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
I have mentioned several times on this blog about sending packages to yourself while hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you are in the planning stages for a thru-hike, it may not be obvious what I actually mean by that.
Over the decades a strong hiker culture and institutional support have been built up around the long trails (both the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail). Towns along the trail are used to seeing thru-hikers and are often set up to provide the resources we need. For example, many small motels sell denatured alcohol by the ounce, and other such offerings.
There are two sorts of packages you may send to yourself: resupply boxes with food and extra gear, or orders of new gear (new sneakers).
The easiest way to mail packages to yourself is through the post office. Post offices along the AT receive a large number of packages for hikers every year and are set up for this. There are a few caveats. First is that it is best to use your real name on the package (not a trail name!) because postal workers will often ask for ID before handing out mail. Second is that mail sent to a post office must be sent by the post office. That is, you can’t send UPS or Fedex to general delivery.
The third—and arguably most important—caveat is that you can only pick up packages from the post office during business hours. Post offices are closed on Sunday, and many have shortened hours on Saturday, so make sure you think ahead or you may end up waiting in town longer than you expected to. One nice option at the post office is that an uncollected package can be forwarded to another post office for free. So if you hike into town on a Saturday night and don’t want to wait until Monday, you can resupply at the grocery store and call the post office on Monday to send your package somewhere else.
Many post offices have a separate rack just for hiker packages. To mail a package to yourself, send it with this format:
Your Real World Name
c/o General Delivery
Town, State, Zip
Then somewhere on the front of the package write: “Please hold for AT hiker, Estimated arrival: date range“
For boxes that you don’t pack yourself, such as orders of new gear from a company, if you are going to mail to a post office, make sure they use the postal service and not another carrier.
The alternative to the post office is to look for other places such as hostels, motels, gear stores, etc. that hold mail drops for hikers. The easiest and most reliable method of finding these is to use the most recent edition of the AT Guide or another thru-hiker guidebook. It’s generally a good idea to still call ahead to make sure they haven’t closed up since the book was printed. There are several advantages to mail dropping to a business. One is that they are usually open seven days a week, and often with longer hours than the post office. The second advantage is that you can send via any carrier you prefer.
Finally, I would advise against sending out six months worth of mail drops in advance. You never know what’s going to happen, but it’s also likely that your tastes may change, you may want different gear from home, or you may desire something you hadn’t thought of. On my hike, during a stopover at my parents’ house in New York, I packed and addressed a few boxes for New England but left them unsealed. Then I called and asked my mother to please send them as I planned ahead while on trail. Sometimes she put in a few extra vegan treats for me!
My first post about vegan hiking shoes is now a couple years old, so it’s time for an update!
First, I still stand by my original recommendation that long-distance hikers on a maintained trail will be best served by trail runners, sneakers, or a very lightweight hiking boot. Unfortunately, the old-school mentality remains: that backpackers need to wear big, heavy, all-leather, Boots. This will be reinforced in any gear store by well-meaning employees who will always recommend bulky hiking boots if you mention the word “backpacking.” (This is a similar phenomenon to how every inexperienced camper—usually men—brings the biggest knife they can carry… what do you expect to use it for?).
The best footwear for a long-distance hike are trail runners.*
There are several problems with the use of animal products in shoes. First is leather, and second is glue and other subsidiary products. It is easy to avoid leather, but much more difficult to know whether a shoe is completely animal free unless the manufacturer states so (and you believe them). My personal vegan philosophy is to do the best you can without driving yourself crazy. I look for shoes without leather, but I don’t worry so much about glues or other ingredients. On my hike, I used New Balance trail runners. New Balance addresses the use of non-vegan glues (This page seems to be updated regularly).
A few last notes about shoes on the trail. First, you will likely go through at least two if not three pairs of shoes. Don’t worry about buying the most rugged pair to last all the way to Katahdin, new shoes feel wonderful on the trail. Second, there are many gear stores and shoe stores along the way, if you start with a pair and discover they hurt your feet, it is so easy to find something different. Finally, I always hike with Superfeet insoles, they’re great.
Luckily, it is very very easy to find non-leather trail runners.
New Balance has a variety of choices for women and men.
Merrell has a vegan collection including a few trail runners.
Check out any of the major shoe brands, many have trail runners, and they’re rarely made with leather.
What if I insist on hiking boots?
Adidas has a well regarded synthetic option, the Terrex Fast or Terrex Quick.
*Here’s some science: Legg and Mehanty (1986) found that it is four to six times more “expensive” in terms of oxygen use to carry extra weight on your feet (heavy shoes) versus on your back. Jones, et. al. (1985) found that women running or walking in boots used significantly more energy than the same activity in shoes.
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.