Outbound Collective logo

8 Trail Running Snack Hacks

Substitute your expensive REI trail snacks with these easy DIY alternatives.

By: Rachel Davidson + Save to a List

Energy bars, gels, and chewable blocks in the checkout aisle of REI make stocking up for an extended run easy, convenient, and... pricey. But the reality is that you don’t need to shell out big bucks on synthetically-engineered goos to get the same nutrition and taste you can make at home.

Here are a few snack hacks that will help you save on cash for your next fastpacking or trail running adventure.

1) DIY hydration drinks

For most activities, good old-fashioned water will do the trick. But if you’re planning a longer, more strenuous running trip, you’ll want to find a way to replace the sodium, potassium, and magnesium depleted when you sweat. Making your own hydration drink can be as simple as adding fruit juice to water, or you can get creative with mixtures of Jell-O powder, Kool-Aid, Emergen-C, and even maple syrup or honey. Dump all of your ingredients into a water bottle, shake before each swig, and you’ve got a high-functioning hydration drink for a fraction of the price at retail.

Compare with: NUUN Active Hydration Tablets

2) PB&J... and then some

PB&J is an easy choice for any trail goer, but since trail running requires consolidating as many calories into the smallest package possible, bread simply isn’t going to cut it. That’s how I found myself mixing peanut butter, jelly, and oats in an old plastic jar on my first fastpacking adventure. Over the years I’ve experimented with this recipe to include chia seeds, caramel, protein powder, among other ingredients, with dipping utensils like pretzels or banana chips. When I needed to streamline my pack even more, I’d lose the jar and knead my ingredients in a plastic bag – cutting a hole in the corner for frosting-style consumption. The details aren’t important, just go with your gut (literally).

Compare with: PocketFuel Nut Butter Blend Superfood Energy

3) Dried fruits and meat

Dehydrating your own food has massive benefits. First, you’re cutting out all of the water weight you’d normally have to lug around, as well as the space and bulk it would take up in your pack. Second, it’s healthy, cheap, and lasts a longer time on the trail. Store-bought dehydrated solutions usually come packed with preservatives and artificial flavors, but don’t deliver any greater benefit than their homemade counterparts. Grab some tips on why, how, and which foods to dehydrate right here.

Compare with: Jerky and Pure Fruit Strips

4) Table salt

Bring a small sealable bag or plastic wrap with a couple tablespoons of salt – especially if you’re venturing into a hot climate. With every hour that you sweat, your body loses precious sodium and electrolytes. You can replenish these with salty nuts, chips, or meats... or you can just cut to the chase and dip your tongue in a pile of table salt. Salt is also one of the quickest-acting remedies for cramps. The instant you feel a muscle start tightening, grab a lick of salt – it’ll go straight to your bloodstream, helping you feel its rehabbing effects immediately.

Compare with: SaltStick Electrolyte Salt Capsules

5) Chocolate chips

Brands like Theo make wickedly delicious chocolate bars (I can confirm this), but when you’re huffing and puffing mid-run, shoving food down your throat for the sake of energy, that decadence is going to go to waste. Save this indulgent bar for the car ride home and replace it with a handful of chocolate chips.

Compare with: Theo Classic Chocolate Bar

6) Hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are filling, protein-packed, and loaded with the healthy fats that will sustain you for any serious multi-hour adventure. Add to that: They’re way cheaper than any protein bar you’ll find on a shelf (think: 12 for the price of 1), and their au naturel wrappers are compostable… though I’d still recommend Leaving No Trace by packing them out. Pro tip: These taste great dipped into your bag of table salt, if you can’t bear to eat the two separately.

Compare with: Honey Stinger Protein Bar

7) Gummy bears & Swedish fish

Okay, so these aren’t homemade... but when you bulk order on Amazon, they’re a lot cheaper than the expensive endurance gummies you’ll find in any retail store. Another example of a straight-to-the-bloodstream solution for fast and quick energy, any type of fruity, sugary candy that’s easy to chew and digest are going to be your best friend on the trail – even if they remain a guilty pleasure at home.

Compare with: Clif Shot Blocks

8) Homemade Energy Bars

You’ll notice that a lot of the hacks on this list are substitutions for bars that you’d buy at any outdoor store. Energy bars, protein bars, fruit, chocolate, and nut bars are an awesome way to pack plenty of calories in easy grab-and-go packages… but they’re not always the most friendly to your wallet. Find a recipe like these Raspberry Almond Energy Brownies, or make your own with whatever you have in your cupboard at home. Creativity isn’t totally essential here, but we’d still love to hear your own concoctions in the comment section below if you have a recipe to share!

Compare with: The Entire Bars Section at REI

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


Big Bend Bound: Crafting Your 3-Day Adventure

Erin Newman-Mitchell

Outdoor-Inspired Cocktails for Every Season

Noël Russell

A golden happy hour on the California coast

Hannah Sibley

Lake Tahoe's trifecta: 3 Days of adventure at Zephyr Cove

Ranz Navarro

Make these camp cocktails on your next adventure

Ellen Clark