There is a seemingly endless supply of energy and granola-type bars with the word “meal replacement” gracing their wrapper. Those needing meal replacement bars in the backcountry, however, need more than just another filling bar made for dieting. In particular, those living out of a backpack also need a bar with quality calories to keep them fueled, but not at the expense of eating something that tastes like your niece's mud pie she made you from the playground.
To truly be a meal replacement bar for backcountry trips, we established these 3 criteria. First, the bar should contain more than 350 calories per wrapper. There are a ton of bars in the 250-300 calorie range that we feel simply fall short of replacing any of the 3 square meals. Secondly, it must taste decent. While this is relatively subjective, basically it cannot have a chalky texture, be too sweet or too savory, and has to be something you won’t hate after eating them 5 days in a row. Lastly, these bars need to have some quality calories for backpacking applications. While one could argue a King Size Snickers bar is a great addition in the backcountry, we also don’t want something that is going to cause spikes in blood sugar levels or rot out your teeth, especially when backpackers are known to skip a brushing now and then.
Without further ado, here are our picks for 6 real meal replacement bars.
PROBAR sets the standard for real meal replacement bars with their line of Meal bars. They are made mostly of oats, fruits, nuts, and seeds to deliver fuel in a great tasting bar. Their Superfood Slam, one of their best sellers, contains healthy-for-you ingredients like wheatgrass and acai powder, but it sure doesn’t taste like it. It hits our threshold of 350 exactly. The great thing about PROBAR is that you can find them in virtually every REI, many Safeways, Albertsons, Sportsman’s Warehouses, Natural Grocers and other retail chains we are all familiar with.
Check them out at theprobar.com
Greenbelly’s founder, Chris Cage, brought these bars onto the scene in 2014 as using all-natural ingredients and truly providing one-third of your daily nutritional value in a bar. That’s 33% of your total suggested intake of fat, carbs, sodium, protein, and fiber. The Meal2Go bars don’t mess around, each containing AT LEAST 640 calories per bar. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.
The bag they come in resealable bags and with pre-marked lines in the bars so you can choose whether to eat some or all of your Greenbelly at a time. The biggest downside is they are a little thicker than your average granola bar, so Greenbellys should be eaten with some extra water readily available. That said, they still taste great. As Backcountry Fuel Box founder, Cody Rich puts it, “heck, I’ll even eat these for lunch at the office if I’m feeling short on time.”
Starting at 350 calories per bar, Sans Meal Bars are closer in size to the PROBARs but boast nearly the same amount of protein per bar as a Greenbelly Meal2Go all while keeping their product to a simple 10 ingredients. It’s sans all the other junk that is sometimes put in meal replacement bars, get it? The PB+J bar is a nostalgic replacement to the old sandwiches that would get smushed in backpacks and is one of our favorites.>
While their bars are excellent, their mission is great, too. Sans Meal Bars came on the scene in 2018 with a goal to tackle “two of the greatest problems facing humanity today: the prevalence of unnatural, harmful foods in our diet and worldwide hunger.” Every pack of bars purchased delivers a meal to someone in need.
Like purchasing from folks with a good product and good cause? Check out Sans Meal Bar at sansmealbar.com
Big Sur Bars are freshly baked, usually within a day or two to accommodate your orders. As such, they only have a shelf-life of 7 days, so you should keep them in the freezer until you need them for your trip. That, however, is pretty much the only downside to these delicious full-meal replacement bars.
While the packaging recommends a serving size of one-third of the package, there are three 200 calorie servings in these bars totaling 600 calories that normally get wolfed down all at once. They have an oat and flour base with almonds, pecans, coconut, raisins, and chocolate chips on top that all kind of reminds you of a coffee cake, but better. It’s a preferred breakfast replacement for Jaden at Backcountry Fuel Box.
The newest product on this list, CRKT Meal Replacement bars by Dalaya Cricket Farms out of New York just recently came to market in the summer of 2019. Though most folks are still turned off by the idea of a cricket-based food, these bars are the real deal with 800 calories per bar. For the ounce counting backcountry adventurers looking for the most calories and nutrition in one package, these are for you. They are made out of cricket powder, peanut butter, almonds, honey, dates, oats, and various seeds in a fairly large bar. LIke the Greenbelly Meal2Go, you can reseal your package if you can’t finish it all at once, though most folks will after a long day of backpacking. Peanut butter fans will especially enjoy these true meal replacement bars, as well.
These bars are only being offered on their website where you have to buy them in packs of two, but for an incredibly nutrient-dense and ultra-sustainable bar, they are well worth it. If you can’t get past the fact they are made from crickets, we understand it’s a weird idea, but once you try one you’ll recognize there are no signs in flavor or texture it once was a creepy-crawly.
While more shaped like a disc than a bar, Protein Pucks make the cut for their incredible taste, 500 calories per package, and high-quality ingredients. Based primarily on various nuts and seeds and high-fat nut butter, Protein Pucks have a fairly lengthy shelf life, rarely fall apart in your pack, and are over 155 calories per ounce. If you're trying to keep pack weight down, definitely consider stocking up some of their 4 flavors of Protein Pucks.
Less-Than 350 Calorie Bars
Let’s say your favorite bar is less than 350 calories, but you still want to use it as a meal replacement bar in the backcountry because you just love the flavor or price, or any number of factors. For instance, a favorite from the Backcountry Fuel Box was Tahoe Trail Bars. Unfortunately, at 260 calories in their peanut butter chocolate bar, it falls short of making the cut for this list.
One can easily add a Justin’s Almond Butter packet, or any other of the numerous nut-butter packets on top of your bars to bring it to that true meal replacement threshold. Generally, single-serving almond or cashew butter packets offer 200 calories to any snack and are a great addition for your pack. Unfortunately, adding that pack of butter generally brings your price over that of one of the aforementioned bars, but for some, it’s the perfect flavor combo to keep you fueled in the backcountry.
These real meal replacement bars are excellent fuel for the backcountry, but it is worth noting some of these may not be the best choice if you are watching your calorie count at the office since they tend to be high in fat, carbs, and overall calories. However, when you’re in need of a true meal replacement bar to put in your backpack, order up some of these and you will be a happy camper.