I’m a Vegan Thru-Hiker and I’m Not Worried About My Protein
Somewhere amid the social pressure to experiment in college and the liberal aura of my environmental studies program, I found myself abstaining from meat. I didn’t set out to become a tie-dye wearing, plant-fueled, socialist weirdo; rather, my decision to only consume plants was a challenge to myself: could I do it? It began as a 30-day challenge. Then, a 90-day challenge. And now here we are five years later and I am alive and thriving and fueled by plants. A full-blown vegan.
“Definition of vegan: a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals” –Merriam Webster
To me, it’s not a topic that’s all that interesting to talk about. It’s a rather black and white topic. I eat plants and I don’t eat meat or cheese or eggs. That’s really all there is to it. To others, it’s fascinating. It’s like I have a third eye or seven toes on one foot. When I take a step back, I get it. Only 5% of the US population is vegetarian and 2% is vegan. Us herbivores are a pretty small group so I understand the curiosity of wondering how and what we eat. Not to mention, as a plant-powered outdoor recreator, I am always interested in seeing how other plant-based peoples fuel their adventures.
The number one question other people ask me is, “How are you getting your protein?” Most backpackers are eating some combination of Pop-Tarts, peanut butter, Lays, and Starbursts. And most of those things already happen to be vegan. Long-distance hiking is a calorie game. First and foremost, you need to have the energy to keep on keepin’ on. Things like vitamins and protein can be supplemented for, though I have found I’m getting what I need just from the food I’m eating. I’m not concerned about getting a certain amount of protein so long as I feel full and fueled by the foods I am eating. Personally, I don’t mind eating gelatin if I must– there is gelatin in the frosting on Pop-Tarts, but I realized that after buying a big box at Costco. I’ll eat the ones I have and probably won’t buy more. I’m doing my best.
When I started preparing for my thru-hike, I would just wander the grocery store aisles reading labels and checking out new products. I did the vast majority of my shopping at Trader Joe’s, WINCO, and Costco. A lot of companies may not advertise as vegan, but will have one or two vegan options; that was the case with Near East Couscous, Pop-Tarts, and Quaker Instant Oatmeal.
After a week on the trail, here are some of the things I have been eating:
Before hiking the PCT, I worked as a barista and got really seriously addicted to coffee. When I wake up, I need coffee. Immediately. Some hikers get a few miles in before the most important meal of the day, but I like to take the time to eat breakfast before starting down the trail.
- Quaker Instant Oatmeal, with ground flax and chia seeds
- Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee
- Simple Truth Coconut Milk Creamer
- Vega Protein Powder
- Amazing Grass Green Superfood Powder
I rarely stop for a long lunch. I like to keep cruising for most of the day. I usually snack on some combination of bars and cookies all day without one true lunchtime meal. Yay snacks!
- Clif Bar (Peanut Toffee Buzz is the current favorite)
- Luna Bar
- Oreos (Thank goodness they are vegan.)
- BelVita Breakfast Biscuits
- Justin’s Nut Butter Squeeze Packs
- Ritz Crackers
- Biscoff Cookies
- Homemade trail mix: some combination of peanuts, almonds, dried apricots, coconut chips
I try to get a decent amount of calories in at dinner. It’s usually some combination of couscous and beans or a Backpacker’s Pantry meal. Something relatively simple and quick. I love cooking, but not after hiking 25 miles.
- Backpacker’s Pantry Meals (Kathmandu Curry is a favorite)
- HotHuck’s Veggie Ground
- Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Powdered hummus
- Powdered refried beans
- Leahey Food’s Macaroni and Cheese
- Koyu Instant Ramen
- Lotus Foods Rice Ramen
- Near East Couscous (works really well as a cold soak!)
- Taco Bell Hot Sauce (a true game changer)
- Instant Chocolate Pudding (Just mix with some water and soy milk powder)
- Boxed Brownie/Cake Mix (Just add water and wowza. Liquid deliciousness.)
- Trader Joe’s Chocolate bars
- Trader Joe’s Rice Krispie Treats
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