Want to know the best energy bars, energy chews, protein bars, and meal replacements available today? Our food junkies sampled and survived off of over 50 different varieties in the last eight years, and recommend 17 favorites. We've scrambled up mountains, climbed big alpine routes, run ultras, and spent whole winters backcountry skiing while eating these bars (and a lot of others that didn't make the list). We've also conducted blind texture and taste tests with friends, and assessed them for caloric efficiency and healthy ingredients to make sure others agree with our assessments. Whether you want an easy snack on your work break or need the most palatable quick sugar fixes for training missions or races, we've got some recommendations for you.If you're heading into the backcountry for a few days, we hope you're planning to eat more than just bars! We've tested an array of backpacking stoves, camping cookware, and even camping coffee and chosen our favorites.
The 6 Best Energy Bars of 2023
Our Top Picks
100% Organic, non-GMO, Gluten-Free
Kate's Real Food is a meal replacement bar that is everything we could ask for in an energy bar. This small, calorically dense bar has two servings per package that add up to around 260 calories, yet it remains incredibly light and airy in your mouth. The texture is all fresh crunch, with no sticky gooiness to get stuck in your teeth and not a hint of unnatural, powdery aftertaste. This is also the only bar we tested that has 100% organic ingredients. We tested a variety pack full of different flavors, which turned out to be a problem because we never felt like we got enough of each kind, and don't even think about asking us which is our favorite — they all are!
The only major downside to these bars is that they tend to crumble in the package, especially in hot temperatures. However, the crumbs are super easy to eat out of the stiff, waxy packaging. These bars aren't cheap, but what energy bar is? For 260 calories, they're a great value. They also contain a lot of sugar (9g per serving, or 18g per bar), but a closer dive into the ingredients list reveals that organic honey is the only added sweetener besides fruit and real chocolate. While this may bum out the vegans, we prefer organic honey over brown rice syrup, which is the most common sweetener used in most energy bars. If great taste, interesting and natural texture, and healthy ingredients are your jam, you will not find a better bar than Kate's Real Food.
When we think of energy bars, we most often conjure up an image of a rectangular cube of dense, chewy "food" that is not easily identifiable and a taste that is anything but "natural." But it doesn't have to be that way! Enter the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle, our most loved quick snack. Modeled after the Dutch Stroopwafel, two thin wafers sandwiching caramel goodness in the middle, these waffles are satisfyingly chewy but not gooey or sticky and taste great! Wafer-thin, they are very packable, and it's no problem to stack two or three of them into a pocket. They are also one of the most calorically dense snacks we tested and offer great value for the money spent. Finally, we have to give a shout-out to its 100% organic ingredients, showing that it is possible to mass-produce affordable organic snacks.
The problem with these tasty treats is they're perhaps too tasty. Many of our testers reported a slight addiction and found it challenging to limit their snacking to only when necessary. Also, they're a little crumbly, particularly after being tossed around in a backpack for a while — expect a mess upon opening. This makes them a better choice as an outdoor snack. Though we love the texture when warm, we noticed while skiing that these bars turn brick-hard when the temperatures drop, so you might want to consider stashing them in one of your warmer inner layers. If you're looking for quick-hitting, sweet-tasting energy or don't enjoy classic bars, we highly recommend the Honey Stinger Organic Waffles.
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Vegan
Larabars have quickly become a favorite of athletes and others attracted to great taste and simple ingredients. These bars also pack a decent caloric punch while being concocted from a small number of whole food ingredients. If you like the taste of sweet, fruity bars, you'll love Larabars, which use date fruit as a sticky base in which the rest of the ingredients are mixed. They come in a huge variety of interesting and creative flavors, like Apple Pie and Cinnamon Bun, and most of the flavors taste great, although they are all invariably sweet. The chewy fruit base also lends a fantastic texture that reminds you that you are eating whole foods. At over 200 calories per bar, they have a good caloric density and are super affordable.
If sweet and chewy fruit bars aren't your thing, you might find the taste and texture of Larabars unappealing. Although, some of the flavors make you forget that you're actually eating mostly fruit. These bars rarely use organic ingredients, but their defining feature is the sweetness. If you enjoy sweet and fruity bars, these will probably be your favorite out of all the ones we tested. If you prefer grainy bars and the textures of granola and almonds, you may not prefer these. However, folks who do will love them for their taste, texture, caloric content, and nutritional density, whether out on the trail or surviving an afternoon in the office.
The most unpleasant stereotype about protein bars usually proves to be true — that their texture is that of raw powder. We find this powdery texture mildly off-putting at best and downright gag-inducing at worst, so we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the KIND Protein Bar is actually a protein bar. There is not a hint of that powdery texture when chewing it, and most of our blind taste testers found its very crunchy, nutty composition aided by a dark chocolate coating on one side (we tested the Dark Chocolate Nut flavor) to be among the very best of all those we tested. We appreciate their salty finish, which appeals to more of our palate than just the sugar zone. With 250 calories per serving, it is also one of the most calorically dense bars you can buy and can be bought for almost the same price as a grocery store granola bar, offering fantastic value.
These bars are half coated in chocolate, so they easily melt in the sun or a pocket. Melted bars can be messy to eat, and the finished wrappers are also messy to cram back into your pocket or pack. The ingredients are not organic, and the number one sweetener listed on the package is glucose syrup. Despite packaging claims of a "low glycemic index", glucose syrup is a processed ingredient that's very high on the glycemic index. Individuals who want the optimum amount of protein may not find the 12g per bar impressive, compared to 20g in a Clif Builder's Bar. That said, if you like getting most of your protein from nuts and find the texture of regular protein bars off-putting, we think you'll enjoy the KIND Protein Bars.
95% Organic, Gluten-Free
Energy Chews have quickly become one of the most popular ways of ingesting glucose during intense exercise. We tested four varieties of chews and found the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews to be the best and most enjoyable. They taste great and remind us of the fruit snacks we loved as a child, except honestly, these are better than fruit snacks! They lack the waxy, stick-to-your-teeth texture we found ubiquitous in the less loved chews, making them very easy to pop in your mouth and either suck on or swallow without needing a lot of water to chase them down. Online commenters alerted us that these can be a great quick sugar hit for diabetics, although we didn't test them for these purposes. We once again love that virtually all the ingredients are sourced organically.
The biggest problem with eating energy chews is that they're basically all sugar, so you should not indulge your cravings and treat these like candy. We recommend only eating them in the middle of long aerobic activities, workouts when normal food or bars may not seem very appetizing, and when you need to maintain high energy levels. Since they are straight-up sugar, expect a crash if you don't consume about 100 calories every hour during activity. Athletes who prefer to fuel themselves with fats instead of carbs should avoid these and all gummies (0g fats, 39g sugar). Although the taste and texture are far preferable to the chemical taste and wax texture of GU Energy Chews or Clif Shot Bloks, they can get a bit sticky (like honey) on warmer days, which can leave a residue on your fingers after eating. If you're looking for chews, the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews are our first pick.
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Orangutan Friendly Palm Oil, Kosher
Nuts have long been a staple component of outdoor nutrition, offering excellent amounts of fats and protein in a low-glycemic, slow-burning package that can sustain you all day. Justin's Nut Butters include almond, peanut, and hazelnut varieties with flavor options like honey, maple, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, or chocolate, and they come in small, portable packages that can be taken anywhere with ultimate convenience. To consume, simply knead the package, rip off the top, and squeeze. We like to think of them as healthier versions of energy gels and commonly just squirt them straight into our mouths while out on long trail runs or backcountry ski missions. They're also fantastically portable for long adventures like backpacking because you can bring just the amount of packets you need, rather than a whole large and heavy jar of nut butter. After significant amounts of kneading, the texture is creamy, smooth, and easily palatable. Best of all, these little packets are relatively cheap and pack a whopping 182 cal/oz. (210 cal. in a 1.15oz. package) This is by far the most calorically dense—and therefore most efficient—energy or snack bar we have ever tested!
There are a few downsides, most notably the fact that these packets have the potential to create a mess. A fair amount of nut butter likes to stick inside the packaging without coming out, creating the potential for a mess in your pocket or hip belt of your pack. Like most gel packaging, once you tear the top off, it is easy to drop or misplace and accidentally litter. The texture can also be inconsistent due to the separation of oil and nuts inside the package, but this can be mitigated with some pre-kneading. And while these little packets are perfectly sized for a quick energy boost while working out, they are a bit small for making an actual sandwich or filling a tortilla, so bring extra if that's your plan, or just stick to the traditional jar. We admit to preferring the almond butter, especially honey and maple flavors, because they are smoother and tastier than peanut butter but also sometimes cost a little more. For a simple, efficient, and calorically dense energy boost, nothing beats Justin's Nut Butters.
Meat sticks aren't for everyone. First, they are usually concocted with mostly meat, which means vegetarians and vegans won't be interested. Second, they don't actually contain many calories since they are mostly protein. However, many outdoor enthusiasts on fewer hardcore outings prefer the taste and feel of real foods over-engineered energy bars, and for the meat-eaters out there, the Vermont Smoke and Cure Jerky Sticks are our favorite. They taste great, feel like real meat, and aren't too dry. We like how the meat used is relatively trustworthy and not treated with growth hormones. Overall, if you are seeking meat on the trail or as a quick snack, these meat sticks are a great option.
For the most active users, these sticks simply don't have enough calories to justify the weight, or the cost, though they are dramatically more affordable than other high-end meat sticks on the market. If you are seeking a good overall spread of macronutrients to fuel you up for a long day, these sticks are also lacking in that arena. We mostly recommend them to meat-eaters seeking a snack that tastes like "real food" and those who want some meat to satisfy their meal cravings. But athletes and anyone else seeking an energy-rich snack should look elsewhere.
Taste testers raved about how delicious and natural tasting the Taos Bakes bars are. These hefty bars come in a wide variety of flavors, including Almond Agave + Cinnamon, Toasted Coconut + Vanilla Bean, and Caramel Pecan + Cranberries. All have distinctly different textures, which greatly adds to the joy of eating them and prolongs our enjoyment before bar burnout sets in. These bars are the next generation of Taos Mountain Bars, with slightly smaller packages and mild tweaks to the recipes. We love how the ingredient lists on these bars are short in length but long in organic ingredients such as oats, almonds, and raisins. Indeed, one of the first things you will notice when biting into one is how "real" this bar tastes compared to the heavily processed imitators.
Our testers had few complaints about these delicious treats, but one would be that they are sweet. Some people like sweet, but 12g of sugar is a fair amount. Others complained that they were too expensive, but we found deals on Amazon that make them pretty darn affordable for such a robust snack. While we love how hearty they are, they also take a fair bit of chewing, and therefore can't simply be wolfed down and chased with water mid-workout. They make a much better meal replacement snack. If you like bars made with natural ingredients that taste great, check out any of the varieties of Taos Bakes.
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Paleo, Vegan, Kosher, Allergen Friendly
Sometimes it can feel like energy bars are just too complex, with ingredients lists a mile long and still tasting artificial. The antidote is a That's It Fruit Bar, which is made only of fruit ("that's it"). These simple bars have names such as "1 Apple + 12 Strawberries" or "1 Apple + ¼ Pineapple," and the ingredient list matches the name, with literally nothing else added in. They taste a lot like a fruit leather but are far softer, easier to chew, and not nearly as sticky in the teeth. These bars pack a quick hit of natural sugars that can liven up anyone's mood and make a great choice for on-the-go athletes or as a healthy addition to a packed lunch. Kids love them. While they are heavy on sugar, it comes naturally from the fruit, with no other artificial or added sweeteners.
While we think natural sugars pose little health risk for most people, the fact remains that the energy in a That's It Fruit Bar is quick-acting and fast burning, meaning those trying to limit sugar intake might consider something a bit more balanced. There are only 100 calories per package and 0g of slower-burning fats along with only 1g of protein, so this bar can't be substituted for a meal. Best to eat it in addition to a packed lunch, or use it mid-workout when your energy is starting to fade, and you need a quick pick me up like you would an energy chew. You'd also better like apples because every flavor choice includes some form of fruit combined with an apple. Our final minor complaint is that the fruit used is not organic, which is a shame considering this bar ticks every other box for quality of ingredients we like to see, why not go the extra mile? For those looking for a simple, fast-acting workout snack without the artificial flavors, we highly recommend a That's It bar.
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegetarian
Energy Chews are not like a traditional energy bar in that they are only designed to be eaten during the middle of intense exercise for immediate use as fuel by the body. Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews offer some nice advantages over the competition. Immediately noticeable is their white sugar coating, evoking memories of gobbling Sour Patch Kids at the movie theater. Besides appealing to the sweet tooth in all of us, the coating makes it so they can use less wax to get the right consistency while also ensuring that they aren't sticky in your hands or the package. More than one tester said that these were their favorite energy chews and would be using them from now on instead of Clif Shot Bloks or GU Energy Chews.
The downside is that they are made of pretty much just sugar. While sugar is the fastest and easiest carbohydrate for the body to digest and use during exercise, developing a habit of eating them is no different than a candy-eating habit. They also use pure white sugar, which isn't as preferable as a more natural sugar option, like honey, the main sweetener in Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews. Like their bars, Skratch Labs also doesn't source from organic ingredients, so there is room for improvement when it comes to quality. When it comes to taste, and the ability to eat as many as are needed, though, these chews win out.
Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Kosher
Skratch Labs is a Boulder, CO, based company that makes food products specifically for athletes. We like the Skratch Labs Bar because of the great texture — they are both crunchy and nutty while perfectly broken up by chunks of real fruit, such as cherries. The bar tastes exactly what the ingredients look like, but it also tastes like real food. We like that these bars come in both sweet and savory flavor options because sweet bars can get old after awhile, and especially toward the end of a long effort, all we really crave is salt.
That said, the savory options are a bit out there, and you may want to try one before you go investing in an entire box. The Savory Miso flavor came in our variety pack, and while the taste was certainly interesting, we also found it to be way too intensely spiced to make it appealing when working out. We were also a bit bummed that the bar wasn't sourced from organic ingredients, coming from Boulder, and considering an effort was made to be vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free. While these aren't our favorite energy bars, they aren't bad and are one we would recommend checking out if you need to add some variety to your trail snacking life.
Vegan, non-GMO, Gluten Free, Soy Free
More is not always better. When it comes to energy bars, we often find ourselves struggling to polish off the last few bites of a bar, which can be a challenge if we are craving the energy it provides but aren't thrilled with the taste or texture. That's what's so great about the Health Warrior Chia Bars — they are so small that you can eat the entire thing in just a few bites while still getting the boost of 100 calories of easily digestible energy. Because they are so small, they are also super portable, they can fit into the tiniest little pockets that no other bar or packet of chews can. The number of times we carried these little treats in a pocket of our running shorts (when we didn't want to lug around a larger bar) cannot be counted. Our blind testers also thought the crunch of the chia seeds was nice and that they are easy to chew up and swallow quickly.
The downside is simply the reverse side of the "small" coin. These bars are so small that you really can't expect them to fill you up, so they aren't really such a great snack from a hunger standpoint, only from an energy one. They also cost around the same as you would expect from a bar, but since they are so small, you may not feel like they are a great value. A final minor complaint is that they are made almost entirely of chia seeds, which just love to get stuck between your teeth, so maybe aren't the best snack for a first date out on the trails. If you need a slow-burning boost in energy on your outdoor adventures and don't want to lug around much larger and harder-to-eat bars, the Health Warrior Chia Bars are a great bet.
Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, Organic, Vegan
Take one bite of a ProBar Meal and you will likely have the immediate reaction that this is a bar that seems designed to be healthy. You will likely be overwhelmed with the mish-mash of natural ingredients, one moment tasting a sunflower seed, while the next getting a distinct hint of peanuts or cashews. The texture is both crunchy and gooey at the same time, offering something that you can both bite into with authority and that also dissolves in the mouth with little extra work. Check out the package, and you will notice that it is made with organic ingredients that are all-natural, vegan, and non-GMO, and you can feel good that you are treating yourself well. Take more than a couple of bites, and you will notice something else — that you are getting full! With 360+ calories per bar, stamping the word "Meal" on the package certainly isn't lying.
The only reason you might not want to eat these all the time is that they include a lot of added sugar (16-21g per bar), and the first ingredient on the list is Brown Rice Syrup (sugar). Easily digestible sugars can be beneficial when you are seriously active, but eating these instead of a normal meal should be limited to those crusher days filled with adventures or training where sugar can and will be burned up quickly and not made a habit of while sitting at a desk. If you like getting the best value out of your bars and want to finish one feeling full, the ProBar is one of the best and healthiest choices you can make.
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Vegan, Soy Free
Bobo's Oat Bars are a simple meal replacement bar made mostly of organic rolled oats and brown rice syrup to act as a sweet binder. Most of our testers were split on whether they preferred them over ProBar Meal bars, with some loving the cookie-like flavor and simple ingredient list, while others wished there was more in the way of fruit and nuts. A single bar is delineated into two servings, but we found it best to eat the whole thing at once, as they quickly get stale once the package is opened. One thing is for certain; you won't wolf down an entire one of these bars and still claim to be hungry! Packing an incredible 340 calories in a dense, little bar, these snacks are ideal for those who really need to make their stomach shut up right now!
Of course, they also have a few downsides. Some of our testers found them to be a bit too dry and chewy, needing a lot of water to wash them down. Others complained that they didn't have much flavor. Those who crave a balance of protein in their energy bars should choose something else, as this bar is largely slow-burning carbs with a hint of fat. While they aren't quite the slam dunk favorite that Kate's Real Food has proven to be, if you are looking for a quick answer to breakfast or love you some oats, you should certainly check out a Bobo's Bar.
Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Grain Free, Peanut Free, Vegan, Kosher
The Keto diet is the most trendy right now and involves eating foods with a proportion of nearly 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% or less of carbs. The theory goes that if you eat roughly this proportion of foods, your body becomes far more efficient at burning fat, helping you lose weight, and also possibly having positive benefits for chronic diseases such as diabetes. It has not been proven to offer tangible performance benefits for healthy, fit athletes. When it comes to eating Keto and still wanting to eat a bar that is not simply a stick of meat, we like the GoodTo Go Snack Bar best. They are made of almond flour combined with inulin fiber and are tastily sweet thanks to the addition of erythritol, a sugar alcohol that your body doesn't absorb, so doesn't count against the carb total. The result is a cake-like bar that dissolves easily in the mouth, offers good caloric density, and is far more palatable than the other Keto-friendly bars that we compared it against.
By no means do we think this bar is perfect; however, we simply found it more edible than others in our search for a tasty, meatless Keto bar. (If eating a stick of meat sounds right up your alley, check out either Epic or Tanka bars. We apologize for hiring a vegetarian head tester.) It comes in various flavors, such as Cinnamon Pecan, Vanilla Almond, and Raspberry Lemon (our favorite), but each of these flavors is very subdued and left us begging for more. We also aren't thrilled about the many artificial ingredients and derivatives, including inulin (a fiber extract that some people have a hard time digesting) and erythritol, a sugar alcohol added for sweetness. To top it off, these bars are pricey, among the most expensive in our test group, and certainly don't knock our socks off. We find many bars more enjoyable and satisfying to eat, but unfortunately, these don't meet the Keto-friendly designation. But if you are on a strict Keto diet and still love the convenience of a quick-hitting energy bar, check out GoodTo Go.
Epic Snack Strips have taken the meat stick world by storm and are appealing for their wide variety of interesting flavor blends. We like most of the flavors, but the taste can be artificial at times due to the highly creative concoctions. The texture is appealing and crumbly, making these jerky strips easy to eat and wash down, but they are also a far cry from the texture of fresh meat. They are packed with protein and usually advertise how low-carb they are, so this product could be tempted by those seeking a more Keto-centric option.
On the downside, these strips don't provide the caloric density necessary for long-duration activity and are more useful for those on low-intensity outings and those who crave a meat snack in a small and portable package. They also don't provide a good mix of macronutrients that would provide long-lasting energy. And finally, it is hard to get a read on where the meat comes from, though the packaging often advertises "grass-fed" and "wild-caught" animal treatments. If the flavors appeal to you, give these sticks a try, but don't expect them to boost your athletic performance.
Gluten Free, Vegan, Kosher
GU Energy Gel is engineered to provide glucose, amino acids, and in some cases, caffeine to athletes during long-duration performances where the body requires glucose at regular intervals to continue functioning. GU has long been a favorite of long-distance runners, cyclists, and alpine climbers, with strict protocol to eat one packet every 45 minutes to an hour with water. This provides enough glucose to keep the brain and body functioning while body fat is consumed as the main energy source. This esoteric user group does not describe most users, many of whom will gag at the gel's fruity, sugary, and slightly chemically taste and gooey texture. Others will want a product that provides a well-rounded macronutrient profile for more casual activity. But for elite endurance athletes, GU has its place.
We don't recommend GU Energy Gel to the casual user since it doesn't taste that good and doesn't feel like real food, we recommend that endurance athletes give it a try. The packets are small, easy to pack, and easy to open, making them a great tool for elite athletes looking for that extra edge. They won't provide enough energy to last more than an hour of exercise, so make sure to pack enough to keep you fueled up and to prevent bonking.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert tester leading this review is Andy Wellman, a senior review editor for OutdoorGearLab since 2013. Andy is an avid climber, runner, skier, and backpacker who has spent the last 25 years chasing adventure all around the globe, from running ultras and sport climbing in Europe to tackling multi-day stage races and months-long treks in the Himalayas, as well as ski touring through the Canadian and Colorado Rockies. Whether he's humping a large pack up to an alpine basecamp or simply logging miles on his weekly long run, he's popping energy gels and staving off hunger and energy crashes with his favorite bars. Andy went vegetarian about five years ago as a psychological experiment and was surprised at how much better he felt physically. While he isn't a nutritionist, he has spent most of his life striving for improvement in outdoor sports and understands the outsized role that nutrition plays in that quest.
He is joined by Jeff Dobronyi, an IFMGA certified Mountain Guide based in Jackson, WY. From long winter days on the skin track to 24-hour pushes in the alpine, Jeff knows what the body needs to keep moving and has tested hundreds of nutrition strategies over his career.
Besides combing the aisles of natural food stores and outdoor gear shops for new and interesting bars, we also researched over 100 different varieties to select the bars we tested for this review. Then, we handed the products off to friends and colleagues to get their input, including blind taste tests and thoroughly researching the sources of each product's ingredients. We put all the bars to the ultimate test, eating them daily on outdoor adventures while climbing, skiing, and running in the Rockies and the tropics.
Analysis and Test Results
We bought and tested each energy bar or snack and rated them based upon four different criteria: taste, texture, caloric density, and quality of ingredients. When possible, we purchased variety packs to get the widest possible picture of how different flavors stack up. Opinions were gathered from multiple people, and blind tests were conducted to assess for taste and texture.
We use the term Energy Bars to encompass a wide variety of food products. In fact, we've incorporated many different kinds of "bars" into this review. Energy Bars can be thought of as healthier versions of candy bars and generally have between 100-200 calories per serving. Meal Replacement Bars are much larger, generally between 250-350 calories, and ideally have less sugar, so are healthier as food substitutes. Protein Bars are much like regular energy bars but are formulated with extra protein, usually in the range of 12-23g. Finally, Energy Chews, Gummies, Blocks, and Gels are scientifically formulated to deliver maximum glucose and are meant to be eaten during endurance activities when quickly digestible sugars are needed to sustain outputs, but should not be eaten like candy as a snack.
Energy bars have long held the reputation of tasting poor compared to real food, but that doesn't stop us from looking for great taste. We set up blind taste tests with friends to ensure that this highly subjective distinction was not made based on too narrow of a foundation. Testers ranked each item in the order from their favorites all the way down to the options that tasted so bad they weren't suitable for inclusion on our favorites list.
The sweet Honey Stinger Waffle is the unanimous winner when it comes to taste, but Kate's Real Food, Larabars, and Taos Bakes were all close seconds. Among the energy chews, people liked the Skratch Labs Energy Chews pretty much the same as the Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and didn't like other brands nearly as much. As for meat sticks, the Vermont Smoke and Cure sticks were preferred over Epic Snack Strips.
While texture is linked to taste, the texture of an energy bar can have a huge impact on its tolerability during endurance activities. Foods that are smooth, easy to eat, and that wash down easily with water are preferable to foods that take lots of chewing to break up and that stick to your teeth and tongue. Furthermore, our testers preferred products with a texture similar to "real" food and that don't feel synthetic. Dry and powdery bars were the least favorite, while grainy, nutty, and fruity bars were the most coveted.
The testers' favorites were Honey Stinger Waffles, Skratch Labs Energy Chews, Justin's Nut Butters, and none of which fit the mold of a classic bar but are very easy and pleasant to chew and swallow repeatedly. Among the bars, Larabars were easiest to chew, and Kate's Real Food was another winner, perfectly blending moist crunchiness. When it came to texture, the worst offenders evoked bad Powerbar memories for most and didn't make our list of recommendations. Again, testers favored the chewy and "real" texture of Vermont Smoke and Cure meat sticks over the processed texture of Epic Snack Strips.
The essence of an energy bar can be summed up using one word: efficiency. They aim to provide the easiest to digest calories that are consumable in the least amount of time. They also take literally no time to prepare and stay "fresh" enough to eat within their packaging for months after purchase. Acknowledging their incredible efficiency, we strove for a way to measure and define exactly which bars are the most efficient and settled upon an easily derived metric: caloric density. Since most bars are of similar size, take a similar amount of time to eat, and cost roughly the same, which bar delivers the most calories is surely a fair measurement of overall efficiency.
To assess, we did some math, using numbers on the package for calories and dividing that by how many ounces the bar is. Our final numbers represent calories/ounce and range widely. Of note is that a few selections have two servings per package, but in all cases, we did our math based on the entire package rather than a single serving because we find that we tend to just mow an entire package, regardless of how many servings we are told it is. We noticed that different flavors of the same bar will have different calorie figures, so these numbers vary a little, but in general, stay within a close range.
Topping the charts are the small packets of Justin's Nut Butters, which include 210 calories in a tiny 1.15oz serving for a 182 cal/oz. efficiency rating. If you want the most energy in the smallest, easiest-to-carry package, these should be your target. We also like how they are mostly nuts and fatty oils that burn slowly rather than in one quick hit and crash. Power Crunch Protein Bars, with between 142-157 calories per ounce eaten, are a somewhat distant second. Closely matching them are Honey Stinger Waffles (141 cal/oz) and KIND Protein Bars (142 cal/oz). The majority of those we tested fell in the range of 108-118 cal/oz, but oddly enough, all four energy chews that we tested fell at the bottom of the pile, ranging from 94 cal/oz for Clif Shot Bloks to 84 cal/oz for GU Energy Chews. If you are planning a long-haul backpacking trip and want to get the most bang for your buck, take note of these energy chew products.
Health is an inextricable ingredient in living the outdoor lifestyle. Participating in outdoor sports not only makes you healthier but being healthier makes outdoor sports easier and more fun. We all know that nutrition plays a critical role in living a healthy life, and this simple fact should be even more obvious when it comes to what we are eating while playing outdoors. For that reason, we decided to rate each bar based upon how healthy the ingredients contained within it are.
Don't get us wrong; simply defining what is a healthy ingredient versus what is not is surely nearly impossible. There are countless dieting trends, fads, facts, and alternative facts, that proponents will argue make more sense when it comes to nutrition. So we tried to keep this simple, rating products based on the following criteria, which we dream of seeing in all energy bars (and all food, for that matter!). How an individual bar fits into your specific diet is up to you.
– Whole, Unprocessed Ingredients — Eating natural foods is simply better for you, and we prefer bars that feature these foods over processed alternatives.
– Organic Ingredients — The organic label isn't a political statement; it means that there are no artificial pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers being used to make the food that you eat. The lack of the label means that these chemicals may be in your food.
– Quality of Sugars — Some may argue that the best bars should have no sugar at all, but in the end, fruits (a staple ingredient for nearly every energy bar) have sugars. That said, virtually all bars also have added sugars that aren't naturally found in the bar's whole food ingredients, which is indeed frustrating for many. We won't comment on this trend, except to say that we do care what kind of sugar is added. We prefer natural sugars like honey and fruit, or low glycemic sugars, over refined white sugar, or high-glycemic syrups, such as the common brown rice syrup.
– Non-GMO — Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, present a huge list of concerns that we aren't going to get involved with here; we suggest you Google it if you don't have an opinion yet. Many people and countries believe that GMOs present threats to not only nutrition but the natural world as well, which is why they are banned in many countries, While it isn't the single biggest preference for us when it comes to healthy ingredients, it certainly makes the list.
We took a peek at the ingredients list of all the bars we tested and rated them for the above qualities. Those with whole, natural, and organic ingredients, have little to no added sugars, and are non-GMO scored the highest. Kate's Real Food met every one of these criteria, deserving our applause. Another top scorer is Taos Bakes, and surprisingly Honey Stinger Waffles, which do have a lot of sugar but are natural, organic, and non-GMO. Power Crunch Protein Bars were the most heavily processed and non-natural of all the bars that we featured above (many other even more heavily processed and unnatural choices were tested but not worthy of our recommendation), while products made by Skratch Labs were also sadly non-organic nor very natural.
Energy Bar Alternatives
We've done our best to give you the low-down on the best energy bars and snacks you can buy today, but also want to remind you that there are lots of alternatives to the pre-made, individually packaged options described here. Whole, unprocessed are probably the healthiest choice, so be sure to consider items like PB&J sandwiches, trail and nut mixes, fresh or dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, or string cheese, not to mention last night's leftovers in a portable container. The internet also abounds with ideas for homemade bars, which allow you to cater specifically to your own tastes while also scratching that crafty itch. Making bars at home is a great "stay at home" activity and is also a suitable workaround to grocery store supply chain issues. For endurance athletes that need other methods of ingesting quick-acting carbs on the go, consider energy gels and carbohydrate drinks. Both of these work to efficiently provide easily absorbable calories in the form of simple sugars that don't need to be chewed and are often more easily digestible than actual food items.
The easiest way to find new energy bars is to go to the outdoor store or natural foods aisle of the grocery store and simply grab a whole bunch of different kinds, then give them a try! However, by far the most affordable way to purchase energy bars, which is critical if you go through a lot of them as we do, is to shop online. That's when having some nice recommendations really helps. We hope that we've been of assistance to your taste buds, and check back again for more recent additions of new items that crack our favorites list.
— Jeff Dobronyi & Andy Wellman
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