Test Kitchen: Nuts
Protein-packed and calorie-dense, nuts are a classic backpackers' superfood. We taste-tested 96 spreads, mixes, and bars to bring you the healthiest (and tastiest) options for the trail.
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Beta Studies show most nut varieties may reduce the risk of heart disease, thanks to their cholesterol-busting mono- and polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and B-complex vitamins. And with an extra-long shelf life and melt-proof weather resistance, they’re ideal for the trail.
Choosing Raw nuts usually provide the most nutrients; chocolate-coated boost calories; and roasted have rich flavor. Salted nuts help replace electrolytes lost to sweat.
Buying tip Shop in bulk to save cash and create your own mixes.
Top pick Our favorite DIY combo: honey roasted peanuts + dark chocolate almonds + peanut butter M&M’s + mini marshmallows + Chex Muddy Buddies.
Beta Trail bars offer convenient, mess-free nutrition in individual packages; most can survive in your pack, unopened, for eight months or more. Dietician Rebekah Spetnagel, M.S.S, R.D., suggests checking the ingredient list: “If sugar is first, don’t buy it. Think simple, recognizable, healthy ingredients like whole nuts, fruits, and whole grains. ”
Packing In hot weather, freeze chocolaty bars pretrek, pack them in the center of your bag for insulation, and eat them on day one.
Buying tip Make your own bars (use our online recipes, see below). Save time: Whip up a triple batch, wrap individual bars in foil, and freeze for trips all season.
Top pick KIND’s all-natural Nut Delight bar ($2; kindsnacks.com)
Beta Peanut butter, a timeless sandwich filler, can upgrade almost any backcountry meal: Try it on s’mores, as a marinade for fresh fish, and mixed into rice noodles. Branch out with almond butter (less saturated fat, more fiber, but freezes in cold temps) and cashew butter (decadently sweet).
Packing Use GSI’s Soft Sided Condiment Bottle Set ($12 for four 2-oz. bottles; gsioutdoors.com), or pick up a single-serving squeeze pack from Justin’s or Artisana.
Buying tip Natural spreads require refrigeration after opening. Taking the whole jar for a group trip or long trek? Conventional processed butters last up to four months.
Top pick Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter packs ($6 for 10; justins.com)
Choose Your Nuts
Calories/Protein/Fat* 155/5.2 g/12.4 g
High in Magnesium (for bone strength) and vitamin K (for normal blood clotting)
Add to Noodle stir-fry
Top Snack Sahale Snacks Southwest Cashews with Chili + Cheddar ($6; sahalesnacks.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 159/5.8 g/13 g
High in Lutein (key for vision) and potassium
Add to Chili
Snack Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites ($9; settonfarms.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 161/7.3 g/14 g
High in Folate (prevents birth defects) and vitamin E for immune function
Add to Soup
Snack Snickers ($1; snickers.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 163/6 g/14 g
High in Fiber, calcium, manganese, and vitamin E (more than any other nut)
Add to Tuna salad
Snack Lärabar Cherry Pie ($2; larabar.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 175/6.8 g/16.7 g
High in Fiber and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid key for brain function
Add to Oatmeal
Snack Clif Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bar ($2; clifbar.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 179/3.7 g/17.8 g
High in Antioxidants and manganese (maintains blood sugar levels)
Add to Cookies
Snack Justin’s Natural Chocolate Hazelnut Butter ($1; justins.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 186/4.1 g/18.8 g
High in Selenium, (may protect against prostate cancer)
Add to Burgers
Snack Gone Nuts! Cacao Brazil Nuts, Mulberries, Hemp Seed, and Date Clusters ($5; livingintentions.com)
Cal/Pro/Fat 191/3.9 g/19.4 g
High in Manganese and fatty acids
Add to Rice or quinoa
Snack Roast at home and add to your favorite trail mix blend.
In fall, wild nuts ripen from the Southwest to the Northeast. Mike Masek, director and primary instructor of The Forager’s Path School of Botanical Studies in Flagstaff, Arizona, offers you a ticket to the free buffet.
“Throw them in stew, roast on a campfire, or grind into powder for cakes. The white oak is best: You can even eat these raw.”
“Pick nuts out of pine cones from the pinyon pine tree and shell them, sunflower seed-style.”
Walnuts “Black walnuts are edible in a pinch, but they’re hard-shelled and bitter. Toast them in butter to improve flavor.”
DIY trail mix butter
Start with a bag of your favorite trail mix. Separate the nuts from the rest of the mix and grind them in a food processor until they become creamy. Add the chocolate and dried fruit and blend another minute.