A Hiker's Guide to Nuts

We’ve all been there. You’re out hitting the trail for a weekend hike with friends, pushing steadily upward, and suddenly, fatigue starts creeping up through the soles of your feet. As you turn the corner on what seems like the thousandth switchback, you become hyper-aware of the burning in your thighs and the layer of sweat gluing your shirt to your back. “We’ve gotta be close now,” you think as you force one languid step after another. The summit begins to feel elusive, almost miles away.

It’s at times like these that the proper fuel (and hydration, of course) can give you that extra kick you need to power through those last few miles. When it comes to hiking and backpacking foods, which require a blend of carbohydrates and protein, all while being dense in calories and light in weight, few nutrition sources can pack a punch like good, old-fashioned nuts and seeds. They’re a backpacker’s best friend, because their high fat content and caloric density provide sustained energy for steady-state cardio activities.

To prepare, here are a few types of nuts and seeds worth bringing along the next time you head off to the hills:

Almonds

For their size, almonds are impressively high in nutrients. A small handful packs roughly 3.5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 14 grams of healthy fats. And, this is good news for hungry hikers: Fiber digests slowly and helps you feel full right away, while the protein keeps you feeling that way. What’s more, almonds are loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin E, both of which help to prevent oxidative stress and cell damage. What that means for you, the backpacker, is that almonds can help combat the fatigue brought on by long hours on the trail.

Pumpkin Seeds

For shorter, steep hikes that require bursts of energy, pumpkin seeds are a solid bet. Thanks to their high levels of manganese, arginine, zinc, and magnesium, pumpkin seeds can provide you with a natural boost of energy ideal for powering through a trek’s steep sections. After you consume this “superfood,” the magnesium in pumpkin seeds breaks down glucose into energy, and arginine produces nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and improves circulation, which is why they’re popular in pre-workout supplements. Next time you find yourself staring up a seemingly endless incline, consider eating a few handfuls of pumpkin seeds to help you hammer through it.

Walnuts

A powerhouse of hiking fuel, walnuts are loaded with essential nutrients and antioxidants—and they’re unique, because they’re the only nut that contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to reduce inflammation. This could help to offset some of the pounding that your joints take while backpacking. Research also shows that eating walnuts can help reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which means more healthy days spent in the outdoors for you.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are perfect for those backpackers obsessed with saving weight and going ultra-light. These little guys take up a minuscule amount of space, don’t require any cooking, and are chock full of dietary fiber, phosphorus, calcium, and those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Just soak them in water to hydrate, or sprinkle them on other foods. They’re ideal for fighting off cravings and providing sustained energy, and it’s no surprise that they’re becoming a popular staple for thru-hikers concerned with the weight of their pack.

Cashews

Cashews are often touted as a solid post-workout snack, and could be especially beneficial near the end of or after your hike. After vigorous exercise, your body needs carbs to replenish its recently depleted glycogen levels. It also needs protein to repair taxed muscle fibers. Cashews help to accomplish both. Just an ounce has 9 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein, which make them an ideal recovery snack. What’s more, the sodium in cashews can help you re-hydrate after a hike, because it increases water retention and amps up your thirst.

 

In addition to the above, Brazil nuts, pistachios, and peanuts are all solid options and have many of the same nutrients. One of the best things about nuts and seeds is that you don’t have to eat them alone to reap their benefits. You can mix them with other ingredients to make all kinds of delicious trail mixes, such as M&M’s, dark chocolate, raisins, dried fruit, grains, cereals, and marshmallows—the possibilities are infinite. You can even add spices for more variety. Next time the trail begins to seem endless, or you feel yourself start to bonk, take a breather and make sure you have some of these classic hiking staples nearby.

What types of nuts work to get you through a tough hike? Let us know here.