For this post, Vibrant Wellness Journal is taking October Unprocessed traveling- we are going to share some great tips for healthy, vegetarian backpacking! We’ll show you how can you eat well on the trail, especially if you are trying to avoid unprocessed foods.
S and I spent a weekend hiking the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, literally one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The Kalalau Trail is a stunning 11-mile trek along the valleys and cliffs of the north side of Kauai, leading to otherworldly beaches, valleys, and mountains. It’s remote, exotic, lush… and a teeny bit scary! This is a gorgeous, but decidedly challenging, place to enjoy my first ever backpacking trip. Luckily my boyfriend S is a master hiker who backpacked the entire Appalachian Trail (that’s Georgia to Maine, folks!) and hiked his way across many other states, too. With his suggestions and my food obsessions we were able to create many days of amazing meals from our backpacks.
The following are some suggestions for wholesome, unprocessed vegan and vegetarian foods for backpacking trips- delicious foods that are portable, lightweight, and easy to prepare… wherever your backpacking might take you!
- Plan your meal needs before buying foods. S suggests planning your food based on the number of meals you will need- this is an important step to ensure you eat real meals, rather than relying on energy bars. For example, for our three day trek we needed three breakfasts, three lunches, and two dinners. If you are going on an especially hard or long trek, plan for at least two extra meals, just in case. You might also just be famished and need the extra food on your last day!
- Choose dehydrated options over ready-to-eat foods. I was excited to try the many varieties of ready-to-eat rice & bean mixtures, or precooked brown rice, but S suggested that even a few extra ounces of cooked foods really adds up. And definitely don’t bring canned foods- they are much to heavy. Choose dehydrated and fresh foods to lighten the load. See our food list below for specific suggestions.
- Bring fresh foods that travel well- and eat those foods first. Fresh foods like carrots, apples, cucumbers, and bell peppers are important for hydration and nutrition while trekking, but they can be heavy. Eat things like apples and oranges on the first day, and enjoy the carrots and other vegetables later in the trek. Even on our very tropical trek our carrots and cucumbers lasted the whole time!
- Bring snacks to keep you full & happy! Many trekkers claim that backpacking is justification for eating all your favorite junk foods, as you’ve earned (and need) some extra calories. However, candy bars and overly processed foods will give you only empty calories, and not fuel your body for continued trekking. On the trail you will likely crave both sweet and salty foods, so choose foods that fill your snack needs and offer at least some nutrition- nuts, dried fruits, seitan or tofu jerky, pretzels, trail mix (I recommend those with chocolate chips inside!). We also splurged on some cookies that we nibbled on sporadically throughout the trek. Energy bars like Clif, Luna, Larabars, and others are great for quick, dense calories- and they taste better on the trail than you could imagine!
- Green drinks and electrolytes. These come in handy for those times when your energy is running low, but you’re not hungry enough to eat. My favorite is AmaZing Grass, which comes in little packets but gives you big energy from green foods like barley grass and wheat grass. They are admittedly a bit gritty, but better than the other brand our friends tried. Other options for green drinks include Macro Greens and Miracle Reds, which also come in small packets. Emergen-C and Gatorade make packets too, though I don’t love their ingredients and can’t in good conscience recommend them.
Foods that kept us full on the trail:
- Dried soups: Fantastic Foods makes all sorts of dehydrated foods that are perfect for camping and trekking. Their ingredients are pretty clean, but this is definitely the most processed foods we ever eat! We chose corn chowder, hummus, and pea soup. They also make refried beans, black bean soup, and falafel mixes. Thankfully, the dried hummus has improved since I first tried it years ago- it was really tasty!
- Dried noodles: Ramen noodles, Thai kitchen noodles, and Annie’s mac & cheese travel well and taste even better after a long day of trekking. The ingredients are clean and simple, and while high in sodium, are good once-in-awhile foods.
- Nuts and Seeds: Sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, and trail mix are great for don’t-take-off-the-pack type breaks. We brought along soynuts (dried, roasted soybeans) which I thought would be protein-rich and delicious, but were in fact terribly heavy (and thus hated) and totally dehydrating- makes you feel like you need a gallon of water for each handful.
- Dried Fruits: Dates are my favorite, because they offer a quick shot of glucose for your tired body and brain. Figs, mango, and raisins are also delish.
- Starchy things: Our diets are pretty carb-focused, so we packed a variety of easy carb fixes: quick oats, mixed with coconut, raisins, and cinnamon for easy breakfasts, flour tortillas for hummus wraps, bread for hummus sandwiches, and crackers for snacks.
- Beverages: Along with the green drinks, I packed green and herbal teas, finely ground coffee (for cowboy coffee, as S calls it), and powdered soymilk, for coffee and oatmeal. S also brought along a flask of whiskey, just for the hell of it. We drank it on the Kalalau beach while watching the meteor shower. Truly amazing.
For more great vegan backpacking tips, check out this article on Eat, Drink, Better.
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