A while ago the folks from Omnibar in Missoula contacted me, both about packrafting beta for the Bob and about trying their product. I said yes, a box of bars showed up in the mail, and I’ve been eating them for the last six weeks. The following are my thoughts.
When buying day food for backcountry trips two factors share primary importance: calories/weight ratio and eatability. The former is simple; you need a certain number of calories (Kcal) per day to function well, and the less weight needed to accomplish that the better. Eatability is a more heterogenous topic, and encompasses everything from taste to durability to the proper nutritional makeup. While backpacking you need snack/lunch items which won’t smush into oblivion, are easy fast and convenient to access, and can be digested by a potentially stressed and disturbed stomach. This last factor is built equally of the scientific and the psychosomatic, and one cannot be disentangled from the other.
Omnibars are advertised as 65% sweet potatoes, oats, fruits and nuts, and 35% grass-fed beef from Montana cows. The company writes that they’re “…jerky plus the essential ratio of ingredients the mind and body require for complete satisfaction” which is an accurate description. Each package contains two long, thin bars which chew like 1/3 quality beef jerky, 2/3 fancy granola bar. They’re moist, but not too pliable, and don’t require a ton of water to swallow, even when you have a dry mouth. They come in four flavors, two of which (Roasted Peanut and Cranberry Rosemary) are mellow, and two of which (Chipolte BBQ and Mango Curry) are more emphatic. I like spicy stuff, which makes the later two my favorites by a considerable margin. The BBQ has a particularly pleasing zing to it. I’d vote for all the flavors to be stronger, but the current range and amplitude is probably good for appealing to a wide market.
In summary, the Omnibars are tasty, very easy to eat and digest, and carry well. They have a nutritional makeup that I like very much, and which seems to sit well. At 100 calories per ounce they are quite average when it comes to caloric density, and being a premium product from a new, small company they are quite expensive at 2+ dollars a bar. Do these advantages outweigh the downsides? Keep reading.
As backcountry endeavors have become for me routine, be they on bike or foot or raft, purchasing food for them has naturally become frequent and unremarkable. I keep a drawer of snacks and dinner items handy, but more often than not the next weeks trip sees me in the grocery store two days out buying food off the rack. Convenience and cost, both prioritized by the frequency of multi-day trips, have seen me eat a lot of Snickers over the years. Aside from in hot weather, Snickers are very effective, and for the US consumer their calorie to dollar to ounce ratio is unbeatable. They also have a lot of sugar, which is fast burning and therefore less than ideal backpacking food. And there is the question of the long term health and dental effects of eating so much candy.
As can be seen above, the nutritional makeup of Omnibars is a bit different than many energy bars, some of which (Larabar) are functionally identical to Snickers, even if they get there with different ingredients. Omnibars are noteworthy for their lack of sugars, which in all my ignorance of dietary science I’m attributing their long, slow burn to. Calorie to calorie they’re almost as carb-y as Probars, another tasty and effective if expensive premium food bar. Omnibars also have a lot of protein per unit of weight compared to their competition, something I find particularly relevant as keeping up protein intake while backpacking without resorting to various powders (which have their own issues) can be challenging.
Having a free box of Omnibars to grab from has given me cause to reevaluate my cheap-as, food-is-food backcountry diet. Simply put, Omnibars are pretty darn tasty, very easy to eat, and make me feel stronger and better longer than candy. They’re the bar equivalent of what I try to (and often slip on) eat daily in the frontcountry, which provides for a continuity of gut which seems like a good thing. My only real complaints are wanting stronger flavors, wanting more calories per ounce (without significantly altering the nutritional makeup), and wanting them to be cheaper (I see them at health food stores around here for north of 2 dollars each; a 12 bar pack direct from Omnibar is 39 bucks). Will I be willing to spend that much on these bars in the future? It’s a tough sell, but prior to seeing them in action the answer would have been a hasty hell no, and now it’s a qualified maybe.