Tag Archives: vegetarian

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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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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Nutritional yeast is great backpacker food

It definitely qualifies as a vegan/veggie/healthnut food. But I really love nutritional yeast, and many people have never heard of it. As a quick introduction, nutritional yeast is yeast, it’s yellow and flaky, and tastes vaguely cheesy. It also happens to be very high in nutrients (both natural and fortified)!

At home, the classic way to eat nutritional yeast is sprinkled liberally on popcorn. It’s also possible to use it in vegan cheese sauce or vegan mac and cheese. I enjoy it sprinkled on pasta, or just on toast with earth balance.

Two tablespoons of Red Star brand nutritional yeast contains eight grams of protein and four grams of fiber. It is also high in B vitamins, including B12, B6, B2, and B1. (Source and source)

It is incredibly lightweight and a little goes a long way. When I hike I carry a half-size sandwich bag full, and put a spoonful on every dinner as a way to increase flavor and boost vitamins.

Nutritional yeast is difficult to find in anywhere but natural food stores. It also is greatly more economical to purchase from a bulk section than in containers (In bulk, it should cost $7 to $9 a pound. If it’s more than that, look elsewhere). Due to it’s rarity, as a backpacking food it is best in maildrops or when packing from home. I never counted on finding it along the Appalachian Trail, but I did put some in every maildrop.

Have any of you taken nutritional yeast on your hikes? Or come up with creative recipes for it?

As an aside, here is an obligatory note making excuses for not posting more! Here it is: I recently started grad school, and I’m super busy. But this project is really important to me so I’ll be continuing to write! As always, if you have experience as a vegan hiker and are interested in writing a guest post, please contact me!

 

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