Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Trail Mix Bad For You?

Also Known As: Gorp (good old raisins and peanuts)



Short answer

Most of the individual ingredients of trail mix are not harmful to your body, though they can be high in sugar and fat. As long as you use it as an energy source and in moderation, it can be a great snack.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

The origins of trail mix take us all the way back to the early 1900s when an outdoorsman recommended it in a popular camping guide, The Book of Camping and Woodcraft. The handy snack has given countless hikers the energy to keep going on long trails.

The typical classic trail mix is composed of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate - granola cereal is often mixed in for added sustenance. Numerous varieties with additional additives are found on the shelves of stores or prepared in the home including, but not limited to: peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews; M&Ms, chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, broken up chocolate bars; raisins, banana chips, dried apricots, craisins, shredded coconut; pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds; carob chips; even crystallized ginger. Pretty much anything that you can dream up can be included in your mix.

Trail mix is a very versatile food, mainly because you can make your own with bulk ingredients from home just as easily as you can pick up a pre-packaged mix from the store. Making your own trail mix gives you the freedom to choose healthy, sustainable ingredients, free from GMOs and the ability to avoid specific allergens—not to mention, it tastes better!

It is considered a snack for hikers because it is easy to carry and provides a quick energy boost, not to mention being nutritious.  The energy boost is derived from the carbohydrates in the granola and the dried fruit, sustained by the protein and fat in the nuts. Though the mix is traditionally targeted towards hikers, it is often enjoyed by many people as a snack.

People sometimes refer to trail mix as “Gorp,” and have claimed that this is an acronym. One guessed meaning for the acronym is “good old raisins and peanuts,” while another is “granola, oats, raisins, peanuts.” The Oxford English dictionary notes a usage of “Gorp” in 1913 meaning “to eat greedily.” In Europe, trail mix has a term in most languages, but always translates as “student oats” or “student mix,” or the like.

Although the ingredients of trail mix are individually healthy, when combined together, the caloric value shoots up quickly. For example, in one commercially packaged mix, there are 170 calories in a serving of three tablespoons—making a handful of trail mix equal to 500-700 calories.

The high volume of calories is delivered largely through nuts, which have both protein and fat. However, the fat in nuts is “good” fat, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, neither of which is common in the American diet. They also contain high amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Calories are also present in abundance in the dried fruit, but the carbs in fruit are combined with fiber, making the overall trail mix snack a high fiber, high nutrition snack.

The danger comes in with the chocolate. If your chocolate portion is a moderate portion of 100% dark cacao nibs, the trail mix remains healthy, (although probably a little bitter) because nibs are naturally sugar-free. However, the more likely candidate for trail mix chocolate is the sugar-rich kind found in commercial chocolate chips, chunks, and candies. Avoid adding sugar-free chocolate to trail mix or trail mix packaged with sugar-free chocolate. These tend to have toxic artificial sweeteners with their own sets of problems.

Even if you combine trail mix with sugar-free chocolate or leave the chocolate out entirely, trail mix is best enjoyed in very small portions. Ultimately, because of its high calories, trail mix is best reserved for use as ‘quick burst of energy’ for hiking or other outdoor, high-energy activities.

Possible short-term side effects

  • weight gain from high calories
  • blood sugar spike
  • elevated blood pressure from sugar

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • diabetes from sugar

Ingredients to be aware of

  • artificial sweeteners in sugar-free chocolate
  • sugar in chocolate
  • artificial colors in m&m's


  • quick energy
  • good source of fiber
  • good source of healthy fats

Healthier alternatives

  • roasted chickpeas
  • fruit leather (no sugar added)
  • protein shakes (no sugar added)
  • kale chips

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Wild Roots Trail Mix

  • 100% natural ingredients
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Coastal Berry Blend
  • Convenient 2 Pack
  • 26-ounce bulk bags
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-22-2016
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-22-2016
Last updated: 12-15-2023

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