Vegan Backpacking

A Cruelty-Free Guide to the Trails

Part I: Vegan Hiking Fuel

By Hillary Blunt

In this age of technology and information, backpacking provides a wonderful way to rediscover the beautiful outdoors. For vegans, the idea of backpacking can seem daunting at times, but with careful planning and good recipes, it can be easy and delicious. I took a week-long trip with good friends and learned the ins and outs of meal planning and eating on the trails. The following is what I took from my experience and some ideas for any vegan looking to go backpacking.

The most important thing to think about when planning meals for a backpacking trip is getting all the calories needed for long hikes with heavy packs. High-calorie snacks help to keep energy and spirits high.

Oatmeal is a simple way to start each day. Many supermarkets, as well as natural foods stores, sell oatmeal packets in a variety of flavors. Nature's Path makes a tasty vegan variety pack with flavors ranging from Maple Nut to Flax Plus. Simply boil water over your campfire and add it to the oatmeal per instructions. Top with almonds or cashews to boost protein and add calories.

Snacks and quick lunches are a must-have. Nothing beats a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread. Good old raisins and peanuts (Gorp for short) and energy bars give the support needed to keep going. It's easy to make your own Gorp. Any kind of nuts and dried fruit work in Gorp, so have fun experimenting. Several energy bar companies cater to vegans. Clif Bars, which come in a variety of flavors including the mouth-watering Peanut Toffee Buzz and Black Cherry Almond, utilize soy and nut proteins while using only organic ingredients. Macro Bars cater to diverse needs. Each kind provides fiber, protein, or energy with flavors including Tahini Date and Banana Almond. ProBars, which contain no preservatives and are 70% raw, come in flavors like Superfruit Slam and Old School PB&J.

The following dishes nicely finish off a long day in the woods. My friends and I were lucky enough to stumble upon a food dehydrator, so most of these recipes utilize one, though many of the vegetables and other ingredients can be purchased dehydrated at food or camping stores.

Quinoa with Mixed Vegetables

(Serves 4)

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into pieces
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cups quinoa
  • Salt and spices to taste

Pre-Trip:

Spread onions and cherry tomatoes on a dehydrator tray and dehydrate at 145 degrees. After 2 hours, reduce to 135 degrees for approximately 6 more hours. Cook broccoli for about 5 minutes in a pot of boiling water. Spread broccoli and peppers on dehydrator trays in single layers and dehydrate at 125 degrees for 6-8 hours. Combine vegetables in a sealable bag.

On the Trail:

Put quinoa and dried vegetables in a pot with 3 cups of water. Cover and heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and add salt and your favorite seasonings.

Total calories per serving: 276 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 52 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 30 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Ramen Noodle Delight

(Serves 4 hungry hikers)

  • 6 packs Ramen noodles (natural foods stores carry vegan brands, discard seasoning packets)
  • 1 cup textured vegetable protein
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 2 cubes no-sodium vegetable bouillon

On the Trail:

Boil 2-3 cups of water, depending on how much broth you prefer. Add noodles. Once the noodles have cooked for about 1-2 minutes, slowly stir in the textured vegetable protein. Finally, add the vegetable bouillon cubes and let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until noodles are soft.

Total calories per serving: 421 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 71 grams Protein: 24 grams
Sodium: 946 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Potato Stew

(Serves 4)

  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 16 ounces fat-free/low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup uncooked peas
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • One 14-ounce block of extra firm tofu
  • Reduced sodium soy sauce
  • Nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper

Pre-Trip:

Potatoes: Boil the potatoes until they're soft. Drain. Mash potatoes with vegetable broth and run through a blender or mixer until it's creamy and free of lumps. Using non-stick sheets or parchment paper, dehydrate the potatoes at 135 degrees for approximately 8 hours. Crush the sheet of potatoes into flakes and store in a sealed bag.

Vegetables: Spread the carrots and peas on a dehydrator tray and dehydrate for approximately 6 hours at 125 degrees. Seal in an airtight bag.

Tofu Jerky: Drain tofu and place in an airtight bag or container. Freeze overnight, then leave tofu on a plate in the kitchen for several hours. This freezing and thawing process gives the tofu a more meaty consistency and will help it soak up the marinade. Once tofu has thawed, slice it into three flat blocks and squeeze all of the water out by pressing it between two paper towels and using the palm of your hand. Dip each side of your tofu in the soy sauce to marinate it. Cut each block into 1-inch squares and dehydrate at 155 degrees for about 4 hours. Seal in an airtight bag.

On the Trail:

Combine potatoes and vegetables in a pot with water. Cover the pot and bring water to a boil. Stir the pot continuously after the potatoes and vegetables have absorbed the water, adding more water if necessary to keep stirring. Add the tofu jerky and remove pot from heat. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 529 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 97 grams Protein: 24 grams
Sodium: 579 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Tasty Vegan Pasta

(Serves 4)

  • 2 cups vegan pasta sauce
  • One 8-ounce box angel hair pasta
  • 1 cup textured vegetable protein
  • Nutritional yeast

Pre-Trip:

Using a blender or food processor, blend together any chunks of vegetables in the pasta sauce, giving it a less chunky, thicker consistency. Spread the tomato sauce on dehydrator trays that are covered with non-stick sheets; spread uniformly, no more than inch thick. Dehydrate at 135 degrees for 6-8 hours. At about hour 4 or 5, peel off the tomato leather and flip it. Let cool, tear into pieces, and pack in a sealable bag.

On the Trail:

Follow directions on box for cooking pasta. Combine the tomato leather, textured vegetable protein, and about 2 cups of water in a pot. Heat until leather dissolves and becomes saucy. Serve pasta and sauce with nutritional yeast to taste.

Total calories per serving: 366 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 65 grams Protein: 17 grams
Sodium: 704 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Curried Couscous with Cashews

(Serves 4)

  • 1 cups couscous
  • 2 Tablespoons curry powder
  • cup dried onion flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (vegan brand)
  • 1 vegetable no-sodium bouillon cube
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup raw cashew halves

Pre-Trip:

Combine all ingredients except cashews in a sealable bag.

On the Trail:

Boil approximately 3 cups of water. Add couscous mix and let simmer until couscous absorbs all of the water. Stir in cashew halves.

Total calories per serving: 492 Fat: 18 grams
Carbohydrates: 70 grams Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 80 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Part II: Conquering the Elements, Vegan Style

By Aileen McGraw

My introduction to hiking occurred randomly, without expectation or prior experience. On a whim, I registered for Northwestern University's Project Wildcat, a pre-orientation program that takes incoming students on a week-long trip into the wilderness of Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I took on trail preparation full force, determined to show all cynics my ability to thrive in the woods, not only as a city dweller, but also as a vegan.

For me, veganism means living with a mindset towards innovation, adaptation, and constant inquiry. I adapted my meals to be trail-friendly and packable while also bringing my own food items beyond group stores. I made innovative mealtime recipes; while other campers enjoyed backwoods mac 'n' cheese, I improvised dinners from Garden of Life raw protein powder and standard pasta. As a vegan, I expect to make these adjustments. A real learning curve came in selecting footwear and clothing that worked on the trail while remaining free of animal products, including wool and leather.

Vegan hiking brings challenge and room for creativity, especially when selecting something as fundamental as hiking shoes and trail clothes. Expert advice stresses the importance of material and its impact on weight, breathability, durability, and water resistance. While industry choice commonly favors full-grain, split-grain, and nubuck leather, finding a competitive vegan option requires additional research and innovative thinking. Leather shapes to the foot more than non-stretch synthetics like nylon and polyester, but synthetic options generally breathe better, weigh less, minimize break-in time, and dry more quickly.

For vegans, synthetic boots are the obvious choice. I initially turned to online research as a guiding information source. Your ideal vegan boot depends on what your backpacking experience will be. For lighter hikes, trail runners provide lightweight and synthetic options. Many companies, like REI, Uncle Dan's, and New Balance, will show results when you search their sites for ‘vegan,' however, the items they link you to are not always totally vegan, so be sure to read all labels closely.

Taking manufacturing complexities in stride, vegan companies such as Ethical Wares, Pangea, and Vegetarian Shoes sell vegan hiking shoes. For example, Ethical Wares states that their Trekking Boots give vegans a "breathable, robust, fully lined and padded" shoe ready to take on the trail, provided that conditions remain dry, as wet conditions present comfort issues with fabric footwear. The Vegetarian Resource Group has an online Guide to Leather Alternatives, which is very helpful. Visit: http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/leather.php.

I began searching for a vegan backpacking wardrobe at outdoor outfitter REI. Going off my newly acquired packing list, I found synthetic hiking socks and liner socks, both essential in keeping feet dry and blister free while on trail. Continuing from the ground up, I embarked on formulating a wardrobe at once breathable, layered, and durable – all without the use of animal materials.

Packing lists vary depending on season, location and of course, Mother Nature. Cotton, truly the fabric of my vegan life, functioned less than ideally on the trail. Although it's good for bandanas, I needed substantial pieces that either resisted or wicked away water and sweat from my body to avoid chafing and to help maintain comfort and dryness.

I selected fleece pullovers (like the polyester-based Windwall Jacket from The North Face) as well as cold-weather layers and jersey and spandex tops (I opted for the Reaxion Tee from The North Face) and bottoms (Target has affordable non-cotton drawstring shorts) for breathable base layers. Blogs like Vegan Backpacker (http://veganbackpacker.com) and Backpacking Vegan (http://backpackingvegan.wordpress.com) help hopeful vegan backpackers by centralizing useful resources, offering words of wisdom, and providing support.

With a backpack full of protein bars, dried fruit and nuts, synthetic wool socks, and fleece pullovers, I started my first hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Nearly a year later, I am now a Project Wildcat counselor with 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail under my belt – all done in purely vegan style.