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The Ultimate Trail Mix: 14 Hikers Share Their Recipes

From "good old raisins and peanuts" to trail mixes spiced with hot peppers, Michigan cherries, beer nuts, and dried carrots, the ultimate backwoods snack comes your way, courtesy of Backpacker readers.

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Fact: Everything tastes better in the outdoors. But when you combine food that’s crunchy and salty (like nuts) with stuff that’s sweet and chewy (like dried fruit and candy), something magical happens. You’ve created gorp, the perfect power-packed snack for generations of backpackers.

Need proof that there’s magic in trail mix? Listen to James “Bernie” Bernholz, a reader from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, who still salivates as he recalls a shining moment with gorp:

“After a 6-hour ascent of Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, my five ravenous partners and I combined and shared the treasures of our dwindling snack bags. I don’t remember the exact ingredients, but they ranged from dried pineapple to a roll of Lifesavers to lint from our wool shirts and even some shavings from a military C-ration bar. On a ledge of million-year-old ice under a slate-gray sky, the perfect gorp was created, consumed, and not to this day duplicated.”

Fortunately, some of you remember (and even write down) the formulas of your most successful concoctions. We know, because when we asked for a peek at your homespun trail mixes all the way back in 2000, more than 40 readers forked over favorite recipes.

Then it was our turn to conduct round after round of rigorous taste testing. Throughout fall and winter, we mixed up gourmet blends, fruity health mixes, sweet-tooth specials, and a few bizarre antigorps. A panel of hungry editors sampled the recipes, sampled them again, and then voted for their favorites. Between bites, we came to a few conclusions:

First, to each his or her own. While most hikers think of gorp as a blend of fruit and nuts eaten by the handful (with the requisite crumbs sprinkled on your fleece jacket), readers told us to think outside the zipper-lock bag. Gorp, they said, can be a sweet and crunchy ball, a smooth bar, or a simple grab bag of chocolate goodies.

Second, we couldn’t name one overall winner, because, even among our small group of editors, tastes differ incredibly. Still, a few recipes stood out among the mounds of M&M’s and hordes of raisins. You’ll find those recipes for trail magic below. Bon appétit!

Chocoholic’s Dream: North Michigan Blend

Chef: Brett C. Claxton; Gaylord, Michigan

By our reckoning, at least one out of every three backpackers is a self-professed chocoholic, which is why this gorp quickly became a staff favorite. Sample comments: “One word: fantastic!” and “perfect for a tired, death-march boost.” Chef Brett Claxton (above) boasts (and rightly so): “What makes it unique is the slight smoky perfume from the smoked almonds and how, if the gorp gets warm, the chocolates melt together. Keep in a zipper-lock bag and dip in a cool trout stream to firm up the chocolate.”

  • 2 ounces dried mangoes
  • 2 ounces dried blueberries
  • 2 ounces dried tart Michigan cherries
  • 2 ounces smoked almonds
  • 2 ounces beer nuts
  • 3 ounces white chocolate coins
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate coins

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag. Yield: 1 pound.

Healthiest: Heartfelt Gorp

Chef: Wayne Limberg; Arlington, Virginia

“Calories are seldom a problem for the hiker, but fat and cholesterol can be, especially for us aging boomers,” professes Wayne Limberg . “This recipe is designed to keep those bad numbers down and save wear and tear on aging arteries. The secret is the corn nuts: They’re low in fat, but salty enough to keep you drinking water.” Our testers agreed that the unusual elements work well together and satisfy those familiar on-the-trail salt cravings.

  • 1 part almonds
  • 1 part corn nuts
  • 1 part dried bananas
  • 1 part other dried fruit
  • 1 part Wheat Chex cereal or Goldfish pretzels

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag.

Best Twist On The Original: Cinna-Gorp

Chef: Bevan Quinn; Guilford, Vermont

“Tastes standard at first chomp, but then the cinnamon kicks in for a nice surprise,” reported one editor after subsisting on little more than Cinna-Gorp and water on a round-trip climb of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens. Another likened it to “cinnamon toast with chocolate.” Creator Bevan Quinn claims backpackers aren’t the only fans of this recipe. “On a 0°F February night at the Perch shelter on Mt. Adams, New Hampshire, I had a few handfuls of gorp before bed and left the bag on the floor next to me. The next morning, I noticed a little hole in the bag and a trail of Cinna-Gorp on the floor. Mountain mice like it, too!”

  • 1 1-pound, 14-ounce jardry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 or 2 141/2-ounce bags Crispy M&M’s
  • 1 or 2 9-ounce bags Dole CinnaRaisins

Mix ingredients in a gallon-size zipper-lock bag. Yield: 4 pounds.

Hottest: Spicy Gorp

Chef: Barbara Burke; Birmingham, Alabama

At first, only a few of the diehard “heat” lovers among the editors appreciated this spicy gorp. But after 5 days of taste bud-numbing dehydrated food, our crew finally saw the light: sprinkle a handful of this crispy heat over pasta to add a kick. We quickly dubbed it “backpacker’s hot sauce!”

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 2 cups raisin bran cereal
  • 1/4 cup sliced, dried jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup cashew halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 250°F. Warm the oil in a large skillet over low heat. Brown both cereals in the oil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and spread onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, add remaining ingredients, and mix well. Yield: 6 cups.

Best Breakfast Gorp: Cup of Wow

Chef: Sharon Burrer; Silverdale, Washington

“No time for coffee? Grab a handful of this stuff.” That’s the verdict from our taste testers, who praised this simple but imaginative concoction. “Just three ingredients, but they’re darned good ones,” said one editor. The only downside is that the chocolate-covered coffee beans are expensive—$6 to $8 for a 10-ounce bag. Fortunately, you don’t need much of this gorp to reap its energy-boosting or taste bud-titillating benefits. Starbucks, eat your heart out.

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chocolate-covered coffee beans

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag. Yield: 3 cups.

Most Unique: Golden Gorp Nuggets

Chef: DeeDee Grafius; Modesto, California

“Good, healthy food you can get your hands on quickly.” That’s DeeDee Grafius’s humble opinion of her gorp recipe. An all-seasons, all-conditions backpacker, Grafius makes sure her trail mix can stand up to backcountry life. “I like to scramble and get off the trail. It’s much easier to grab a few nuggets than a handful of loose nuts and fruits. Plus, when it’s cold and I have gloves on, I can handle it easier without spilling.” Our testers loved the “unique combination of wheaty and sweet, with a hint of date.”

  • 1 cup salted toasted soy nuts
  • 1 cup crisp rice cereal (found in health-food stores; not Rice Krispies cereal)
  • 1 cup dried sweet corn
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup date nuggets
  • 3/4 cup barley malt (a sweetener found in health-food stores)
  • 1/2 cup fruit source (a sweetener found in health-food stores)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss together soy nuts, crisp rice, corn, sunflower seeds, cranberries, and date nuggets and set aside. Pour barley malt, fruit source, and peanut butter into a saucepan and boil until the mixture is hot and foamy, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the syrup over the seed, grain, and fruit mixture, and mix well. Press onto a greased cookie sheet with a wet glass used as a rolling pin. Bake until the mixture bubbles, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let it cool in the pan until cool enough to handle, then pull the mixture into nuggets or cut into bars. Cool completely. Store in the refrigerator until your trip. Yield: 6 cups.

Most Basic: M&M’s—Straight Up

Chef: Pat Villeneuve; Tempe, Arizona

Why mess up a good thing with a lot of extraneous ingredients? That’s Pat Villeneuve’s mantra. “I perfected this recipe while hiking the Appalachian Trail: Pour the contents of a large bag of M&M’s into a zipper-lock bag. Stir to distribute colors. Enjoy!”

Lightest Weight: Wafer Gorp

Chef: Chris Lancaster; Brighton, Tennessee

Some folks find that chocolate and other candy make traditional gorps too sweet. To them, we say: Try Wafer Gorp. “It has a healthy, veggielike taste with plenty of crunch, and just a touch of sweetness provided by the restrained dose of M&M’s and the yummy vanilla wafers,” said one tester. An added bonus: This gorp is featherweight.

  • 1 1/2 ounces raisins
  • 2 tablespoons M&M’s
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
  • 4 tablespoons Cheerios cereal
  • 2 to 4 dried apples
  • 1 tablespoon dried sweet cherries
  • 1 tablespoon dried carrots
  • 4 or 5 vanilla wafers

Mix ingredients in a quart-size zipper-lock bag. Yield: 2 cups.

Gourmet Taste: Super Glorious Gorp

Chef: Patricia Armstrong; Naperville, Illinois

“Gorp as I make it,” explains Patricia Armstrong, “combines three basic types of ingredients in a confusing array of varieties and binds them together with a chocolaty matrix. Here’s how:

  • Use a total of 2 cups cereal grains by picking three or four of the following: wheat germ, rolled oats, Grape Nuts, bran buds, bircher muesli, granola.
  • Use a total of 2 1/2 cups dried fruit by picking three or four of the following: orange peel, cherries, raisins, apricots, pears, figs, apples, bananas, cranberries, peaches, dates.
  • Use a total of 3 cups chopped nuts and seeds by picking three or four of the following: coconut, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, filberts, leche nuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, chestnuts, sesame seeds, pecans, hickory nuts.
  • Use a total of 42 ounces chips plus
  • 1 tablespoon syrup from the following: semi-sweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, honey, molasses.

Our testers thought the cranberry option (below) was a winner. “I love the crunchies inside the chocolate bar. It’s like a new experience with each bite,” raved one tester. It’s best for cooler trips so it doesn’t experience meltdown.

Super Glorious Cranberry Gorp

  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup hickory nuts or cashews
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apples
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup Grape Nuts or bran buds cereal
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 18 ounces butterscotch chips
  • 1 tablespoon molasses

Chop nuts and dried fruit and place in a large dish. Add coconut, oats, wheat germ, Grape Nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and mix well. Melt chips and molasses in a double boiler, then pour over mixture. Mix well and press into a cookie sheet. Cool and cut into 2-by-4-inch chunks. Wrap in plastic wrap or foil; freeze or store until ready to use. Yield: 9 squares.

Best Oatmeal Booster: Superior Hiking Trail Gorp

Chef: Donna C. Zimm; Duluth, Minnesota

“A veritable berry-fest,” enthused one editor, but after a few days in our packs, this mixture started to lose its visual appeal. That’s when we stirred it into our oatmeal and discovered the true calling of this fruity gorp: to add punch and pizzazz to blah bowls of morning gruel. And darn it if it ain’t good for you. “This gorp is for all the fans of Rice Krispies Treats,” creator Donna Zimm says, “but it’s high in fiber, low in sugar, and made from all-natural ingredients.”

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 10 ounces marshmallows
  • 3 cups brown crisp rice cereal (found at health-food stores)
  • 2 cups cooked wild rice
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried blueberries

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the marshmallows, and stir until melted. Add the crisp rice cereal and cooked wild rice and mix well. While the mixture is still warm, pinch off 1/2-inch bits and allow them to dry on a cookie sheet. Mix 4 cups of these rice crumbles with the rest of the ingredients. Yield: 8 cups.

Best Substitute: Fritos Gorp

Chef: Ken Horstman; Terre Haute, Indiana

“Fritos in gorp! What an interesting combination,” said one tester. And chef Ken Horstman has good reason to use this unique ingredient. “I can’t eat nuts,” he says, “so I use Fritos for the salty part.”

  • 7 ounces yogurt-covered raisins
  • 7 ounces mixed dehydrated berries
  • 5 ounces Fritos Corn Chips
  • 8 ounces Crispy M&M’s

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag. Yield: 13/4 pounds.

Best M&M’s Alternative: Semi-Sweet Gorp

Chef: Lisa M. Johnson; Citrus Heights, California

This sounds very similar to the original, but it has a different taste. “I’m not a fan of milk chocolate, so the semi-sweet chips make it taste more like a dark chocolate mix,” commented one picky tester.

  • 1 part dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 part raisins
  • 1 part semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag.

Quickest Mix: You Forgot the What? Gorp

Chef: Wayne Limberg; Arlington, Virginia

“You’ve been planning for weeks and are halfway to the trailhead when you suddenly remember that you left the gorp at home,” Wayne Limberg recounts from experience. “Don’t panic. The ingredients for the mix below can be found at any convenience store and result in a more-than-acceptable gorp.” Acceptable, indeed. Just the right combination of crunchy-chewy-salty, said our testers.

  • 1 part peanuts, cashews, or mixed nuts
  • 1 part Raisinettes or M&M’s
  • 1 part corn nuts
  • 1 part pretzel nuggets or sticks
  • 1 part Reese’s Pieces
  • 1 part dried tropical fruit mix (optional)

Mix well and enjoy!

Animal Lover’s Mix: Vegan Gorp

Chef: Tania Brown; Kanab, Utah

If you thought eating vegan meant gnawing on bark, wait ’til you get a load of this mix. “Crunchy, sweet, salty, and free of animal-derived products. It tames hunger quickly, but doesn’t leave you with that brick-in-your-stomach feeling like some trail mixes,” said one tester. Tania Brown developed the recipe and uses it to introduce others to a healthy diet. “I meet people who want to adopt a health-conscious menu and don’t know where to start. Usually, I find these people with candy bars, MSG-coated, artificially flavored snack chips, and guilty looks,” Brown says.

  • 1/2 pound tamari almonds
  • 1/2 pound vegan carob chips (available at health-food stores)
  • 1 pound fruit and nut harvest mix (a blend of mixed nuts, dried apricots, dried figs, and raisins available at groceries and health-food stores)
  • 1/2 pound dried papayas
  • 1/2 pound dried mangoes
  • 1 pound hemp seed granola, or any honey-free granola mix and a handful of hulled hemp seeds (optional)

Mix ingredients in a zipper-lock bag. Yield: 4 pounds.

Last updated July 2022

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