Salts and other electrolytes help regulate cell function and nerve impulses, so when you sweat them out, you need to replace them. From Grand Gulch to the Grand Canyon, we tested 27 different gels, powders, and chews - and found the best ways to stay charged this summer.
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>>Best for Sweet snacking
>>Beta These were a tester favorite: the first they reached for and the first they polished off. No mixing, mess, or odd aftertaste—just pop ‘em for a burst of sweet flavor. Despite the snack’s density, one tester said she would eat these mid-race. And if they get stuck in your teeth? Well, consider that dessert—saved for later.
>>Packing Nothing’s easier.
>>Top picks Testers raved about ProBar Bolt organic chews ($3; probar.com) and Jelly Belly Sport Beans ($1; jellybelly.com). Need a pick-me-up? Try the caffeinated chocolate cherry, tropical punch, or orange Clif Shot Bloks ($2; clifbar.com).
>>Bestfor Tasty hydration
>>Beta Testers loved how these mixers masked poor-tasting water, and found tablets especially easy to use. Bonus: When you drink your electrolytes, you don’t have to worry as much about the balance of salts and water in your body. Only problem? You’ll have to share.
>>Packing Tablets are easiest; bulk powders save a few bucks.
>>Top picks Testers liked GU Brew tablets ($7; guenergy.com) and CamelBak Elixir ($10; camelbak.com) for density of electrolytes, and Nuun Active Hydration Cherry Limeade ($7; nuun.com) for taste.
How crucial are electrolytes? Your body needs them—sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium—to keep fluids balanced, muscle contractions smooth, nerve impulses firing properly, and energy levels high. Balanced meals usually deliver all the salts your body needs, but after four to five hours of hard, hot-weather hiking, sweat clears away more than meals put back—especially with not-always-balanced backpacking grub.
RDIRecommended daily intakeWDWhat it does
RDI 1,500-2,300 mg
WDMaintains water balance in the cells, and regulates nerve and muscle function
BF Salami, bacon jerky, sundried tomatoes, pretzels, salted nuts, backpacking meals
OFOh Boy, Oberto! All Natural Bacon Jerky ($5; 2.5 oz.; 1,675 mg sodium/2.5 oz.; oberto.com)
RDI 1,800-2,300 mg
WDAids in metabolism
BFSalt, Spam, summer sausage, seaweed, peanut butter (salted), sundried tomatoes
OFHappy coincidence: Many of your favorite salty trail snacks contain sodium chloride (salt); 1/4 tbsp of salt provides 750 mg of chloride.
RDI 4,700 mg
WDHelps regulate heart function
BFWhite beans, dried apricots, packaged salmon, bananas, dark chocolate, nuts
OFApricot Clif Bar ($2; 2.4 oz.; 240 mg potassium/bar; clifbar.com)
RDI 310-420 mg
WDAids in heart and immune function, and keeps bones strong
BFBrown rice, black beans, pumpkin, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews
OFRise Crunchy Perfect Pumpkin Bar ($2; 1.4 oz.; 100 mg magnesium/bar; risebar.com)
DIY electrolyte mix recipe
1 gallon water in jug with lid + 1 tsp. salt replacement with potassium + 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. baking soda + sugar, Kool-Aid, and/or honey to taste
Chug wisely Hikers who drink a lot of water but neglect to replace electrolytes can suffer from low blood sodium concentration (hyponatremia), which can cause cells to swell (including in the brain). If you suspect hyponatremia, move to the shade and eat salty snacks.