Whether you’re taking in views from the summit or running late for work, trail mix is always there for you. It’s packed with protein and nutrients from nuts, seeds and dried fruit to hold you over, plus—if you snack like we do—fun add-ins from M&Ms to peanut butter chips. The only downside of this tasty snack? Some trail mixes are loaded with sugar, so finding a healthy one calls for scanning the ingredients and nutrition facts closely before buying. But an even easier way to feel good about your noshing is to make it yourself. Not only will your homemade trail mix be catered to your personal taste, but you just might save a few bucks by buying the ingredients separately instead of splurging on a pricy pre-made mix. Here’s a guide to get you started. We’ll see you on the trail.
The 4 Components of Homemade Trail Mix
It’s no secret that trail mix’s most common main ingredient is one of the healthiest snacks around. Nuts are a great source of protein, fiber and healthy fats, making them prime for boosting heart health and energy. In addition to being high in magnesium, different nuts have their own unique nutrients, according to Harvard Medical School. Almonds are packed with calcium and vitamin E. Walnuts are rich in folate, vitamin E and alpha-linoleic acid (hello, omega-3). Peanuts and pecans? Vitamin B city. The only catch: Nuts are calorically rich, so try sticking to quarter-cup servings, or about 200 calories per sitting.
There are, of course, tons of different nuts to choose from for your homemade trail mix. One of the healthiest routes is lightly salted, roasted almonds. They have 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per ounce. We also like using walnuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamias and peanuts (which are technically legumes) as our trail mix base.
Now, you could just keep your nuts raw and call it a day. But we like using roasted nuts for depth of flavor and extra richness. If you decide to go this route, there are basically two approaches. You can buy nuts of your choice already roasted and/or salted or snag a bag of raw nuts to roast and season yourself. If you don’t know how to roast nuts, let us lead the way. TLDR: Drizzle nuts in oil, toss them in seasoning and roast them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in the oven at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes. You can also toast them on the stove in oil for 5 minutes, pop them in the air fryer for 6 minutes or microwave them raw for 1 minute.
We’re partial to these roasted mixed nuts, because why settle for one kind when you can have five? The blend of almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews and pistachios is also seasoned with herbs and spices for a deliciously savory snack. But you can season your nuts according to the trail mix vibe you’re seeking. If you want to use savory mix-ins down the road, like say sesame sticks and wasabi peas, sprinkling your roasted nuts with seasonings like oregano, garlic powder and cayenne is the way to go. If you’re all about yogurt-covered raisins and chocolate chips, go the route of roasting your nuts in cinnamon and honey. P.S., a lil’ flaky sea salt never hurt nobody.
Not only are these cuties a great source of crunch in trail mix, they’re pretty darn good for you too. Seeds have healthy fats, fiber and about 5 to 9 grams of protein per ounce. Like nuts, they’re also nutrient-dense, so a two-tablespoon serving per day (roughly 200 calories) is a solid portion. In addition to trail mix, seeds are also great for sprinkling on salads and steamed veggies or into smoothies, oatmeal and pesto.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds have lots of omega-3s and up to three times as much alpha-linoleic acid as walnuts. You also can’t go wrong with sunflower seeds (we’re big fans of these ranch flavored ones), hemp hearts and sesame seeds. We always have fall on the brain though, so naturally, pumpkin seeds, aka pepitas, have our heart. They’re primo sources of iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium and, hello, they’re also delicious. Buy them roasted and salted or go the extra mile and roast the pumpkin seeds yourself. Just preheat the oven to 350°F, cut the top off the pumpkin, scrape out the guts and rinse them in a strainer to clean off the seeds. Then season and bake for 10 minutes. Bonus: You can make the best damn pumpkin soup inside the hulled-out gourd. Or carve a jack-o’-lantern. The choice is yours.
3. Dried fruit
Whether you’re always snacking on dried apricots or sprinkling dried cranberries on your salad, drying your own fruit is totally doable (and less expensive than buying the already dried stuff at the supermarket). But if you want to skip the hassle, we hear you. Look for dried fruit with no added sugar if you’re being health-conscious. On the upside, dried fruit has a ton of fiber and phenols, antioxidants found in plants that are linked to lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and brain diseases, says Harvard Medical School.
To DIY, all you need is fruit, lemon juice and water. Slice the fruit to your desired thickness, removing all pits, seeds and cores. We suggest cutting most fruits into ¼- or ½-inch slices or rounds, halving apricots and leaving berries and cherries whole. Use a dehydrator or bake the fruit at your oven’s lowest setting until the pieces look dry, browned or leathery. This can take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on the fruit’s water content, the thickness of the pieces and the lowest temp on your oven. Just make sure the fruit is pliable without being moist or sticky since it could make your trail mix soft if it isn’t dry enough.
4. Chocolate, granola and whatever else your heart desires
Let’s be real. Chocolate is the best part. It’s the sweet, creamy surprise that makes choosing trail mix in the first place over an impromptu fast food run worth it. Is it technically necessary? No. But we can’t think of a reason why you’d deprive yourself. Chocolate chips, M&Ms or chocolate covered raisins and pretzels all sound like million-dollar ideas to us. Same goes for anything dressed in creamy yogurt coating.
Granola is another popular add-in. Oats, the main ingredient in most granolas, average at about 6 grams of protein per half-cup serving. Combine them with protein-rich ingredients like nut butter and the protein count goes even higher. If you have a sweet tooth, give this decadent cocoa peanut butter granola a go while these quinoa clusters have those of you on team savory covered. If you decide to go with store-bought granola instead, be sure to check the packaging for sneaky hidden sugars. Your favorite cereal can also find a new home in trail mix, whether your personality screams Chex or Cookie Crisp.
If you like your trail mix salty, consider tossing in a few handfuls of Goldfish, crispy chickpeas (we’ll take ours honey-roasted) or dried edamame. For maximum savory flavor, dice up strips of jerky (beef, fish, mushroom—you name it), which boast about 12 grams of protein per ounce. Basically, anything dry that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and has a decent shelf-life can be added to trail mix, so let your freak flag fly.
How to Make Homemade Trail Mix
OK, so your nuts, seeds, fruits and wildcards are ready for their debut. How much of each makes a flawlessly balanced trail mix? TBH, it comes down to your personal preference. We recommend aiming for a trail mix that has at least 8 grams of protein per serving if you want it to be healthy yet filling. (But we totally support if you just want to eat your Reese’s Pieces and chocolate-covered espresso beans in peace.) Here’s a general guideline to follow for approximately 20 quarter-cup portions of the good stuff.
Just combine and enjoy. Note that the size of the nuts, seeds, fruits and additional ingredients you choose may call for adjustments. Dried apricots are a lot bigger than dried cranberries, for instance, so it takes fewer of them to fill a cup. And chia seeds are really small, so if those are the only seeds you’re using instead of, say, sunflower seeds, you may not want a whole cup of them.
How to Make Homemade Trail Mix Last
Trail mix’s shelf life may vary based on what’s in it, but it can last anywhere from six to nine months. If you don’t devour it all in a few days, that is. Just be sure to store homemade trail mix in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. And if there’s chocolate in your trail mix, be sure to keep it away from light and heat. Happy snacking.