January 20, 2022 17 min read

Backpacking as a vegan can be a mountain to climb, whether you’re gearing up for an overnight trip or a weeklong adventure. While there are far fewer options for vegan backpacking food, that doesn't mean you have to settle for beans and rice for every meal in the backcountry.

If you know where to look, you’ll discover there are many options available for backpackers on a plant-based diet. And these foods are interesting, satisfying, filling, flavorful, packed with healthy nutrients, and capable of sustaining your energy levels throughout the entire journey.

In this post, we will look at vegan backpacking meals you can buy or make on your own.

The topics we’ll cover include:

What Does It Mean to Be Vegan?

Let's start by discussing what the vegan lifestyle is all about. Put simply, veganism is a way of living that attempts to abstain from the use of animal products. A person who follows this lifestyle is known as a vegan. 

A vegan refrains from consuming any type of meat, seafood, dairy, milk, eggs, cheese, and honey. The person may also reject clothes and body care products in which animals were involved. People turn to vegan diets for health, ethical, environmental, and religious reasons.

Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is less strict than veganism. Vegetarians choose not to eat meat, poultry, and fish. But they consume byproducts that do not involve the slaughter of animals, such as eggs, dairy products, and honey.

What to Consider When Planning Your Vegan Backpacking Meals

It’s entirely possible to eat vegan and eat well in the backcountry. Here’s what you need to consider when planning your backpacking menu:

Shelf-Life

Whether you’re creating your own meals or buying dehydrated foods, always go for ingredients that don't require refrigeration and aren't perishable. When venturing into the woods for a single night, taking along fresh vegetables isn't a problem. But if your foray into the backcountry will last several days, then you need to consider the shelf life of every food item you pack. 

The good news is that most plant-based foods for backpacking tend to have a longer shelf-life than foods containing animal products. Also, choose hiking grub that can handle a little bashing inside your backpack—for instance, flatbreads instead of bread rolls and apples instead of bananas.

Weight 

Sure, the food content in your backpack will get lighter day by day. But you still need to be able to carry it on the first hiking day. You want to make sure you bring enough food, so you don't go hungry, but you also don’t want to start out carrying way too much food weight that you end up struggling to hike at your normal pace. 

The trick is to pick food items that offer the best nutrition to weight ratio. Most vegan backpackers choose dehydrated and freeze-dried foods as they tend to strike the right balance between weight and nutrition. Enjoying some roasted sweet potatoes may sound good, but think of how much your bag will weigh. Instead, pack something lighter but equally yummy and nutritious.

To save a decent amount of space and weight in your backpack—and have more room for your snacks—don't forget the importance of a lightweight and compact backpacking sleep system. Opt for a lightweight yet durable sleeping bag and sleeping pad. You can also find a 1 person hiking tent that occupies minimum space in your pack and is light enough to make tough treks feel effortless.

Cooking Time 

The longer your food takes to cook, the more stove fuel you'll need to carry and the heavier your backpack will be. Consider how convenient your planned dishes will take to cook and eat. After a grueling hike, you don’t want to spend an entire evening preparing dinner.  

Think about foods are easy to eat—gobbled down one-handed while on the move, for example—or easy to prepare—quick cook grains such as bulgur rather than rice. Meals that you can chow down and replenish with as little effort as possible will save you time and energy.

Location

If you’re going on a long backpacking trip, you need to determine whether or not there will be resupply points along the trail that you can use. If the route isn't very popular, don’t plan to rely on small village stores for plant-based hiking food. 

Also, think about the temperatures you’ll be hiking in. In hot and humid weather, dried fruits and vegetables will last better than fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Price

Dehydrated backpacker meals are the fastest and most convenient way to eat on the trail. However, these meals aren’t cheap. So, if you go backpacking regularly or you’re planning a lengthy trip, the costs can add up. 

To save money, you can prepare homemade vegan or vegetarian backpacking meals, dehydrate your own foods or eat inexpensive instant grub. You can also opt to only eat dehydrated dishes for lunch when in transit and then cook the rest when you arrive at the campsite. This, of course, will depend on how much you’re willing to spend.

How Much Does Nutrition Matter?

If you neglect to take a balanced diet when backpacking, your body might feel sluggish, and you may lack the energy required to complete the hike. But if managed properly, a plant-based diet can take your hiking stamina and endurance to new levels.

So, nutrition matters a lot whether you’re a vegan or meat-eater.

With time, you'll realize there are two camps of backpackers when it comes to nutrition and meals. One camp believes you should eat whatever you want and just focus on high loads of calories to keep your energy levels up. The other camp says you should strive to consume carefully balanced meals.

Although there are many successful backpackers who only focus on calories instead of all-rounded nutrition, it’s good to balance your diet, especially if your trip will last more than a week. But that doesn't mean you should spend too much time focusing on the small nutritional details of every meal.

If you plan to be on the trail for more than a month, it’s smart to consult a doctor or nutritionist to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

The Key Nutrients a Backpacker Needs

The best vegan or vegetarian backpacking food will tick many nutritional boxes. If they don’t on their own, aim to get them across your meals throughout the day. Here are some key nutrients to make sure you include in your vegan backpacking recipes.

Carbohydrates

The bulk of your energy while hiking should come from complex carbohydrates. These are carbs that are digested more slowly, provide sustained energy, and help you feel full for longer. This allows you to trek long distances without feeling weary too soon.

Some good examples of complex carbohydrates are the following:

  • Oats
  • Granola
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bulgur
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Apple

Proteins

Protein helps your muscles get stronger and recover faster, making it a must-have nutrient, especially for long and grueling backpacking trips. It’s a misconception that meat is the best source of protein. 

Many plants are excellent sources of healthy protein. Some include the following:

  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Nuts
  • Almonds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds

Pay particular attention to plant-based protein powders. Gram-for-gram, they can be one of the most nutrient-packed food options for the trail. Just mix a bit into your food or just have a shake at the end of the day.

Fats

Fat supplies your body energy and helps it absorb many vitamins. After your body burns through carbs, it moves on to your fat reserves. On strenuous outdoor hikes, fat will provide more than twice the energy that carbs and proteins do. 

Focus on unsaturated fats, such as the following:

  • Peanuts
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Avocados
  • Coconut
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds

Vitamins and Minerals 

Final building blocks of the puzzle that is the human body, vitamins and minerals are found sprinkled around many sources of food, from fruits and seaweed to leaf vegetables and root vegetables. 

And don’t forget to bring foods that will keep your digestive system moving. Good sources include the following:

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Barley

Salts and Electrolytes

When doing a challenging climb or trudging under the blistering sun, you’ll be losing more salts and electrolytes than you realize. At the end of the day, replace them with foods such as the following:

  • Salted nuts
  • Seaweed
  • Himalayan salt

How Many Calories to Eat When Backpacking

Backpacking takes a lot of energy, so you need food that can properly refuel you. Calorie counting is the best way to make sure that your body is getting enough energy throughout the day. This is more important on long backpacking trips where you won’t have access to resources for days or weeks on end. 

The amount of camping food you bring will depend on your metabolism, weight, and how active you plan to be during your trip. For an exhausting day of backpacking with a heavy pack, women typically need about 3,000 calories per day, while men will usually require around 4,000 calories.

To figure out exactly what you need, calculate your base metabolic rate (how many calories you need per day to maintain your current weight without being active), then calculate expected calories burned per day during your planned trip based on pack weight, distance, and elevation gain. Lastly, calculate the sum of these numbers. This is the minimum number of calories you need to eat each day.

To calculate the weight of the food you need to bring outdoors, take the total number of calories needed per day that you’ve just calculated and divide it by 125 (the average calories per ounce of food). Then divide by 16 (there are 16 ounces in a pound). The figure you get will be the total number of pounds of food you need to bring to achieve your necessary caloric intake.

Prepackaged vs. Homemade Vegan Backpacking Food

Adventure herbivores have three options for meals on the trail. Prepare your own meals at home, buy premade plant-based hiking meals, or bring whole ingredients to use on the trail. No option is superior to the other, and each one has its own advantages. 

  • Homemade vegan meals: What makes this such an attractive option is the significant cost savings. Prepackaged meals can cost anywhere from $4 to $8 per meal; homemade dehydrated foods can cost as little as $0.40 to $0.80 per meal. Also, you can fully customize the ingredients to meet your diet and flavor requirements.
  • Premade meals: These are highly convenient as they don't require any preparation before you head out on the trail and are easy to cook. But compared to homemade meals, they are generally less healthy due to unwanted preservatives or food colorings, and they can be harder to resupply.
  • Whole ingredients: Bringing whole ingredients to use on the trail allows you to eat exactly what you would at home. However, it’s the least convenient since your pack load will be heavier and preparing meals will take longer.

Now, let's dive deeper into these options.

Vegan Food Dehydration at Home

Putting a bit of extra effort into making homemade vegan dehydrated camping food far outweighs the convenience of prepackaged pouch meals.

In general, food dehydration involves sucking moisture out of cooked meals. Dehydrated meals weigh less, pack down smaller, and, if prepared and stored correctly, can last for months.

First, you’ll need to invest in a quality dehydrator. When you’re not using it for preparing vegan hiking snacks and meals, you can use it to preserve some of the season’s harvest for the leaner months, save leftovers, dry your own herbs, create vegetable powders, or even experiment with dehydrated foods.

The dehydration process is easy. Just cook the meal, pop it on a tray in the dehydrator, and wait for it to finish. For fruits, cut them into thin slices before placing them on the trays. Next, let the food cool, seal the dehydrated food in a bag, and you can now take it with you wherever you go. Don’t forget to label the bag with both the name of the food inside and the date they it was packaged.

If your backpacking trip is more than a month away, you can also freeze the food. You can even use a vacuum packing machine to remove air from a bag prior to sealing, so the food lasts longer. Inspect your bounty for signs of moisture after a few days, and put it back in the dehydrator if there is any. 

Once you’re on the campsite and ready to chow down, just boil, steam, or cook the food with some water. And before consuming, always inspect the food visually and by smell. If there are any signs of rot or mold, dispose of the food. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Want to learn how to handle food in the backcountry? Check out this guide.

Prepackaged Vegan Food

If you don’t want to go the dehydrator route, you can buy prepackaged meals. These foods can be anything ranging from packets of biscuits, energy bars, energy gels, recovery drinks, and trail mixes to specific dehydrated backpacking meal sachets or sauce packets.

If you prefer the convenience of this route, it’s more cost-effective to buy dehydrated food in bulk. You’ll also have plenty of food ready for future trips. 

Wondering where to buy vegan dehydrated meals? You can easily find instant plant-based hiking food on online stores like Amazon and REI. You can also shop directly from the sites that sell instant vegan backpacking food such as Outdoor HerbivoreFood For The SoleBackpacker’s Pantry, and Good To-Go

To reduce your backpack load, make sure you buy food in sachets instead of canned or glass packagings.

Whole Goods to Use on the Trail

If you prefer healthier meals when backpacking or you want to add more variety into your hiking diet, and you don’t mind the extra weight and meal preparation time, then you can bring some whole goods to use on the trail. Some useful whole foods include oats and seeds to make porridge or rice, noodles, pasta, and fresh vegetables.    

Example Meals to Have on the Trail

Ideally, you want to be taking on calories every few hours. That way, you’ll stay full and energized throughout the day. It's important to start the day with a hearty warm breakfast before the hike. Throughout the afternoon, take two smaller cold food breaks. Once you arrive at camp, eat a warm and filling, carb-and-protein heavy meal to supplement a hard day on the beaten path. Throughout the day , munch on high-energy backpacking snacks while on the go.

Now let’s look at some examples of what a vegan backpacker can eat on the trail.

For Breakfast:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that's doubly true when you're hiking. It helps kickstart your organ systems and generates the energy your body will need throughout the day. Tuck into some slow-release carbohydrates to give you energy through the day, plus plenty of protein to repair your muscles and increase the oxygen in your blood.

The convenience of a “just add water” meal is hard to deny out on the trail. Below are some amazing prepackaged vegan backpacking meals for filling and calorie-packed breakfasts on the trail.

Backpacker’s PantryOrganic Blueberry Walnut Oats & Quinoa  

Backpacker’s Pantry is one of the largest and most famous vegan and vegetarian backpacking food companies in the market today. They have several breakfast options, including a delicious vegan-friendly instant hot blueberry, walnut, oats and quinoa cereal. You can make and eat it right from the pouch. 

Outdoor HerbivoreSunrise Tofu Scramble 

Looking for a hot and healthy breakfast dish that offers protein without cholesterol? Go for the Sunrise Tofu Scramble from Outdoor Herbivore. It contains organic tofu, freeze-dried organic vegetables, and mushrooms for fast hydration. You can have it as a breakfast burrito or roll the stuffing right into a tortilla.

Food For The SolePumpkin Apple Pecan Energy Oats

Another instant breakfast option is by Food for the Sole, a company that produces ultra-light, tasty, and health-conscious backpacking meals. The ingredients include pumpkin, apples, and a bit of maple syrup. Mix it with their super oat mix of rolled oats, hemp hulls, chia seeds, and flaxseed meal.

If you feel like cooking, here are some simple, energy-filled, plant-based vegan backpacking recipes for morning meals.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a healthy and customizable vegan backpacking breakfast. It will sustain you on those tough climbs. Use oats and water as your base, sweeten it with apricot jam, then mix in toppings of your choice. Sneak in some apples, wild blueberries, chia seeds, and toasted almonds. You can even make it with green tea instead of plain water, which should help you wake up for a day of hiking.

Sandwich

Another great vegan backpacking meal to kickstart your morning with is sandwiches. Make a nut butter sandwich and sprinkle some dried fruits and nuts on top. You can also spread some homemade hummus, avocado slices, or banana, then add seeds.

Pancakes

Vegan pancakes while backpacking are doable. Just prepare the mix at home and when you’re ready for breakfast in the backcountry, add water, mix and fry on a lightweight pan. Bring vegan butter separately to melt in the pan and top the pancakes with lots of extra goodies.

If you don’t like to eat immediately after waking up, prepare your breakfast anyway in the morning and take it with you. This way, you’ll only need a short break when you get hungry on the way. 

If you want a simple on-the-go breakfast, that's fine.

Don’t want to boil water for breakfast? That’s fine, it’s better for your overall pack weight anyway. Just mix Captain Crunch or Mini-Wheats cereals with soymilk powder and add water to make a quick, tasty, and crunchy breakfast. You can also opt for PROBAR Meal Bars, which are packed with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.

For lunch:

Your backpacking lunch meals depend on whether you’re hiking at that moment of the day, going at a casual pace, or you’re cozy at your campsite. If you’re on the move, backpacking lunches are best taken cold and should be easy to eat and digest. 

You’re probably going to be tired, sweaty, and muddy, so you don’t want to waste your remaining energy reserves cooking. Pulling out our entire kitchen setup, cooking lunch, cleaning, and repacking could easily waste over an hour of prime hiking time. 

If you want to get going again as soon as possible, it’s better to take cooking out of the equation.

Here are some great vegan dehydrated meal options.

Powdered hummus 

Powdered hummus is a great no-cook vegan lunch idea for backpacking. Simply mix cold water, some powdered hummus and a drizzle of olive oil, and you’ve got yourself a delectable hummus spread for lunch. Sprinkle crushed pepper, lemon, crackers, and garlic to give this vegan backpacking meal plenty of flavor.

Vegan jerky 

When you want to refuel your body and rebuild sore muscles after half a day of strenuous hiking, eat some vegan jerky. It’s a tasty and easy way to add a little protein to your diet. You can get jerky made of mushrooms, jackfruit, seitan, or soybeans. One of the best brands to buy your vegan jerky from is Primal Spirit.

Outdoor Herbivore lunches

Outdoor Herbivore has a ton of vegan lunch ideas, including foods that are packed with protein and nutrients. Their grub has way less salt than other brands and is also super easy to make. Go for the Lazy Lentil Salad made with instant flaked lentils, sunflower seeds, freeze-dried organic apple, and sweet cranberries.

Energy bars

If you want to focus more on the best parts of hiking, the views, and worry less about stopping for meals, bring energy or protein bars for lunch. Don’t just load up on your favorite bar for a multi-day adventure. Mix up energy bars from different brands such as GoMacro Bars or Aloha Bars.

Oftentimes, a quick bite is enough to keep the miles rolling. But when you have time on your hands, it wouldn’t hurt to prepare something substantial enough to refuel your tank. Here are some quick lunches you can make.

Trail mix, nuts, and dried fruit

Packing an assortment of trail mix, nuts, and dried fruits is a great way to have some calorie boosts on hand to eat while hiking. Make one using one or two of your favorite varieties of nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate chips.

Tortillas and wraps

Filled tortilla wraps make a great change if you want a vegan backpacking meal that's more interesting but still calorie-dense. Plus, you'll feel like you are eating real food on the trail. There are so many fillings you can play around with. Fill a wholemeal wrap with smashed chickpeas, some crunchy colorful vegetables, and creamy vegan cheese.

Leftover breakfast 

You can always prepare a big load of breakfast in the morning and save half of it. Come lunch, you’ll have a ready-to-eat meal that’s jam-packed with nutrients.

If you’re relaxing at your campsite and you have the time and space to cook a meal, you can use rice, pasta, quinoa, or bulgur as the basis for lunch. Fresh veggies, mushrooms, avocado, nuts, chili sauce, and canola oil can then play a supporting role.

For dinner: 

Dinner is when you settle down and recover from the day. And after a long day on the trail, it’s important to find a meal that will end your day on a happy, satisfying note. You want a dish that contains carbs, protein, and fat. Plus enough salt to replenish the electrolytes and minerals flushed out via sweat.

Here’re a number of shop-bought, freeze-dried, and dehydrated meal options that are nutritious and well-balanced. 

Backpacker’s Pantry dinners

Backpacker’s Pantry has many great vegan backpacking dinner options, but one that stands out is the Three Sister Stew. This tasty and hearty dish mainly features sweet corn, black beans, and squash. It’s also made up of long-grain brown rice, organic quinoa, virgin olive oil, tomato flakes, and a variety of spices. 

Good To-Go dinners

Good To-Go's backpacking meals are meat-free, gluten-free, and have less sodium. One of their popular dinners is the Kale and White Bean Stew. The stew will keep your body and soul warm on those chilly nights in the wild. Kale, white beans, fennel, olive drippings, garlic, and rosemary come together to make a nutrient-rich, calorie-dense, and yummy vegan meal. 

Patagonia Provisions

Not in the mood for beans and rice? Try the Organic Tsampa Garden Veggie Soup by Patagonia Provisions. It’s a savory, natural, vegan dry soup mix of roasted whole grains, organic veggies, herbs, and spices. This appetizing meal is also high in protein and fiber, and it will restore your strength for the next day's trek.

After a strenuous hike, a hot meal in the evening can really be an extra morale booster. Launch up that burner and prepare to cook a proper vegan meal. The following dishes will help you recover from a wild day.

Ramen noodles

Instant noodles are a backpacker’s staple. Everyone loves them because they're super lightweight, delicious, and the meal comes together in a snap. Grab your favorite flavor and mix in some soy curls, herbs, and freeze-dried veggies for a more filling and nutritious dinner.

Seitan

Seitan, also known as wheat protein, is a great vegan meat replacement. Make a seitan loaf at home, then mix it into sauces as a protein and nutrient source. Combine it with veggies of your choice, mushroom, nutritional yeast, and seasoning.

Pasta with sauce

Another vegan backpacking meal that’s quick and easy to whip up and nutritional is pasta. But what lies at the heart of every great pasta dish? The sauce, of course! Serve your pasta with vegan alfredo, red lentil marinara, beet cashew sauce, or tomatoes cream sauce.

For Dessert:

Although a lot of classic camping desserts aren’t vegan friendly, you can still find a plant-based treat that will also help you meet your caloric needs for the day. You can have anything ranging from dark chocolate, raisin bagel with strawberry jam, banana custard pudding, dried fruit, or nut butter cookie bites.

Condiments and extras:

Just because you’ll often use the same base ingredients doesn’t mean your vegan backpacking meals should all taste the same. Spices and herbs, when paired with the proper skills, hold the power to turn even the worst food flops into a pleasant culinary experience. They are also rich in nutrients.

Elevate your camp-kitchen game with cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, cracked pepper, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Other important condiments include olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, mustard, vegan pesto, and vegan mayonnaise.

Vegan backpacking drinks:

After a long, rough day on the trail, nothing beats the joy of sipping a good hot drink that warms you to the bones. Adding drinks to your backpacking menu will keep you hydrated and warm on chilly days and nights. Get toasty from the inside with drinks like hot herbal teas, hot chocolate, chai tea, or apple cider. 

When you've just stopped for a rest after a multi-hour backpacking excursion under the scorching sun, there’s no better feeling than having a nice refreshing cold drink. While water is the best for satisfying your thirst, you can also bring Skratch Labs Sport Hydration or Gatorade Powder to replace the electrolytes you lose when you sweat. 

Vegan Backpacking Cooking Gear

To cook, prepare, and happily chow down all of the delicious backpacking foods above, you’ll need the right gear. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to find vegan-friendly plastic or metal cooking supplies. Here are some of the camp kitchen gear you’ll need.

  • Backpacking stove, gas, and lighter
  • Cooking pan, pots, and lids 
  • Tupperware for storing leftover food 
  • Resealable Ziploc bags 
  • Trash bag 
  • Recycled paper plate, bowl, cup, and spork 
  • Knife 
  • Vegan soap, sponge, and baby wipes to stay nice and clean

Stay Plant-Strong in Your Next Backpacking Trip

A few decades ago, maintaining a vegan diet while hiking and camping in the backcountry was a heck of a challenge. That’s no longer the case as vegan meals are becoming easier to find and increasing in variety by the day.

Now, there are countless ways to enjoy plant-based backpacking meals. You can buy no-cook vegan hiking food, bring your own homemade dishes, or pack ingredients and prepare everything from scratch. Whichever method you prefer, remember not to leave any trash behind. Not even food leftovers or peels.

What are your favorite vegan backpacking meals? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!


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