In our daily lives we have been conditioned to think about eating a healthy balanced diet that isn’t too calorie rich. On hikes of a duration of less than a few days this is still the case. However once you start doing hikes of more than a few days in duration and start extending this to multiple weeks or even months, you need to look for calorie dense foods that provide high calorie counts but have a low weight. In fact, your food needs to provide the highest calories you can find and this is where nut butters come in.
While there are literally dozens of brands on the market, I have chosen a few that are readily available Australia wide and that also come in plastic, rather than glass, containers. Dehydrated options do exist but that’s a conversation for another article.
I appreciate there are a number of you who may have nut allergies so this article isn’t for you. But if you and you’re hiking buddies don’t have nut allergies, then read on.
In the introduction I mentioned I have selected plastic jars rather than glass. Glass is not a good option to be carrying when hiking as it runs the risk of breaking and is also heavy. Another reason for opting for plastic containers and choosing the Bega brand, is that the jars are nice and robust – some other brands use very thin plastic jars which scare me a bit.
You can buy Peanut Butter from both health food stores and supermarkets which are just ground nuts – nothing else added. These are a healthier, more natural option but for me the oil content is way too high and I find them a bit unpalatable. But give them a try to see what you think and if they suit you.
Please note that you product availability changes so if you can’t find Bega spreads other brands will generally be available.
Without a doubt Peanut Butter sits atop this category. It’s been around for as long as I can remember and rather than just coming in a single option as I remember from my childhood, you can now readily buy a number of commercially made options.
I have tried salt reduced varieties in the past but for me it’s a bit like drinking caffeine free coffee – I just don’t see the point. While the salt reduced option did grow on me, I prefer a bit of salt.
Smooth Peanut Butter
This option works well year round and even when its freezing cold, you can usually manage to spread it on wraps without tearing holes in the bread.
Calories per 100 grams weight: 619 calories or 2590 kilojoules
Taste: Peanut taste obviously and a smooth texture that provides a good balance between the solids and the liquid (oil) component.
Crunchy Peanut Butter
This option is well, crunchy and for me I like the added texture to my food. If it is very cold, you can end up tearing holes in the bread as you’re spreading. Funnily enough, this option has slightly less calories than the smooth option above.
Calories per 100 grams product: 617 calories or 2580 kilojoules
Taste: Peanut taste obviously, a relatively smooth texture but just enough crunch to make it interesting. Provides a good balance between the solids and the liquid (oil) component.
Dark Roast Peanut Butter
A newer product on the market and one that surprised me.
Calories per 100 grams product: 602 calories or 2520 kilojoules
Taste: The flavour is a bit more subtle as well as being a bit more ‘natural’. It’s actually the same ingredients as normal Peanut Butter but it’s been roasted to a higher temperature. The best way I can describe the taste is that it tastes like the skins have been left on during the production process. The ratio of oil to solids is good and this is probably my favourite peanut butter option. The downside is that it appears to only come in a 470 gram jar which is a tad on the large side for my needs. This option is also slightly lower as far as calories go but not by much.
A more ‘natural’ peanut taste obviously, a relatively smooth texture but just enough crunch to make it interesting. Provides a good balance between the solids and the liquid (oil) component.
This product has only been easily available in the past few years – you will probably need to look for it in the larger supermarkets. This one is called ‘Cashew Spread’ rather than Cashew Butter but really that’s what it is.
Calories per 100 grams product: 581 calories or 2430 kilojoules
Taste: While I can definitely taste the cashew nuts, I find the flavour a bit on the sweet side for me. When you look at the nutrition information, it is just on double the amount of sugar when compared to Peanut Butter. The texture is quite smooth with a good balance between solids and the oil component. I don’t mind this one but from a personal perspective it isn’t something that I would want to eat regularly over a few days.
This product has only been easily available in the past few years and you will probably need to look for it in the larger supermarkets. This one is labelled ‘Almond Spread’ rather than Almond Butter.
Calories per 100 grams product: 578 calories or 2420 kilojoules
Taste: For me this is my least favourite option which is interesting as I love almonds. Like the Cashew Butter, the sugar content is high when compared to Peanut Butter and there is a bit more nut texture as well as a higher oil content in this product.
It’s very much a personal thing I know but I won’t be including Almond Spread in my pack for hiking.
Nutella is the best known brand of Hazelnut Spread on the Australian market which is not surprising as the parent company, Ferrero, pretty much dominates the world hazelnut market.
Calories per 100 grams product: 533 calories or 2228 kilojoules
Taste: Unsurprisingly this product tastes like Ferrero Rocher chocolates but what you may be surprised about is that this spread only contains 135 hazelnuts. This one also has the highest sugar content of any of the spreads at around 56% so if you want an instant hit of energy, this will do it. The texture varies and in writing this article during summer time the spread was very ‘liquidy’. I have used Nutella in the middle of winter and the spread was almost solid which made it very hard to spread onto bread.
I do love Nutella and on an extended hike I include it in my pack as a smaller jar preferring this option to chocolate.
First and foremost if you are going to include nut butters in your food rotation choose those you like the taste of otherwise you will find that you just won’t eat it. For me Peanut Butter is a permanent fixture in my pack and I will use it with bread wraps for lunch, add it to my Overnight Oats Recipes for breakfast, or if I’m being lazy just eat it with a spoon. I’ll also include a small jar of Nutella as a sweet snack as well.
I realised as I was writing this article that I had arranged the order of the reviews by calorie content and this was sheer accident. Calories on short hikes really don’t matter too much but on multi-week hikes where I am travelling hard and fast and using up to 8500 calories per day (that’s calories not kilojoules), I am looking for foods that pack a big calorie punch to minimise weight loss and to minimise the weight in the pack.
You should aim to carry items that have at least 100 calories per 100 grams weight as a minimum. Nut butters are up there and while a jar of Peanut Butter may feel heavy, when you look at the calorie content the only thing that really beats it is raw nuts. I have worked out over the past five years that my ideal Peanut Butter jar is the 325 gram size which lasts me around 7-8 days before I need to resupply.