Checking the salt content on a nutrition label is often one of your first steps when deciding which foods to take with you for hiking. Salt has many vital functions in our body, such as aiding muscle contraction and balancing water levels.
Why a higher salt amount intake is essential when hiking?
When it comes to hitting the trails, a higher salt intake is not just good – it’s an absolute necessity.
Hiking is a physically demanding activity. Your muscles labor diligently to assist you as you make strides toward your aspirations. As a result of their strenuous efforts, an abundance of heat is produced which necessitates the body’s cooling system – sweat. The more rigorous the work and the more extreme the outside temperatures are, a greater amount of perspiration will be generated – and with it – a higher salt loss rate.
Additionally, when reaching greater altitudes, there is less oxygen available to breathe. This can cause your lungs to work harder and faster in order to supply sufficient oxygen for your body. With each labored breath comes water loss due to the exhaled air – resulting in a heightened need for hydration and electrolytes (i.e., salt).
The best way to stay healthy is always through prevention. Eating salty foods and drinking a salt-infused sports drink can replenish lost sodium levels, while also keeping hydration levels in check.
It is estimated that on average people expel around 800 mg of salt when they lose two pounds (or a quart) of sweat. Some individuals, however, are ‘salty sweaters’ and produce significantly more regardless if they’re fit or acclimatized to higher temperatures. (If you’re one such salty sweater then it’s likely your clothing will appear with white stains from salt deposits.). “Salty sweaters”, when exercising for extended periods, can suffer from heat-related muscle cramps and may be more prone to developing these cramps when their lost body salts aren’t replenished.
Best Salty Hiking Snacks
To satisfy your craving for a delicious, energy-sustaining snack while trekking the great outdoors, here is my highly subjective list of favorites:
With the delicious salty flavor and their pure carbohydrate content, pretzels make an ideal snack – except for one issue. It’s all too simple to have them reduced to a pile of crumbs in your bag!
With their salty taste, high fat and protein content, there’s no denying the popularity of nuts as hiking snacks.
My absolute favorites are trail mixes! They can include anything you want – peanuts, chocolate, raisins, fruits… If there’s not a trail mix specifically made for your combination of ingredients then make your own unique blend
Granola is often likened to a kind of grain-based trail mix, with an array of versions including oats, nuts or seeds and something sweet such as chocolate chips or dried fruit. It’s a powerhouse snack that can provide you with quick sugars and complex carbohydrates for sustained energy throughout the day.
For a delicious, on-the-go mini meal, add some peanut butter or cheese spread to these salty snacks – just make sure to keep them at the top of your bag so they don’t get crushed.
When it comes to packable and shelf-stable meat snacks, beef jerky stands out from the crowd. Packed with protein, fat, and salt for sustained energy, this delicious alternative to carb-heavy hiking snacks is a great option for your backpacking trips.
Optimal levels of salt intake when hiking
As a nutrition nerd myself, I understand the urge for guidance on this topic. However, considering our unique biology and all of the variables at play in any particular situation, it is extremely difficult to settle upon one definitive number.
However, with the many factors to consider, it’s wise to aim for an intake of more than 2,300mg/day when stepping out into remote areas.
Salt Tablets instead of salty snacks?
When going for a hike in the scorching sun, you should NEVER forget about salt loss. Taking salt tablets instead of consuming salty food may seem like an easy choice but it is not recommended since it can really hinder your experience and make you sick. High concentrations of sodium present in such tablets put you at risk to suffer from *Hypernatremia and can irritate your stomach lining. Therefore, always remember that when replacing minerals lost due to sweat or urine, the best approach is always eating healthy foods with natural salts!
*Hypernatremia is a medical condition where the sodium content of your blood becomes dangerously elevated and can range from mild to life-threatening. Its symptoms include muscular spasms, irritability, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, brain hemorrhaging and even death. Keep in mind that tablets which replace salt lack the essential calories required for prolonged exertion or activity – you’ll need to acquire those elsewhere!
Additionally, snacking stimulates thirst and thus encourages you to consume water. This is an efficient way of maintaining equilibrium between sodium and water concentrations in cells.
What to consider when choosing hiking snacks
When packing your knapsack for a hike, make sure you have the right snacks! Not all hiking snacks are equal; there are some key points to remember before embarking on your journey.
Although you may not feel the same immediate rush of energy as with sports like squash or wrestling, hiking demands equal amounts of physical power and stamina. Thus, it is recommended to bring snacks that are calorie-dense. This idea holds especially true if you’re taking part in an extended or backpacking journey. Opt for items with dense nutrition (protein bars) and those high in fat content (nuts).
In addition, think about munching on snacks with a high glycemic index. The ‘glycemic index’ evaluates the capability of certain foods to spike your blood sugar levels. Food is considered to be low glycemic if it gradually increases one’s glucose level (ex: sweet potato) while food that quickly raises said levels is categorized as having a high glycemic value (i.e dates).
When my energy levels start to sag, like when it’s sweltering hot with one challenging climb left up the mountain, I love having a snack of high glycemic index. Dates, dried pineapple and mango are some of my favourites for this purpose; as they give me an immediate surge in blood sugar that provides the fuel required to reach the summit.
Although sugary drinks and candy bars can give you a quick energy spike, remember that the nutritional value of your hiking snacks are far more important. While vitamins and minerals may not have an immediate impact on how well you perform during your hike, they will help to boost your overall health in the long run which will undoubtedly contribute to feeling great for future hikes too!
When you are going on a full-day hike or backpacking trip, the weight of your snacks is significant. Therefore, it’s essential to consider how many calories each item will provide in proportion to its weight.
Don’t forget to bring delicious snacks that you truly love on your hike. Once you’re halfway up the mountain and have nothing enjoyable to eat, it could be quite disappointing! I personally enjoy bringing beef jerky, cheese or crackers since they are both incredibly tasty treats and provide me with energy for the journey.