Why Pop-Tarts Are An Unexpected Go-To Snack For Hikers

When you are going on a long or difficult hike, you probably already have a lot on your mind, from choosing the right backpack to figuring out what a hiking permit is and whether or not you even need one. But most of all, when getting ready to embark on a difficult trek (especially if it is a multi-day solo backpacking trip), the thing that hikers worry about the most is fuel. Specifically, backpackers have to think about bringing plenty of calorie-dense foods that are also lightweight and don't require much preparation. 

And this is where Pop-Tarts come in. In fact, Pop-Tarts are the favorite hiking snack of Trailrunner columnist and backpacker Grayson Haver Currin. According to Currin, he first discovered his love for Pop-Tarts when he was nearing the end of the months-long Appalachian Trail trek and looked at his dwindling supplies. With not much left in terms of food, he decided just to eat a Pop-Tart and ended up eating a dozen of these breakfast pastries in 15 minutes. The sugary treats worked like a charm and gave him enough energy and willpower to finish the trek. He now swears by Pop-Tarts as his go-to hiking food — and why not?

Quick energy on the trail

What Currin experienced with the Pop-Tarts may have been something called hiker hunger, which is a strong craving for high-calorie foods that is often experienced by backpackers. This craving makes sense because it is your body's reaction to realizing that you will be burning way more calories than normal. So, to prevent rapid weight loss, your body ramps up your appetite.

With this increase in appetite, hikers tend to turn to processed foods that are high in fat and sugar (like Pop-Tarts). According to backcountry nutrition counselor Mary Howley in an interview with BackPacker, this food may actually help you on the trail because "the sugar provides quick energy to the brain, and the fat provides long-term energy to the muscles." Howley also explained that these types of food are often considered "comfort foods" that can help increase serotonin while going through the physically grueling experience of thru-hiking. This is why many hikers swear by eating tons of candy on the trail or — as recommended by one Redditor – an entire jar of peanut butter mixed with chocolate chips. 

Can you really just eat Pop-Tarts and be fine?

However, as you were probably expecting, only eating a box of high-fat, high-sugar Pop-Tarts for breakfast has its downsides. The first is that foods like Pop-Tarts can cause spikes in blood sugar followed by crashes. This creates a vicious cycle where you will need to keep consuming more sugar to maintain your energy levels. The way you can prevent this is by varying your diet, and instead of eating just high-sugar, high-fat foods, also add in some whole foods like fruits, nuts, and vegetables whenever you can.

Adding whole foods to your hiking food plan will help you get important macronutrients that research shows are lacking in a typical backpacking diet (via MSU Denver). While macronutrients aren't super important to consider if you are going for a day hike if you will be on the trail for multiple days, minerals like zinc, potassium, and iron, and vitamins like B12 and C are essential to keep you feeling healthy and strong.

So, what's the perfect hiking snack? It turns out that it could be Pop-Tarts or your other favorite sugary treat. As long as you eat a relatively varied and balanced diet most of the time, fat is your friend, and there is no unhealthy food on the trail.