Winter Hiking Fuel: Snacks That Don’t Freeze

March 11, 2019

If you’re out adventuring in sub-freezing conditions, you should be regularly stuffing calories into your face. You want to ensure you have ample energy to generate body heat and sustain the level of exertion that is required to snowshoe, ski, or otherwise tromp through a snow- and ice-covered landscape.

The challenge is that many common hiking snacks—chocolate, energy bars, cheese—turn into rock-hard, jaw-breaking bricks in cold weather. This not only makes them less pleasant and more challenging to eat, it can also discourage you from snacking as regularly as you should. While you can minimize the freeze effect by keeping a few desired snacks close to your body, an easier way to go is to carry snacks that don’t freeze solid in the first place.

To supplement my own personal experiences in the winter cold, and to test a variety of snack items I had on hand , I tossed the following items into my freezer (set at 6 degrees F) for 24 hours: dried fruit, crackers, nuts, fig bars, energy ball supersnacks, beef jerky, a Clif bar, and some cheese. I then tested their pliability and snackability right out of the icebox. Here are the results.

Crackers

Snacks that have very low water content can’t really freeze and will be more or less unaffected by the cold. Crackers are a big winner on this front. I froze two of my favorites—Ryvita Original Rye Crispbread and classic Nabisco Saltines—and found no discernible crunch difference between a 6-degree and room-temperature cracker. Crackers are a good source of carbs but can be bulky and crumbly to pack for longer, multi-day winter outings.

Nuts and seeds

I tossed the following nuts and seeds into the deep freeze: pecans, cashews, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Upon noshing the frozen nuts, I found little difference in the hardness or snackability of any of them. They felt quite cold in my mouth in a way the crackers did not, but quickly broke apart upon chewing. Nuts and seeds are powerhouses of dense energy and offer a great mix of carbs, fat, and protein. A clear winner for winter!

Dried fruit

To test this category, I froze a bag of dried cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries. The cold definitely made them stiffer and chewier than usual at first bite, but not impossibly so,  and they quickly became softer and more pliable after a couple of chews. So overall, some effect from the cold, but not a huge deal. Dried fruit is a fast source of sugars and simple carbs when you need quick energy. If you like carrying it, I would suggest looking for options that are less chewy at room temperature to mitigate the cold-hardening effect.

Beef jerky

Same phenomenon as dried fruit. The jerky was noticeably tougher and harder on the first couple of bites, but quickly warmed up to its normal consistency. For my freezer experiment, I tested out a bag of Jack Link’s original jerky, which is on the chewier end of the jerky spectrum. For cold-weather use, a jerky more on the tender end of the spectrum would probably be better, like the offerings from Chef’s Cut. Jerky packs a lot of muscle-supporting protein but little in the way of fat or carbs; it can be worth carrying on long, strenuous multi-day trips that really tax your muscles.

Fig bars

Fig Newtons are the standard-setter in this category, though the fig bars from Nature’s Bakery have become much more prevalent over the past few years. I froze a Nature’s Bakery raspberry fig bar into the freezer to test it out. Again, it was a similar experience to jerky and dried fruit. Initially a bit stiffer than usual, but still straightforward to bite off a piece of bar. It too quickly warms up for ready eating and quick digesting. These bars provide a good source of carbs for quick and sustained energy.

Energy ball supersnacks (a.k.a. ‘Figgy Pops’)

You may have seen these offerings proliferating of late from Made in Nature. It’s a line of dense, energy-packed snacks that are a great new entry into the dense, durable power foods market. I froze one of their tasty Mango Pops (mango, quinoa crisps, granola, seeds, coconut), which packs a tidy 50 calories per two bites. It took a bit of effort to bite into it initially but it quickly warmed to tasty eat-ability. Mostly carbs. Thumbs up for winter use.

Winter snacks to avoid (or give special treatment)

Chocolate, cheese, and most energy and candy bars get hard, like really unpleasantly hard, in the cold. I tried biting into a frozen white chocolate macadamia nut Clif bar and it nearly broke my teeth. That doesn’t mean you should completely skip them in winter, just that you will need to keep them warm to eat them. And there’s a simple way to do that–just keep your day’s trail snacks inside your layers in a pocket that’s close to your body. Most shell jackets have an interior pocket that can hold snacks. If you’re wearing a mid-layer under a shell, that’s an even better, warmer spot. Storing your day’s snacks there also makes them easier and more accessible for on-the-go fueling, another plus.

There are of course many other snacks that perform well in the cold (cookies!) Test out your own in your freezer at home.

Snack and adventure on!


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.