Updated: May 30, 2022
For a moment, conjure up the mental image of a campfire. Picture gathering around on rickety folded chairs with friends, tucking into a warm bowl and sharing a story or two after a very long day. Whatever lake or river or ocean or mountain you’ve settled serenely by, there is always a peace of mind that comes floating up from that flickering flame. I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, first as an omnivore and then, several years ago, I made the transition to veganism and found out quickly how many mistakes one can make when they find themselves in the middle of the woods with the sun falling and all the snacks consumed hours earlier. Uncertainty, insecurity, confusion; all valid reasons for why many people avoid going backpacking. There are a lot of factors to consider. Foremost among them, bringing enough nutrients to sustain your adventure. Especially when you follow a specific set of guidelines in your diet, careful consideration is important for success.
Hauling food miles on end is an intimidating task. It also burns a lot of calories. For a healthy man or woman in normal temperatures, plan to approximate 3000 (moderate hiking) to 5000+ (hard hiking) calories a day to sustain you. Pack all that energy into 1.5 to 2 lbs per person per day. Consider lighter foods that are nutrient dense and quick to cook. The easier an item is to heat up, the less gas you will have to use.
Starting your day with complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, will supply you with sustained energy to fuel you through the morning. Focus on whole grains which are more nutrient dense and full of fiber. Quick cooking carbs, like quinoa, oats or whole-grain angel hair pasta, are an excellent option. Whole wheat flatbreads like tortillas are great for meal versatility and minimal space. Quick bursts of energy during the hike are also important. Snacks like dried fruits are high in sugar and power you through those last few miles. As a general rule, avoid the added sugar found in many protein or snack bars. Read labels carefully or make your own granola bars, and focus on natural sugars. Protein is important for rebuilding muscles. Try adding seitan, tofu, tempeh, beans, peas, lentils, chia seeds, nuts or nut butters to snacks and meals on the trail. Fat gives energy and insulation. Especially for difficult hiking days, fat provides more than twice the energy that carbs and proteins do. Single serve olive oil packets, nuts, seeds, coconut and avocado are great sources of fat. Don't worry too much about breaking your food down into scientific terminology. Most importantly, get enough calories and make sure you eat a solid breakfast. When in doubt, bring your favorite hot sauce to fix every cooking mistake.
B12 plays an essential role in the production of your red blood cells and DNA. It also assists in the function of your nervous system. It is found in meat and is not readily available in a vegan diet. Bring nutritional yeast fortified with B12 to sprinkle into stir fries or start your day with fortified cereal to get your recommended dose of 2.4 micrograms per day.
Cold or Hot Weather
Depending on your location and time of year, weather is an important factor. During colder months, plan an additional 500-1000 calories per day to give yourself the energy to generate enough warmth. When it is especially hot, bring more water than you think you need. Focus on sweeter foods in the morning and while hiking so as not to overwhelm your thirst. When you set up camp for the evening make sure to resupply the electrolytes you lost by adding a little salt to your meal and consuming colorful fruits that have plenty of potassium and magnesium.
Freeze Dried Or From Scratch
There are incredible companies who produce freeze dried or dehydrated meals, all excellent options to bring with you on the trail. Many come with thoughtful recyclable or compostable packaging, although these options tend to be slightly more expensive. Building your own grocery list might take a bit longer and require a little more planning but it’s also a more affordable option, especially if you are going out for more than a few days. If you are hiking on trails that access towns (for instance taking on the Appalachian Trail) keep in mind that you can supplement a boring meal with fresh produce from markets along the way. When creating a grocery list, choose recipes that minimize ingredients and maximize creativity. Below is the food I brought on a recent three day hike. With this list of foods I created many versatile meals and had more than enough energy to sustain myself. I always air on the side of caution, mainly because I love to eat, but keep in mind that it’s a balance; the more you have to carry, the more calories you burn in the attempt.
Coffee (very important)
Chia Seeds (soak overnight and have chia seed pudding in the morning)
Powdered coconut milk
Whole wheat tortillas
Olive oil packets
A Simple Campfire Breakfast
Powdered Coconut Milk
Combine milk, oats and dried fruit. Add boiling water. Let soak for 10-20 minutes. Stir in peanut butter and agave and sprinkle seeds and chocolate on top.
Freeze Dried or Dehydrated Brands
For more information about backpacking on a vegan diet, please comment below. I would love to answer your questions!
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Hi! My name is Alana Ahrens, and I am a student in Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I am so excited to be pursuing my passion for food and fitness. When it comes to nutrition, there are endless opportunities to explore and writing is a favorite of mine. If I'm not in a classroom, you will find me hiking, running and/or cooking decently adequate vegan meals. I look forward to the chance to learn from and connect with this plant-based community.