Tag Archives: snacks

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 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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Probars Are a Great Vegan Bar

Trail in Southern Virginia

If you’ve been near a Whole Foods or REI recently, you’ve probably seen these bars on the shelf. They’ve been around for some years, and they are a really tasty, high-calorie, natural, vegan option. My dad introduced Probars to me a long time ago: he carries them for long-distance cycling.

It’s true that almost every long-distance higher gets sick of eating bars at some point in their trip. Cereal bars, protein bars, energy bars, they’re all shaped like a brick and mostly taste like bland sugar… Regardless, many hikers still eat tons of them, as there just isn’t any other way to get so many calories and nutrients in a tiny package. On my hike, my general strategy was to eat one bar a day, supplemented with my trail-made gorp, as a snack between meals. I think this helped break the monotony, and definitely provided some ingredients I wasn’t getting in other foods.

There are two things that make Probars stand out. One is that they are almost entirely made out of real ingredients like fruits, nuts, and seeds. They’re still sweet, but I think they taste something closer to real food. The other main benefit is that they are really high in calories. Ranging from 370-390 in each bar can help you quickly reach the thousands of extra calories that a hiker needs. They weigh 3 oz. each (about .5 oz and nearly 150 more calories than a Clif Bar, which will probably get its own post some day).

I’ve highlighted other options for packing in calories, but sometimes you want something more than just another spoonful of peanut butter. Bars are a natural fit in the typical trail diet. Unfortunately. It’s a common refrain at the top of Katahdin that we’re never eating another bar again. It’s quite funny for me to be writing this now—nearly four years after my thru-hike—because I still have a lingering distaste for energy bars! But sometimes, there just isn’t a better option.

And, once again, here is my standard disclaimer about yet another post that seemingly endorses a specific product from some big company. This blog is focused on accessible options for vegan hikers, which often means eating straight out of grocery stores or sometimes a gas station. When we’re on the trail, what we find is what we eat! I suppose this blog is for the discerning scavenger. Hike on!

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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!)

Yum

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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 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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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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Peanut butter is a great vegan trail food

peanut butter on a bagel

I think so. Peanut butter is super high in calories, protein, and fat. These are obviously the main nutrients you need to be aware of when undertaking strenuous physical activity like a thru-hike. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 190 calories, 16g of fat and 7g of protein (source). There are few vegan foods comparable to the nutrient density of peanut butter. Non-vegan hikers of course eat a lot of cheese and some eat meat.

I ate peanut butter on my hike for lunch almost every day. Sometimes just by the spoonful, but usually with a bagel or tortilla. And sometimes with chocolate chips when I had them.

When I could find it, I preferred the “natural” varieties from the big companies like Skippy. They don’t have partially hydrogenated oil like most peanut butters do, but they still have a little sugar in them so they’re tastier and easier to eat daily.

Maybe you’re thinking, “really? peanut butter? tell me something new.” I believe these kinds of foods are important to affirm for vegan hikers. The reality is that most long-distance hikers–vegan or not–are surviving on an extremely limited variety of food. Most hikers carry cheese as an easy, calorie-dense trail food; peanut butter is a very strong alternative.

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Vegan cookies!

Yes, in this post I’m featuring a non-trail food: vegan chocolate chip cookies!

Though I didn’t have many food drops during my hike, the ones I did were left packed, addressed and unsealed at my parents’ house. My mom would ship them from the post office as I was getting close to each town. She often would pack a treat of some kind, though under strict (half-serious) instructions not to send too much as I would have to carry whatever I couldn’t eat/share! But the treats were always a welcome surprise…

This is one of the best chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve had, and it is the recipe she used:

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Egg Replacer for 2 eggs (Energ-G brand works great)
  • 2 cups (12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
  2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl.
  3. Add egg replacer one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture.
  4. Stir in chips and nuts.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
  6. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Source

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