It’s 6 A.M., you’re headed to the mountains for a day of adventuring, and nothing is open. You’ll need calories to fuel the many miles, vertical feet, and alpine peaks ahead of you, so what do you do? You hit the gas station on the way out of town to stock up on all things sweet and salty. Or, more likely: you’re headed home from a long, hard day in the backcountry, and having torn through all your carefully planned snacks, you’re desperate for some nourishment. Sure, perfectly formulated performance fuel and homemade munchies are nice, but sometimes your only option is a lone Chevron in a little town. Here’s how Outside staffers fuel their bodies while they’re filling up.
Snickers is my go-to gas-station grab. Just like the ads promise, it does satisfy—thanks to fat, salt, and a touch of protein—when you’re out in the backcountry on long endeavors. If you’re already multiple bars, gels, or gummies deep, a Snickers is way more palatable than the typical “healthy” endurance bar. Melty chocolate is its Achilles’ heel, however, so I’ll also go after Payday bars, which hold up better in the heat (pro tip: these have more protein, too).
—Julia Walley, marketing art director
String Cheese and Peanut M&Ms
String cheese and peanut M&Ms are my favorite travel snacks, whether I’m on a road trip or in an airport. The peanut M&Ms give me the sweet-and-salty flavor combination I crave on the road without being too much of an empty-calorie bomb, and the string cheese delivers extra protein without sugar.
—Svati Narula, associate social media editor
To me a long road trip isn’t complete without a halfway-point iced tea: extra large, black, unsweetened, light ice, a splash of lemonade, and preferably brewed that day. (Who knew a basic iced tea order could be so extra?) It provides a good pick-me-up without getting me too jittery, and it helps keep me hydrated when I’m bored with water.
—Kelsey Lindsey, assistant editor
If I’m short on food for any outdoor excursion, I grab a sleeve of Smokehouse Almonds and/or Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts. I’m a salt hound, especially once I’ve broken a sweat, and the protein gives me long-lasting energy. Plus, the skinny packages fit perfectly in a running vest or mountain-bike shorts pocket, making it easy to pour straight into my mouth like the calorie monster I am.
—Will Taylor, gear director
Danishes and Honey Buns
When I was thru-hiking the PCT, sometimes the only resupply option would be a gas station. I’d always go for those prepackaged danishes: so many valuable calories and carbs for so little money, which is basically thru-hiker gold. And with all the preservatives, you could take a few to go and they’d last for days. I had a friend on trail who, I kid you not, would buy a can of Spam, place the Spam in between two Duchess Honey Buns, and eat it like a sandwich. It was mortifying to watch, and I respected him for it.
—Taylor Gee, editorial fellow
Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn
I can’t rationalize my Smartfood obsession with any pithy nutritional data. Does it contain a death-defying amount of sodium, which is good for replenishing salts? Is it protein dense (because, cheese), therefore helpful for recovery? Maybe. But I can’t say for sure, because I’ve never taken a long enough pause between swiping my card and tearing open the bag to actually look at the ingredients label. All that matters is that it’s the kind of tasty that I’ll remember three-quarters of the way through a summit day, when I’m exhausted and starting to slow down—the kind that will motivate me to cover those last few thousand feet of descent just a little bit faster, because I know what’s waiting for me at the car. Now that’s a high-value snack.
—Ariella Gintzler, assistant editor
Cheese Puffs and a Starbucks Frappucino
If I’m feeling hungry, I go to the nuts aisle and get sunflower seeds or almonds. If I just want a sweet-and-salty snack to get through a big road trip, I get a huge bag of Cheetos (the puffs, never the curly ones) and a Starbucks cold frappuccino in the bottle from the fridge section. It has an absurd amount of sugar in it, but it gets the job done for a long drive.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
I always buy a candy bar or two on my way out for a big backpacking trip, and absolutely nothing beats a Nutrageous bar: peanuts, caramel, chocolate, and Reese’s peanut butter in one impressively calorically dense package. They’re tricky to find, so anytime I see them, I buy a couple. They’re just as great for a midhike energy boost as they are for recovering (physically and emotionally) after a brutally long day.
—Abigail Barronian, assistant editor
While I don’t generally use food as a reward, if you see me eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, you can assume I’ve earned them with a rigorous high-altitude hike or a solid day at the crag. I don’t even like spicy food, but something about setting your tongue on fire after doing the same to your body has become irresistible to me. With basically no protein and a ton of saturated fat, Flamin’ Hots don’t make a great recovery snack. But as a delicious treat for a tired body, they’re an indulgence well worth the orange fingers!
—Jenny Earnest, audience development director