vegan pemmican bars pack a high-calorie & nutrient-rich punch (includes recipe!)

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. 

Virginia Wolff
Bars are a go-to for nearly every backpacker.
A high energy snack for the pack.

This has been a difficult summer for most all of us.

Nonetheless, in this time of Covid, I went ahead and started a new business and launched a podcast to share stories of this stubborn, middle aged gal finding enlightenment while “hiking her own hike.”

I figure, if I can thrive now, I can handle anything life throws at me.

Life always seems to find a way to remain simpatico with my walking quests, and that pep-talk style conversation I have with my sorry little self, finds its way into just about every day I’m on trail.

C’mon, Al, you’ve got this crazy-steep and exposed ridge/slip-n-slide epic mud pit/total white-out in pouring rain! If you can manage here, just think how bad ass you’ll become?! What’s that aphorism again?? ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!’ Right…keep moving!

I happen to believe that Nietzsche never saw suffering in and of itself as a means to strength, but more in how we use obstacles as an opportunity to build strength – strength of body, mind and also, spirit – to give suffering its magical power.

Right now, I’m reading this amazing book called Grit. In it, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth posits that it takes more than talent – and even more than skill – for us achieve. It’s passionate persistence that pushes us to greatness, much of it, like the gritty word ‘grit’ itself, unglamorous and repetitive.

So exactly what does this have to do with a backpacking bar recipe, you might ask?

Years ago when I planned my very first solo thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada, I knew I needed tools to keep me going. While grit, attitude and drive were necessities, the right gear and the right fuel would bring everything together.

At the time, I was a bit hooked on the amazing feats of a Minnesotan athlete named Scott Jurek. He somehow managed to leave every ultra runner in the dust, even while fueled up on a completely plant based diet. Everything he said made sense to me at the time, and so I copied him and planned to walk my first 200+ mile trail as a vegan.

Let’s just say being a Vegan didn’t last past day three when a burger called my name at the a cafe in Tuolumne Meadows.

That being said, I did find a killer recipe for “vegan pemmican,” a vitamin-packed bar of fat and carbs that has withstood the test of thousands of miles walking and remains to this day, a staple of my thru-hiking bliss.

As I prepare for my next hike on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, I will be cooking up a batch for my own pack.

Pemmican was originally prepared by Native North Americans using dried, ground meat mixed with fat and dried fruits. The meatless version I make, is full of fats and sugars and packed with vitamins, protein, fiber and fat.

The best part, though, is they taste oh, so good. You might even find your bars double as currency if you’re in trouble on the trail.

first, nutritional highlights to give you “grit”

  1. Raisins: loads of carbs as well as boron, a trace element that works with Vitamin D and calcium to keep bones and joints healthy
  2. Dates: a great source for potassium, an essential mineral for any athlete
  3. Figs: vitamin rich, but mostly high in natural sugars and calories
  4. Almonds: a superb source of Vitamin E
  5. Cashews: a superb source of copper, the anti cardio-vascular disease and osteoporosis mineral
  6. Walnuts: a good source of Vitamin B6 and Iron, nutrients that need to be replaced every day
  7. Pecans: lowers LDL cholesterol
  8. Wheat Germ: a great source of vegetable protein
  9. Flax: a superb source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids
  10. Honey: antibacterial properties
These bars are nutritious but a few days’ worth weigh more than my tent.
The bars are nutritious but a few days’ worth weigh more than my tent.

and now, the vegan pemmican bars recipe!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup dates

1/2 cup dried figs (remove stems)

1/2 cup unsalted raw almonds

1/2 cup unsalted cashews

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup wheat bran

1/2 cup ground flax seeds

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey or agave syrup

Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Chop fruit and nuts in a food processor. I like to get the nuts really buttery.

3. Mix together with dry ingredients and slowly add honey. Add enough water to moisten, 1/2 to a full cup. Moist keeps them from getting crumble.

4. Press into a greased 6×6 pan.

5. Bake for 30 minutes.

6. Let cool on wire rack.

7. Cut into squares and immediately store in vacuum sealed bags. They can be frozen until ready to bring on your backpacking trip.

8. Makes about 18 bars.

Pro tips:

  • For best results, keep the batter moist before baking.
  • The bars are not light (a week’s worth weigh more than my tent) but they pack a punch of nutrition and much-needed calories.
  • I have sent bars on a resupply and they have stayed fresh for weeks .
  • Once you open the vacuum seal, repack bars in ziploc bags for freshness.
  • Bars taste best with a hot drink.


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