by Diane Spicer
Meet Hiking For Her’s Diane
Best backpacking nuts for your brain?
Wise food choices for the trail?
As if you don’t have enough decisions to make for a backpacking trip!
- Tent, sleeping bag, stove, extra socks, hydration options, trail footwear … and now you have to agonize over what kind of nuts to eat?
In a tireless effort to make your life easier, Hiking For Her dug into the medical literature and found six of the best backpacking nuts for you to include in your hiking menus to keep you a smart, healthy hiker.
And I promise to skip the obvious nutty jokes (or maybe not).
Let’s get crackin’…
Why bother figuring out the
best backpacking nuts?
A recent research study looked at the connection between brain functions and nuts in your diet – something no one else is talking about (yet).
According to its results, a firm connection between eating nuts (and their antioxidants) and brain health exists.
Backpackers face a myriad of decisions every day on the trail.
Therefore, strong cognition and memory makes life not only easier, but safer.
- How handy for hikers!
- Nuts are lightweight, compact, and widely available.
If a delicious, nutritious handful of nuts can affect your brain activity in a positive way, and you’re not including them in your backpacking menus, why ever not?
Dive into the research details yourself
Here’s the full title:
and Brain Health: Nuts Increase EEG Power Spectral Density
(μV&[sup2]) for Delta Frequency (1–3Hz) and Gamma Frequency
(31–40 Hz) Associated with Deep Meditation, Empathy,
Healing, as well as Neural Synchronization, Enhanced Cognitive
Recall, and Memory All Beneficial For Brain Health
Or continue to read my nutty summary here.
Note: Reading the original article will give you the details you
need to determine whether or not the results are credible to you.
summary presented here relies upon the researchers’ own interpretations of data.
Skip this section unless you need a cheat sheet of the definitions you’ll need to understand why I’m using the research to recommend the best backpacking nuts for your improved cognition and memory:
- Flavonoids: big water soluble molecules, grouped into six subcategories you may have heard of, such as isoflavonoids and anthocyanins.
- Antioxidant: This is the health property of flavonoids we care about here: fighting oxygen free radicals (anti-inflammatory actions) generated in the body while we hike
- Hippocampus: the area of your brain which takes the lead role for learning and memory, and the focus of this research
- Neurogenesis: enhancement of circulation to neurons to stimulate production of new neurons (something that wasn’t thought possible not too long ago)
- Delta waves: electrical waves recorded during periods of non-REM (deep) sleep; have been linked with normal immune system functioning
- Gamma waves: electrical activity associated with information processing & retention, along with perception. They are also present in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): a device which measures and records those waves
What the research found
There is a relationship between antioxidant concentrations in nuts and brain wave modulation.
In other words, including nuts in your backpacking diet can impact the activity of your brain in a positive way.
But not all nuts are equal.
You’re probably wondering which nuts to bring backpacking or on a day hike, right?
Best backpacking nuts:
your top six choices
Let’s look at the top choices for your backpacking menus, and call out why they’re a great idea to enjoy along the trail.
Besides being lightweight and nutrient dense, delicious and satisfying, that is.
We’re going for science here, right?
Okay, you caught me: peanuts are legumes, not nuts.
Let’s just go with it, based on the fact that the strongest EEG delta response and peanuts were associated in the study findings.
- In other words, they’re useful for keeping your immune system humming along regardless of all that trail dirt you’re eating and playing in!
Why is that important?
You’re surrounded by trail dirt, you’re drinking surface water that contains new microorganisms which can challenge your immune cells, and you’re tired.
Sounds like a great recipe for getting sick, so put the power of peanuts to work for you.
In other words, harness peanuts as the best backpacking nuts.
Sweeten the deal with a little honey roasting!
The highest levels of both gamma and delta waves were associated with pecans.
- Yet pecans came in second in the race for highest amounts of antioxidants (walnuts won; cashews tied for second place with pecans).
So if you’re going to choose only 1 nut as a hiking snack based on enhanced brain activity, make it pecans.
The thing to love about pecans is how satisfying they are in both mouth texture and flavor, if you chew them slowly and thoughtfully.
These tasty little trail treasures were associated with the highest level of gamma waves.
In other words, eat them for remembering map details, learning new hiking skills, and getting deep restful sleep!
- Please be a good trail citizen by NOT spitting your pistachio shells onto the trail as part of the Leave No Trace approach to hiking.
- We would all like to believe that we’re hiking through pristine spaces.
Another option is to bring shelled pistachios, and that’s a great idea if you can sternly limit your portions!
Maybe bag them separately for each trail day?
Walnuts had the highest concentration of antioxidants of all 6 types of nuts compared in this study.
So if you’re going for all around cardiovascular and brain health, as well as a satisfying hiking snack, these are your best bet.
- Lots more info on the best antioxidants for hikers here
Walnuts have also been called “brain food”, making them a great choice for a natural trail mix containing dried unsulfured tart cherries and some pumpkin seeds.
- Now you know my favorite, but for more ideas on how to use trail mix as fuel, read this.
Tips for selecting the
best backpacking nuts
In order to deliver an abundance of their healthy fats (protective of your cardiovascular system) and antioxidants (for brain health), the best backpacking nuts have to be as fresh as possible.
Raw nuts presumably deliver the most nutritional value, because they haven’t been subjected to high heat.
However, many backpackers prefer roasted and salted nuts, not only for flavor but for electrolyte balance.
It’s up to you to decide whether raw nuts or processed nuts are best for your hiking plans.
But please, always be sure your nuts have not gone rancid.
- Rancidity: an “off” taste when oxygen molecules have broken down the lipids (fats and oils) in nuts over time
Not everyone’s taste buds will agree about what rancid nuts taste like.
- That’s why shelf life (expiration date) is a good bench mark to use instead.
While consuming rancid nuts won’t harm you (good to know in a prolonged survival situation), they won’t give you heaps of beneficial lipids per mouthful, either.
So strive to exclude rancid nuts from your backpacking food choices.
- Shop in stores or from vendors with high turnover rates.
- If using bulk bin nuts, be sure each bin is well protected from prolonged content with the air (oxygen).
Some storage tips
for the best backpacking nuts
Once you purchase your fresh, high quality nuts, store them tightly wrapped or sealed in your freezer until it’s time to hit the trail.
- When the expiration date is approaching, grind the nuts into a tasty batch of nut butter and eat it within a week or so.
the trail, keep nuts separate from other foods in a tightly closed container or plastic bag.
less exposure to oxygen (air), the longer they will remain fresh and
- You don’t want to pick up extraneous odors from other foods.
- And you don’t want them within easy reach, because it’s quite tempting to grab a handful and unwittingly deplete your food supply.
Tips for adding
the best backpacking nuts
to your hiking menu
Trail mix leaps to mind, but come on, we can be more creative than that!
Trader Joe’s has done most of the work for us, offering good quality nuts at fair prices.
Pecans rarely show up on the trail, in mix or otherwise, but why not bring some along on your next hike for the reasons mentioned above?
Prefer a sweeter yet still nutty experience?
As with all nuts, a handful or two goes a long, long way toward getting you filled up with brain boosting antioxidants.
- Pace yourself, even though you’re eating the best backpacking nuts – just like on the trail.
There’s something special about chewing cashews.
They feel, and taste, creamy and rich and like so much more than they are. That’s one good reason they can become the best backpacking nuts in your food sack.
Raw cashews are so satisfying.
But then there’s roasting and salting to satisfy cravings!
Cashews never fail to delight the taste buds, and that’s not a small thing on a long backpacking trek.
Why not accomplish a double dose of antioxidants, with these dark chocolate covered almonds?
These make a great dessert on a day when all you want to do is eat and then crawl into your sleeping bag with your last ounce of strength (go ahead, ask me how I know).
- More hiking chocolate options here.
Raw walnuts make a great brain boosting trail snack when paired with tart cherries, as I noted above.
The combination of differing tastes and textures provides an interesting and satisfying treat.
- My favorite source for tart cherries is Eden, because they’re sweetened with organic apple juice and also supply potassium, which can be depleted on a backpacking trip.
The final word on the
best backpacking nuts
Let’s invite one of the researchers, Dr. Lee Berk, to have the final word on eating nuts as a hiker:
“This study provides significant beneficial findings by demonstrating
that nuts are as good for your brain as they are for the rest of your
And we can’t overlook an added bonus: a reasonable quantity of high quality nuts enjoyed each day will safeguard your cardiovascular health.
- As hikers, we’re all about keeping our heart and blood vessels healthy so we can keep hiking forever.
Add in other backpacking treats which are high in flavonoids, such as green tea, and who knows how long you’ll keep hiking!
- The best backpacking tea is covered here.
You now have permission to stop reading and go find the best nuts for your next snack or backpacking trip!
- As you munch, why not take a look at more of the best backpacking food ideas here!
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Best Backpacking Nuts