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Grab-'n'-Go Fuel

A taste test of energy bars for hikers who want a quick, healthy, flavorful boost to get them up the next hill.

By Michele Morris, July 2001

In the days of yore (that would be the 1980s), energy bars tasted like something you'd feed your gerbil.

Today's pocket-friendly fuel, however, not only resembles real food, but often comes packed with enough vitamins, minerals, and designer proteins to make even your mother happy. But no matter how good it looks, or how good it is for you, the question remains: Will it make your taste buds do a two-step at the top of a long, dusty switchback?

Energy bars now run the gamut from soft and chewy to hard and crunchy to soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Some taste like cereal, candy, carrot cake, or fine coffee from the espresso shop.

To help you choose from the ever-growing energy-bar selections, BACKPACKER'S staff is field-testing every bar we can wrap our lips around. We threw in two of our favorite candies, M&M's and Snickers, for comparison. Check back here for ongoing updates. E-mail the name of your favorite bar to and we'll put it to the taste test.

Flavor Ratings:
3-Move over, Snickers!
2-It's good, but are the extra vitamins worth the price?
1-Gimme a 50-cent candy bar.

Brand Price* Flavor tested BP taste rating Calories Fat (g) Carbs (g) Protein (g)
$1.59; $22.35 for a box of 15

Comments: Balance Bars have a sweet coating on the outside and are soft, dense, and cakelike on the inside. Each bar adheres to a 40:30:30 ratio of carbs, protein, and fat for sustained energy and contains 21 vitamins and minerals.
Chocolate 1. This flavor is dry and grainy, like cocoa eaten straight from the can. 200 22 14
Yogurt Honey Peanut 2. The tangy yogurt flavor and crunchy nuts are good, but the dry texture demands a big gulp of water to wash it down with. 200 22 14
Balance Gold
$1.65; $22.35 for a box of 15
Comments: You get 21 essential vitamins and minerals in this bar.
Carmel Nut Blast 3. The three layers of this bar-caramel, peanuts, and a chocolate coating-make it taste like a more healthful Baby Ruth bar. 210 23 15
Balance Plus
$1.59; $22.35 for a box of 15
Comments: With a coating on the outside and a moist, granular inside, this bar has the same nutrient ratio as the original Balance Bar, plus added herbs (like ginseng), antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene.
Honey Peanut Plus Ginseng 3. Like a candy bar made with natural peanut butter, this flavor has a yummy peanut taste. 210 22 14
Bear Valley Pemmican
(800) 969-6199
$1.49 each; $13.50 for a box of 12

Comments: This is a very dense, somewhat dry, cakelike concentrated food bar that provides all eight essential amino acids.
Fruit 'N Nut 3. Eating this bar is like eating a really dense piece of cake. The nuts add substantial crunchiness. Testers reported getting a huge energy boost from it. 420 13 59 17
Clif Bar
(800) 884-5254
$1.69 each; $14.25 for a box of 12
Comments: Crunchy and chewy, with pieces of identifiable "real food," Clif Bars are wheat- and dairy-free, contain no genetically modified soy protein, and supply you with 23 vitamins and minerals They remain chewable when frozen.
Carrot Cake 2.5. This bar's a not-so-sweet treat 240 43 10
Chocolate Brownie 3. Mmmmm, it's rich and gooey 240 41 10
Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch 2. This flavor reminds me of crunchy Skippy peanut butter with semisweet chocolate chips. 240 39 12
Cookies 'n Cream 2. This bar version lacks the richness and deep chocolate flavor of the real thing. 230 3.5 39 10
Cranberry Apple Cherry 2. This is a fruity and chewy bar. 220 44
Ginger Snap 1. The taste is bland and doesn't have the snappy flavor I expected. 230 3.5 42 10
Clif Bar Ice Series
(800) 421-1223
$1.69 each; $14.25 for a box of 12$1.19
Comments: The bars in this line are like the original Clif Bars, but have a splash of icing across the top and are supplemented with caffeine.
Chocolate Java Avalanche 3. I love the bits of chocolate chip and coffee bean in this bar. 250 43 10
Cool Mint Chocolate 3. It tastes like a peppermint patty. 250 43 10
Orange Chocolate Chill 2. This bar tastes like a dessert you'd get in a cappucino shop. 250 43 10
Gatorade Energy Bar
(800) 884-2867
$1.20 each; $15.99 for a box of 15
Comments: Gatorade's Energy Bars are crunchy and chewy. They're said to include a "blend of high- and low-glycemic carbohydrates," plus essential vitamins and minerals (including antioxidants).
Chocolate 2.5. This is a sweet bar, but it lacks chocolaty depth. 260 47
Oatmeal Raisin 2.5. It's sweet, like a sticky bun in bar form. 260 47
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip 2. Since the peanut butter flavor is barely detectable, these bars taste like cocoa-flavor Rice Krispies Treats. 260 46
Peanut Butter 2. We like the Rice Krispies-like texture and not-too-sweet taste, but the peanut butter flavor is too subtle. 260 46
(800) 806-5777
$2.40 each; $28.95 for a box of 12
Comments: There's a sweet coating on the outside, and the contents inside are dense and smooth. Each bar contains 20 vitamins and minerals and digestive enzymes for quicker absorption, but no glycerine.
Chocolate 1. The taste is okay, but inside, the bar's chalky. 190 24 20
Kashi GoLean Bars
(858) 274-8870, extension 221
$1.89 each; $20 for a box of 12

Comments: These bars' outside coatings are sweet and their insides, cakelike. Soy protein and flax make them high in fiber and protein, and they contain four essential vitamins and minerals.
Chocolate Peanut Butter 1.5. The peanut butter taste is too weak. 290 50 13
Malted Chocolate Crisp 2.5. This bar is light and chocolaty. 280 51 13
Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt 2.5. The taste is reminiscent of strawberry shortcake. 280 53 11
Vanilla Spice Cake 2.5. There's a little zing in this mildly sweet flavor. 280 47 14
(800) 884-5254
$1.79 each; $18.75 for a box of 15

Comments: None of these crispy bars will melt in hot conditions, and all are hard but edible when frozen. The brand is marketed to women, contains no genetically modified soy protein, and has 22 vitamins and minerals (including iron and calcium).
Chocolate Pecan Pie 2.5. The taste is rich, but not cloying. 180 4.5 24 10
LemonZest 3. As its name implies, the flavor is zesty and light. 180 26 10
Nutz Over Chocolate 2. This is a crispy bar with a nutty flavor. 180 4.5 24 10
S'mores 1.5. The bar pales in comparison with the real thing. 180 4.5 26 10
Toast d Nuts 'n Cranberry 2.5. The flavor is a nice blend of nutty, sweet, and tart flavors. 170 26 10
Key Lime Pie 3. Tangy, sweet, and filling, this flavor reminds us of Mom's lemon bar cookies. It's best when eaten on the trail with lots of water. 180 4.5 27 10
M&M's candies
$0.50 each
Plain 3. Chocolate rules! 220 32
PowerBar Harvest
(800) 587-6937
$1.35 each
Comments: A crunchy, "real food" alternative to the smooth, extruded PowerBar Performance bars, PowerBar Harvest bars contain whole grains and natural sweeteners and 16 essential vitamins and minerals.
Blueberry 1.5. More crunch than berry comes with this flavor. 240 45
Banana Nut Dipped In Yogurt 1. This bar's grainy texture is similar to dry banana bread. 260 45
Chocolate 2. Here you get crunchy chocolate, but it's no brownie. 240 45
Toffee Chocolate Chip 3. This bar's flavor is like a Heath candy bar, though not so sickeningly sweet. Thumbs-up for the chocolate coating. 260 45
PowerBar ProteinPlus
(800) 587-6937
$1.95 each
Comments: These smooth, extruded bars provide 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of 10 vitamins, plus 7 minerals and 24 grams of protein.
Cookies & Cream 2.5. Grab this for its candy-bar flavor and (almost) texture, which is a bit chewy and hard to swallow without a lot of water. 290 38 24
Chocolate Peanut Butter 1. With this bar, you get a slight taste of peanut butter and chocolate and a nasty plastic texture. 280 14 35
Snickers Candy Bar
$0.50 each

3. With caramel, peanuts, and chocolate, what other recommendation does it need? 280 14 35
Power Bar Performance
Comments: You get 17 vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates from brown rice and oat bran with these smooth, pliable bars.
Vanilla Crisp 2. This sweet, chewy, quick-energy bar is more functional than flavorful.
Flavor Ratings:
3-Move over, Snickers!
2-It's good, but are the extra vitamins worth the price?
1-Gimme a 50-cent candy bar.