Hiking can be as casual or as strenuous as you like, but whether you’re doing a 3-mile loop around a relatively flat lake or a 12-mile uphill mountain jaunt, it’s always nice to have some snacks to help refuel. Trail mix is a classic choice, yet if you’re looking for something a little different, try easy no-bake energy balls. They’re protein-rich, usually vegan and often gluten free, relatively low in sugar, and totally adaptable to your favorite tastes.
Plus, they’re a cinch to whip up; while some recipes do call for a food processor, many energy bites require only one bowl. You can use any recipe as more of a guide and switch it up based on what you have or what you prefer to eat, but the basic parts are as follows.
Nut or Seed Butter
Natural peanut butter and almond butter are top picks, but you can use any nut butter you like, or sunflower seed butter. They pack in a lot of protein and help hold everything else together. Depending on the thickness of your nut or seed butter, you may need to add more oats to the mix to make your balls the right consistency (i.e. not too stiff, not too sticky or sloppy, kind of like cookie dough). If your butter isn’t quite runny enough, you can add a little melted coconut oil to loosen things up.
Oats or Oat Alternatives
Oats are the most common binder in energy balls; if you need them to be gluten free, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oats are a good choice. You’ll also find energy balls made with almond meal, quinoa, puffed rice cereal, and other gluten-free oat alternatives.
Some energy balls depend on dates (or ripe bananas) for both sweetening and binding purposes, but usually, you’ll mix in a liquid sweetener like honey or maple syrup. If you want to sub in agave or liquid stevia, use less than what the recipe calls for and taste before adding more, since they’re both sweeter than honey and maple syrup.
Fruit and Other Mix-Ins
This is the really fun part. You can mix in all sorts of chewy or crunchy things for more flavor and texture, like toasted nuts, shredded coconut, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
You can also mix in additional flavor via ground spices, instant coffee, vanilla or almond extract, or finely grated citrus zest. And/or you can roll your energy balls in a fine coating like flavored protein powder, cocoa, or shredded toasted coconut.
A Few Tips
Using a cookie scoop to portion the balls helps compact everything into nice dense bites and ensures even sizing. Slightly damp hands make rolling each ball a bit less sticky and messy, and refrigerating them on parchment-lined sheets to firm up prevents them from sticking to the pan. (If rolling a bunch of miniature balls sounds like something you don’t have time for, press the mixture into a parchment-lined 8-inch square pan and let them chill, then cut into bars or bite-size squares instead.)
Because they are pretty soft, they’re best stashed next to an ice pack on your excursion, but even if they get a little melty and slumpy, they’ll still taste great. You can make them well ahead of time if you want, as they keep for at least two weeks in the fridge (although if they contain fresh grated apple, only one), or six months in the freezer. Packing them frozen can be a great option too, since they should thaw on the way, but not too much.
Think of this as a tidier way to eat trail mix. Sunflower seeds, walnuts, peanuts, and mini M&Ms are rolled up with oats and peanut or almond butter for ultra portable snacks. You can vary the mix-ins any way you like; try raisins, puffed rice, and pretzels with a little wheat germ, or use whatever’s in your pantry. Get the recipe.
It is almost fall, but since these pumpkin pie-inspired morsels are no-bake, you can still enjoy them at the height of summer. Pumpkin puree and dates are mixed with maple syrup, pumpkin pie spices, and pecans for a healthy but cozy sweet treat. Get the recipe.
These are like bites of healthy strawberry shortcake without the mess. Vanilla bean seeds and dried strawberries are bound by cashew butter and dates, plus hemp seeds for an extra nutrition boost. Get the recipe.
Adding cocoa powder makes energy balls akin to brownies, but way healthier. These use crisped quinoa instead of oats, plus maple syrup, dates, and chocolate chips. For mocha energy bites, just add a little finely ground or instant coffee. Get the recipe.
Dried blueberries, maple syrup, and vanilla make these taste like blueberry muffins, but the only butter here is made from almonds, so they’re far better for you. These are just as good for an on-the-go breakfast as they are for snacking and powering hikes. Get the recipe.
Dried mango and shredded coconut give tropical flair to these energy balls, with a shot of turmeric for golden color, health benefits, and intriguing extra layer of flavor. Get the recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Apple Pie Energy Bites
Header image courtesy of Simple as That.