The Origins of GORP

Where did the beloved outdoor snack come from?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a hiker who isn’t familiar with GORP, even if they don’t know it by that name. GORP is simply trail mix, a staple outdoor snack known as much for its high-protein, high-fat nature as it is for its sweet-and-salty goodness. But where did it, and the name GORP, come from? Turns out, that’s a tricky question to answer.

Today, we treat GORP like an acronym, spelling it with capital letters. There are two primary camps: one arguing for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts” and the other “granola, oats, raisins, peanuts.” But a 1913 reference in the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “gorp” as a verb meaning “to eat greedily,” which sounds pretty appropriate. If gorp begat GORP then, that means “good ol’ raisins and peanuts” is actually a backronym—an invention of well-meaning GORP lovers trying to give meaning to the already existing word.

And the origin of the recipe, regardless of what we call it, is just as hazy. There are references to GORP-like mixtures well before the Oxford definition. Perhaps the earliest occurred in 1833, when Danish students ate a snack called studenterhavre, or student oats, which consisted of raisins and almonds. During the holidays they’d add pieces of chocolate. Sound familiar?

The travel writer Horace Kephart, one of the people who campaigned for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wrote about trail mix in in his 1906 camping guide Camping and Woodcraft. “A handful each of shelled nuts and raisins, with a cake of sweet chocolate, will carry a man far on the trail, or when he has lost it,” he said.

Half a century later, Jack Kerouac’s character Japhy Ryder in the 1958 novel The Dharma Bums prepped for an ascent of the Sierra Nevada’s 12,285-foot Matterhorn by packing mixed raisins, peanuts, dried apricots and prunes for energy.

A decade after that, two California surfers claimed to invent GORP by another name by mixing raisins and peanuts for a quick energy hit. That same year (1968), the company Harmony Foods patented “trail mix”—a blend of fruit, nuts and seeds aimed at hikers.

Whatever you call it, there are as many ways to make GORP as there are theories of where it came from. You can’t go wrong with the classic peanuts, raisins and MnM’s, but for a little inspiration, check out a few of our favorite mixes below.

The Smoky Gourmet

The Smoky Gourmet

  • Smokehouse almonds
  • Dried cherries
  • Dark chocolate mini-chips
  • Pepitas
  • Dried papaya

Coconut Cranberry Crunch

Coconut Cranberry Crunch

  • Chocolate covered almonds
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried flaked coconut
  • Honey granola

Some Like It Savory

Some Like It Savory

  • Roasted cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame sticks
  • Shelled pistachios
  • Wasabi peas

What’s your favorite ingredient to add to trail mix? Tell us in the comments below.