Anyone venturing out on a hike, however long or short, must consider sustenance at some point—and there’s nothing like a good sandwich to help maintain energy levels. Foods that fall in the category of “hiking fuel” can be underwhelming: tasteless sandwiches and dry trail mixes washed down with so much water.
Since flavor is often sacrificed for convenience, we turned to Lisa Caldwell, a Boston-based chef and nutritionist who’s a regular on New England hiking trails, to help up dress up some trail classics. Bringing a fresh approach to our favorite lunches, here are eight simple yet flavorful sandwiches that travel well.
Nut Butter Sandwich
Peanut butter and jelly is the default trail sandwich, but it’s susceptible to sogginess and squishing depending on how it’s packed.
“If you are going to do the PB&J route, spread peanut butter on both sides of bread and the jelly in the middle,” says Caldwell. “This way, the jelly doesn't ooze through the bread during your hike.”
For an innovative twist on the beloved nut butter sandwich, Caldwell suggests combining almond butter with banana on whole wheat, or taking the combination a step further, mixing slaw, a hint of mint, cilantro and scallions into a cashew-ginger spread and slathering it onto a bun.
Speaking of nut butter sandwiches, Nutella on bread provides a just-right kick of sweet. Try it on an English muffin, dressed up with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey. It’s also excellent smeared on a tortilla, with a sprinkle of chopped or sliced almonds for some extra protein, or sliced apple for a refreshing balance of sweet and tart.
Sliced Turkey Sandwich
To keep the ingredients in this classic trail sammy tasting fresh, line two slices of bread with cheese and place the other ingredients in between. To take things up a notch, Caldwell recommends using smoked gouda with turkey and slices of Granny Smith apples, with an added bonus of mango chutney.
“Spread the mango chutney on one slice, stack the turkey on the chutney, and top with a few slices of Granny Smith apple,” Caldwell says.
Ham and Cheese
There’s nothing worse than slimy cold cuts on the trail, so if you’re packing along such a sandwich and you have the room, bring an ice-cold water bottle to nestle up next to lunch (plus, you’ll likely have cold water at the end of the hike, too). Caldwell’s recommendation substitutes banana bread for the standard white or wheat option. “It's best pan-seared with butter, but if you don't have time for that, just smear one side of banana bread with a little honey mustard, stack the cheddar cheese, thinly sliced ham, and top with the other slice of banana bread,” Caldwell says. For extra fanciness, add slices of green apple.
Hummus and Vegetables
For anyone steering clear of meat on the trails, hummus sandwiches are easy on the gut with enough protein and a mild flavor prime for adding seasoning and accoutrements. Take any bread, tortilla wrap, or flatbread (like pita or lavash), slather on hummus, and fill with sliced carrots, cucumbers, crumbled feta, and sliced olives, with salt and pepper seasoning. Since vegetables like cucumbers can make a sandwich soggy, Caldwell suggests removing the seeds to limit the moisture that can seep into bread. Another option is to layer lettuce in between the hummus and bread or wrap to keep moisture from seeping in.
Another meat-free option is the cheese sandwich, which lends the carbs, fat and protein to support a long day hike. These are easily gussied up with a switch in bread (try English muffins, bagels or flatbreads) or the addition of herbs and spices. A caprese sandwich can easily be made more exciting if prepared on focaccia slathered in pesto, with sliced mozzarella and tomato—plus it packs flat and carries well up a mountain.
A standard grilled chicken sandwich on the trail may not seem like the most appealing snack after a grueling summit push, but Caldwell’s fix packs enough flavor to reward your effort. Mix one-third cup of peanut butter in a bowl with a pinch of chili flakes to taste, up to one tablespoon of honey, one or two tablespoons of rice vinegar, minced garlic clove, a pinch of salt and two to four tablespoons of water. Mix this with shredded chicken, or even quinoa, for a protein-rich sandwich filler. “Stuff it inside some lettuce or a mix of shredded vegetables and then into a bun and ‘bam,’ you have the best sandwich at the summit,” Caldwell says.
In a pinch, grab a few mustard packets at a gas station or convenience store to add flavor to sandwiches without soggying up the bread. Carry them with you in your pack and add just before eating. Hard boiled eggs are easy to pack on their own, or you can pre-mix them with a hint of mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and tarragon, according to Caldwell. This will last just fine if sandwiched between lettuce and two slices of bread.
While we’re on the topic of egg sandwiches, Caldwell suggests that the ultimate sandwich for long hikes could be the breakfast sandwich. “Eggs can be eaten any time of the day,” she says, and she often defaults to two. Sausage, egg, and cheese on an English muffin does the trick. “Sure, the cheese isn't melted and the sausage isn't warm, but the calories are all there and that is sometimes exactly what one needs—fuel.”