Note: this article discusses trail snack ideas, and trail food that for the most part doesn't require a cooler - ideal for longer wheeling trips, wheeling while camping, or grab-n-go options. For more trail meal ideas, see Trail Food, Part 1.
When it comes to snacking on the go, I've earned a reputation for always having something tasty to share. Growing up having two parents that would drive straight through from Indiana to Texas with minimal stops, I learned how to pack car snacks like a pro. Add in lots of hiking and beer-festing, and the fun that comes with getting carsick in the mountains without much warning, I've perfected the mix of protein, salty-crunchy, carbs, and a little healthy. Most times I don't assume we'll be stopping to eat, so I expect to eat with my fingers and a paper napkin.
Here's what you'll often find in my Jeep:
- Jerky: This is a family favorite. You can make your own or just buy it. My personal favorite is Duke's Shorty's. I tend to buy a few different flavors and put the mix in a ziplock so I don't overpack.
- Trail Mix: you can go crazy with this one. There all kinds of gorp out there that you can buy or you can read old posts and make your own. Things to keep in mind: if it will be hot, you may want to avoid chocolate and yogurt drops or coated treats as they can melt and create a mess (especially if you have kids). Often, in the morning if I don't have anything on hand, I'll just grab some mixed nuts, dried cranberries/raisins, and throw them in a zip lock, toss and go!
- Cheese: This is tricky if you don't plan on bringing a cooler. Babybel cheeses and most string cheese are a great options because they are actually shelf stable. If you have a cooler, then go nuts. It's fun to do a little cheese and meat plate if you feel creative enough. Just don't forget to bring a knife and something to cut on (this can be as simple as a paper plate).
- Crackers: Perfect for said cheese. Personal favorites: Triscuits, Wheat Thins, lavash, goldfish, saltines, Ritz, etc etc
- Summer sausage: Grab one of these from your deli section. If you are feeling creative, pair with your cheeses and crackers. Most do well with minimal refrigeration. One thing to note, this might require some prep and slice ahead of time if you don't plan to bring a knife and cutting surface.
- Bagged salty/crunchy carbs (my dad's terms): potato, tortilla, pita, etc chips; pretzels; Cheetos. you get the idea. Bonus: If you have kids (or are a kid at heart) and have an unopened bag, it's always fun to see how it's expanded up at altitude. How does it never pop? Or if everyone in your car wants something different, go for the snack size bags, or ziplock it.
- Popcorn: There are a lot of good pre-popped popcorns out there unlike what you might have been forced to eat at Christmas from a giant tin. My current favorite brand is Boom-Chicka-Pop. So many great flavors and options. Bring the whole bag, or put some in a ziplock (notice a theme yet?)
- Veggies/Crudite: I tend have these on hand at all times at home. I'm healthy snacker in general. Options for this: cut up your own, buy a veggie tray, or just a bag of baby carrots. I put them in a rubbermaid or zip lock. Carrots tend to help the most when I'm starting to get carsick.
- Hummus: hummus is a great option for a dip when refrigeration isn't available. It's also one of the least messy dips unlike thinner salsas and ranch dips. There are all kinds of fun flavors out there too. Pretzels, pita chips, veggies, and some crackers all do well dipped in hummus.
- Fruit: Depending on the time of year, there are all kinds of options. In the summer, I often have cut up watermelon and/or cantaloupe on hand to pack. Grapes are also easy to have on hand and take. Just rinse and throw in a container or ziplock. Most fruits that have some sort of uneaten waste will get prepped before I go (I also have these prepped for lunches in the fridge anyway). It helps so my hands/arms get less messy if they are juicy and I don't have to worry about packing out the cores. Apples, peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears, oranges, strawberries, other berries, etc.
- Peanut Butter packets: Easily spreadable and lots of flavor and nut options if you have a picky family. Justin's is the most widely distributed brand, but I've been seeing more brands pop-up in my King Soopers (Kroger) lately. These can be eaten straight up, on crackers or fruit, or with tortillas.
- Tortillas: As Dawn already mentioned, these are super versatile and don't squish like bread. Dip in the hummus, make a sausage & cheese burrito or how about an apple-peanut butter combo. Or just eat as is.
- Snack bars: Clif, Lara, Kind all make great snack bars depending on your likes, caloric intake concerns, and diet constraints. I also keep some Clif Kids Zfruit on hand for something sweet when I need a bit of sugar.
If you are really feeling like a splurge here's a thought for you: Chicken Salad! I made this the night before a trip a few weeks back for something different. I brought along pitas (now is not the time for whole wheat or from frozen, they will fall apart and you'll have a real mess), and some pre-cut romaine lettuce (found in the salad section of produce). I made one similar to this, but added in dried cranberries and did all mayo. I also bought a rotisserie chicken when I was at the store and shredded it myself and used that.
- Baby wipes - You are never too old for these. There will be messes (especially for those cheetos or chocolate mixes), and it's nice to have something to wipe your hands down with that isn't your car interior.
- Napkins or paper towels, nuff said
- Trash bag of sorts
- Paper plates or reusable picnic plates
- Drinks: bottles of water, soda, post-run beers, juice, whatever your fancy
- Drink koozies: when it's about 40 degrees F up at the top and you want a cold soda, your hands will thank you (I actually just keep a few in the armrest of my Jeep).
And you know all those reusable grocery bags you get from family in your stocking, or when you open up a back account, but you always forget to take to the store with you? Well, here's the perfect use! I keep one handy in the kitchen prepped with my napkins, trash bags, plates, so I just throw in food and go.
Hope this spurs your creativity! See ya out on the trail!