Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

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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Trail Town Snack: Earth Balance Vegan Cheese Puffs

Julia with our new snack

I’m not usually one for hyper-processed vegan foods, nor do I regularly eat vegan cheese or fake meat. However, I recently had a chance to try the new Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs from Earth Balance. They are delicious. They’re basically corn puffs with a powdery flavored coating, sort of like a vegan version of Pirate’s Booty (I do love the vegan Veggie Booty from the same company). Just to cover my bases, each bag is 4 ounces, has 520 calories and 12 grams of protein, but that’s probably not why they’re a good snack food.

I can’t say that I expect hikers to regularly find these along the Appalachian Trail. But Earth Balance is a pretty big company, which makes me think that once they catch on, we’ll find them more and more in natural food sections in regular grocery stores. I don’t think it’s realistic to consider these puffs to be a regular trail food, but they are great for a special treat in town. We took a bag on a recent day hike in Connecticut, and they were perfect for a salty snack.

Once again, the nature of vegan hiking is that we are generally bound by what foods are accessible and need minimal preparation. That means that I end up eating a lot more processed, corporate-produced foods than I eat in regular life. The only options for eating home-cooked foods are often impractical, especially for long hikes. Cooking, drying, and sending drop boxes of meals ahead of time is intriguing (and something I would like to try more of), but it takes an extensive amount of time and preparation. As I’ve mentioned previously, part of my goal for this blog is to highlight accessible vegan options that make good trail foods.

I love that the vegan-specific food niche seems to be exploding with new options. We can hike and avoid animal products at the same time, whether for animal or environmental reasons, there’s no need to eat dairy or meat on a backpacking trip.

So that’s where we end up today, with a post that endorses another specific vegan product. Oh well, go forth and eat! (and hike!)


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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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What’s in my pack

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:

  1. Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2
  2. REI Raincoat
  3. Osprey Atmos 65, brain removed
  4. Sea to Summit Pack Cover, medium
  5. Thermarest RidgeRest
  6. Lafuma 600 45° synthetic sleeping bag
  7. Bear line and mini carabiner
  8. Petzl headlamp
  9. Wire pot stand, wind screen, lexan spoon
  10. Homemade pepsi-can alcohol stove
  11. Titanium pot
  12. Denatured alcohol in plastic soda bottle, wrapped in duct tape
  13. Silnylon stuff sack for food, bandana
  14. Platypus Big Zip 2 liter water bladder
  15. Platypus 4 liter water carrier
  16. Aquamira
  17. First aid kit, lemon eucalyptus bug spray
  18. Rain mitts from ULA (no longer available…)
  19. Mosquito net
  20. Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers)
  21. Umbrella
  22. 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
  23. Ultralight fleece hat
  24. L.L. Bean hiking poles
  25. 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!


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Planning resupplies on the Appalachian Trail

This summer I will be heading back out to the Appalachian Trail for a 320 mile section hike! This is a technical post on how I planned my resupplies:

First of all, I used two resources to determine the best resupply points along the trail. First is a copy of AWOL’s 2012 AT Guide (Which I’ll be carrying on the trail), and second are Baltimore Jack’s AT Resupply Information posts on WhiteBlaze.net. Though the latter are a few years old, they list every popular stop for thru-hikers and everything in between. I use the AT Guide for up-to-date information on the towns.

The next step is to use both resources and map out potential towns and the miles, looking for points about forty to seventy miles apart. As a long-distance hiker I want to minimize weight by carrying only as much as I have to, but I also don’t want to waste time going into town constantly. Two to five days in between resupplies was the average on my thru-hike.

To resupply vegan, I’m primarily looking to figure out which towns have big supermarkets and which might be better served by a mail drop to the post office.

This is the list of towns I came up with for this section, their mileages, and guide book pages:

Beginning from Duncannon, PA I’ll carry four to five days of food. What this often means for me is carrying four dinners and five lunches, with enough to stretch to a fifth dinner if I have to. As this will be my first long hike in a while, I’m not totally sure how fast I’ll be able to hike, so I’m working in some flexibility!

The first resupply will be Port Clinton, PA. This town is on the trail, and very small. It’s possible to hitch into larger Hamburg, PA and find a grocery store, but I’m going to send myself a mail drop here to the post office. In the box I’ll include enough dinners to get to Delaware Water Gap, but only enough lunch to make it to Palmerton. I’ll discuss exactly what I put in my mail drops in another post.

As Palmerton, PA is only forty miles from Port Clinton, I expect to make it on the third day out. Palmerton looks on the small side, which is why I’ll send dinners in the last mail drop. It has a grocery store where I’ll resupply lunches and breakfasts.

Next up is Delaware Water Gap, PA. There is not much in the town, but there is a hostel, an outfitter, and a small store. Nearby Stroudsburg has big markets, but I’ll send myself a mail drop to avoid the trip. From here I’ll take three and a half days worth of food to make it to Vernon, NJ.

Vernon has a large grocery store, so I expect I’ll be able to find some good food options here. Looking for three days to make it to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Most hikers will resupply in Fort Montgomery, NY near the bridge, but this happens to be near where family lives, so they will pick me up. When I pack food for my mail drops I’ll get enough to leave there. From here I’ll carry about four days worth of food to get to Kent, CT.

I planned like this because this section is so relatively short. For a thru-hike, it probably wouldn’t make sense to do this kind of planning ahead of time for the whole trail. Before you get out there, it’s difficult to know how fast you’ll hike, how much food you need, or what your future trail friends will want! Before my thru-hike I roughly mapped out resupplies, only to determine where to send the three mail drops for the first half of the trail. The rest of our resupplies we figured out during our hike.

To eat vegan on the trail takes some planning, but it’s not much more than the average thru-hiker!

(Look out for some posts from the trail this summer!)


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A raw potato in Tennessee

While staying at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel in Erwin, Tennessee I asked if they had any suggestions for vegan/veggie restaurant options in town and got a hearty laugh in return. “Not in Erwin, Tennessee” is what I was told, to be exact.*

The day before getting into town (randomly while walking through Sam’s Gap, under an interstate), Half Moon and I were taking a rest and contemplating how we could hitch down the road to a diner that might be open. We were about to just keep hiking when an elderly gentleman very slowly walks up the road and says hi. He waved us over to his truck which had been parked there and pointed out how the back was loaded with cases of vegetables! Half Moon and I were laughing at how silly this was… The guy was super nice and sent us on our way with a pile of oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, and some ramps. What ever to do with a huge, raw potato? Munch on it of course. I chopped up a little into my dinner that night and snacked on the rest of it raw.

*Some internet searching shows the closest natural food stores to be in Johnson City, a bit far away. We hitched to the Pizza Hut buffet in Erwin.

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Technically Vegan Part 1

In the real world I tend to eat a lot of vegetables and try to avoid eating too many processed foods (I also generally avoid buying from terrible companies like Kraft Foods, owned by Philip Morris). But with my hiker-hunger raging, I ate some foods I don’t normally buy, like delicious Oreo cookies. I jokingly refer to these as “technically” vegan, in my effort not to be one of those junk-food vegans we hear about all too often. This is somewhat of a joke in the vegan world, that something as ubiquitous, processed, and junk-foody as Oreos also just happen to not be made with any dairy or animal products; including other varieties like mint and peanut butter.

Other bloggers have written about vegan Oreos plenty before, and are in agreement that in the U.S. Oreos are in fact vegan. Though unfortunately it seems this is not the case in Europe or other places around the world, though it appears this petition garnered a positive recent response from Kraft Foods UK.

A single package has over 2000 calories and I burned through each one in just a few days. Cookies are an easy form of cheap calories on the trail when you’re burning as many as a thru-hiker. That Oreos are vegan is merely coincidental, as many of my hiker friends ate them as well. It certainly helps that they are available in almost any size grocery store.

From my personal experience with nutrition on a thru-hike, I found that I needed so many calories on a daily basis, paired with the difficulty of carrying and cooking fresh food, that I frequently padded my diet with these sorts of foods. I justified that if I ate more “nutritious” foods for the bulk of my main meals, it was ok to add in from the crappy-but-delicious-and-calorie-dense category. When I was doing well, I tried to have some semblance of vegetables included in my dinners. Though often that was just in the form of the little bits that were in packaged Indian food and rice and bean mixes… oh well.

Given the availability (and if they’re on sale) I’ll always choose organic mint Newman-O’s or Liz Lovely for a real treat.

*A disclaimer: I debated with myself about doing this kind of post that seemingly endorses a single product from a big company. Unfortunately, because of the general reality of the limited food choices along the Appalachian Trail, my intention is to highlight vegan options that are widely available for easy resupply. I encourage you to make your own decisions! And please don’t take this as an argument that it is only possible to thru-hike by eating crappy food, it’s just easier.


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Holiday Gift Ideas: Things any vegan hiker would love

Today we have a slight departure from the norm here, a list of some inexpensive gear and treats any vegan hiker will love! If you do any sort of December gift-giving, hopefully this list can help. I’m so bad at shopping, often spending way too long researching every option and alternative before picking my gear. Also, I’ve tried to include some things you may not have thought of, if you are still planning for an upcoming hike. So here is my curated list of excellent gear buys:

Original Buff $20

It’s like a bandana but it’s attached in a loop. Pretty versatile thing, I wore it as a headband, or around my neck when it was a little bit chilly. Comes in lots of colors.

Platypus Water Tank 4.0-Liter, 3.6oz. $30

A collapsible water carrier! I never would have thought of this before I actually saw it in use on the trail. I first bought it when I was still using a filter. It was way more comfortable to go sit and filter at camp, instead of awkwardly balancing my water bottles down by the stream. And later on, it was just super nice to get all the water I needed in one trip. Sometimes the water source is a good hike from the shelter…’

Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Rain Mitt, 1.2oz/pair. $49

I don’t have these and I’ve never worn them, but, I wish I did! I had a different brand of rain mitts that didn’t work so well, they wore out pretty quickly and weren’t very waterproof. But I can’t say enough about how great rain mitts are. When it’s cold and rainy, fleece gloves get soaked and don’t keep you very warm. Before my next big hike, I’ll probably get a pair of these, or try my hand at making a pair myself…

Fleece Socks, $15

One of my favorite backpacking “tricks” is to carry a pair of camp socks that I only wear when I’m done hiking for the day. This way I always have a dry, cleanish pair of socks to put on after a long, cold day of slogging through the mud. I found fleece socks to be a great choice for this, they’re warm and really lightweight, and there’s no chance of confusing them with your hiking socks. Any basic fleece sock is fine, I recently found some more inexpensive ones at Costco.

Liz Lovely Cookies, $4

Because they’re my favorite cookies, vegan, made in Vermont, and delicious. I’m always happy when someone gets me a pack of these…

So there’s a few options, hopefully something that might be just right for someone you know who’s planning a thru-hike!

Happy December! I mean, happy end of the fiscal fourth quarter!

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Why I hike

“A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.”

When I was 13 I spent a summer in Maine at an outdoor adventure camp. We camped every night, cooked our own food and spent our days hiking and rock climbing, hopping from activity to activity. It was fantastic and I loved it so much that I went back the following year.

Only that year was different, it featured a four day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, and it sparked inside me the burning desire to thru-hike. The hike that summer was hard, my whole body hurt and I was the slowest in the group, but was one of the only kids who loved every second. While everyone else was complaining, I was soaking it all up.

Even though I was the slowest in the group, I told my leaders that I was going to hike the whole thing one day.

There are a lot of things that drive someone to choose spending months in the woods instead of in civilization. For me, it was the idea of carrying my whole life in one backpack. I wanted to completely rely on myself in a way that was difficult to find while off the trail. I wanted to set out on an incredible adventure, and in the mean time fulfill one of my dreams.

Once on trail for a while, life changes and begins to revolve around your daily life of walking. It is very different than “off-trail” and perspectives of a thru-hike change in a big way. The big dreams and ideas of what a hike will be like start to fall away. The sense of accomplishment at the end is real. But along the way, the old ideas become less important, less tangible, and they change to accept the reality of what a thru-hike is like.

I remember coming home at the end of my hike and finding it very difficult to understand what the experience was, it was impossible to put into words.

It was the constant reassessment of what’s important and what isn’t. On one hand is the pain and challenge of getting up every day to keep going. On the other is the incredible feeling of reaching the top of the next mountain, and of having no worries except what is happening on the trail.

I think that before starting a thru-hike, many people have misconceptions about what they will find and what it will be like. Many expect to “find themselves” or just have a relaxing experience in the wilderness. A thru-hike is nothing like that. I remember a discussion one day amongst my trail friends a few months in, and everyone had different expectations than what the hike turned out to be. The truth is that this is what drives many people to quit before the end. On the other hand, the reality for me was that the changes and experiences I had on the trail will stay with me forever and have definitely helped shape and add perspective to some aspects of my life. But the immediate sense of “change” after completion that I was hoping for never came to be.

But my thru-hike was still incredible, and I still love the Appalachian Trail. When I encounter aspects of the A.T., I am washed over with nostalgia and a new longing to be back on the trail…

2108.5 miles to Katahdin (2178, the year I hiked)! My first time back to Amacalola Falls State Park since 2009.

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