Powered by Plants – Vegan Backpacking on a Thruhike

Since adopting a vegan lifestyle last year, my husband and I have hiked over 3000 miles on a plant based diet including about 500 miles on the Colorado Trail (CT) and over 2500 on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) . As with most 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 options that are lightweight, shelf stable, and nutritionally dense making them ideal for backpacking.

(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.)

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Handsome husband, ranch corn nuts, and an insane backdrop. So much right with this picture.

So what did we eat?

Breakfasts
  • Clif / Lara / Granola / Protein Bars (some flavors are vegan, others are not; check labels)
  • Nuts
  • Unfrosted Poptarts
  • JJ’s Fruit Pies
  • Instant Oatmeal (fine with hot or cold water)
Lunch / Snacks
  • Wraps – Avocado / Spinach / Dehydrated Hummus / Chips / Tortilla
  • Peanut Butter
  • Homemade Granola Pouches – Granola / Chia Seeds / Vegan Protein Powder / Peanut Butter / Dried Fruit / Water
  • Fritos, Potato Chips, Doritos  (Purple Packages “Blaze” and “Sweet + Spicy Chili” are Vegan!!)
  • Corn Nuts – Barbecue, Ranch, Chile Limon, and Original – all vegan!
  • Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Pieces – Hot Buffalo Wing or Jalepeno flavors
  • Peanut Butter filled Pretzel Nuggets
  • Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookies
  • Nuts – all kinds, every day, lots and lots
  • Trail Mix – usually make our own blend, be careful to avoid milk chocolate in premade mixes
  • Triscuits, Wheat Thins, Ritz and other crackers
  • Oreo’s!! (with peanut butter on top 🤤)
  • Candy – Skittles / Starburst / Sour Patch Kids
  • Dark Chocolate Bars
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Enjoying lunch with the gang. We always ate our heavy or perishable items first – like avocado and spinach with our dehydrated hummus in wraps 🤤. Dehydrated hummus is available on Amazon.
Dinner
  • Homemade Dehydrated Meals – Lentil Marinara, White Bean Mac and “Cheese,” Chili, etc. (click here for our tutorial)
  • Rice Sides – Spanish Rice Flavor, Red Beans & Rice Flavor
  • Top Ramen Brand – Soy Sauce Flavor
  • Other Ramen w/o seasoning packet and add seasoning of choice
  • Dehydrated Refried Beans
  • Dehydrated Hummus or Bean Dip in a wrap, with crackers, or chips
  • Instant Mashed Potatoes (check labels to avoid milk ingredients)
  • Peanut Butter wraps

Note: Carrying a little olive oil and seasoning salt can make a huge flavor difference.
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Mail Drops vs Resupplying As You Go

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.).

So, are mail drops necessary for a vegan thruhike?

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. Gusher (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.

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We LOVE Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookie –  4 oz; ~ 400 Calories; 16 g of Protein; VEGAN!!!

Tips for Creating Mails Drops

Whether vegan or not, mail drops can be handy but need to be created carefully.

  • Don’t Make Too Many Boxes
    • There’s no need to plan every town stop in advance. Making fewer boxes allows your plans to be more fluid.
    • You won’t want that food once you return to the “real world.” Just make enough boxes for the most remote stops
  • Be aware of the day of the week when planning your drops.
    • Post offices have limited weekend hours. Pay attention when planning your town arrival date.
    • Some hotels and businesses will hold packages for hikers which can be helpful in avoiding the weekend and holiday post office closures. Be sure to call ahead to verify whether it’s okay to send boxes to businesses.
  • Don’t over pack your boxes.
    • Food is heavy! Once you’re on the trail, you will get the hang of getting just the right amount of food for the distance you’re traveling. We carry 1-2 lbs of food per day per person.
    • Most towns have “hiker boxes” full of food from overpacked mail drops. We made our boxes with just the dinners and hard to find snacks knowing that other snacks could be found easily in town.
  • Add some variety!
    • If all of your boxes are the same, you will certainly get tired of the food and likely ditch a bunch of food in the hiker box. Mix it up!
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Even after 2-3 Clif Bars per day, I still enjoy the Cool Mint Chocolate and Peanut Toffee Buzz flavors. Bonus: They both contain caffeine!!

Homemade Dehydrated Meals

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.
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Going Stoveless

Our hiking buddy, Gusher, made his entire CDT trek 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 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.

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Gusha and I in The Bob on the CDT

In Town

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.

Our favorite grocery store finds were…
  • Bagels / Sandwiches / Wraps + Hummus / Avocado / Veggies
  • Fruit – Cherries, Strawberries, Bananas, Apples, Oranges
  • Premade Salad Kits w/ Dressing (check ingredients) + Avocado
  • Chips + Salsa
  • Crackers / Chips / Veggies + Hummus
  • Deli Case Salads
  • Cereal + Almond Milk
  • Non Dairy Ice Cream
  • Meals to Cook
    • Penne + Marinara + Vegan Sausage + Spinach
    • Lentils + BBQ Sauce / Manwich + Pickles + Mustard + Buns / Wraps
    • Can of Beans + Burrito Toppings + Tortillas

Vegan Gear

If you apply veganism beyond your diet, you’ll want to pay attention to some of the gear you take into the backcountry.

  • Look for synthetic sleeping bags and jackets, instead of down
  • Use synthetic socks and shirts, not wool
  • Avoid leather (not commonly found in backpacking gear anyway)

Overall

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 food on the trail that I missed? Let us know in the comments!Fotor_153479557063837We are Sean and Bekah, or BigFoot and Micro, new triple crowners and proud to have 3000 miles under our belts as vegans. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram as we continue our plant based travel journey. 🍒🥑🥜🍄

9 Comments on “Powered by Plants – Vegan Backpacking on a Thruhike

  1. The two of you are amazing! I am still in awe of how much time, organizing, and planning these endeavors take. Then you go VEGAN, thank you for breaking this down. I can’t wait to see what the next adventure is.

    • Thanks for the kind words. There’s so much more to it than just the walking. We always get a kick out of those who call thruhiking a “vacation.” Our pleasure to share – sky’s the limit for what’s next!!

  2. Great info! Seems like many people think this is impossible, esp on the CDT. Great to see so many options listed, I’ll be bookmarking this for a future thru 🙂

  3. Pingback: How to Make Dehydrated Backpacking Food

  4. Pingback: 13 Ways You Can Help Protect the Environment

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