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Zero Waste Hiking Snacks
A recipe for homemade bars, how to manage leftover pizza, recycling tips, and more!

If you’re anything like us, a major highlight of any outdoor adventure is the opportunity for a good snack to be eaten along the way. While we don’t discriminate between trail foods based on tradition—summit pizza? dawn patrol quesadillas? been there, done that—we do always encourage low- or zero-waste snack options wherever possible.

Bars, with their crinkly thin wrappers, can be one of the most difficult snacks to deal with when trying to minimize waste. Most bar wrappers are not accepted by conventional recycling operations, like the American Recycling Center, as bar wrappers are automatically considered contaminated due to their prolonged contact with food and oils and flimsy disposition. Like plastic bags, however, not all hope is lost—it’s possible to collect and recycle them properly (more details below) but that can be time consuming and take up valuable storage space.

One easier solution? Make your own bars at home! Then use cloth, reusable bags, or tupperware to wrap ‘em up so they’re ready for munching on the trail. You’ll cut down packaging and production waste, save yourself money, and spend quality time investing in the health of your body and the planet.

This recipe was adapted from Minimalist Baker’s “Healthy Five-Ingredient Granola Bars” recipe. Surprise, this batch is made with six ingredients! (Trust us, it’s worth it.) Follow these instructions to make your own chewy (but still crunchy!), sweet (but not too sweet!) homemade granola bars. What to expect? Think: a KIND bar marries a Cliff Bar, then gets a gorgeous, all-natural makeover with sustainable materials.

Overview: After just 15 minutes of prep time and 15 minutes of cooling, you’ll have a batch of (at least) 12 dense granola bars to fuel your next adventure. The hardest part is the wait!

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup Oats
  • ¾ cup Almonds (or a nut of choice: walnuts, cashews, peanuts, etc.)
  • 1 cup Dates
  • ¼ cup Maple syrup
  • ¼ cup Almond butter
  • ⅓ cup Dried cherries (or fruit of choice: dried strawberries, cranberries, etc.)

Tools/Kitchen items needed

  • Oven, baking sheet
  • Food processor or blender
  • Small saucepan
  • Mixing bowl and spoon
  • 8×8 pan/rimmed baking sheet/tray
  • Parchment paper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F), then coat baking sheet with oats and nuts. Toast for 11-13 minutes, or until oats turn golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile, add dates to food processor or blender. Mix on high speed 2-3 minutes, or until a sticky paste forms.
  3. In small saucepan, add maple syrup and almond butter. Melt on low-medium heat until thoroughly mixed, about 5 minutes.
  4. To a large mixing bowl, combine toasted oats and nuts, date paste, and melted syrup/almond butter. Add in dried cherries. Mix until everything integrates, especially the date paste.
  5. Line 8×8 rimmed sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Spread bar mixture onto sheet and pat it down flat, evening the mix between all four corners.
  7. Place sheet in fridge for 30 minutes, or until completely cool.
  8. Once cool/solidified, remove the slab of bar mixture from the pan, place on a hard surface, and cut bars according to your size preference.

Pro tips for prep and execution: 

  • Buy oats, nuts, and dried fruit in bulk. Use your own containers in the bulk section at your local grocer (weigh your empty jars/bags before filling them up and ask cashiers to deduct the weight from your purchase!)—this’ll help save even more packaging.
  • If your dates are feeling dry, try soaking them in warm water for a few minutes before blending/pureeing them.
  • Substitute anything you want to make these bars a creation of your own! Some ideas: add chocolate chips, swap multiple nut varieties, use honey instead of maple syrup, put a white chocolate drizzle on top… the possibilities are endless, and surely delicious.

Pro tips for storage and trail time:

We’re here to say: Leftovers belong on the trail! There are many ways to store and transport batch after batch of homemade food. Why not carry the rest of that pizza or burger or muffin and eat it with a view? Buy trailmixes or savory snacks in bulk, and portion out adventure-worthy amounts each day you hit the trail. Reusable and washable wraps and containers can last for years, eliminating loads of waste and reducing the likelihood of accidental littering.

  • Stasher Bags, a collection of reusable silicone bags, are popular among all sorts of households, thanks to properties that make them: dishwasher, freezer, and microwave safe. Made with premium, non-toxic silicone, these bags are meant for all sorts of adventures, on and off the trail.

    photo cred: Birch Malotky

  • Cloth wraps do good work!

    photo cred: Birch Malotky

    • Wyoming-based eco-conscious climber Birch Malotky swears by a set of cloth food wraps that her mom made for everyone in the family last year during the holidays (like those featured in this DIY tutorial). “These cloth wraps are perfect for anything from sandwiches and wraps to trail mix, fruits and veggies, or even crackers with charcuterie,” she says. “Their strength is a ripstop-nylon interior that manages to protect the rest of your bag from stray mayonnaise or jelly, while being easy to throw in a washing machine for a thorough and easy cleaning. Just fold up your food bundle and close it with a long strip of velcro that allows the wrap to expand with your appetite.”
    • Popular wax-based storage options include Bee’s Wrap, an organic cotton cloth infused with beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. These are great alternatives to plastic wrap, and great for foods that’ll be consumed in bits and pieces over time.
  • If you’re trying to go ultralight…. newsflash! Ziplock bags are washable! And when they’re well taken care of, Ziplock bags can last for months. For best results, wash gently after each use and dry inside-out to ensure no moisture residue remains.

If you can’t swing homemade trail delicacies this go-around, don’t stress. There are a few snack options with recycling-friendly packaging programs, thanks to TerraCycle’s free recycling hub. TerraCycle has partnered with the following brands (and many more) to provide ways to recycle traditionally difficult packaging wastes: Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House freeze-dried breakfasts and dinners; most Clif Bar products; Calbee’s crunchy snacks (like Harvest Snaps); Lundberg Family Farms and their rice cakes and other rice-based products, Simple Truth’s dried fruits, nuts, and crackers; and GU Energy Lab products.

Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.