Hiking Snacks: What Shepherds Can Teach Us About Mountain Food

Climbing mountains and living in the mountains have been a part of human life for centuries. While some people climb mountains for the challenge, the view, or the bragging rights, there are others who live in the mountains and consider it their habitat. 

Among them are shepherds, who spend months in the mountains with their flocks, walking long distances every day and overcoming challenging terrain.

I have had the opportunity to observe the life of shepherds in several countries, including Kyrgyzstan and Switzerland. Despite the differences in geography and culture, I have noticed that the life of shepherds in the mountains has a lot in common. 

They are highly skilled at navigating their terrain, they have an impressive level of physical fitness and health, and they rely on a few key foods to sustain themselves during long hikes.

One of the main challenges of living in the mountains is the difficulty of transporting food. Shepherds need to carry food that is lightweight, compact, and doesn’t spoil easily, as they may be away from civilization for days or even weeks at a time. 

Three foods that are commonly found in the bags of mountain shepherds from different countries are bread, cheese, and dried meat.

Simple Bread

Rye bread is a staple food in many cultures and has been a part of human diets for thousands of years. It is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy throughout the day. The fiber in rye bread can also help people feel full and satisfied. Rye bread can be used to make sandwiches or eaten as a snack on its own.

When I am in Switzerland I often take with me Valais rye bread. It stays fresh for days and keeps me full for a long time.


Cheese is another food that is commonly found in the bags of mountain shepherds. It is an excellent source of protein and fat, which can help people feel satisfied and energized during a long hike. Cheese is also a good source of calcium and other essential nutrients for healthy bones. It can be spread on bread or eaten as a snack on its own. For their walks shepherds usually take hard cheeses like Tomme de Savoie or Gruyere.

Dried Meat

Dried meat is another food that is commonly carried by mountain shepherds. It is a rich source of protein, which can help people stay energized during a hike. Dried meat is also portable and lightweight, making it easy to carry in a backpack.

During my hikes in Swiss mountains I like to buy Valais dried meat. They have a century-long tradition of producing this meat, and the flavor is unique to each village where it is produced.

Chocolate is essential in Switzerland!

hiking snacks

In addition to these staple foods, Swiss shepherds are known to carry chocolate during their alpine hikes.

Chocolate is a high-energy food due to its high sugar and fat content. It is also portable and easy to carry in a backpack. Theobromine and caffeine, two ingredients found in chocolate, can also help lift one’s spirits and increase alertness.

Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants that can help protect the body from oxidative damage caused by exercise and environmental exposure during a mountain hike.

There is always a place for dried fruit and nuts in shepherd’s pack!

What other food can we find in a shepherd’s bag?

They often carry dried fruit and nuts.

I frequently saw them enjoying dried apricots and apples at rest stops. Sometimes they also eat raisins.

Fruit that has been dried out is very nourishing. The number of nutrients in one piece of dried fruit is similar to that of fresh fruit, but in a considerably smaller package.Up to 3.5 times as much fiber, vitamins, and minerals are present in dried fruit as compared to fresh fruit by weight.

A handful of dried apricots contain almost 90% of our daily need of vitamin A and about 20% of iron.

One of the benefits of dried apples is that it packs a high amount of both soluble and insoluble fiber. 50 grams of dried apples already give you approximately 3-4 grams of dietary fiber, sufficient to cover 13-20% of your daily fiber requirements.

Raisins are full of antioxidants and contain fiber which benefits our cardiovascular health.

They also have calcium which is very good for our bones.

Nuts are another popular food among mountain herders. I saw them eating primarily walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Both almonds and walnuts are high in healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, and vitamin E. 

They have been shown to lower blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. They can also reduce hunger.

To save space and to add more flavor I often mix dried fruit and nuts together. Here you can find how I prepare my favorite trail mix.

What do shepherds drink besides water?

Shepherds frequently spend long hours tending to their flocks in the mountains’ rugged terrain. By the end of the day, the physically demanding work can leave them exhausted and depleted. That’s why they relax with a warm cup of herbal tea brewed from fresh herbs they’ve collected on their walks. Many alpine herbs have medicinal properties that can help to soothe sore muscles and promote relaxation, in addition to providing a delicious flavor.

A glass of wine is also common during shepherd’s dinner after a long day. It certainly helps to relax and creates good atmosphere around the camp table.

My Choice

The variety of commercially produced hiking snacks available today is enormous. However, I find that the majority of them are high in added sugar and, in some cases, fat.

That is why I prefer natural foods that have been used by mountain people for centuries and have proven their nutritional and health value.

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