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 read through old posts for food and gear advice from one hiker to another. Head to Resupply for a guide to vegan options along the Appalachian Trail. –Samwise
Happy new year! Here we are again, it’s been nearly six years since my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail while vegan, and I gotta say… I still can’t believe it was that long ago.
As I’ve repeated over and over on this blog, I started this site to support other vegan hikers with tips and inspiration, and so far I think I’ve been successful! Many people view the site every day from around the world, which is a pretty clear sign of how widespread the interest is in hiking more compassionately.
In most ways, vegan hiking is the same as non-vegan hiking. We just do it without animal products.
My concern for the earth, our communities, and farm animals led me to go vegan many years ago. I don’t consume any animal products (including meat, dairy, or animal derivatives like honey), and I try to minimize my use of non-vegan stuff as much as possible. I’m not dogmatic about it, and I try to be realistic and practical. I never make exceptions in my diet. But I also recognize that living a life that is 100% free of harm to any animals is a futile endeavor. That is just the terrible reality of a world built partly upon the wholesale exploitation of animals for meat and dairy. My veganism is an attempt to live a more conscious life and trying to do the best I can.
My personal commitment to veganism gives me inspiration in the rest of my life. It helps me focus, allows perspective, and is a daily reminder to put my life and actions where my beliefs and politics are.
Since I was thirteen years old I dreamt of thru-hiking the AT. The year after college I achieved my dream, stepping off of Springer Mountain into a new world of walking and mountain air. I set out to be a thru-hiker, not a vegan thru-hiker, and after the first few weeks I almost gave it up. But then I reflected on what was important to me and realized that I could safely and happily stay vegan and stick to what I had set out to do.
Happy new year, dear readers! Keep on vegan hiking, just one more climb before camp…
This summer (2014) I had the coolest job. I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club with the Youth Opportunities Program leading trips for urban youth from the Boston area to New Hampshire for four days/three nights of hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and camping! Each week from July through August I led a new group with a co-leader from their agency on these jam-packed adventures. Each week was very busy, giving these youth—most of whom had never experienced anything like this before—a taste of many different outdoor activities. The purpose was both to introduce youth to responsible, safe, fun in the outdoors and to support the co-leader in improving their skills so they can lead similar trips on their own.
The Youth Opportunities Program is pretty darn awesome, and if you work with urban youth in New England in the United States, you should really check them out. Their primary focus is on giving youth workers the skills and resources to take youth outside.
I maintained my veganism throughout the summer, of course, though I take a nuanced view of it in terms of leadership positions with youth. In these contexts where I am in a position of responsibility, I don’t think that it’s my place to impose my choices on the folks in my groups. For many of my youth, sleeping outside was already pushing their comfort zones enough. I want the outdoors to be as accessible and welcoming as possible, and I think that having big discussions about veganism in the first days of a trip would shade the experience. So I offer meat and dairy options to my kids.
When designing trip menus, I make meals that are easily vegan-friendly and include any dairy or meat as a component, and not a central piece. For example, for one of our nights in the mountain we made burritos with veggies, beans, and rice, with frozen chicken on the side. Nobody noticed that I didn’t have any, almost everyone had some vegetables, and it was easy to do without anyone feeling uncomfortable or put out.
I take my being vegan seriously, and I will happily talk about it with anyone. But I want the youth to focus on the woods, the mountain air, stars, camping, responsible outdoor recreation, and the experience. And not on the funny diet of their leader. This works for me. What do other vegan outdoor leaders do?
*It’s been a long time since my last post. I’m still here and committed to this blog, I promise!! Alas, the life of a grad student…
[Update] I just want to elaborate a little on why I wrote a post partly about providing non-vegan food to kids I took outside. I’m vegan, and I don’t view this as a compromise. Of course I want more people to go vegan, but I don’t think that a first-time trip for youth is an effective or strategic environment for that discussion, especially while I was working in a position of authority and responsibility. Most of the meals I planned were vegetarian or vegan, and when meat was offered there was a significant veggie option (which many ate). I believe that veganism is a powerful statement of personal responsibility against corporate environmental destruction and climate change, and is especially relevant to hikers. I hoped that the kids on my trips came away with a positive experience in the outdoors, and, if they were paying attention, noticed that I was doing just fine without any animal products.
More posts are coming, promise! I’m so sorry to do this again, explaining away the lack of regular entries…
As I’ve posted before, I am currently a graduate student, and I’m working on my thesis right now. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding but doesn’t leave me much time for writing posts or hiking… Ugh, sorry everyone.
That being said, I am still committed to this blog and you can definitely expect more from me soon, especially in the summer!
I started this site out of frustration with the lack of vegan resources for serious hikers. When I was preparing for my thru-hike, I was seriously considering how ready I would be to compromise my vegan diet because I couldn’t find anything reliable online from past vegan hikers. I started this site to provide help and inspiration to vegans who love hiking! Anyone can stay vegan on a long hike and be just as happy, healthy, and successful as our meat and dairy-eating friends. All it takes is a little creativity and a bit more planning.
This blog is fast approaching 100,000 total page views, which blows my mind. Readers are based all around the world, from places like the U.S., Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Costa Rica, South Africa, Egypt, and many many others. I think that this is testament to both the spread of veganism and the global interest in vegan hiking. This began as a personal reflection on my experiences, and it’s turned into something much bigger! What an exciting journey!
Thanks to all of my past readers who’ve stuck with me over the years, and welcome to new visitors! I truly hope that this blog is a helpful resource for your outdoor adventures while vegan. If there is a topic you’d like me to write about, please let me know via email or in the comments. And as always, if you are a vegan hiker, I want to hear from you!!
In the meantime, new visitors please take the time to read through older posts. Here in the Northeast United States, in New England, spring is finally here and it feels great. Time to hit the trail.
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!