cleanse your palate after some chili mac.
In observance of this hallowed month, I set out to test the weirdest bruin-shaped candies I could find in order to crown one the Mama Gummy Bear of them all. My testing criteria were as follows: candies had to be gummies and bear-shaped (no peach rings, fish, or worms allowed). I also left out the most common brands like Haribo and Black Forest—they’re delicious, but I wanted to see what the wider world of ursine sweets had to offer. I prioritized bears that were unique in some way, but still available to the average hiker. Here’s what I found out.
Yum Earth Non-GMO Gummy Bears
These all-natural gummies are tree nut and peanut allergy-friendly, which got my attention. I don’t have allergies, but having camped with friends who do, I know it can be tough to find a shareable snack. Plus, they’re made with organic cane sugar and colored with real juice. If I could find a candy that satisfied my sweet tooth while also being better for me, I’d give it a try.
Unfortunately, these were disappointing. The texture was firm and unsatisfying—giving me more of a jaw workout than the craveable squish that I look for in gummy candy. The four flavors (strawberry, pomegranate, mango, and peach) were just OK. I liked the pomegranate, but the others were indistinguishable and somewhat bland. In the end, though, they’re still gummy bears: I cracked open a packet midway through a trail run and got the boost I needed for the miles ahead.
Huckleberry Haven Gummy Grizzlies
When a coworker sent me a link to these specialty gummies (gummy bears flavored with food real bears eat!), I knew I had to try them. This specialty shop located just outside of Glacier National Park makes all kinds of berry-flavored confections. I couldn’t resist the idea of snacking on the same ingredients as Montana’s grizzlies, so I ordered a package (they ship worldwide).
When I opened the bag, the smell of freshly baked pie wafted out. These specialty bears had a wonderfully soft squish, the candy yielding gently with each bite. I expected a burst of juicy berry taste, but the first bite wasn’t as flavorful as I thought—more of a hint than a tsunami of flavor. With that said, I did find a lot to like about them. The grizzlies were not too sweet and lacked any aftertaste of fake flavoring. These are the only bears I tried that didn’t come in an assortment of flavors, but I kept going back for more. If you find yourself in Glacier, definitely pick up a package before hitting the trail (they also make a marionberry flavor). Just don’t forget to store them in your bear canister.
Smart Sweets Fruity Gummy Bears
I’ve seen this brand hanging in my local grocery store, but I’m not usually one to opt for “healthier” options when it comes to treats. The package boasts that they are “smartly sweetened without sugar alcohols.” Instead, Smart Sweets uses allulose, a sugar alternative found in wheat and molasses. The body doesn’t metabolize allulose the same way it does sugar, so it doesn’t raise blood sugar.
The Smart Sweets bears had a nicer, softer chew than the Yum Earth candies, but their flavor was a bit lacking. Of the four fruit varieties, I found some bland and others a bit medicinal. I could detect that chemical-y sweetness that’s characteristic of sugar alternatives. These will satisfy the gummy craving if you’re looking to cut back on sugar, but that’s not why I eat gummy bears. On the trail, a little sugar can be just what I need.
Albanese World’s Best Gummi Bears
Of course, I had to include these purported “world’s best” in my test. Albanese has 12 different flavors ranging from grapefruit to watermelon, two to three times more than other candies on this list. I found the flavors far and away the yummiest in the test: just the kind of sweetness you hope for, with enough variety to keep you coming back for more. On top of that, the squish factor was next level. These are soft and bouncy; they’re easier to chew than any other bear on this list, while still providing the springiness I crave in a gummy. Albanese just might have earned the title they claim.
Haribo Goldbears Sour
Haribo is a staple of gummy candy, but I had never tried their sour variety. These come in five fruity flavors, and that cheerful bear on the packet raised my hopes.
Haribo’s gummies are on the firmer side, taking a little longer to chew. Each bear lasts longer, which isn’t necessarily my preference, but is nice for keeping you busy on a long slog through the woods. They have a nice coating of sour sugar, but the flavor is almost subtle. They don’t provide as much as a pucker as I usually look for in sour candy, but the classic fruit flavors are juicy, sweet, and everything you’d want from a standard gummy bear.
Lil’ Nitro The World’s Hottest Gummy Bears
I tried the world’s best gummy bear, so naturally, I had to try the world’s hottest, too. I like spicy food in moderation (hot sauce packets always have a place in my food bag), but I’m by no means a pepper fanatic. After reading a few reviews online that hyped up its spiciness, I was feeling nervous. So, instead of popping the whole bear in my mouth, I sliced off a leg. My first impression was that it wasn’t really a gummy bear at all—while bear shaped, the texture was more like hard candy. First strike. The package claims that the 9 million scoville unit extract makes the bear 900 times hotter than a jalapeno. The spice level built instantly, and it was every bit as fiery as I expected. I washed it down with some milk, a spoonful of peanut butter, and some honey, and within a few minutes the heat subsided. It wasn’t as bad as the time I accidentally munched on a spicy pepper hiding in a bunch of sweet ones, but I won’t be bringing this along for a trailside snack. Unless, of course, I need to add a little extra kick to my camp dinner.