The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Backpacking
We love backpacking, and it’s easy to eat vegan on the trail. Here are our favorite foods for vegan backpacking, including a 3-day meal plan.
My boyfriend and I just came back from an awesome backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. It was a wild adventure in one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been: tall mountains, raging rivers, deep forests of late Spring green.
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I’m pretty new to the vegan backpacking thing, having done only two other short trips in the past, while my boyfriend is a well-traveled backpacker, having hiked the Appalachian Trail mostly solo 15 years ago, with dozens of warm and cold weather backpacking trips in between in California, Utah and internationally.
As a chef a food blogger, food is my main concern most days, but especially while out on the trails. One our few trips together he’s given me some great advice for planning and what NOT to take, and I’ve helped him expand his backpacking culinary options, and together we’ve created this great guide to vegan backpacking.
We’ve done a bit of backpacking in the past, and we’ve learned so much about eating better while on the trails.
Let’s get packing! Our favorite vegan backpacking tips:
Plan it out: Count out how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks you’ll need for the trip. This is essential to making sure you have whole meals that will keep you going all day long. If you’re going for a really long trip, it’s good to have some extra food in case of emergencies. And it’s always good to pack more chocolate than you’ll need; most of the time it’s for yourself, but it’s also a great bartering tool with your fellow campers!
Count your calories: This is the only time we’d recommend really counting your calories, just to ensure that you have enough food energy for a full day of exertion. For example, we really like organic ramen noodles for a dinner, but they are not very calorie-dense, so we offset that with lots of nut butters and seeds. Ensure that you’re getting complex carbohydrates (from whole grains, nuts, seeds) and simple carbohydrates from dried and fresh fruits.
Bring fresh foods: Who says you have to eat all dehydrated foods while you’re backpacking? Depending on how long your trip is, fresh veggies and fruit can go a long way to making you feel healthy along the trails. The best are fruits and veggies that are sturdy and can withstand room temperature for days. Apples, carrots, celery, and bell pepper have served us really well in warm hikes and in cooler trails for at least three days. They might get a bit banged up, but nothing beats a fresh apple on a hot day!
Choose healthy dehydrated and quick foods: There are tons of dehydrated foods available, many made specifically for backpacking, but often these are expensive, made with gross ingredients, and not that calorie dense. Fantastic foods makes a great line of dehydrated foods that we love to take on our trips. See the list below for specific recommendations.
Snack wisely: Just like in real life, choosing healthy snacks on the trail is imperative to keep your energy up and keep your body in good shape. Snacks like homemade trail mix, dried fruits, bread and natural energy bars are great, and it’s good to balance out fats, fiber and protein in your snacks to keep your blood sugar steady between meals.
Here is a list of our favorite vegan backpacking foods:
- Dehydrated hummus: Fantastic Foods makes a hummus (found in boxes or in the bulk section of many natural food stores) that just needs water to become the perfect trail food. Add some spices and some oil if you have the pack space, and serve with bread, wraps, or those fresh veggies your packed in.
- Dehydrated soups and beans: Fantastic Foods makes a range of great dehydrated foods besides hummus, and we’ve tried lots of them on our outdoor adventures. Corn chowder, black bean soup, split pea soup and (our new favorite from this trip) refried beans. These add protein and fiber to your meals, and feel super comforting at the end of a long day.
- Fresh fruits and veggies: As mentioned above, fresh foods like apples, carrots, celery, and bell pepper travel well and keep their crunch for days.
- Dried fruits and veggies: Figs, dates, raisins, and even sun-dried tomatoes can be found in bulk bins, and are great quick snacks (you don’t even need to take off your pack!). Tomatoes are great additions to noodles or mac & cheese or savory snacks while on the go. You can also find freeze-dried fruits and veggies, which are often a bit pricey, but are total treat while in the forest or at the beach. We add freeze-dried strawberries to our oatmeal and freeze-dried veggies to our noodles for a boost of color and nutrition. Another big splurge is kale chips. You can make these at home, but since we’re traveling we relied on the Kale Krunch by Kaia Foods. Lots of flavor, and an easy way to get some greenery while on the trail. Since the chips will get squashed after about a day in the pack, the kale crumbles make a great seasoning for hummus or for noodles.
- Noodles: Noodles are my favorite comfort food, so it makes sense that it’s one of my favorite backpacking meals. Koyo brand makes an organic ramen noodle, and there are lots of great options for vegan mac & cheese that you can take on the road.
- Wraps or bread: both are great for dipping hummus, soup or nut butters. We’ve taken all types: whole wheat tortillas, corn tortillas, sliced bread (our favorite is Food for Life or Ezekiel), and locally-made boules.
- Seeds, nuts and nut butters: A selection of nuts and seeds is vitally important for calorie density and protein while you’re out exploring. In our trail mix there are a few types of nuts (I prefer roasted, but raw works too! Having some seeds like pumpkin and sunflower adds variety of both nutrition and flavor. Nut butter is also imperative for our trips: we mix peanut butter or almond butter into our oats, eat as a quick snack with celery or sometimes just by the spoonful. Make sure your nut butter container is water-tight so you don’t have oil-soaked socks!
- Green drinks: Another splurge that I love for backpacking trips is green drinks, concentrated greens powders that contain vitamins, minerals and lots of healthy green things. My favorite brand is Amazing Grass, and they sell single-serving packets that mix instantly with water and help ensure you’re getting a least a few green things into your backpacking diet.
- Energy Bars: My favorite are Cliff Bar and LaraBars, which are really different types of bars. LaraBars are made very simply with just dates, nuts/seeds and some minimal flavorings, which Cliff Bars contain a lot of fiber, vitamin and mineral fortifications in a grain and legume base; both brands offer a variety of flavors. Choose a selection and pack ‘em up!
- Coffee and Tea: If you’re a regular drinker and enjoy a little buzz in the morning, no reason not to have it with you on the trail. If you’re camping with a stove, regular teabags and regular coffee (bring a strainer) work great, but there are lots of instant versions that are good if you don’t have a way to boil water, or if you’re hiking in a hot place and don’t want hot beverages.
3-Day Vegan Backbacking Meal Plan
This was our actual vegan backpacking meal plan for our three days in the Smoky Mountains National Park.
We planned a pretty easy loop trail of about 30 miles, and this got us through our adventuring in the woods. Note that if you’re venturing farther than three days, you will need to pack much more food, and always keep in mind your personal calorie needs. Also know that your caloric needs will probably increase drastically once you’re on the trails.
Breakfast at home
Lunch: Wrap brought from home, eaten before heading out onto the trail
Dinner: Refried beans, bread, veggies for dipping
Breakfast: Overnight Oats
Lunch: Hummus, bread, veggies
Dinner: Ramen noodles with nori and kale chips, with extra veggies
Breakfast: Overnight Oats with peanut butter, lots of trail mix
Dinner: Last of the hummus, last of the refried beans, last of the bread, veggies.
Breakfast: Overnight Oats with peanut butter, the last of the trail mix and bars
Home, for real food!
And each day we snacked almost continuously on bars and trail mix.
Image Credit: Backpacking photo via Shutterstock