Is it possible to thruhike vegan?
Since adopting a vegan lifestyle in 2017, my husband and I have hiked nearly 4000 miles on a plant based diet including about 500 miles on the Colorado Trail (CT), over 2500 on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), 800 miles on the Arizona Trail (AZT), and we have 1200 miles on the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) coming up this year! As with most aspects of a vegan lifestyle, it’s not the most convenient way of traveling, yet it is far from impossible. On the contrary, veganism and backpacking can very much coexist.
There are actually quite a lot of vegan backpacking food options that are lightweight, shelf stable, and nutritionally dense making them ideal for backpacking. So, if you’re wondering how to take your vegan lifestyle to the trail, look no further!
(Note: Be sure to always check labels of products for ingredient lists. Also, the list below has some items that contain palm oil which we typically avoid at home but we do eat sometimes on trail.)
* = food that can be prepared stoveless
Many people setup mail drops for a thruhike, particularly when you do not anticipate having many options for resupply in a small town. A mail drop is a package full of food that you send yourself or someone sends you from home. We used maildrops for the CT and CDT that contained our homemade dinners and a few snacks that we bought in bulk. We always had to go to the grocery store (or gas station if that was all that was available) to “top off” our mail drops with extra snacks that are generally available anywhere (like nuts, chips, peanut butter, etc.).
The answer to this question depends on what sort of grocery store while be available and how comfortable you are with eating a lot of the same food. We hiked with another vegan this year on the CDT who has about 8000 miles and 7 years under his belt as a vegan. Gusha (check out his Instagram here) made very few drop boxes and hiked stoveless. Yeah, he hardcore. So, I wouldn’t consider either mail drops or a stove necessary to a vegan thruhike, but they do make the hike a little more “comfortable.”
Note: I wrote a couple articles about backpacking food while on an omnivore diet for the Pacific Crest Trail. The first outlines our food strategy and the second describes how that strategy played out. Clink the links for the comparison.
Whether vegan or not, mail drops can be handy but need to be created carefully.
If making dehydrated meals at home to include in mail drops, check out our tutorial and recipe ideas here. As a forewarning, this is a time consuming project that will need to be started months in advance if you are tackling a multi-month thruhike. If you are heading into the backcountry for a week or less, you might want to consider making your own meals as they are considerably more nutritionally dense compared to Ramen noodles and Rice Sides. We enjoyed our homemade meals, but we did notice that they are typically heavier than alternatives.
Our hiking buddy, Gusha (founder of Nashville Pack), made his entire CDT trek (and other thruhikes) stoveless. He used an empty, clean peanut butter jar as his bowl which allowed him to cold soak his dinners. He would stop about a half hour before dinner, soak his food, and continue hiking. Most nights, he had cold soaked Ramen noodles (Top Ramen: Soy Sauce Flavor). Other times, he would cold soak refried beans or just add water to couscous or instant mashed potatoes (check label for milk ingredients).
Although hot food adds a level of comfort to the backcountry, the weight of the pot, stove, and fuel can be shed by going stoveless. It’s not for everyone, but those counting ounces may consider cutting out the hot meal. We actually went stoveless for the 800 mile Arizona Trail and intend to hike the 1200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail stoveless this year too!
When we got to town, we were mostly craving fresh fruits and vegetables. While you can usually find something (like fries) at a restaurant, the best bang for our buck was always at the grocery store. Even better when there’s a nearby town park to loiter in.
If you apply veganism beyond your diet, you’ll want to pay attention to some of the gear you take into the backcountry.
It might take a little more time and attention, but backpacking distances great and small can absolutely be done on a vegan diet. In fact, I’d wager that I had more nutritionally dense food and even more protein while carefully considering my vegan diet than I did on an omnivore diet while I hiked the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.
Do you have a favorite vegan backpacking food for the trail that I missed? Let us know in the comments!We are Sean and Bekah, or BigFoot and Micro, new triple crowners and proud to have 4000+ miles under our belts as vegans. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram as we continue our plant based travel journey. 🍒🥑🥜🍄