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Another new year for vegan hiking

Hiking on Mt. Cardigan, New Hampshire

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…


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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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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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Vegan hiking shoes

Switching out my first pair of shoes after seven hundred miles on the AT!

Unlucky for vegans, shoes are often the last holdouts of non-vegan clothing items in our wardrobes. It can also be difficult to find good vegan shoes. On my hike I wore trail runners, and I would recommend them to any thru-hiker. Lucky for us, it is much easier to find vegan sneakers than vegan hiking boots.

Boots are heavy, clunky, and take significantly more effort to walk in compared to shoes. I once read that one pound of extra weight on your feet is the equivalent of seven pounds of extra weight on your back. Don’t know if that’s really true, but you can definitely notice the difference if you switch from boots to trail runners. I find lighter shoes to be easier to hike in and more comfortable.

I wore New Balance trail runners, which is their “MT” or “WT” model line. They’re all synthetic, no leather here! I really liked these shoes, and I went through three pairs of them! New Balance still makes a lot of their shoes in the US, too (no sweat). But you can check out any other brand of trail runners as well, there are many varieties and largely made without leather. People wore all different brands of shoes and boots on the trail.

For hiking boots, I think there is still some of the old-school thinking that still defines boots for many people; that is, they need to be all leather. This unfortunately results in many fewer vegan options. Garmont used to make a vegan boot but it’s since been discontinued. The folks over at hikingboots.com have a post listing some vegan boot options.

But seriously, unless you are winter hiking or have really bad ankles, I strongly recommend trying out some trail runners on your next hike! As a further note, mine were not waterproof and it wasn’t a problem at all.

edit: New Balance addresses vegan shoes here. Though many of their shoes are synthetic, they sometimes use nonvegan glue, depending on what is available. I found these shoes to be the best bet for my needs, and I was ok with using them. If you know of any 100% vegan trail runners, leave the name in the comments!


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Vegan sleeping bags?

Yes, this is about the old debate in hiking circles about synthetic versus down sleeping bags, though I’m not going to rehash all of the arguments here. Obviously down is an animal product, made from the soft feathers of various bird species. As a vegan I try to avoid using animal products, and luckily in this case there are excellent alternatives. Synthetic sleeping bag insulation (such as Primaloft brand) is very light, incredibly warm, and ubiquitous. On my thru-hike I carried an REI ten degree bag that weighed just over three pounds. I’m sure I could have done better but was limited by my budget at the time. At Trail Days I switched to a Lafuma forty-five degree synthetic bag that weighed one pound.

During your hike you’ll probably encounter a lot of people using ultralight down sleeping bags. Western Mountaineering is in a lot of the gear stores along the AT and has twenty degree bags that are around two pounds. Many people (who have money…) shell out for these. But down is not the only ultralight option. Two of my hiking partners made their own ultralight synthetic hiking quilts from a kit by Ray Jardine. They put them together with no sewing experience, and seemed to be quite happy.

New developments in hiking technology have led to a lot of really great vegan alternatives to the old traditional gear. There are plenty of ultralight synthetic sleeping bags that are just as warm as down.

Protip: line your sleeping bag stuff sack with a light trash bag for an extra layer of protection to be sure it never gets wet.

What is your sleeping bag set-up? Leave it in the comments!


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