Intro

So you’re vegan and thinking of starting a long-distance backpacking trip:

First of all, it can be done! There is a lot of misinformation out there, much of it from people that are either not vegan, not backpackers, or both! Let me allay your fears right at the start: I’m vegan and maintained my diet during my 2009 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

I hope that this article will help you feel a little more prepared, and hopefully answer some of the questions you may have.

My first piece of advice is to be flexible. I don’t mean that you should be OK with eating dairy, I mean be prepared to eat some foods that you normally avoid at home. Long-distance backpacking puts an enormous strain on your body and it is incredibly important that you get the appropriate caloric intake. For example, at home my diet tends to exclude most processed foods and products that contain ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. I also made a decision before I hiked that I would eat certain ingredients that are classified as “sometimes not-vegan;” these include sugar, food dyes, and other food additives.

I did most of my shopping locally, right off of the trail. I did have some mail drops prepared, but for the vast majority of my hike, I resupplied from grocery stores. I ate a variety of the same kinds of packaged and processed foods that most backpackers eat, but without the meat or dairy. I did this by trying to eat as much of a variety as I could, and I also made a decision that I was ok carrying a little bit more weight in order to eat well.

One piece of advice I was given is that you’ll never go hungry, you’ll always be able to find something you can eat in a store, even if it means extra peanut butter and a can of beans. But that may be all that you need to get to the next town.

Long-distance backpacking also affords many challenges that a shorter trip does not have such as eating meals in town. This was the most difficult part of staying vegan for me. Often a diner was the only place to eat and I would end up with just a plate of home fries, while my friends were wolfing down plates of blueberry pancakes! It was a huge test of will-power, but something that can be done for sure.

This next section I will outline some of my eating strategies and foods I often ate while on the trail.

Breakfast: For the first half of my hike I ate instant oatmeal every morning with a little bit of sugar and cinnamon. For the second half I carried cold cereal and ate it with water. If you have never tried cereal and water, it’s really not bad at all. I ate raisin bran mostly, as it had raisins and good fiber. Most cereals are also fortified with B12, as well as several other vitamins and minerals. Powdered soymilk I have found is very hard to come by, and it’s expensive when you do.

Lunch: I ate peanut butter almost every day, usually with a tortilla or bagel, though I rarely made it into a sandwich, and would just eat spoonfuls. I usually would get “natural” peanut butter from one of the bigger brands like Jif or Skippy. These were available in most grocery stores and were one way I avoided hydrogenated oils. These brands still have sugar in them, which I found was necessary to make it tastier to eat on a daily basis. I would often also add chocolate chips or something else sweet as well.

Dinner: Ok here’s the big one and the most challenging for a vegan. It was always hard to find interesting food that had some nutrients more than just protein (read: vegetables!). Most non-vegans add cheese to most of their dinners, so many “normal” backpacking foods are out. I usually ate tortillas with most meals to add carbs. I also carried nutritional yeast and olive oil to boost nutrients and calories.

I ate a lot of couscous in the beginning, as it cooks instantly. I would pair it with some dehydrated black beans or refried beans. These were often available in natural food sections of bigger supermarkets. Several brands of dehydrated rice and bean mixes are vegan as well from brands such as Zatarains and Vigo. These are pretty good tasting and available everywhere, they also contain good amounts of protein and carbs. In the second half of my hike I ate more “wet” food, such as Kashi brand pouches. Uncle Bens also has several flavors, and I would also look for Indian dishes in the same packaging from brands like Tasy Bite. These are delicious, and they contain some vegetables too, so it’s more than just beans. The downside is that they can be heavy, and I had to add instant rice or couscous to them in order to fill me up. I thought they were well worth the extra weight.

Snacks: I usually ate a bar at least once a day. Clif and Luna bars are vegan and contain lots of good vitamins. I also ate Pro Bars, which are raw, vegan, and packed with calories. I also carried gorp made with peanuts, chocolate chips, raisins, and sunflower seeds. Sometimes I made this on the trail, but it was really heavy unless I had a friend to split it with. The exception is if I found a natural food store with a bulk section, then I could mix up a small amount. I also sometimes carried pretzels to snack on in between meals.

My biggest advice is not to worry about it! I always found food to eat, and felt good knowing that I was able to enjoy backpacking without relying on animal products. Happy trails!

-Samwise GA>ME ’09

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22 responses to “Intro

  1. Thanks for this blog site. Tumble and I are both vegan and backpacked Vermont’s Long Trail end-to-end in 2003. We continue to backpack every summer in Vermont.

    Vegan backpackers are invited to listen to Tumble’s recent podcast titled “Preparing Your Own Trail Meals” on our Long Trail-related website at http://www.longtrailpodcast.com.

    Rough

  2. Lauren

    This site is great! Thank you for doing this.

  3. vegematic

    Great site! I hope it takes off. I went vegetarian in 1992 and vegan in 1999. I haven’t through hiked the AT but completed the Long Trail over three summers. I plan to start sectioning the AT and generally do a lot of hiking and backpacking year round.

    I’ll post your link on the Vegan Represent Forum (www.veganrepresent.com) to help get the word out.

  4. Scott

    I hope you keep adding to this site. I have been vegan for about six years and also love to backpack. Short trips are not an issue but thru-hiking can be a challenge. Last extended hike I just mailed myself a box as I left home but that won’t work for a months long hike like the AT. I have never tackled anything as big as the AT but it is on my list. My biggest concern is keeping the calorie count up and my second biggest concern is offending the trail angels when turning down their food.

    At home I eat low-fat whole grain vegan and mostly organic. On the road I usually head for Thai and tell them to drop the eggs or I order pizza without cheese if there are no “vegan” places around. I know that if I do the AT (or a similar jaunt) I will have to lower my standards quite a bit but long distance hiking converts your metabolic engine into a calorie burning furnace anyhow so I don’t see that as a big issue. REI sells some vegan backpack food but it is a bit pricey. My local supermarket has some pretty good dehydrated bean soup mixes in bulk and I usually take that along with couscous and Quinoa and bread. Dense bread is great for carbs but it is weighty. But I love bread so a loaf goes in squished or not.

    Does anyone know of any online sources that sell vegan foods and will drop boxes on a schedule? Or is there any place that one can call to order from and have the box dropped at a trail town PO? That seems like it would be ideal.

    Saw a post on another site that said you can’t hike vegan without running out of gas. Not true. I have two hiking groups I lead and I as the vegan have more energy and staying power than anyone in the group. I power up the hills and at the end of the hike I am not winded like the rest. I have done 24 mile days with a forty-five pound pack and good elevation gains running on a vegan diet. It is not an issue.

    Thanks again for the site. Keep going on it. People will find this.

    • Sam

      The most common vegan pre-made backpacking food is Mary Jane Farms: http://www.backcountryfood.com/ I never got any because it’s so expensive! If you’ve got the budget, some people ate these prepackaged backpacking foods for the whole trip. I couldn’t afford to do that, but it is an option.

      It is entirely possible to get enough calories as a vegan. Olive oil is a nice, quick boost of calories. Peanut butter has a ton of calories as well. I carried Pro Bars too, they are vegan and raw, and have 350-400 calories each.

      -Samwise

      • vegematic

        I used Mary Janes Farms and liked it quite a lot. I ordered the 3 pound bulk and repackaged them into zip locks at home. It was much more economical than buying the 2-serving packets. She has a great just-add-water mix for garlic pestro fry bread and one for cornbread. Drop the cornbread batter into Fantastic Foods taco mix while it simmers, they steam into dumplings.

    • Victoria

      I don’t know that this brand does drops on schedule, but Mary Jane’s Farm is a great company that offers vegan backpacking food. I also found their customer service to be great. It’s always possible you could present your idea to them and they may be willing to accommodate you.

      http://www.backcountryfood.org/shop/

      • Samwise

        I’ve heard about Mary Jane’s, but haven’t had a chance to try their packaged meals. On my thru-hike, the ready-made meals were a bit expensive for my needs. However I see on their website that there is a bulk option. Great to see there’s a company making vegan hiking meals!

  5. James Wieszciecinski

    Great to find this site via Whiteblaze.net. I am a newly converted vegan, or at least attempting to become one. I agree with the Mary Janes’ Farm products as being great backpacking foods, and she has a good selection of vegan. You do have to buck-up, but, I went the bulk and repackaged. I also, love the freezer bag cooking method with my Jetboil. In 2009 I did a20 day-150 mile hike/pack on Isle Royale National Park, MI. Mary Janes’ Farm was my mainstay for dinners. I hadn’t gone vegan at that time, but, re-supply on the Isle was limited only to the east/west ends of the island, and very limited at that. So, I carried 10 day supplies with one mail-drop to the west end at Wendigo. This is awesome that you have started this for AT vegans’ and to attempt to point out good re-supply facilities. I would hope contributors might even help it expand to other long trails as well, such as the PCT, CDT, or NCNST. One good research item might be to figure which towns along the trails have a Walmart in them. As, they should have a fairly good selection of vegan, and possibly organic. Just a though, as that is one thing I am attempting to research at this time. I hope this site keeps expanding, good luck with it. I know, I will check in often.
    Jim

  6. Mark

    I hope you keep the site going! This is great information for a new vegan like myself. While I’ve been hiking for years, I’m just now trying to figure out how to do it without leather boots and cheese (an old staple of mine). Congrats on finishing the thru-hike, by the way–it’s disgusting how many non-vegans on other sites are posting things like “no vegan actually has enough energy to finish thru-hikes.” Thanks for being the living rebuttal, so to speak. 🙂

    I’ll be checking back periodically!

    • Samwise

      Thanks Mark! (and everyone else who has commented!)
      I agree, when I was planning for my thru-hike I encountered so many comments about how “no vegan has finished.” I even got that when I was a month into my hike!

      Part of my motivation for creating this site was to counter that myth and hopefully inspire other vegan hikers to attempt a thru-hike.
      Happy trails,
      Samwise

  7. Kim

    Please add Outdoor Herbivore to your list of backpacking food companies. We are an independent operation located out of Charlotte, NC. We are vegetarian backpackers that started this company out of the need for finding better tasting camp foods that are minimally processed, locally produced, calorie dense, and lightweight. 100 % of our foods are vegetarian (nearly all are also vegan), most of the ingredients are organic, and the portions are large. The meals are all one-pot style that require you to add water (cold or boiled) to the contents and hydrate. We also support deliveries to any location along the AT that accept thru hiker holds. I want to share this with the outdoor community – especially the vegans as I know first hand how difficult it is to eat well on the trail!

    • vegematic

      I’ve just received an order from Outdoor Herbivore for my upcoming 2-week hike on the Cohos Trail in northern New Hampshire. Everything looks delicious! I can’t wait to get out there and eat it all. It looks like they’ve added many more items since last spring when I tried them.

  8. Thank you so much for your site! I am a vegan planning to thru-hike this March and this site relieved my concerns.

    • Samwise

      Great! I’m so happy you found it! Please feel free to email if you have any questions as you start planning.

      Happy trails!
      Samwise

  9. Russell

    Love the site and the info!

  10. Lana

    Hey! Thank you for putting up this site. It is the first one I found, and is very encouraging as I begin to contemplate my first trip since becoming vegan. Knowing you’ve done it makes it seem much more feasible! Your rock. 🙂

  11. seven years ago my life fell into a major depression. I was 350Lbs in a miserable failing marriage, that ended in divorce. I ate and drank my blues away or so I thought. I made a commitment 3 years ago to get my life back on track. I was 475lbs, I couldn’t walk for more than 50 yards. I decided to go vegetarian and just move a little everyday. The weight came down and I moved more. I read in a blog about the movie documentary called Forks Over Knives. The more I researched and learned about the way animals are treated in the food industry I decided I wanted nothing more to do with it. I became a vegan. It was a slow process with many stumbles but I did it. As the weight started coming off I wanted to move more and more. I discovered the wonders of hiking recently over the past 3 months. Just short hikes in our local parks. I found your site and I am so glad I did. I was wondering what I should be eating on the trail. Thank you for setting it up and all the wonderful information. I am still doing weekend short hikes, but I hope to work up to weekend trips instead of day trips. If their is one thing I have learned on my journey in life back to who I was is it takes small steps and every small step is no less significant than a giant leap. It all goes forward and we can all learn. Peace and thank you again, BTW my weight is down to 335 from my largest of 470.

    • Samwise

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m so glad you found my blog and have found it useful on your journey to better health and fun in the outdoors. Forks Over Knives is great. There are so many benefits to eating less processed food, especially meat and dairy. Congrats on your weightloss progress, and happy hiking!! If you come up with any good vegan trail meals on your own, I’d love to hear about it!

  12. Nice preparation, love it ! Do you have experience with raw food on your trails? 🙂 It seems that raw food hiking is more easily, because your dont have to be worried about cooking right? However we have been straggling on our first 24 hour raw food hike, but in the end of the day, everything was great ! Check this our and get inspired ! 🙂 Let me know what is your secret? http://rawmanrawoman.com/11-time-to-hike-24-hour-raw-meal-plan—let-the-energy-be-with-you.html

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