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I suppose longer posts on various aspects of vegan backpacking.

What I did last summer: Taking youth outdoors! [Updated]


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.



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My interview with Vegan Outdoor Adventures

I did an interview with Jessica Ryle for her cool new blog: Vegan Outdoor Adventures! I talk about hiking, gear for a thru-hike, and what makes a vegan hike different. Check it out!

I’m excited for her site, expanding the community of vegan folks who love the outdoors!

Jessica is also on Twitter.

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More posts coming!


Dear readers,

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.


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How to ship boxes to yourself on the Appalachian Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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!


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Vegan hiking shoes 2


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.

La Sportiva and Salomon have a wide range of synthetic 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?

There are several good choices including Backpacker 2013 Editor’s Choice best boot, the unreasonably named Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser Plus GTX RR for women and men.

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.


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Vegan hikers should eat avocados in town

The Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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).


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New posts coming!

Dear readers,

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!


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by | October 28, 2013 · 3:25 pm

Book Review/Response: Last Child in the Woods

A valley in VirginiaGreetings 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 its 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?


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Protein for a Vegan Thru-Hiker

A bald near the NC TN border, near Overmountain Shelter
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?

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A new year for vegan hiking

Somewhere near Shenandoah National Park

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.


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