Hiking Snacks


I’m continually on the look-out for decent hiking snacks. My requirements are fairly humble: they must be portable, fairly indestructible, and reasonably neat when eaten. I always think I’m going to try PB&J or turkey/cheese/light ranch dressing wraps, but never get around it because I fear the onslaught of goop when eaten.

Anyway, last weekend the boys and I did a really fun, short hike over a quaking bog at the Volo Bog State Natural Area here in Northern Illinois. Because I procrastinated all morning, sipping coffee and reading magazines in my PJ’s, I didn’t think about snack planning. Before I knew it, we were out the door totally snackless and racing to the start time of our guided hike (which was canceled–note to self: call ahead even if the web site says EVERY weekend at 11 and 1).


I’ll write more about our hike in a subsequent post, but wanted to share (confess?) what we did after hiking. We went for lunch at a fast food joint. Now it was better in quality than McDonald’s, but it was still fast food. I’m not a french fry hater, or even a “parents who choose fast food” judger, but I do not enjoy eating fried foods after savoring a healthy dose of nature. Plus, I don’t want to grow the expectation for the kids that after hiking, we eat cheeseburgers and chocolate custard.

A tiny bit of planning would’ve saved me the time and expense (better-than-McD’s fast food is also pretty spendy–$25 spendy for four people, in fact). In a pinch, I always have Nature Valley Granola bars on hand, and with three boys, I buy apples by the bag. We usually have raisins or Craisins on hand, and bringing some peanut butter to go with the apples would’ve gone over really well. Just a few minutes to either gather these essentials or stop at a store en route and toss ‘em in a day pack or tote bag. Next time, I’ll do better.

Please share your ideas for tote-able food. What do you like to eat during and after a hike, or any time while on the go with your kids?


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Take an Autumn Hike


Not everyone has a distinct change of seasons like us lucky Midwesterners. But if you live in a region on our side of the globe where the leaves change color as the days grow shorter, don’t miss an opportunity to take in some fresh air, sunshine, and eye candy with an autumn hike.

What’s different about hiking in fall vs. other seasons? I’d say the gear you need is about the same as spring, with perhaps a lower chance of getting rained on. Taking my decidedly Midwestern bias into account, here are some tips for how to prepare for your next autumn hike:


–Bring Water (& maybe also snacks). Even with the temps dipping, you should bring water along while hiking (unless you’re taking a short stroll or walk as opposed to a longer, more challenging hike). Why? As I’ve written before, dehydration is a serious concern on the trail for both kids and grown-ups alike. In hot weather, it leaves you vulnerable to heat stroke, and in cooler temps, hypothermia. One of my rules for hiking is “hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” and in this case, why open the door to a more serious health risk when carrying water is a simple preventative measure? If you’ll be hiking for a long(ish) period of time, bring a snack or even pack a picnic in your backpacks–just be sure to pack out all of your trash (check the area where you’re hiking for rules & regulations; in ecologically sensitive areas, that apple core might do more harm than good). We love Nature Valley Granola Bars, mini bagels, and apples for hiking snacks–all keep well. They even make individual packs of peanut butter that add a little protein to your trailside snackage.


–Dress in Layers. Don’t roll your eyes! I know every guide to hiking mentions this, but some things bear repeating. Spring and fall pretty much require that we dress in layers on the trail to keep from overheating or developing hypothermia. I remember hiking a forest preserve trail near my parents’ suburban Chicago home in September; we wore shorts and t-shirts and left our jackets in the car. The hike started out in the sunny 70s and dropped into the windy 40s by the time we were done an hour later. Had we brought even windbreakers, we wouldn’t have suffered as much as we did; thankfully the hike was short and we didn’t develop hypothermia.

What exactly does “dress in layers” mean? This is a tricky time of year, where neither shorts nor long underwear really fit the bill. Here’s a basic guide to dressing in layers from REI.com’s Expert Advice section. For autumn, you’ll probably want warmer layers like a fleece vest, and a windbreaker of some sort because this time of year can get gusty. I always pack rain ponchos for the family, too.


–Exercise Your Leave No Trace Ethic. Kids watch everything we do, and if we wander off-trail (potentially trampling delicate foliage) or casually discard that granola bar wrapper, we’re giving our kids tacit approval to do the same. The expression, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is a good one; just be sure those footprints remain on trail.

Really, these tips are simply good common sense prep for just about any hike, with some additional mind paid to quick shifts in weather and temps. So what are you waiting for? Pack up the kids and head out for some fresh air and sunshine! Don’t forget to come back and share stories and photos of your latest fall hiking adventures–post links in the comments section.

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