organic vegetarian meals for the trail

Backpacking with Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter Prepared
Natural peanut butter prepared from Outdoor Herbivore’s Organic Peanut Powder Mix

Peanut Butter is a staple food on the trail. The creamy consistency makes it easy to smear on crackers and bagels. It is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fat and offers a good amount of protein, making it especially attractive to vegetarians. And peanuts, like all plant foods, contain no cholesterol. Here we’ll explore the different types of peanut butter and which are more suited for the trail.

Peanut Plant Growing
Peanut plant top view, Arachis hypogaea growing in a container Charlotte, North Carolina


Peanuts are technically not a nut, but part of the legume family related to green peas. The peanut is the seed of a small leguminous bush native of South America, referred as a geocarpic plant because it pushes its fruit underneath the ground. Peanuts have a thin, wrinkly, woody fragile shell (pod) containing two kernels covered by a brown seed coat.

In the early 20th century, George Washington Carver popularized the peanut as a food crop in the US. He encouraged southern farmers to replace their weevil-ravaged cotton with peanuts. It worked. Peanuts are now a staple in many dishes from peanut butter to soups to candies.

Peanuts dug up from the ground
Peanuts dug up from the ground in South Carolina

Peanut Nutrition

It turns out that peanuts are an excellent source of nutrition. They are high in monounsaturated fat, protein, antioxidants, manganese, niacin, folate and copper. Peanuts also contain beneficial phytochemicals such as beta-sitosterol and resveratrol, the same antioxidant found in red wine, both of which are good for the heart.

As a legume with high protein content, the peanut is one of the world’s most important staple foods.

Peanut Butter, 2 TB (32g) 

  • 13% Carbs
  • 72% Fat
  • 15% Protein

Two tablespoons of peanut butter typically contain 190 calories, 7 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat with about one-half as monounsaturated fats and one-third polyunsaturated fats, with the remaining 15 percent saturated fats. Sodium content varies depending on the type and brand.

 Calorie Breakdown of Peanut Butter, 2 TB (32g)

Calories 190

Carbs 7g

Fat 16 g

Protein 7g

Sodium 150 mg

Carrying out peanut butter for the trail

Squeeze tubes – travel-size squeeze tubes are an option if you want to carry more peanut butter and don’t want to take the entire jar. It does not work well for natural peanut butter, which tends to separate and solidify on the bottom and oil to the top. The oil separation will be messy if you have a leaky seal. To prevent leaks, wrap PTFE plumber’s tape once or twice around the bottle’s threads. Squeeze containers don’t work well when the weather turns cold because the peanut butter hardens and becomes difficult to release. Massage the container in your hands to warm it up. The other option is to use what you likely already have laying around at home — a smaller Rubbermaid type of plastic container with a lid. The lid might pop off, however.

Squeeze Packs – packaged in single-use foil packets, these are super convenient if you desire a small amount of peanut butter. This is a good option for day or weekend hikers, who often don’t need the extra food calories. The single serve packets will need to be massaged a few times before opening to soften and release the butter.

Peanut Powder – Outdoor Herbivore offers a dry peanut powder mix created for backpackers in mind. Unlike the other peanut powders on the market, this one contains fat (calories!). Made from partially defatted U.S. grown organic high-oleic peanuts to allow for a fair amount of fat and longer shelf life (about 12 months). Rather than carrying around individual squeeze packets, carry dry peanut flour mix. When you desire peanut butter, just add water to the peanut mix and stir. You can make as much as you need as you need it. This eliminates the mess of squeeze tubes and the waste of single-serve packets. Hi-oleic peanuts are unique in that they have an oleic acid ratio more closely resembling olive oil rather than standard peanuts.

  • 1 ounce of Outdoor Herbivore’s roasted organic peanut flour contains 155 calories, 8 grams of fat, 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbs and 0 mg of sodium.

Types of Peanut Butter

Regular peanut butter: Standard (shelf stable) peanut butter contains about 90% peanuts. This is the most common peanut butter found in stores. It contains additives to improve shelf life and enhance taste, up to 6% sugar, 2% salt, and stabilizers—often hydrogenated oil, such as GMO soybean oil, or palm oil. The hydrogenated oil prevents the peanut oil and peanut solids from separating and improves shelf life. It also acts as a preservative to prevent rancidity by slowing the rate of oxidation. Unfortunately, regular peanut butter also contains some trans fat.

  • The advantage of “regular” PB is that it requires no refrigeration because it contains added preservatives to keep the oils from turning rancid when exposed to oxygen. The disadvantage is that the hydrogenated oil contains a small amount of trans fat and the oil is often GMO (soy). It is also higher in sugar and sodium.

If you are trying to avoid trans fats (and you should), here is something you should know: 0% trans fats does not mean no trans fats. It means it can be rounded down to 0 because it contains less than .49 g per serving (where serving size can be altered as needed). One way you can determine if your PB contains trans fat is if you see the addition of Monoglycerides and Diglycerides on the ingredient label. Adding these substances is a trick food manufacturers use to chemically lower the trans fat content. Monoglycerides and Diglycerides are often sourced from soy oil, but can also be animal derived (cow or hog).

Natural peanut butter: Natural peanut butter contains 100% peanuts. It may also contain a small amount of salt or natural sweeteners, such as honey. It does not have hydrogenated oil or trans fats. The lack of hydrogenation means the natural peanut oil will separate and rise to the top of the container. It must be stirred to make it uniform. The lack of preservatives means natural peanut butter will spoil at a faster rate if it is not kept refrigerated or cold. Conversely, storing the PB in a warm location (like your pack) will make the oil separate faster and eventually turn rancid. Despite common belief, storing natural peanut butter in a refrigerator is not necessary. The rate of rancidity depends on several factors, such as temperature, moisture in the air/peanut butter, how often the container is opened, cross-contamination from dirty fingers/saliva, cleanliness of the container, etc. You can expect Natural PB to last at least 1 month without refrigeration under most conditions. Just taste it to test if it is still good. It will smell musty and tastes stale as it starts to spoil (still ok to consume) and then taste sour or bitter once rancid.

  • Refrigeration helps slow down the rate of oxygenation (spoilage) and minimize oil and solid separation, but keeping natural PB cold is not necessary. Rule of thumb to tell when PB has gone bad: if it tastes or smells bad, it is bad.
  • Natural PB is more healthy, but it can be sloppy with having to remix the oil that separates and rises to the top.

Make your own Peanut Butter: The modern commercial version of peanut butter involves heating peanuts around 300 degrees F to develop flavor, blanching in hot water to remove skins, and grinding until creamy. Other additives are mixed depending on whether the final product will be “natural” or not. That is all there is to making peanut butter. If you purchase roasted peanuts in bulk, you can make your own peanut butter by grinding the roasted peanuts in a powerful blender (such as a Vitamix) and adding salt and sweetener to taste. We recommend using roasted peanuts instead of raw. Aflatoxin (produced from a carcinogenic fungus) and Salmonella can result from improper storage & handling of raw nuts. The roasting process destroys aflatoxin, increases the concentration antioxidants, and is believed to improve digestibility. We also recommend using organic peanuts since peanuts are often sprayed with pesticide. Note: If you don’t have a blender, you can also make peanut butter using peanut flour.

Salmonella and Peanuts: Peanut products were recently part of the most extensive food recall in US history. The sole manufacturer responsible for this was The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). Peanuts can harbor salmonella when processed or stored in unsanitary conditions. The PCA was knowingly shipping peanut products contaminated with salmonella and many people became ill after eating the infected peanuts produced from this plant. The PCA was shutdown.

Chunky versus Creamy: Choosing chunky or creamy is a matter of preference in daily life. Creamy PB is most certainly better suited for the trail since it readily squeezes out and spreads without utensils. Calorie-wise, chunky and creamy is the same.

Ways to incorporate Peanut Butter on the Trail for added Calories

  • Roll up in a tortilla with dried fruit
  • Dip with pita bread
  • Eat by the spoon for added protein and fat
  • Add to noodles or pasta to make an Asian type sauce
  • Toast bread over a campfire. The PB will turn warm and gooey when spread on warmed bread. Try it on toast, pita, bagels, or tortilla wraps (rolled and warmed up with raisins or other dried fruits), crumpets/english muffins (it oozes into all the little crevices).
  • Share it with your trail dog who also needs the added fat. Smear over an aspirin tablet if your dog needs one while on the trail.

What is your favorite way to use peanut butter?

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking with Peanut Butter”

  • I love peanut butter but tend to stay away from it on the trail for two reasons: first it usually drives me toward drinking more water and water is often precious; second, if eaten in large quantities it will bind me up and I want to keep the pipes flowing. So small quantities are great but it can’t become a main staple on the trail.

  • You can pre-mix something that will help with that. You can mix in some ground flax seeds. Trader Joe’s has a PB with flax and chia seeds in it.

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