Welcome to the Backpacking Vegan blog! This is an effort to make long-distance hiking and thru-hiking more accessible to folks who are vegan. Start with the Intro page for my story and some first tips. Head to Resupply for a guide to vegan food options along the Appalachian Trail. –Samwise
That’s right, I’m endorsing a fruit. Avocados are a great snack for vegan hikers. In town, on the trail, straight up or mixed right into your dinner, avocados are the perfect supplement to a vegan hiker’s minimal diet. Also, they’re delicious.
According to my favorite book on vegan nutrition: Becoming Vegan (2000) by Davis and Melina, both R.D.s., vegan athletes need to increase the fat and protein in their diet. It is commonly accepted that protein is important for high intensity activities; it is essential for muscle building. However, much of the real energy for physical activity comes from carbohydrates and fat. Fat is the longer-lasting energy source and is needed most during endurance activities (sound familiar?). Vegan thru-hikers should pay close attention to get enough protein, fat, and carbs.
Davis and Melina suggest that the best sources of fat are whole plant foods, “nut butters, tofu, and avocados” (p. 250). They also recommend oils such as olive, canola, or flaxseed. I’ve written about my experiences eating olive oil and peanut butter on the Appalachian Trail.
Avocados are especially high in calories and fat, according to the USDA. One average size whole avocado has 320 calories and 29 grams of fat. Avocados are also high in protective monounsaturated fats and have more folate and potassium per ounce than any other fruit, even bananas!
For a hiker, avocados are somewhat heavy, bruise easily when ripe, and have a heavy pit. During my thru-hike in 2009, if I found a ripe avocado in a store in town, I would eat the whole thing right there with a spoon. Sometimes I would carry a second one onto the trail with me as a first night out treat, though I’d have to carry the pit until my next resupply. As I got further into my hike, I was eating so much and subsequently carrying so much food that an extra ounce of pit didn’t bother me.
However you like avocados, or if you don’t eat them very much at home, they are a fantastic, nutritious, and calorie-dense addition to a hiker diet. In the trail world of overprocessed foods, a whole fruit is a welcome addition.
Not to shoppers: an avocado is ripe if it’s soft enough to easily depress under your finger (don’t buy a hard one, they can take several days to ripen).
I apologize for the lack of recent updates to this blog. This project is incredibly important to me and I am committed to helping other vegans hike long hikes. Alas, I am currently a graduate student, which naturally leaves little by way of free time for posting (or hiking)…
More posts are coming!
In the meantime, anyone have some good vegan tips from a recent hike? Or a great new snack idea? Share them in the comments!
Greetings hikers, today for something a little different: a book response! A large part of my veganism is political; I am trying to live responsibly and challenge the intersecting oppressions and destruction of the meat and dairy industries.
When I was a child, my parents frequently took myself and my siblings on car-camping trips. I was encouraged to play outside, to ride my bike in the neighborhood, and explore the patch of woods behind my house. The summers after seventh and eighth grade I was lucky enough to go to an outdoor adventure-style camp that included plenty of backpacking, hiking, and climbing. I personally credit these experiences with sparking my interest in outdoor activities, protecting the Earth, and hiking.
Since it’s original publication in 2005, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv has become a classic of the movement to reconnect children with nature. Louv makes a powerful argument for the need of children to have regular, unstructured, outdoor play time in undeveloped “fringe” areas of nature. He connects childhood outdoor playtime with development, disease, and cognitive abilities, as well as a healthy appreciation for the outdoors. He writes of the declining amount of time that children spend in the outdoors, and the negative impacts on society. His argument is compelling and we should all listen.
Despite my general agreement with the arguments made in the book, I have one main critique: Louv does not acknowledge his privilege as a white, middle-class, male, nor does he make efforts to explore how his background has shaped his ideas. He discusses suburbs, parents’ play time with kids, access to parks, as if these are universal. His few discussions of non-white folks, especially in the urban environment, come off as dismissive and patronizing.
His only examples of diversity are in describing programs for troubled urban youth that he introduces as “boyz of the hood become boyz of the woods” (pg. 55). The boys in question are part of a California program called Urban Corps, but he calls their leaders “Anglo” instead of white, and transcribes quotes from the boys while preserving the slang and dropped syllables in their language, something he does not do in other stories. This diminishing of their lived experiences is part of the problem in the environmental movement. By describing them as “boyz” instead of just boys, and emphasizing their way of speech instead of their discoveries in the outdoors, Louv reinforces the dominant white history of environmentalism, that it is “new” and “foreign” to young people of color and must be taught by us. This is an unfortunate and problematic way to describe what sounds like a good program.
To build an accessible, universal appreciation of the living world around us, we should heed Louv’s call to emphasize childhood outdoor play. But we should also work actively to take down the barriers to the outdoors that keep so many from the experience. It’s time to talk about why outdoor recreation and adventures like thru-hikes are predominantly white activities. Until we recognize the issues of class and privilege that have shaped historical outdoor activities and the dominant environmental groups–and challenge them–we will never be able to reverse nature-deficit disorder.
What do you think? How can we address diversity and equity in the outdoor world?
I did an interview with the Sierra Club’s Explore blog about vegan hiking and the Appalachian Trail! Check it out here.
I chatted with Mackenzie Mount about my motivation on the trail, the food I ate, and the half-gallon challenge.
As readers of this site will surely know by now, my main goal is to make vegan hiking more accessible by providing stories, tips, and inspiration! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or experiences with vegan hiking, or if you have any questions about an upcoming hike!
Well, it’s time to tackle the age-old debate around veganism and protein. For most folks who are vegan, when it comes up in conversation we are inevitably questioned about getting enough protein (As if animal products are the only source of protein, or that I can’t take care of myself without their helpful insights into what it takes to be vegan, oh well).
The simple reality is that for most people, if you eat a variety of vegetables and legumes, you probably get enough protein. Few vegans suffer from protein deficiency, and it very easy to meet protein needs if you eat a variety of foods. Ginny Messina, the Vegan R.D., writes about meeting protein requirements, and recommends two servings of legumes (beans, peanuts, soy foods) a day.
Obviously, meeting vegan nutrition needs while on the Appalachian Trail can be a little challenging (hence this blog!). As regular readers will know, I ate a lot of peanut butter on my hike, which is a fantastic source of great things for hikers like protein, calories, and fat. I also ate tortillas and bagels on a near daily basis, both of which are good sources of protein. An everything Thomas’ bagel has 10 grams, and a whole wheat Mission tortilla has 4 grams (I usually ate two per day).
I also made my own gorp on trail with peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, and sunflower seeds. The latter are very high in protein, similar to peanuts.
All of these are in addition to protein bars and my dinners, which were usually bean-based. At some point, the sheer amount of food that a thru-hiker eats will be enough to meet the nutrition needs of a hiker. But of course, the big challenge is that I don’t eat anywhere near this amount of processed food when I’m at home.
For a more detailed discussion of protein needs for vegans, I strongly recommend checking out the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, both are respected Registered Dietitians. Besides detailed chapters on the main nutritional needs of someone on a vegan diet, it has a very good section for vegan athletes.
Figuring out what works for you is the most important thing, this strategy worked for me. What is your eating strategy on trail?
It’s a new year again and that means it’s time for a new commitment to vegan hiking! I have been vegan for almost eight years now and I’ve been reflecting on what that means. In my daily life I don’t much think about it. After a while, eating vegan becomes less about “foods I don’t eat” and becomes more about just “food.” I don’t walk into the kitchen and think, hmm, don’t eat eggs, don’t eat bacon, what can I make?? In reality, I don’t even think about those kinds of things anymore, it’s become normal.
Planning for my thru-hike in 2009 was a real challenge, and one of the only times when I seriously considered whether staying vegan for the duration would be possible. I did my research and found woefully few online resources for folks like me; I wanted to hear that it was possible. (As readers of this blog know, that lack of web presence and encouragement is why I started this website!). By March, right before I set out to Springer Mountain in Georgia, I resolved that I would try as hard as possible to stay vegan but that I would have an open mind and be willing to compromise if it became too difficult.
That was a really tough decision and one I didn’t come to lightly.
Every new thru-hiker is grasping for something in those first weeks. They are looking for an affirmation of what they hoped a hike would be like, or for a confirmation that this crazy adventure is worth the undertaking. Everyone is scrambling to hand out and be offered a new trail name, to make it real, to live up to the image of being a thru-hiker. Many will leave with the trail, but many will push on, accepting that the trail is nothing like we imagined.
By a few weeks in to my hike I quickly discovered that not only was it possible to stay vegan, but it became important as well. To think so much about the food I ate and then decide to consciously renege on my commitment and effort was no longer an option. I remember a change of heart, staying vegan on the trail became more than just important, it was part of my identity as a hiker.
It definitely qualifies as a vegan/veggie/healthnut food. But I really love nutritional yeast, and many people have never heard of it. As a quick introduction, nutritional yeast is yeast, it’s yellow and flaky, and tastes vaguely cheesy. It also happens to be very high in nutrients (both natural and fortified)!
At home, the classic way to eat nutritional yeast is sprinkled liberally on popcorn. It’s also possible to use it in vegan cheese sauce or vegan mac and cheese. I enjoy it sprinkled on pasta, or just on toast with earth balance.
It is incredibly lightweight and a little goes a long way. When I hike I carry a half-size sandwich bag full, and put a spoonful on every dinner as a way to increase flavor and boost vitamins.
Nutritional yeast is difficult to find in anywhere but natural food stores. It also is greatly more economical to purchase from a bulk section than in containers (In bulk, it should cost $7 to $9 a pound. If it’s more than that, look elsewhere). Due to it’s rarity, as a backpacking food it is best in maildrops or when packing from home. I never counted on finding it along the Appalachian Trail, but I did put some in every maildrop.
Have any of you taken nutritional yeast on your hikes? Or come up with creative recipes for it?
As an aside, here is an obligatory note making excuses for not posting more! Here it is: I recently started grad school, and I’m super busy. But this project is really important to me so I’ll be continuing to write! As always, if you have experience as a vegan hiker and are interested in writing a guest post, please contact me!
Well, here is a classic hiker gear post. Almost everything I’ll be carrying on my upcoming hike on the Appalachian Trail. Total base weight for everything in my pack (including crocs that aren’t pictured) is 16.5 pounds. Not so bad!
What’s in my pack:
- Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2
- REI Raincoat
- Osprey Atmos 65, brain removed
- Sea to Summit Pack Cover, medium
- Thermarest RidgeRest
- Lafuma 600 45° synthetic sleeping bag
- Bear line and mini carabiner
- Petzl headlamp
- Wire pot stand, wind screen, lexan spoon
- Homemade pepsi-can alcohol stove
- Titanium pot
- Denatured alcohol in plastic soda bottle, wrapped in duct tape
- Silnylon stuff sack for food, bandana
- Platypus Big Zip 2 liter water bladder
- Platypus 4 liter water carrier
- First aid kit, lemon eucalyptus bug spray
- Rain mitts from ULA (no longer available…)
- Mosquito net
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers)
- Clothes and stuff sack: ultralight boxers for sleeping, patagonia long underwear bottoms, EMS long sleeve shirt, REI fleece camp socks, extra pair Darn Tough hiking socks
- Ultralight fleece hat
- L.L. Bean hiking poles
- Crocs shoes (not pictured)
What’s on my body:
- A. REI running shorts with mesh liner
- B. REI sleeveless shirt
- C. Buff
- D. Darn Tough socks
- E. New Balance trail runners with Superfeet green insoles
- F. Ipod mini
- G. Hat from Monson, Maine General Store, picked up on my thru-hike in 2009!
Finally, a discussion of the only non-vegan gear that I use: Darn Tough merino wool hiking socks (As with most “technical” wool socks, these are actually a blend: 65% wool, 35% synthetic). These are the best hiking socks. They are ultra comfortable, extremely durable, and do an amazing job wicking sweat and preventing blisters. I replaced my socks once on the whole trail, some other hikers went through many more pairs of Smartwool socks. I’ve tried the synthetic version that Darn Tough makes and found them to be scratchy, moreso than I’d like. So for now, I use wool socks. Though I try to avoid all animal products, for now I’m ok with using them! One day hopefully there will be a non-animal sock available that works just as well… If you have a vegan sock recommendation that’s worked great for you, let me know!
Check back soon for updates from the trail!