Whether you’re planning a thru-hike of the AT or a 3-day exploration of Yosemite, hardy food will be one of the necessities on your trip. If you’ve averaging 8+ miles per day (which is typical for backwoods hikers), you’ll likely be burning somewhere between 2,500 to 4,500 calories. This means you’ll need plenty of high-calorie food to keep you going and a variety of backpacking food ideas to keep your meals interesting.
Of course, this creates a conundrum for backpackers who are striving for an ultra-light load, lack the convenience of refrigeration, and have access to only minimal cooking gear. Finding the right food only becomes more difficult when you adhere to a vegan diet. However, don’t be dismayed by those that purpose serious backpacking isn’t possible as a vegan. While perhaps more difficult, a vegan diet is perfectly possible to maintain with a little planning. You’ll even have the same options all other backpackers have: cooked (hot) or uncooked (cold) meals, dehydrated or freeze-dried foods, ultralight or light enough snacks.
Depending on needs and preferences, your food supplies will vary from backpacker to backpacker. Here are some of my favorite backpacking food ideas for vegan hikers.
A classic hiker’s snack, GORP (which actually stands for Good Ole Raisins & Peanuts) is almost always vegan-friendly. Of course, I recommend you enhance the original recipe—don’t stick to just raisins and peanuts. Almonds, dried fruits, seeds, and pretzels make good additions. You can make your own GORP (which is likely be to be least expensive option), get some pre-made at any grocery store, or purchase it right off of Amazon. Just be sure to steer clear of mixes with chocolate candies—these often contain milk products.
Homemade Fruit Leather
On your hike you probably won’t want to lug around the heavy fresh fruits you’d normally eat. However, this doesn’t mean you have to go without nature’s sweetest snack; instead, turn your favorite fruits into fruit leather. By making this snack at home, you’ll save money and be able to use more fruit and less sugar in your concoction. Most varieties will store for about one month. Learn more about how to make your own fruit leather from Two Peas & Their Pod, a healthy and family-friendly recipe blog.
Instant Rice, Quinoa, Cous Cous, and Pasta
Many backpacker staples are actually vegan-friendly just as they are, as long as you don’t flavor them with animal products. Instant rice, quinoa, cous cous, and pasta are all great backpacking food ideas that require just a pot and boiling water. Many backpackers use ramen noodles and leave out the seasoning packets (which are unhealthy and not vegan). You can complement any of these grains with dehydrated beans, sun-dried tomatoes, dried peas, soy sauce, or a variety of spices. To keep your bag as light as possible, remove items from bulky packaging and place in labeled zip lock baggies.
Peanut butter is a vegan’s best friend on the trail. Why? For any hiker, it’s hard to get enough calories, fat, and protein to keep up your energy. This is especially true for vegans. Just two tablespoons of JIF Creamy Natural Peanut Butter; contains 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein. You can add peanut butter to any of your snacks or just eat it by the spoonful.
Dried Meals by Outdoor Herbivore
Camp Meals by Outdoor Herbivore are delicious and healthy alternatives to sodium-packed dried meals that are prevalent among backwoods trekkers. While a bit expensive, Camp Meals are worth it as the occasional dinner treat for long hikes. They come in both hot and cold varieties and only require water for preparation. All products are vegetarian, and almost all are vegan. Some are even gluten-free!
CLIF bars or Pro Bars
Power bars and protein bars are offered by a myriad of brands and vary in nutritional value, substance, and ingredients. Unfortunately, not all of them are vegan—plenty contain dairy or whey (a bi-product of cheese production). However, at most stores you’ll also find a slew of vegan options on the shelves, including some popular brands you might not have guessed!
For instance, CLIF BUILDER’S contain a whopping 20g of protein and not a single animal product. Another good vegan option is the Probar, which is organic, GMO-free, and plant-based. They tend to contain the most natural ingredients and pack a lot of calories for their size.
Pre-Pouched Indian Meals
Although it may sound strange, you can easily enjoy Indian food on the trail. Pre-made pouched Indian meals are available in store by brands like Kitchens of India, Tasty Bite, Swad, and MTR, and Trader Joes. Of course, not all varieties are vegan, so make sure to check the label. Some pros of these pouches are that they’re already cooked, high in protein and fat, and incredibly tasty. However, at 10 or so ounces, you won’t want to carry more than a few.
Oatmeal is one of the easiest breakfast foods to eat while backpacking, and it’s always vegan if you make it with water. You can add flavor to this healthy breakfast by adding cinnamon, or throw in some nuts and raisins to “beef” it up.
If you have a food dehydrator at home, it’s easy to dehydrate your own vegetables to pack and rehydrate on the trail. Vegetables provide a natural mix of vitamins and minerals as well as an energy boost that you’ll love. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, carrots, celery, and peppers are all great for dehydrating—just make sure to chop into small pieces beforehand.
Extra Boosts: Olive Oil & Nutritional Yeast
While these two items aren’t something you’ll eat by the spoonful, both are good things to have on hand for hikers, particularly vegans, as additives. Nutritional yeast adds protein, fiber, and vitamins to your meals, while olive oil is your go-to for fat and flavor.
Chickpea Quinoa Burgers
If you feel like stopping for the night and want a real camping style meal, you can’t go wrong with vegan chickpea quinoa burgers like the ones made by the Low Fat Vegan Chef. They require a little bit of prep time and you probably don’t want to bring them on just a simple day hike, but they’re fantastic for overnight stays. One advantage of being vegan: you don’t have to worry about spoiled meat! So, no matter how long you’re out on the trail, you can rest assured that these little puppies are still good eats.
Got a vegan backpacking food idea you’d like to share with the group? Let us know in the comments!