How to Compare Protein Bars

How to Compare Protein Bars

One staple food in many backpacker’s packs is some sort of bar.  Most people refer to them as protein bars, but there are actually several different types including meal replacement, endurance, protein, and activity/hybrid bars.  There are so many options that it can be overwhelming when deciding which one is best for you.  If you understand the different types of bars, it will help you know which ones are good for which activities.  Different bars produce different results.

Energy bars have a notorious reputation of tasting terrible but in recent years the tastes and textures have been much improved.  There are options for everyone, including vegan, soy free, nut free, and gluten free.  Don’t be afraid to try new bars to find the ones you like, just be aware that some of the bars out there are no better than candy bars.  Be sure to read labels and try not to rely on bars when you are not out backpacking.

Types of Bars Available

Meal Replacement Bars

These bars are commonly used by people dieting or trying to lose weight.  I like to use these bars for a quick breakfast on the trail.  Its nice to be able to get up and get hiking without having to fire up the stove to cook breakfast.  I will usually try to hike a few miles right away and then stop and make coffee during a mid morning break.  Meal replacement bars typically have around 300-400 calories, 10-20 grams of protein, 10-20 grams of fat, and 30-40 grams of carbs.

Endurance Bars

Endurance bars are meant to be consumed prior to a long or intense workout.  They are easy to digest and contain quick energy and electrolytes.  The primary source of energy in these is carbohydrates, and they usually don’t have as much protein and fat because these are more difficult to digest.

Protein Bars

Though protein bars are often used as a catch all phrase for various types of bars, a true protein bar is meant to help you gain muscle mass.  These bars are meant to aid in recovery from strenuous workouts so should be eaten after the workout.  Most protein bars have around 20 grams of protein.

Activity/Hybrid Bars

These bars are common among outdoor enthusiasts and backpackers.  They are similar to endurance bars in that they aim to prolong energy.  They often have a cruchier (better tasting) texture than protein bars.  Many are also organic and/or plant based.  Activity bars are great for snacking on while hiking or travelling.


What To Look At For Comparison

  1. Calories – Calories are important for backpacker’s because you will be expending lots of energy that will need to be replaced.  While backpacking, you will be consuming more calories than you do on a day to day basis at home.  Depending on your mileage, elevation gain, and length of trip, you will need between 3000-5000 calories per day.  Much of these calories are consumed as snacks between meals.  Bars are an easy food pack and easy to eat while hiking.  For more info on optimizing your backpacking food, check out my article on the best calorie dense foods.
  2. Carbohydrates – While in my daily life I try to minimize my carb consumption, I do realize the importance of carbs while backpacking.  Carbs are pure energy for the muscles and brain and while you are participating in strenuous activity, its good to give your body some quick energy.  For backpacking, look for bars with at least 20 grams of carbohydrates.
  3. Protein – Protein will help keep you feeling full longer while out on the trail.  It is also needed to help repair and build muscle tissue.  Without protein, your body will start breaking down your body’s muscle tissue to compensate.  For backpacking, look for a bar that has at least 10 grams of protein.
  4. Fat – Fat is the most energy dense fuel and is actually the body’s preferred fuel for moderate exercise.  It also spares the muscle’s glycogen stores.  Backpackers can save on pack weight by carrying foods higher in fat.
  5. Ingredients – I like to try to maintain a somewhat healthy diet even while backpacking.  Look for organic ingredients, real food ingredients in your bars.  Plant based bars are really becoming popular and you can find bars made up of nuts, seeds, honey, and other natural sweeteners.  I tend to think the fewer ingredients, the better.  Ingredients to steer clear of are high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, palm kernel oil, and soy protein isolate to name a few.  If you have food allergies be sure to check ingredients to know which bars are safe for you to consume.  
  6. Taste – There are some really unpalatable bars out there so make sure you try out the ones you will be taking before you go.  Nothing is worse than force feeding yourself something you don’t like just to get a sufficient amount of calories.  If you have specific flavors you enjoy, you will also want to check and see which bars carry those types of flavors.  

Best Meal Replacement Bar

Greenbelly MealsGreenbelly meal

  • Weight:  5.64 oz 2 bar package
  • Size: 160 g
  • Calories: 645
  • Fat: 22 g
  • Protein:  17 g
  • Carbohydrates:  100 g
  • Fiber:  9 g
  • Good For:  Full meal
  • Buy Greenbelly Meals



Best Bar with No Added Sugar

Bearded Brothers

Bearded Brothers

  • Weight:  1.5 oz
  • Size:  43 g
  • Calories:  190
  • Fat:  9 g
  • Protein:  5 g
  • Carbohydrates:  22 g
  • Fiber:  4 g
  • Good For:  Sustained energy during hiking
  • Buy Bearded Brothers



Best Gluten Free Bar

Mauer Sports Nutrition Classic Protein Bar



Best Bar With Simple, Whole Food Ingredients

Rx Bar

  • Size:  52 g
  • Calories:  210
  • Fat:  8 g
  • Protein:  12 g
  • Carbohydrates:  24 g
  • Fiber:  6 g
  • Good For:  Boost of energy while hiking
  • Buy Rx Bars

Best Allergen Free Bar

INBar Cinnamon Swirl


  • Size:  56 g
  • Calories:  173
  • Fat: 5 g
  • Protein:  11 g
  • Carbohydrates:  21 g
  • Fiber:  10g
  • Good For:  Breakfast or morning snack
  • Buy InBar



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6 thoughts on “How to Compare Protein Bars”

  • the fact you mentioned early in the article is one people really need to be conscious of, some energy bars are just as full of sugar as candy bars.

    I really didn’t know there were this many categories I guess the ones I really need to look for are energy bars and activity bars, I’ll be more cautious of the ones I choose.

    I like that you give us ingredients to avoid while shopping, how are the plant based bars with regards to taste, on a scale of 1-10

    • Yes, definitely read the ingredient label before selecting your bar and choose one with the fewest whole food ingredients.  I like the taste of plant based bars but they do not taste like candy bars.  Its hard to give all plant based bars a 1-10 rating because it really depends on the brand.  Some are amazing and some are not so great. Maybe try one of the above recommended bars first. Let me know what you think.

  • It’s really fun to learn about all the different kinds of protein bars from your review post and what they’re best for. My boyfriend and I make bars almost a staple of our diet for breakfast when we’re on the go or before we go surfing for sustained energy. It’s good to be aware of the amount of sugar and everything though, as you don’t want to have too much if you’re not being active. I’ve had the Rx protein bars before and they were really good, but a little on the sweeter side. I’d like to try out the Greenbelly meals to go. We’re going on a road trip soon and this would keep both our wallets and bellies full and nourished on the road. Have you tried these yet? Thanks for posting!

    • Greenbelly Meals would be perfect for a road trip!  I’ve taken them on a backpacking trip and really enjoyed them.  Super simple and 1/3 of your nutrition for the day so a no brainer.  

      Yeah the Rx bars are kind of sweet.  They’re made with dates so there’s no refined sugar added but nonetheless still sweet.  I really like the Rx bars though and that they’re made with egg protein.  

  • Hi Katie,
    Thank you for this interesting review. I think it is very important to realize the difference between the bars and the importance of read carefully their ingredients.
    When I started working out, I thought eating one protein bar was the easiest and fastest way to get all the proteins
    that my body needed to recover until I read the ingredients on the bars I was consuming, which turned out to be
    full of sugar and fat 🙁
    I’ve tried the Greenbelly meals and enjoy them, the price is affordable and tastes great!

    • You’re right, always read ingredient labels! Most popular bars contain way too much sugar and artificial ingredients. I look for bars with whole food ingredients and natural sweeteners like honey or dates. Better yet make your bars at home and you can control what goes into them.

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