Lara’s Guide to Vegan Backpacking
THIS IS A GUEST POST BY Lara Goodrich Ezor
Walking is the original form of travel, but it is often under-appreciated. I like to say that backpacking is just walking with luggage and a destination. I’ve always been drawn to the straightforward nature of backpacking: you bring what you can carry, and then you set out on an adventure. You duck into the woods or the mountains to get away, and it’s refreshing to know that—when it comes down to it—most of what you need in life you can carry on your back.
There are many ways to backpack. There are day trips, overnights and week(s)-long expeditions. Then there’s “thru-hiking,” which is a whole different animal.
In 2011, my boyfriend (now husband) and I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The 5.5-month trip was jam-packed with new friends, grueling miles, mosquitos, a trip to the ER, the best days of our lives, and, of course, obscene amounts of food.
When hiking long distances, calories are king. Walking 15 or more miles a day (on average) can burn up to 2,000-3,000 additional calories (varying by body size, speed and pack weight). So, packing as many calories into a meal or snack as is physiologically possible is grounds for great bragging rights among long-distance hikers. Sheer quantity often takes precedence over quality on the 2,181-mile trek.
Staples of the “trail-food-diet” were salami, cheese and freeze-dried meals, while off the trail, burgers and French fries were the go-to foods of choice for hungry hikers. Meanwhile, our favorites were whole grain pasta with rehydrated marinara, tortillas with refried beans, and, of course, French fries too. We were dubbed “Veggie” and “Square” (or “Veggie-Squared”), and we made it all the way to Maine without the beef.
Though short on vegetables (too heavy to carry) and high on sugar (empty calories, but, you’ll remember, calories are the whole point), generally we ate well, at least by comparison. But, logging long miles day after day takes a tremendous toll on the body, and lackluster nutrition only exacerbates it.
Now, in our Boston-area apartment, we enjoy easy, veg-friendly eating, a backyard garden and a refrigerator full of produce far too heavy to carry up a mountain. But long-distance trails still beckon, and they are worth sacrificing some of these creature comforts.
As vegans looking hopefully to a future of long-distance hiking, we know now that there’s a lot we would do differently next time. Thankfully, the options for vegan backpacking—whether a day-hike or a long-distance trek—are improving.
Outdoor Herbivore offers dehydrated and delectable meals for the veg backpacker, and with Just Veggies, you can add vegetables to a meal otherwise lacking, or eat them with lunch and savor their crunchy texture. For veg hikers, nuts, olive oil, and peanut butter round out any lackluster dish and pack a healthy, densely caloric punch.
Dehydrating meals ahead of time, using a dehydrator or an oven at low temperatures, can also make a meal in the woods feel like a home-cooked feast. (Our favorite was a dehydrated ginger-cashew stir-fry with loads of red bell pepper. But we only made one dinner’s worth, and we ate in on Day 3. We pined after it for the remaining 166 days.)
In spite of some naysaying, there are in fact many delicious ways to be a healthy, strong, backpacking vegan. Any notion that veg hikers less capable than omnivorous ones has perhaps been once-and-for-all shattered by Josh Garrett, a vegan who broke the speed record for hiking the 2,655-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2013. Subsisting largely on ProBars and hiking to benefit Mercy for Animals, he showed that you can hike strong—and fast—on a plant-based diet.
So, strap on your pack and go!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lara Goodrich Ezor is the Nutrition Intern at Lighter, and an M.S. candidate in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She enjoys gardening, experimenting in the kitchen, and soaking up sunny days. For more by Lara, and for healthy recipes and trustworthy nutrition information, head over to Lighter and follow them on Facebook.