Many vegans/vegetarians interested in backpacking always wonder if they can maintain their diet while backpacking or are stuck with a can of baked beans throughout their adventure. The truth is you do not need animal protein for hiking.

Like all other backpackers, vegan hikers will need to feed on more carbohydrates and fats, not proteins. Therefore, foods with high calories are most suitable for backpacking as they provide you with the energy you require. We will give you various vegan foods and snacks that will take you through your hike while also meeting your nutritional needs for the hike.

How do vegans eat while backpacking?

The best vegetarian backpacking foods should be nutritious, light-weight, easily stored, and readily eaten. However, it would be best to have a good balance of proteins, fats, calories, vitamins, fluids, and electrolytes. Usually, finding good vegan food options is challenging; therefore, finding vegan backpacking food requires more planning and effort. Nevertheless, here are the food options vegans have when backpacking.

Calories

Consuming high-calorie foods when backpacking is the most important thing since they provide your body with the required energy. How much energy you need varies from person to person and the activity you’re doing. Running will require more energy than walking, and someone with a higher basal metabolic rate will require more and frequent high-calorie foods. Some healthy high-calorie vegan foods include;

  • Nut butter: You can mix various nut and seed butter like peanut, cashew, and sunflower.
  • Fresh fruit: These are high in sugars for natural energy, vitamins, and minerals
  • Dried fruit: These are great when you want to pack light.
  • Whole nuts and seeds
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Sweet potato
  • Beans and pulses
  • Wholemeal bread and tortillas
  • Trail mix

Carbohydrates

Carbs, specifically complex carbohydrates, have the highest nutritional fuel for your muscles and brain. When backpacking, you need all the energy you can get to prevent yourself from being lethargic or burning down your muscles. Starch breaks down into glucose for immediate energy needs and stores excess glycogen for future energy needs.

There are complex and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are slow energy releasing foods that provide you with energy over a long period. You should also go for quick-cooking carbohydrates that are best suited for backpacking. It is best to have a high-calorie and carbohydrate breakfast before your hike. Incorporate simple carbs that are instant energy-releasing when snacking in between meals like bananas to give you a boost when you start feeling sluggish during your walks. Here are some backpacking carbs.

  • Oats and granola: You can add nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for added taste.
  • Dried Beans, bean flakes, and split lentils: Get precooked dehydrated beans and lentils to make them easier to prepare. Red split lentils cook faster than other types of lentils.
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Wholemeal bread, wraps, pita: Store-bought wholemeal bread contains preservatives that can keep your bread fresh for a while and offer a variety of menu options. Tortillas handle temperature changes well and are light-weight.
  • Banana chips. Bananas are a great source of instant energy releasing foods.
  • Wholewheat couscous
  • Rice noodles
  • Instant mash

You should focus more on complex carbs for backpacking. However, simple carbs are also great for snacking but keep away from refined sugars like fizzy drinks and energy to avoid energy spikes and crashes which can cause quick exhaustion. You can substitute these options with dried fruits like raisins and dates, honey, molasses. Refined and artificial sugars are low-calorie foods and take longer to break down in the body.

Fats and oils

Fats are essential when backpacking as they provide energy for long-term needs because fat digests slowly and doesn’t convert into energy quickly. Therefore, it is necessary to add fats into your every meal when backpacking to maintain an energy storage reserve; this means fast will provide the energy you need when your body runs out of carbs to break down to energy. The fat reserves will also keep your body warm, especially when backpacking in cold weather.

For hiking, it is best to use unsaturated fats that give sustained energy and have lower cholesterol. For instance, squeezing a single pack of olive oil into your chickpea salad with a whole wheat tortilla will provide you with the extra calories you require for the day. Other examples of unsaturated fats include:   

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados
  • Peanut oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Plant milk powders

A tip for packing your oils for your trip would be getting single-serve packets of your preferred oil usually sold in outdoor stores like these Marconi Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Pack.

Proteins

Proteins heal the body after a long day of hiking. They help rebuild and renew worn-out cells, muscles, enzymes, hormones, and other body compounds depleted throughout the day. A dinner with high protein is best as your body revitalizes during the night in preparing for the next day’s activities. Though proteins are essential, you do not need much as they will not provide the energy required for backpacking.

 The following are plant-based proteins that will help you

  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown and wild rice, oats, whole wheat, farro
  • Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, sesame, pumpkin
  • Nuts: avocado, pistachios, almonds, cashews, walnuts
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, or tofu
  • Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, corn, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, artichokes

Vitamins and minerals

Though you need to be on calorie-dense foods when backpacking, you cannot ignore fruits and vegetables on a plant-based diet. Vitamins and minerals promote energy production, recovery, and immunity. However, veggies can take up too much space, have fewer calories, and are easily perishable. Instead, you can incorporate freeze-dried vegetable mixes that are light-weight, nutrition-dense, and can last a week after opening their packaging.

As a rule of thumb, hardier fruits and veggies are better for backpacking meals. You can also get veggie chips that require no cooking and come in a variety of options like;

  • Sprouts
  • Ocra
  • Carrots
  • Beetroots
  • Seaweed
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms

You can also get your veggies in paste and powder form to add into any meal like spirulina, nutritional yeast, baobab, matcha, moringa.

As a vegetarian, keep in mind that your plant-based meals do not provide vitamin B12 since it is naturally occurring in animal meat. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, constipation, reduce appetite, dizziness, and balance, all problems you do not want to have when backpacking. Nevertheless, you can take vitamin B12 supplements of incorporate some of the foods below in your outdoor meals.

  • Tofu or tempeh
  • Nutritional yeast
  • B12 fortified plant-based milk like almond, cashew, soy.
  • Seaweed
  • Marmite

Water, salts, and electrolytes

The body loses a lot of water and electrolytes when doing outdoor activities from sweating; therefore, it is crucial to keep hydrated and maintain your body fluids. Drinking water will hydrate you, while food will provide you with salts and electrolytes. The salts and electrolytes are responsible for directing water to parts of the body that need it the most. You can dissolve some electrolyte tablets into your drinking water for more strenuous activities, which absorb quickly into the body compared to salted nuts.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can cause lethargy, increased heart rate, nausea, convulsions, and fatigue. You can maintain your body fluids and electrolytes using;

  • Seaweed
  • Salted nuts
  • Isotonic powders and rehydration tablets like Tailwind
  • Himalayan salt for your meals

How to keep vegetables fresh when backpacking?

Fresh vegetables can be very hydrating and improve energy levels. However, they have a short shelf life, which can be inconvenient if you’re doing long-distance backpacking. Unless you’re camping with an RV, refrigeration is not an option. Here are a few tips to keep your camping veggies and fruits fresh.

  1. Get foods that have a longer shelf life. Some fruits and veggies can survive a couple of days without refrigeration, so it’s essential to choose the right foods appropriate for backpacking. Below are some examples of how long some foods will stay fresh depending on how long your trip is.
    • 1 to 2 days:  cucumbers, asparagus, peaches, plums, bananas, broccoli, green beans, green onions,
    • 3 to 5 days: cauliflower, avocados, peppers, celery, mushrooms, pears, summer squash, and underripe tomatoes.
    • 6plus days: apples, cabbage, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips.
  2. Buy fruits that are slightly unripe and have unblemished skin as they will last longer. Spotty fruits are likely to bad quicker from the tossing in your backpack. Slightly under-ripe fruits have time to ripen during the trip and won’t spoil too early.
  3. Wash and cut your produce only when you’re ready to eat them. Moisture can breed bacteria and mold. If you do wash your produce at home, make sure they are completely dry before packing them.
  4. Start with the ripest and delicate fruits and veggies on the earlier days of your camping trip, such as tomatoes and leafy greens. You should have a flexible meal plan that can allow you to change a few things.
  5. Avoid packing your fruits and veggies in sealed plastic bags since some produce ethylene which is a gas that speeds up ripening. Instead, pack them in Reusable Mesh Produce breathable bags, absorb moisture, and eco-friendly too.
  6. Keep your fruits and vegetables away from direct sunlight.
  7. If you want to keep your fresh produce cool, you can use evaporation to lower the temperatures. Put your produce into a wet burlap bag and hang it in the shade of your campsite. Dampen the bag several times a day, and the evaporating water will cool the produce.
  8. Go for freeze-dried produce as they last much longer than fresh ones. They also have almost the same nutrient levels as fresh produce and weigh much less than ripe produce.

What is the best plant-based hiking food?

With the increasing number of people becoming vegans and vegetarians, plant-based food options have also increased over time. Once you know the ingredients suitable for backpacking, you can quickly come up with appropriate meal plans to get you through the adventure.

  • Instant oats are a classic hiking meal. Oats are rich in proteins and fiber, easy to make, filling, and you can also improve the taste by adding fruits, berries, honey, and nut butter. You can also either have it cold or hot by adding water or powdered vegan milk to the oats and stir. Below are some of our favorite vegan oatmeal brands packaged for backpacking and include various flavors.

Other cold meals include granola, instant cereals, porridge, vegan smoothie.

  • Instant quinoa is a gluten-food that is highly rich in protein, starch, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B. quinoa can taste very plain. Still, you can improve its taste by adding fruits, nuts, and veggies.

Pro tip: When using these oatmeal packets, you can use them as a bowl without tearing. You rip out the top, pour in your cold or hot water, and allow it to soften.

  • Meal bars consist of plant-based natural sugars usually made of nuts and seeds with brown rice syrup, maple, and honey. Make sure the meal bars use organic cane sugar and sugar evaporated from sugarcane and minimize artificial refined sugars.
  • Powdered hummus is rich in protein, carbs, and fiber. Mix your water in and stir until you get the right consistency, then eat it with tortilla, carrots, crackers, or wholewheat bread.
  • Dehydrated vegan meals include a variety of regular meals with ingredients suitable for outdoor adventures which are dehydrated to last longer. They are also convenient and easy to clean up. Add water to the meal and wait for it to rehydrate. You should also opt for dehydrated meals that cater to your need for energy when backpacking.
  • Plant-based jerky is a vegan plant-based protein that almost resembles and tastes like meat when it rehydrates. Soak it in hot water and when soft, place it in a wrap or tortilla and enjoy. You can also eat them dry as a snack.
  • Nut butter is an excellent source of protein and fats to add to your other meals, as a spread or as a snack. Justin Nut Butter has travel-size nut butter packets that are easy to use when backpacking.
  • Vegan trail mix is also a classic backpacking snack that includes a mix of dried fruits, seeds, and nuts in various flavors. You can also make your trail mix of your favorite seeds, nuts, and dries fruits which are very rich in calories.
  • Vegetable soup is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins and keeps you warm throughout the night. Soup with noodles, rice, and veggies would also boost your energy.

How to use dehydrated vegetables when backpacking?

Below are the many ways you can incorporate dehydrated vegetables into your backpacking meals.

  • Rehydrate and use them as a salad or side dishes. Add hot water into a bowl of dehydrated vegetables and allow them to soak and hydrate. If you want a cold meal, you have to soak the dehydrated veggies overnight as they rehydrate.
  • Put your vegetables in a grinder and grind them into powder. Put the vegetable powder in a jar or sealable bag for backpacking. You can use the powder to flavor and increase the nutrient content of your soups, oats, quinoa, noodles, tofu.
  • Slice fresh vegetables, marinade them, dehydrate them, and eat them like a snack. You can make chips from beets, kale, potatoes, which will also save you space.
  • Pour the dehydrated veggies into soups and stews.
  • Add a few dehydrated fruits to your drinking water for additional flavor and healthy sugar that the fruits will slowly release into the water as they rehydrate.

Wrapping it up

With the help of this article, you should not settle for bland, tasteless food in the wild. There are plenty of flavorful plant-based food options that you can eat and that will support your hiking needs. Also, remember to stock more carbs and healthy fats and oils for energy, proteins for cell rejuvenation, and water and electrolytes for hydration.