Meal Bars for On-the-Go Energy

The eating experience ebbs and flows. There are times in life when there’s no better feeling than sitting down for a luxurious meal. Every bite tastes like a slice of heaven on Earth melting in your mouth, and you take your sweet time with each swallow in a desperate effort to make the flavors last just a bit longer. Triple truffle mac-and-cheese, take me now.

And then there are times when eating is the last thing you want to be doing. The high-octane lifestyles of those who live on the go make this a frustratingly common occurrence. Excitement or stress override your hunger cues to the point where you might as well be chewing on dog food no matter what’s on your plate. Or maybe there aren’t enough hours in the day or limbs on your body to get in your three squares.

But none of those are good reasons for skimping on the calories. Busy travelers and active adventurers require more energy than most. The stakes of running out of energy get higher, too, as your plans grow grander. Keep up with your nutritional needs or bonk at the worst possible moment—in the middle of a distant backcountry tour, three pitches up on El Cap, behind the wheel with hours left to go—and it’s not only disappointing, it’s dangerous. Don’t let poor judgment sabotage your dreams or your safety.

Here’s the thing: eating doesn’t always have to be glamorous. Save the five-course meal for your birthday and focus on convenient fuel. Density is your best friend. Meal bars packed with calories and nutrients make for a smart way to stave off hanger so you can put that brainspace to better use. Just a few bites can carry you through hours of activity.

But before you gag, get the chalky taste of those army surplus bricks out of your mouth. Meal bars have come a long way since the days of emergency rations. We’ve rounded up eight options that make convenience taste delicious. And not in the same ol’ peanut-butter-chocolate-chip kind of way. I love a classic Reese’s Cup as much as the next person, but that combo gets old fast. We can do better. Let’s avoid flavor fatigue with unique medleys like Cap-Haitien Mango, Molasses and Ginger, Strawberry Coconut, Orange Zest, Dark Chocolate Pink Himalayan Salt, and Peanut Apricot instead.

There’s no need to worry about the repercussions of chowing down on glorified candy bars, either. Each of these bars offers a balance of the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats you need for holistic health. You’d be able to find every single one of the ingredients in these bars on the shelves of your local grocery store. This way, though, you don’t have to.

Reach for a bar on this list when you’re short on time, space, or appetite, but you can’t risk letting the tank run dry. Don’t let the “meal” title hold you back—consider these bars as anytime fuel. That could mean anything from a grab-and-go breakfast on your way out the door to a respectable mid-afternoon snack on the side of the trail. With the kind of energy debt you probably rack up, who’s to draw the line between a meal and a snack anyway? Let your stomach make the rules. These power-packed bars for busy travelers are here to power your adventures anytime, anyplace, anyhow.

Note: We’ve included specs on calorie counts and macronutrient amounts to help you pick the best bar for your needs. Calories and carbs are energy, not the enemy. You’ll notice that many of these bars are high in both for that reason. Bars on the upper end of the spectrum will provide you with more energy for long, high-output days; bars on the lower end will help carry you through more moderate activities. Choose accordingly.

Range Bar

Best Flavor Molasses, Ginger, Sea Salt | Calories 700 per bar

Macros 94 grams/carbs, 16 grams/protein, 28 grams/fat

Range Bars are the quintessential condensed meal. It’s obvious from merely holding it in your hand that these bars pack a serious punch. They’re as dense as an old-fashioned paperweight, and I had trouble eating more than a few bites at once. That’s not a bad thing. If I had to choose one bar to bring with me into the Zombie Apocalypse, it’d be this one. Trust these heavy hitters to tide you over for hours on end—and that’s coming from someone with the lightning-fast metabolism of a hummingbird. When it comes to bang for your buck, you can’t do much better than 700 calories packed into a 3 x 2-inch brick slim enough to slide into any pocket for under $6.

Founder Zach Hein first concocted his Range Bars as a way to power him through everything, from long days on campus to big weekends in the Montana mountains. He needed something he could rely on to fuel both his body and his brain on a daily basis. With that in mind, Range Bars do not try to put on airs. They aren’t sickeningly sweet or overly complex. Each of the two flavors—Molasses, Ginger, Sea Salt and Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Coffee—tastes refreshingly subtle compared to what you might expect out of such a hefty bar. Strong flavors have their place, but the simplicity of Range’s bars makes them a staple.

$35/pack of 6 |

Greenbelly Bar

Best Flavor Mango Cashew Coconut | Calories 665 per package of two bars

Macros 100 grams/carbs, 16 grams/protein, 25 grams/fat

The brainchild of Chris Cage, a backpacker who struggled to keep up with his high-mileage lifestyle, Greenbelly Bars are a hungry outdoors person’s dream. Each of the five flavors is uniquely appetizing in its own right. There’s enough variety to keep from getting too tired of the Greenbelly diet, even on repeat. I truly craved these bars, eagerly awaiting my chance to chow down because of how much they intrigued me. Greenbelly Bars are unlike anything I’d ever had before. Think Rice Krispie treat meets gourmet trail mix. It’s the perfect combination of light and ample, crunchy and chewy, zesty and savory. These are honestly really fun to eat. Every bite throws your tongue for a loop.

But there’s more to love about Greenbelly bars than how they taste. Their convenience is unmatched. Each package includes two bars, so you can choose your own adventure: eat both at once for a full meal, nibble on one as a snack, or split the pack with your travel buddy. Whatever you don’t eat stays fresh in the resealable bag. The airy texture of these bars makes them easy on both the stomach and the back, too. It’s no burden to throw a couple in your bag for whenever hunger strikes.

$40/pack of 5 (discounts for buying in bulk) |

Probar Meal Bar

Best Flavor Superberry and Greens | Calories 370 per bar

Macros 50 grams/carbs, 9 grams/protein, 18 grams/fat

Out of all the options on this list, Probars are the closest thing to a traditional granola bar you’ll find. But there’s nothing remotely boring about these bars. This is classic done right—and on steroids. We’re talking about more than your basic Chewy that’s out of your system before the wrapper hits the trash can. Probars take all the delicious nostalgia of granola bars from your youth and beef it up to suit the nutritional needs of an adult. All the perks, none of the pitfalls.

My pick for best flavor stems from the same reasoning. It’s tough—if not impossible—to get in your daily greens while on the road or the trail. While it’s no big deal to forego the veggies here and there, your body will eventually pitch a fit about it. The Superberry and Greens flavor feels like slipping spinach into a smoothie. Meet your micronutrient quotas without the taste or the hassle of fresh vegetables.

That’s not to say that sneaky greens are the only asset here. Each of the other flavors offers the same kind of upscale take on your old childhood favorites: S’mores, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Trail Mix, Banana Nut Bread—all with added substance and a hint of sophistication. Save the Chewies for your kids. They won’t know the difference, but you sure will.

$40/pack of 12 |

Perfect Bar

Best Flavor Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough | Calories 310 per bar

Macros 25 grams/carbs, 12 grams/protein, 18 grams/fat

Speaking of sneaky, Perfect Bars are the definition of dessert with benefits. I choose these over ice cream half the time, and that’s saying a lot for this sugar fanatic. They’re the exact texture of cookie dough—and don’t taste too far off from it either (especially the actual Cookie Dough flavor, my top choice). Tack on 12+ grams of protein plus 14 different whole food powders per bar, and you wind up with something amazing that blurs the lines between sweet treat and nutritional powerhouse.

Now, I’m not suggesting you replace all your desserts with protein bars. Life’s too short to always pick the healthified version of your favorite delicacies. But according to sports dietitians, munching on a protein-packed bedtime bite is one of the best ways to bounce back from taxing activities. Whether you’ve been on your feet or behind the wheel from dawn ’til dusk, both your body and mind are in need of rejuvenation at the end of it all. An evening serving of protein spurs overnight recovery, so you’re more likely to wake up refreshed the next morning.

Here’s where Perfect Bars live up to their name. They’re the “perfect” solution for feeding your soul and your physiology at the same time. Opt for one of these when you’re feeling worn down after a jam-packed day. Tomorrow’s plans will pan out that much better for it.

$29/pack of 8 |

Sans Meal Bar

Best Flavor Coconut Almond Butter | Calories 380 per bar

Macros 36 grams/carbs, 14 grams/protein, 24 grams/fat

sans bars

It should be pretty clear by now that I’ve got nothing against a little sugar. It’s an effective and delicious source of fast-acting fuel for powering through arduous adventures or for finishing out the day on a tasty note. Each of the above bars includes a generous amount of sugar for that very reason. But not every moment of every day warrants such sweetness. Enter Sans meal bars.

Sans bars get their substance from dates, oats, egg whites, nuts, seeds, and a surprise serving of spinach. This simple yet well-rounded nutritional profile imparts a slow-burning energy that keeps your wheels consistently turning. In that sense, Sans bars are fit for any situation—not just on your busiest, most intense days. That’s important because not even the most motivated among us can be “on” all the time. You need convenient food that’ll serve you as well on the couch as on the go.

Not only that, but Sans bars offer a taste and texture that would be hard to burn out on. I ate one every day on a two-week climbing trip without complaint from either my stomach or my taste buds—and still came back for more once I got back on my regular schedule. I now have one stashed everywhere I could possibly need a snack I can count on no matter what I’m doing: gym bag, climbing pack, running vest, glove compartment, work desk, bedside table, and in more than one jacket pocket. No joke. These bars win my vote for Most Reliable across all circumstances, and you’d better believe I won’t risk getting stranded without one.

$45/pack of 12 (discount for buying in bulk) |

Off the Farm Meal Bar

Best Flavor Apple Cinnamon | Calories 380 per bar

Macros 47 grams/carbs, 9 grams/protein, 19 grams/fat

off the farm bars

Off the Farm bars literally melt in your mouth. That’s not something I thought I’d ever say about a meal bar. But trust me on this one. They’re insanely soft, perfectly chewy, and intensely flavorful. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible sigh of content with my first few bites. It was tempting to start on another as soon as I finished the first.

It’s a good thing I didn’t, though, because these bars are as filling as they are delicious. You wouldn’t expect it from their compact size, a 2 x 2-inch square the size of a small brownie. But the inclusion of pea fiber, alongside other hearty components like nut butters, dates, oats, and various seeds, makes every bit of an Off the Farm Bar count. I actually had some trouble digesting these bars at first because I gobbled each one up too quickly for my stomach to properly process such a potent mix of ingredients. For the sake of your gut, exercise more restraint than I did. These bars are best savored slowly.

That’s exactly the mentality behind Off the Farm Bars, too. They’re crafted in small batches by chefs who embrace the Slow Food concept to its core. Each ingredient is sourced right “off the farm” where it originated. Not everyone can access foods with such a pure backstory, especially those of us who barely have time to eat in the first place or can’t risk getting falsely full off of roughage. Off the Farm presents a fast solution to all your Slow Food woes.

$50/pack of 12 |

Big Sur Bar

Best Flavor The White Zest | Calories 630 per bar

Macros 75 grams/carbs, 12 grams/protein, 33grams/fat

big sur bars

I did a double-take when I took my first bites of a Big Sur bar. It reminded me so much of the turtle blondie I’d picked up at the coffee shop earlier that day that I had to check the packaging and make sure I hadn’t mixed them up.

But there’s a crucial difference between this bar and the blondie that I’d mistaken it for: heartiness. Big Sur bars include all the yummiest elements of your favorite baked goods, from butter and brown sugar to oat flakes and pecan pieces. It’s the proportions that differ. Big Sur Bars emphasize the nutty and savory aspects that tend to just get sprinkled on top of your typical bakery blondie—same taste, with more staying power.

You can tell from one glance at a Big Sur Bar where that staying power is coming from. Roughly chopped nuts, whole raisins, thick coconut shavings, jumbo chocolate chips, and fully intact sunflower seeds all peek out from the mixture. No secret ingredients here—each bar is an open book. The goal behind Big Sur Bars is to keep each component as close to its original form as possible. With that in mind, choose these bars when you’re able to slow down enough to digest all the hearty elements. Each bite will demand your full attention and your strongest jaw muscles. It’s an experience, not a race. Don’t worry—you’ll want to drag it out.

$11.25/pack of 3 (discount for buying in bulk) |

Bonus: Quantum Energy Bar

Best Flavor Dark Chocolate Pink Himalayan Salt | Calories 210 per bar

Macros 20 grams/carbs, 10 grams/protein, 12 grams/fat (plus 100 milligrams caffeine)

quantum bars

Okay, so this isn’t a meal replacement bar, per se. But Quantum Energy Squares serve another purpose that’s just as essential. Think of this as your coffee replacement bar. It’s not always easy to whip up a decent cup of joe on the go, and—if you’re a coffee snob like me—it’s not worth the disappointment to settle for instant.

So don’t. Quantum Energy Squares taste way better than Folgers (wait for that zesty kick of salt) and kill two birds with one stone while they’re at it: caloric and caffeinated energy. Each bar includes 100 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of an entire cup of coffee. And unlike coffee, this bar won’t give you the jitters. Caffeine on an empty stomach leads to anxiety, indigestion, blood sugar spikes, and even hormonal imbalances. But bake it right into your food, and your body is better able to process the caffeine without sending you off on an uncomfortable rollercoaster ride.

Side-by-side comparisons prove these claims right. Downing a cup of coffee before my daily pre-dawn run or on an early morning drive might get me going—but at what cost? The hoard of angry butterflies in my stomach makes me wish I hadn’t ever gotten out of bed. Gobbling up a Quantum Energy Square first thing, on the other hand, invigorates me more tactfully. It’s the difference between waking up to the warmth of a gradual sunrise on your skin versus the spritz of a cold shower. You don’t have to ask me twice which one I’d prefer.

Price: $20/pack of 8 |

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal’s Spring 2024 Issue.

Read more: Meal Planning for Overlanding :: Tips for Preparing Delicious and Nutritious Meals

Lucie is a sport climber, ultrarunner, writer, and mental training consultant based in Eagle, Colorado. She and her partner live part-time out of their converted Honda Element, the “Hotelement,” which supports them on climbing trips all across the country. She’s always on the hunt for new products and ideas that can help them share their small space better and enjoy the little moments in between big adventures. Lucie prioritizes quality over quantity and a less-is-more mindset but knows that the right tools make it easier to focus on the present moment. When she’s not writing or moving, she helps other outdoor athletes dial in their mental strategy in sport to find the crossroads between joy and ambition.