Picture this: it’s cold outside, but you went for a hike anyway. The granola bar you brought for your snack is now hard as a rock. You gnaw on it slowly, hoping to get a little nourishment without breaking any teeth. This definitely isn’t ideal! Unfortunately, it’s a common experience for those who decide to venture out when the weather is wintry.
So what are some good cold weather snacks? First, it’s helpful to understand that products high in fat and sugar, and low in water, are going to stay softer in colder weather. In addition, spending time outside in cold weather tends to mean burning more calories, so overall you’re just better off bringing fatty, sugary treats to eat while you adventure.
Some of the first folks to summit Denali brought a bag of doughnuts and a few thermoses of hot chocolate to the summit. Those same snacks are still great on cold-weather outings today. Here are a few more cheap, easy snacks that do well in freezing temps.
1. Pepperoni, Summer Sausage, or Salami
High-fat cured meats such as pepperoni, summer sausage, and salami stay pretty soft in colder weather, and your body will welcome the combo of fat, protein, and salt. Summer sausage, in particular, tends to be fairly cheap and very high in fat – a great combo for the broke winter adventurer. Summer sausage also tends to be available in giant logs, so you don’t have to ration yourself if you’re a big eater. If you’re using a big block of summer sausage, it’s nice to chop it into bite-sized pieces beforehand. The individual pepperoni snack sticks you can buy in convenience stores are also perfect for cold-weather snacking, but they do cost a bit more.
2. Doughnuts, pop-tarts, and cookies
What, you don’t think these are healthy snacks? You’re probably right, but they taste delicious and you can eat them in very cold temps. I was recently delighted to discover that my friend had a stash of pop-tarts in her truck when I needed breakfast on a -15-degree F morning. That delicious sugary toaster pastry was nice and soft, despite being so cold it hurt my fingers a little to touch it.
Also, when you’re out in the cold, “healthy” often means high-fat and high-sugar. Your body needs dense calories to keep you warm and energetic. It’s a fun paradigm shift!
3. Dried fruit
Dried fruit is easy, cheap, and high in calories. Even if you don’t like raisins, there are lots of other dried fruit options such as pineapple, banana chips, cranberries, or apples. I typically look through the bulk section of the grocery store and buy the three cheapest dried fruits, then mix them together when I get home. They give a nice sugar rush when I want quick energy on an outing.
4. Crackers and pretzels
Carbohydrate-rich items such as crackers and pretzels are low in water, so the texture stays pretty much the same regardless of temperature. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have something crunchy in your snack pack. Unfortunately, crackers and pretzels are fairly low in calories, so if you’re in very cold conditions I recommend combining them with something calorie-dense such as peanut butter or summer sausage.
5. Bacon jerky
These days, you can find bacon jerky next to the regular jerky in most supermarkets and convenience stores. Unfortunately, bacon jerky is kind of expensive. On my budget, I’m forced to reserve it for a special treat or reward, otherwise I wind up spending way too much on snacks. However, bacon jerky is salty and delicious, and the fat content is an extra bonus that will keep you energized and warm as you hike.
6. Extra sweet chocolate or hard candies
When it comes to eating chocolate in cold weather, it’s important to pick chocolate with a high sugar content. Dark chocolate tends to get super solid, but extra sugary candy items such as M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Snickers, and lollipops manage pretty well.
Note that I specifically did not include gummy candy in my recommendation. Although gummy candy is high in sugar, it often contains wax or has a higher water content, which means eating cold gummy bears can be sort of like chewing on old leather boots. That’s fine if you want a jaw workout, but otherwise you should stick with chocolate and hard candies.
7. Peanuts or other nuts
Nuts are fatty enough that they stay chewable, even when it’s super cold. The fat and protein content of nuts is a nice balance when combined with the sugary punch of dried fruit or candy. Peanuts are the cheapest, but if you dislike them as much as I do, you can often buy almonds or other nuts at an adequate price as well.
8. Peanut butter
Peanut butter gets thicker in the cold, but it stays soft enough to eat. I don’t recommend buying individual serving packets of nut butter if you’re in super cold conditions, because squeezing the contents out of the packet can become a real workout when they’re a more solid. I typically buy a small plastic tub of cheap peanut butter and bring a strong plastic (or bamboo) spoon to eat it straight out of the jar. It’s not fancy, but you’ll get a lot of calories, protein, and fat for minimal money and effort.
The greasier, the better. On cold adventures, kettle-fried potato chips, greasy brands of tortilla chips, Fritos, and other fatty chips often taste like a party on your taste buds. The salt content is an added bonus, although you should be sure to drink plenty of liquids to compensate for all that sodium.
Sometimes, you just have to experiment to know for sure if something will taste good and be easy to chew when it’s cold. Are caramels going to be hard as a rock, or will they stay soft? Are frozen grapes satisfying, or just cold and difficult to eat? Try bringing different things, and you’ll form your own list of classics.
What are your favorite cold-weather snacks?