Packing for a hiking trip is all about trade-offs. And when you are a vegetarian or vegan, packing for the trail can add another challenge as you try to pack enough of the right kinds of food to fuel your adventures. Not enough of the right kind of energy can leave you fatigued and listless or even lead to bonking (running out of the stored glycogen). Fueling a long hike is all about finding the energy you require in a form you will eat. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all needed in the right proportions to keep you moving on the trail with a smile.
Instant oatmeal can provide a lightweight powerhouse meal to start the day off right. Prepackaged oatmeal works in a pinch, but has too much sugar for me. I make my own individually packed meals using instant oatmeal, powdered milk, nuts, dried fruit, and a pinch of brown sugar. A cup of oatmeal can have close to 60 grams of carbs, while powdered milk is fortified with vitamins and protein. Nuts and dried fruit add more nutrients and give many taste options. The ingredients can all be placed in one Ziploc and heated with warm water in just a few minutes. Lightweight, packed with energy, and quick to prepare, this meal will get you on the trail early and keep you moving.
The book Freedom of the Hills will tell you that lunch starts shortly after breakfast and makes up most of the calories consumed in a day. The idea is to maintain a steady intake of energy to replace what is getting burned. Lunch is not usually a sit-down cooked meal on a hike. Rather, pack your favorite sports nutrition bars or nuts and dried fruit in convenient pockets and munch along the trail or on short breaks. Many of the popular bars like Clif or PowerBars have a good mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients to refuel lost glycogen supplies. If you are working hard you will need one bar an hour with plenty of water. Supplement with your favorite GORP and fresh fruit to add variety.
A good evening meal is important to replace nutrients lost during a hard day of hiking and to keep you strong and happy over a long trip. It is important to start replacing lost carbohydrates and protein within an hour of stopping for the day. Many companies offer prepackaged vegetarian and vegan meals for the trail; Pack Lite Foods will even mail one to you along the trail. It is important to read the nutrition label though to make sure you are getting the right caloric mix of carbs, protein, and fat. Another option is to pre-make your meals at home in a single-serve Ziploc. Pasta, dried beans, and rice can be packaged easily and spiced to individual tastes. Diced fresh peppers, onions, carrots, and celery add zest and nutrients to a dinner meal (be sure to store fresh vegetables in a separate container).
Washington-based professional endurance athlete and trainer Brandyn Roark recommends Hammer Bar from Hammer Nutrition. She says it is organic, 100% raw, vegan, gluten free, and tastes wonderful. “They rock in changing climates too. I’ve used them in the humid tropics, to the Arctic Circle.” Her favorite is the cashew coconut chocolate chip. See more at her website gobranbran.com
Add quinoa to boost protein. Keen One Quinoa has many meal choices at keenonefoods.com
Chia Seeds can be added to oatmeal or dinner meals to supplement protein and other nutrients lost during exercise. Chia Seeds are considered an endurance athlete’s super food. Just one tablespoon contains 1 gram of carbs and 3 grams of protein along with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.
Amaranth is another good natural source of carbs, protein, amino acids, and other great stuff. Instant amaranth can be cooked like instant oatmeal in the morning and has a mild, sweet and nutty flavor.
More Resources – Find More Information on Vegetarian/Vegan Backpacking and Recipes