The real challenge for a vegan backpacker is being stuck in town and the only restaurant option is a local diner with burgers and iceberg lettuce salads. Most trail towns don’t have vegan restaurant options, but if the town as even a medium-sized grocery store, there will be plenty for you to eat. Here are a few of our Continental Divide Trail staples that we often found very satisfying:
- Amy’s – This brand is widely available in grocery stores, with lots of options in the soup and frozen aisles. In trail towns, if you have a hotel room with a microwave, frozen Amy’s meals will taste heavenly, such as pizza, burritos, and mac n cheese. The soups and chili, though in my mind always in need of more salt, are also equally flavorful once warmed up.
- Salad – Ok, ok, so vegans DO eat lots of salad, at least I do. We had luck finding a specific Asian Salad Kit at Kroger (Fred Meyer) along the way, as it came with dressing and crunchy toppings. Check out salad kits and take out the cheese or make your own salad with a bag of greens, dressing, nuts, dried cranberries, and your favorite veggies and crunchy toppings. We tried to eat a salad in every town on the CDT so we could get fresh greens like spinach.
- Chips and Guacamole/Salsa/Refried beans – Along with dried mango, I could also eat my weight in guacamole and you can easily find this in towns along the way. You can make hot or cold nachos, depending on the microwave availability, with chips, salsa, refried beans, guacamole, canned corn, and depending on the grocery store, daiya cheese and vegan sour cream.
- Canned items – In addition to Amy’s brands, there are likely several options like lentil soup, veggie soup, veggie chili and one of our favorites, Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans. Canned veggies aren’t exactly at the top of the quality scale, but there is still something satisfying about them. We ate more canned vegetables than I’d like to admit along the CDT, in towns so small that the only option was a Family Dollar store.
- Crusty Bread – Most of the freshly baked crusty bread in grocery stores doesn’t have milk and is a wonderfully fresh option. I eat it plain or dipped in soup, tearing off a big hunk of bread at a time. Buy some peanut butter and jelly and you have a yummy breakfast the next day, assuming you didn’t eat the whole loaf for dinner, which is absolutely fine if you did.
- Frozen aisle – If the store has Amy’s brand, you’re in luck and will likely find several options of tasty meals. There are also lots of frozen veggies that can be cooked in a microwave and while it’s not fresh vegetables, if you’re only cooking apparatus is a microwave, it’s at least some way to eat vegetables on the trail.
If you’re only option is a gas station as a resupply point, check out the accidentally vegan lists provided by PETA in the Resources section, which includes options like Oreos, Nutter Butters, Pringles, Lays Potato chips, and Skittles. Most gas stations also have energy and granola bars, like Nature Valley Peanut Butter bars and Luna Bars. In the Exxon gas station in Lima, MT, we came across spaghetti and spaghetti sauce and cooked the spaghetti in our motel’s microwave, in a bowl provided by the motel. While you may not find the healthiest options at a gas station, you will find calories to get you to the next town and you just might find something worth cooking.
Post Office – If you know ahead of time that town options will be very limited, mail yourself food that you may not otherwise carry on the trail. Trader Joe’s has prepared meals, like Trader Ming’s Pad Thai, which just needs to be microwaved, and Tasty Bite Indian boxed meals are filling and satisfying. Neither are dehydrated, so they would be heavy to carry on the trail, but both just need to be microwaved and offer a flavorful option in small towns along the way.
There are many options on where to purchase vegan food. Once you dig a little, you’ll find there are many more options than you’d expect. Two stores that have lots of vegan food options are Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
- Trader Joe’s offers a variety of dietary lists on their website including one for vegans. Because TJ’s can be a bit overwhelming, with a product in seemingly every nook and cranny, I’d suggest printing the list and highlighting the items that are backpacking-friendly and then browse your local store, as it’s not an all-inclusive list. If you don’t need large quantities, the price and variety are hard to beat for trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, chocolate, pre-made meals, chips, unique snacks, and granola.
- While I couldn’t find a product list for Whole Foods, I would say to go to a store and see what strikes your fancy. The labeling of products is very vegan friendly and you rarely have to stand there reading ingredients lists, as oftentimes the word vegan is in plain sight on the packaging.
- In addition to lots of items being available on Amazon, REI is another online source for food like bars, snack and dehydrated and freeze-dried meals, often offering them at a discount. You can sort food by vegan items in the Camp & Hike > Camp Kitchen > Food section.
- Cookbooks – Another Fork in the Trail is a great option for those looking for vegan backpacking recipes. While we tested some recipes pre-CDT, with the intent of dehydrating them, time and patience got the better of us and we opted to purchase all our food, though I’d use this book for shorter backpacking trips.
- Our CDT food list – This is our CDT food inventory from 2013, including just the food we mailed ahead to ourselves, with no cooking required. If I were to hike again, this list would be greatly expanded with items like Earth Balance Mac n Cheese and Primal Strips jerky, but it gives you an idea of brands, variety and calories of items.
This post was contributed by former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Julie “Stopwatch” Urbanski who is the author of three books, The Trail Life: How I Loved it, Hated it, and Learned from it, Between a Rock and a White Blaze: Searching for Significance on the Appalachian Trail, and her latest A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple’s Journey on the Continental Divide Trail.