Before leaving the UK to start my Appalachian Trail adventure, one of my main concerns was how I would survive my hike on a vegan diet.
Having been vegan for a little under 2 years, life at home in the UK on a plant-based diet is a breeze. I’m a foodie; I love cooking and experimenting with new recipes, and I’ve become pretty savvy with the all-important ‘vegan hacks’, that make food taste extra great, i.e. when in doubt, add nooch.
America would be a whole new world for me. I had no idea what to expect when it came to the vegan food selection in their supermarkets, and with all the tiny towns I would be passing through, I could only assume the worst.
What’s more, I had never put my body through such physical endurance and had no way of knowing how it would react. Would my regular vegan diet, which had been working so well up until now, withstand such stress? Could I consume enough calories?
Spoiler alert, it’s an overall yes.
Before my trip, it’s also worth noting that I had a blood test done, to check that I wasn’t already lacking in any of the important stuff. It turned out that I was fit as a fiddle.
So, without further ado, here is how I survived on the Appalachian Trail as a vegan:
Everyday on the trail
For many hikers, breakfast is an afterthought. It’s about shovelling down a Pop Tart to make getting onto the trail first thing less of a faff. For me on the other hand, breakfast was a firm part of my morning routine and something I took great pleasure in making.
Every morning, I would collect my food bag, crawl back into my tent and heat up some water for coffee (or hot chocolate in the winter) and oats in my vestibule.
My favourite coffee to use was the Starbucks Via Instant packs. They were a little on the pricey side, but were wonderfully convenient and a lot nicer than Folgers. I would drink my coffee black with a hint of sugar or sweetener (probably stolen from a hotel).
I liked to buy the Quaker Oats variety boxes, which came with apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar and cinnamon spice. I’d eat 2-3 packets each morning and always bulk them out and liven them up by adding extras like trail mix (dried fruit and nuts), dark chocolate chunks, chia seeds and desiccated coconut.
Lunch was the hardest meal of the day for me and I usually felt very uninspired. After a stint in town, I would try to make wraps or bagels with vegan cheese and spinach, but once my spinach was gone (I usually had to eat it within a day), things got a little boring.
I’d occasionally cook something, but more often than not, I’d just load up on snacks and dream of dinner time.
Dinner time was the perfect meal to get some variety into my diet. If I was feeling fancy, I would occasionally treat myself to a ready-made, dehydrated backpacker meal. My favourite brand was Good To-Go, who have a variety of tasty (and super healthy) vegan meals.
Other dinners included; Knorr Rice Sides (red beans and Spanish rice were my go-to), ramen, instant potatoes, cous-cous, risotto, soup mixes and Daiya mac & cheese. Where possible, I would add fresh spinach to my meals.
My favourite dinner of all time: ‘Red Beans and Rice’ Knorr Rice Side with avocado and vegan cheese, put into a wholewheat wrap to make a Mexican burrito!
The most popular snack on trail, other than trail mix, is probably the energy bar. With a smorgasbord of vegan bars on the market, my favourites were the Clif Bar (coconut almond butter, white chocolate macadamia nut) and Luna Bar (lemon zest).
I also discovered The Complete Cookie, which is sold in bulk in Walmart. It was a great way of getting a chocolate fix in the heat of summer, when all other chocolate would melt in your pack.
I found vegan jerky in a handful of outfitters along the way. Though absolutely delicious, I only bought it twice because it cost an arm and a leg!
Once I had discovered Chex Mix, an obsession was born. It’s cheap, sold pretty much everywhere and has a salty, punchy flavour that’s oh-so satisfying!
Other snacks I would munch on included; fruit squeeze pouches, spreads (peanut butter, jam, Biscoff), nuts (I loved salt and pepper cashews), dried chickpeas or edamame beans, crackers and cookies (Oreos and Nutter Butters are accidentally vegan).
I’d also add electrolytes to my water during the day and in the evening. As well as helping you stay hydrated, they also made it a hell of a lot easier to chug more water. My favourite was the Propel berry flavour.
The size and location of the town you’re staying in will determine the quality of your resupply. If you can get to an Ingles, Martin’s, Walmart or Kroger, you will come out with some great vegan finds. When Dollar General and gas stations are your only options, it’s going to be a bit miserable, unless you’re cool with living off complete junk.
When zeroing in town, I would often buy food from the supermarkets instead of eating out, because I was guaranteed more variety and it helped to save a bit of money.
I’d treat myself to fresh fruit, guacamole, hummus, dairy-free milks and yoghurts and anything else I’d been craving whilst on the trail.
When I did eat out, very few places served fully vegan meals and it was more of a case of negotiating with the waiter to try and come up with something suitable. A lot of the time I had to settle with salad and fries.
On the special occasions where there were vegan options, I went all out!
Pro tip: If you ever order pizza, ask for no cheese and then add your own vegan cheese!
Trail magic as a vegan was very hit and miss, but you could usually guarantee that the wonderful trail angels would have a selection of fresh fruit, as this was something all hikers would crave.
Sometimes I would feel pretty downbeat when all of my friends were able to stuff their faces with a tasty, free meal, whilst I would twiddle my thumbs; but my disappointment really stemmed from not feeling a part of the social aspect surrounding the sharing of food, rather than not being able to actually eat it.
I’d also remind myself why I chose this lifestyle, which to me is far more important than any trail magic. It’s not all doom and gloom though; on several occasions I was blessed with veggie dogs and burgers and even a vegan quesadilla!
Sending and receiving packages
If you’re still concerned with the food selection you’ll be faced with on the trail, it might be worth mailing yourself some goodies.
As an international, I didn’t have any way of preparing resupply boxes for myself in advance, as I had nobody to send them to me. Instead, I relied on the food on trail and whenever I found a decent supermarket, I would stock up and mail boxes to myself in areas that appeared to be lacking in good resupply options.
I was also incredibly fortunate to be sent two amazing vegan care packages from a friend on Instagram. Jeff treated me to healthy backpacker meals and sweet treats and it felt like Christmas receiving his boxes. Thank you Jeff!
Whenever we got the chance to slackpack, I would use it as a great excuse to pack out fresh foods for lunch. With less weight on your back, it’s the best time to carry the heavier, more awkward food items.
Packing out fresh food
Whenever I left town, I would make sure I packed out fresh food, which would usually last me a couple of days. Some examples are: Spinach or mixed salad (great added into dinners or just eaten by the handful), bagels, bananas, apples and avocados.
Other food ideas
Bacon bits (some are made from soy, just check the ingredients), nutritional yeast, olive oil (also great for bulking up your calories), taco seasoning, hot sauce, dehydrated refried beans, dehydrated soy milk, vegan tuna, granola, vegetable chips and chia/flax/hemp seeds.
Being vegan is easy when you know how
Overall, I found being vegan on the trail simple. What helped was the fact that I had nearly two years of experience and practice before setting out on my hike.
Sometimes the vegan food selections were limited, and this did put a dampener on things, as I’d often rely on food for a huge mental boost; but a new town is never that far away on the AT.
Towards the end of my hike, which was just over 1000 miles, I did become incredibly bored of all the food that I was eating and lost my appetite. This happens to a lot of hikers though, as we would be eating the same meals day in and day out; it had nothing to do with my dietary choices.
Whether you are already on a plant-based diet, or considering moving onto one before you hike the Appalachian Trail – or any other long distance trail for that matter, I hope this blog post has helped to put your mind at ease!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment or message me on Instagram!