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Best Energy Bars of 2020

A small selection of the energy bars and energy chews that we tested for this review.
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday October 22, 2020
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Want to know the best energy bars, energy chews, protein bars, and meal replacements of 2020? Our food junkies have sampled and survived off of over 50 different varieties in the last eight years, and recommend 13 favorites. We've scrambled up mountains, sent large 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.

1

Best Overall


Kate's Real Food


Editors' Choice Award

$22.41
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Calories: 260 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 9/6/40
100% Organic, non-GMO, Gluten-Free
Organic and non-processed ingredients
The perfect balance of nutty and fruity flavors with a salty finish
Great crunch
Not cheap

Kate's Real Food is a meal replacement bar that is literally everything that 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 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. On that note, this is the only bar that we tested that has 100% organic ingredients, worthy of a whole string of clapping hands and fist bump emojis if our designers would allow those here. 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!

Kate's Real Food -- Handle Bar flavor  Dark Chocolate  Cherry  Almond.
Kate's Real Food -- Handle Bar flavor, Dark Chocolate, Cherry, Almond.

Normally we like to contrast our effusive praise for top-notch products by also highlighting their weaknesses, but in this case, we can't even think of any. It's true that these bars aren't cheap, but what energy bar is? For 260 calories, they're still a great value. And we could mention the 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, more emojis would indicate our preference for organic honey than brown rice syrup, 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.

2

Most Loved Quick Snack


Honey Stinger Waffle


Top Pick Award

$17.99
(22% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 150 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 7/1/21
100% Organic
Great honey and waffle taste
Compact
High caloric density and good value
Crumbly and messy
Become very hard in cold weather

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 just like — you guessed it — honey waffles! Wafer-thin, they are very packable; it is no problem to stack two or three of them into a pocket. They are also one of the most calorically dense snacks we tested, ensuring that they not only pack a real punch when your energy starts to flag, but also offer great value for the money spent. That's not all — we have to give a shout out to its 100% organic ingredients, showing that it is possible to mass-produce affordable organic snacks.

Honey Stinger Organic Waffle - Gingersnap flavor.
Honey Stinger Organic Waffle - Gingersnap flavor.

The main downside to these tasty treats is that they are too tasty. Indeed, many of our testers reported a slight addiction and found that they had a hard time limiting their snacking to only when it is needed. They are also a bit crumbly, especially if they have been tossed around in a pack for a while — expect a mess upon opening, which makes them a much better outdoor snack. We love their texture while warm but have noticed on more than one day of backcountry skiing that these things turn brick-hard when the temperatures drop, so consider packing them inside your outer layer. If you want quick-hitting, sweet-tasting energy but don't enjoy bars as they are typically conceived, we highly recommend the Honey Stinger Organic Waffles.

3

Best Bang for the Buck


Justin's Maple Almond Butter



$12.50
(4% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 210 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 17/5/8
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Orangutan Friendly Palm Oil, Kosher
Very high caloric density
Inexpensive
Can be eaten alone or combined with fruit, crackers, or an energy bar
Few, simple, natural ingredients
Can be messy
Hard to extract all from package
Inconsistent texture

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, which include almond, peanut, and cashew varieties seasoned with options such as honey, maple, vanilla, cinnamon, or plain, come in small, portable packages that can be taken anywhere with ultimate convenience. To consume, one simply kneads the package, rips off the top, and squirts — 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 also add fantastic portability 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 peanut or almond butter. After significant amounts of kneading, the texture is creamy and smooth, and easily palatable, and seems to us easier to swallow than if we were eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Best of all, these little packets are relatively cheap and pack a whopping 182 cal/oz. (210 cal. in a 1.15oz. package) — far and away the most calorie-dense, and therefore most efficient, energy or snack bar we have ever tested!

Justin's Nut Butter -- maple almond flavor  is smooth and creamy  and easy to swallow.
Justin's Nut Butter -- maple almond flavor, is smooth and creamy, and easy to swallow.

There are a few downsides, most notably the fact that these packets have the potential to create a mess. A fair amount of the nut butter likes to stick inside the packaging without coming out, and depending on what you do when you are done with them, often makes a mess in our pockets. Like most gel packaging, once the top has been torn off, it is easy to drop or misplace and accidentally litter. The texture can also be a bit inconsistent due to the separation of oil and nuts inside the package but is usually cured with a lot of 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.

4

Great Tasting with Quality Ingredients


Taos Bakes



$25.99
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 210 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 15/7/18
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO
All flavors very distinctly different from others
Uses natural sweeteners
High quality, unprocessed ingredients
Pricey
Sweet

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 flavors. All have distinctly different textures, which greatly adds to the joy of eating them, as well as prolong 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 ingredients 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.

Taos Bakes - Toasted Coconut and vanilla bean flavor.
Taos Bakes - Toasted Coconut and vanilla bean flavor.

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 anything but run of the mill, check out any of the varieties of Taos Bakes.

5

Simple, Natural Fruit Bar


That's It Fruit Bar



$17.99
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 100 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 0/1/22
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Paleo, Vegan, Kosher, Allergen Friendly
Only fruit ingredients
Tastes great and natural
Soft, moist texture
Not many calories
Very little protein

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 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, all of it comes naturally from the fruit, with no other artificial or added sweeteners.

That's It Bar - 1 apple + 1/4 pineapple flavor is fruity goodness.
That's It Bar - 1 apple + 1/4 pineapple flavor is fruity goodness.

While we think natural sugars pose little health risk for most people, the fact remains that the energy in a That's It bar is quick-acting and fast burning, meaning those prone to high and low mood swings (or simply trying to limit all sugar intake) might consider something a bit more balanced. There is 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.

6

Best Protein Bar


KIND Protein Bar


Top Pick Award

$17.47
(21% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 250 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 17/12/18
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO
Most of the protein comes from nuts
No powdery texture from added protein
Very high caloric density
Great value
Melts easily
Not a ton of protein compared to competitors

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 to be mildly off-putting at best, and downright gag-inducing at worst, so 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 Double Dark Chocolate Nut flavor) to be among the very best of all those we tested. This simply shouldn't be the case for a protein bar, but it is! The salty finish does a nice job appealing 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.

KIND Protein Bar -- Double Dark Chocolate Flavor
KIND Protein Bar -- Double Dark Chocolate Flavor

The most noticeable downside to these bars is that they are half coated in chocolate, which means they are easily melted in the sun or in a pocket. Melted bars are not only a pain to eat, but the finished wrappers often leave a mess as well. They are also not organic, and the number one sweetener listed on the package is glucose syrup, a processed ingredient that is also very high on the glycemic index, despite packaging claims of "low glycemic index." Those who want the most protein possible may not be impressed with the "only" 12g per bar, compared to 20g in a Clif Builder's Bar. But if you like getting your protein mostly from nuts, and the texture of regular protein bars is off-putting, we think you will like the KIND Protein Bars.

7

Best Energy Chews


Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews


Top Pick Award

$23.88
(18% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 160 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 0/1/39
95% Organic, Gluten-Free
Taste natural
Easy to eat without water
Organic
Can be sticky
Only for use during intense exercise

Energy Chews have quickly become one of the most popular ways of ingesting easily digestible carbohydrates in the form of sugars during intense exercise. We tested four varieties of chews and found the Honey Stinger Energy Chews to be the best and most enjoyable. They taste great, and reminded more than one person of eating the fruit snacks they 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 to the fact 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.

Honey Stinger Energy Chews - Grapefruit flavor.
Honey Stinger Energy Chews - Grapefruit flavor.

The downside to eating energy chews is that they are pretty much nothing but sugar, meaning you should not indulge your cravings and treat these like candy. Eat them only during the middle of long, strenuous workouts when normal food or bars may not seem very appetizing, and you need to keep your energy levels high. Since they are straight-up sugar, expect a crash, which many athletes will stave off by simply carrying on eating more gummies until they are finished. Athletes who prefer to fuel themselves with fats instead of carbs should avoid these and all gummies (0g fats, 39g sugar). The taste and texture of these chews are far preferable to the chemical taste and wax texture of GU Energy Chews or Clif Shot Bloks, but on warm days they can get a bit sticky (like honey), which can leave a residue on your fingers after eating. If you are in the market for chews, the Honey Stinger Energy Chews are the first ones we recommend checking out.

8

Sugar Coated, Not Sticky or Waxy


Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews



$23.50
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 160 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 0/0/40
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegetarian
Coated in sugar for best texture
Not sticky
Taste like candy
Not balanced — just sugar
Not organic, not natural sugars

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 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 at all 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.

Skratch Labs Energy Chews Orange flavor.
Skratch Labs Energy Chews Orange flavor.

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, that is 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.

9

Sweet and Savory Vegan Options


Skratch Labs Bar



$29.50
at Backcountry
See It

Calories: 210 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 10/5/27
Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Kosher
Crunchy nutty texture
Tasty chunks of real fruit
Don't melt
Savory bars may be an acquired taste
Doesn't use organic ingredients

Skratch Labs is a Boulder, CO, based company that makes food products specifically for athletes. We like the Scratch 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. Not only does the bar taste exactly what the ingredients look like, but it also tastes like real food. We like the fact 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.

Skratch Labs Energy Bars -- Savory Miso flavor.
Skratch Labs Energy Bars -- Savory Miso flavor.

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.

10

Super Portable and Low Sugar


Health Warrior Chia Bar


Health Warrior Chia

$14.98
(17% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 100 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 5/3/14
Vegan, non-GMO, Gluten Free, Soy Free
Low sugar
Small and compact
Goes down easy
Not filling
Chia seeds get stuck in teeth

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 Health Warrior Chia Bar - Dark Chocolate Cherry flavor.
The Health Warrior Chia Bar - Dark Chocolate Cherry flavor.

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.

11

Calorie Dense Meal Replacement


ProBar Meal


ProBar

$30.00
(29% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 360 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 16/9/49
Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, Organic, Vegan
Filling
High-quality ingredients
Tasty
Lots of added sugar
Smaller than package

Take one bite of a ProBar 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.

ProBar Meal -- Original Trail Mix flavor.
ProBar Meal -- Original Trail Mix flavor.

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.

12

Meal Replacement with Simple Ingredients


Bobo's Oat Bar



$31.45
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 340 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 14/4/48
Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Vegan, Soy Free
Simple oat bar
Very filling, lots of calories
Good value
A bit dry
Very little protein

Bobo's Oat Bars are a simple meal replacement bar that is 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!

Bobo's Oat Bar -- Original flavor.
Bobo's Oat Bar -- Original flavor.

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.

13

Best Keto Bar


GoodTo Go Snack Bar



$22.94
(4% off)
at Amazon
See It

Calories: 170 | Fat/Protein/Carb grams: 14/5/15 (2g net carbs)
Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Grain Free, Peanut Free, Vegan, Kosher
Only 2g of net carbs
Soft, cake-like texture
Relatively high caloric density
Pricey
Not enough flavor
Lots of artificial ingredients

The Keto diet is the most popular and trendy diet 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 also still wanting to be able to eat a bar that is not simply a stick of meat, we like the Good To Go Keto bars the 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 end 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.

Good To Go Keto bar - Cinnamon pecan flavor.
Good To Go Keto bar - Cinnamon pecan flavor.

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 a variety of different 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. There are many bars we find to be more enjoyable and satisfying to eat, but these, unfortunately, 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 Good To Go.

Prices listed beside each bar may be the cost for one or per box. Be sure to double-check before purchasing.

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 Himalaya, 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 as well. 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. Since he began reviewing energy bars a few years ago, he's been pleasantly surprised to discover some great new favorites to fuel his adventures, and also been surprised that many long time favorites couldn't stack up when compared to the competition.

The Experia XCCU is a great sock for running both roads and trails! It's our favorite for its thoughtful architecture and fantastic performance.
The original Clif Bar.
To be sure of the durability of the new sole on the EM Trail N2 V3 we were sure to test them on lots of sharp talus and loose rocks. They have held up great. Here on the summit of Dallas Peak  in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado  with the prominent Mt. Sneffels behind.

Besides combing the aisles of natural food stores and outdoor gear shops for new and interesting bars, Andy also researched over 100 different varieties to select the bars we tested for this review. He then realized that one person should not be trusted alone when it comes to opinions about food, so he handed out bars left and right, asking friends what they thought. He set up blind taste tests to get opinions on taste and flavor. Lastly, he put all the bars to the ultimate test, eating them daily on outdoor adventures while climbing, skiing, and running in the Cascades and Canadian Rockies.

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 healthy 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.

Elizabeth enjoys her favorite snack  a Honey Stinger Waffle  at the highpoint of a run in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon  with Mt. Jefferson in the background.
Elizabeth enjoys her favorite snack, a Honey Stinger Waffle, at the highpoint of a run in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon, with Mt. Jefferson in the background.

Types of Energy Bars
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, or Blocks can be thought of like scientifically formulated gummie bears, 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.

Taste


Energy bars have long held the unsavory reputation of tasting poor compared to real food, but that doesn't stop us from wanting them to taste good. While everyone wants their food to taste great, "great tasting" is not an easy thing to define. We set up blind taste tests with friends in order to be sure that this highly subjective distinction was not made based on too narrow of a foundation. Testers ranked each item in 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, Power Crunch Protein Bars, 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.

De-briefing with a look at some packaging and some sips of beer after a blind taste test of energy bars and energy chews.
De-briefing with a look at some packaging and some sips of beer after a blind taste test of energy bars and energy chews.

Texture


Many of the participants in our blind taste tests had a hard time distinguishing taste and texture, the two are so inextricably linked in our assessments of whether we enjoy eating something or not. We graded for it separately and even asked each tester what made up the perfect texture for them. The answers were not all the same, but people unanimously agreed that they didn't want a bar that was dry or powdery. Moist and crunchy bars were often given high marks, as were bars that were quickly palatable and easy to swallow without a ton of chewing.

The testers' favorites were Honey Stinger Waffles, Skratch Labs Energy Chews, and Justin's Nut Butters, none of which fit the mold of a classic bar, but are very easy and pleasant to chew and swallow repeatedly. Among the bars, Kate's Real Food was a winner, perfectly blending moist crunchiness. The worst offenders when it came to texture evoked bad Powerbar memories for most, and didn't make our list of recommendations.

Caloric Density


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 at all 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.

A winter day out at the crag  enjoying a tasty bar in the sun between attempts on the sport climbing project.
A winter day out at the crag, enjoying a tasty bar in the sun between attempts on the sport climbing project.

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 figures.

Healthy Ingredients


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, and rated 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 so 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, and if you are trying to be healthy, why would you want to eat these things?

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, so this isn't a completely reasonable request. That said, virtually all bars also have added sugars that aren't naturally found in the whole food ingredients the bar is made of, 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 (sorry vegans) 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 GMO, 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, and many people in the US prefer not to eat them. 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 Foods 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, salami, or string cheese, not to mention last night's leftovers in a Tupperware 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 work around 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.

Conclusion


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.

Andy Wellman