Full disclosure: I am not a vegan, but I happen to eat that way most of the time. With the exception of the odd tuna packet and the Hot Dog Incident, pretty much all my trail food is animal product-free. I have a for real dairy allergy, but I am also for real busy and do not have time to make and dehydrate all my food on such a large scale. Here are some practical suggestions based on my 1,400 mile PCT hike, from Campo to Burney Falls, May-July 2015. I am happy to incorporate helpful tips left in the comments.
Disclaimer: I do my best to read labels (because allergy) but things change and can vary from place to place (Oreos contain dairy in Japan but are vegan in the US). Also, I have not done exhaustive research into the possible animal origins of more chemically ingredients since I usually just avoid them in normal life.
- Send fewer boxes. I was usually pleasantly surprised to find more vegan options than expected on trail, and would have sent fewer resupply boxes if I had more details. I did full resupply at grocery stores in Idyllwild, Mojave, Mammoth but could have easily done so in Big Bear, Chester and Tuolumne meadows. If you are OK with Cliff bars, pop tarts, potato chips and peanut butter as staples, you should be able to resupply almost anywhere.
- Do send yourself some treats. Like really good chocolate. Or fancy vegan jerky. For when other hikers are buttering their corn dogs or engaging in rib-eating competitions.
- Do not pack 6 months worth of food in advance. Your food will be fresher, you can make changes and you won’t be stuck with a ton of food you don’t want if your plans change. I did pack for all of California (14 boxes) before I left. You can easily pack boxes for Oregon from Ashland, and for Washington from Portland even if you are vegan. You know you want to hang out in those places anyway.
- Try to keep food in the original food grade packaging when packing resupply boxes (ditch boxes, but do not open the bags). Freeze dried fruit, nuts, pretzels etc. pretty much everything will stay a lot fresher this way. You are packing things in April to eat in July or August. Throw some ziplocks into each box to repack in each town as needed (ie. to fit food into bear cans).
- Watch your protein. I do not stress too much about this normally, since most people eat far more than they need everyday. However, by Mammoth I had lost weight and was quite tired. OK, I should have probably taken more than three zeros in the first 900 miles, but still. I made a conscious effort to eat more protein after Sonora pass and it made a big difference. Mostly, this was in the form of Cliff Builder’s Bars. I would eat half a bar with breakfast and half with dinner everyday.
- Try to pack foods you like in real life. If you do not eat three peanut butter Nature Valley bars everyday at home, you probably won’t want to on trail either.
Cheap, easily found high calorie foods…
….that I would never, ever eat in real life but you can find almost anywhere (ie. Kennedy Meadows store, gas station etc.). Super helpful if your box does not arrive or you are just plain hungry. Not necessarily certified vegan, and you might need to do further research on all those chemicals. PETA has lots of helpful lists.
- Top Ramen Oriental Flavor (beware, all Maruchan brand ramen contains dairy and/or meat)
- Oreo Cookies (and many other similar cheap sandwich cookies)
- Chips: Pringles in Original and BBQ (my favorite!); Lays in Plain or Limon (yum!); Kettle chips – any flavor that doesn’t sound like dairy should not have any. Also Maple Bacon (!!!) = vegan
- Unfrosted Pop tarts in original fruit flavors like strawberry and blueberry. Read the box. Other flavors and other brands do contain dairy and/or gelatin
- Original Wheat Thins; Tricuits; Ritz crackers; other flavors may vary
- Tortillas (double check the ingredients for milk/lard)
- Nut butters – including Jiff chocolate and Skippy Naturals Chocolate (Nutella has dairy, and Justin’s is much $$$)
- Some Near East couscous mixes (I especially liked the tomato, but the pine nut was good too)
- Trail mix (obviously, but I was sick of this before I started hiking the PCT!)
Packable Fresh Foods
I usually included one or more of these in each resupply). Aside from the ‘cheese’ and cookies, these are heavy calories I consider luxuries. But even the tiniest bit of fresh food can make a huge difference.
- Avocado (almost every resupply)
- Baked tofu (the kind in the vacuum sealed packet – Wildwood is the best if you can find it) Lasts a few days unopened if it stays relatively cool. Thanks to Wrong Way for the tofu and the inspiration at Scissors Crossing!
- Apple (heavy); Banana (left with the peel); Nectarine/peach/plum/pluot (delicate, but oh so good)
- Shallot, garlic, small onion, carrot, red pepper, cucumber etc.
- Fresh bread or cookies. Nom!
- Vegan cheese – Tofutti cream cheese can be found in many grocery stores (like Vons) and is disturbingly indestructible. I also packed out fancy almond or cashew cheese when I could find it (mostly from Natural Food stores or big city off-trail detours)
- Marinated tempeh bacon (needs cooking, I added it to ramen – so good!)
- Amy’s frozen burritos (last 1-2 days no problem; eat ‘cold’ after they defrost; others carried these for 4+days). Thanks to Cheese for the inspiration!
Natural Food Stores On/Very Near Trail
Though they may be small, and are sometimes pricey, you can expect a bulk section with vegan soup mixes (black bean, lentil, split pea etc); couscous; Thai kitchen or Koyo ramen noodles; baked tofu and vegan meat/cheese selection. Vegan ice cream for a treat. Organic produce. Vegan chocolate.
- Idyllwild: Sky Island Natural Foods. Decent selection for a small town, including instant hummus, refried beans and soups.
- Mammoth: Sierra Sundance Whole Food Market. The basics, including bulk soup mixes. I was disappointed they did not have chocolate soy milk though.
- South Lake Tahoe: Grass Roots Natural Foods. An impressive selection impeccably organized.
- Ashland: Ashland Food Coop. This is like a Whole Foods but without the questionable labor practices. Huge store, hot food and salad bars and everything you could ever want in groceries.
I was happily surprised by:
- Warner Springs: had Koyo ramen, some fruit and a few other strict veg things in the tiny hiker store at the community center. Not a place to resupply, but could maybe add a meal or two if needed
- Vons in Big Bear Lake – huge natural food section
- Tuolumne Meadows Store. It must be the Bay Area climbing crowd, but I was very impressed to find this small store stocked with (at totally decent prices considering the location): baked tofu, tempeh (two kinds!), Amy’s teriyaki bowl, Thai kitchen noodles; vegan chocolate; excellent bar selection; avocados, fruit and more. NOTE: 2016 selection may vary with major concessionaire changes in Yosemite
- Chester: Holiday Market: huge natural food section. Earth Balance Cheesey popcorn? Yes!
- General Store in Sierra City (as much as I love it) had a very limited food selection. I was able to get a massive veggie sandwich from the deli, but would have really struggled to resupply here without sending a package.
- Burney Falls Campground Store. Grumpy staff, poor selection. Might have Amy’s burritos but not sure they were the vegan ones. Otherwise, a chips and soda kind of stop.
Some Restaurants to Look Forward to Along the Way:
- Pine House Café Laguna Mountain had a great vegan burger
- Paradise Café also has a great vegan burger
- Pizza place in Idyllwild makes one of the best cheeseless pizza’s I’ve ever had, with loads of veggies
- Z pizza in Mammoth. Vegan pizza. Delivered. Need I say more?
- Stellar Brew in Mammoth. I almost doubled zeroed just to maximize my intake of their outstanding vegan baked goods and burritos
Foods I did not get (especially) sick of after three months:
- Everything on the packable fresh food list
- Potato chips
- Fantastic Foods instant re-fried beans (with various combination of instant rice / tortillas / dehydrated spinach / avocado)
- Thai Kitchen noodles (with added veg/tofu/oil) some flavors have milk/shrimp so double check
- Cliff Builder’s Bars; Luna Bars; Pro-bars (relative to other bars, but in general everyone gets pretty sick of bars). I was careful to vary the flavors
- Backcountry kitchen Pad Thai (and this is huge – the only two serving freeze dried meal that has ever defeated me)
- Trader Joe’s dried mango/pineapple/mandarins/cherries; pea crisps; kale chips; candied pecans; dark chocolate
- Chia-lemonade (Chia seeds soaked in water + true lemonade mix)
- Louisville Vegan jerky. Spendy, but leagues above the competitors and makes a great treat
- Those expensive little raw vegan macaroons like Hail Merry
- Better than Milk Original Soy milk powder. With granola/oats/hot chocolate/instant potatoes etc. I mailed and carried extra to get through weeks without resupply boxes
- My half-way homemade dinners: recipes coming soon!
Some Other Resources
Good-to-Go Gourmet dehydrated meals. Several vegan flavors. These have rave reviews, and I plan to try them soon.
Harmony House Good quality dehydrated fruits and veggies of all sorts. I particularly enjoyed their cabbage, diced mushrooms, tomato powder and freeze-dried apples. Soup and chili mixes tended to be very salty, but worked well mixed with instant rice or mashed potatoes. Beware the dehydrated peas and corn (that stay rocks forever) and get the freeze-dried ones instead.
Just Tomatoes High quality freeze-dried fruits and veggies. The tomatoes are amazing. Peas and corn excellent. I am sure the fruit is too, but tend to get cheaper versions elsewhere.
Outdoor Herbivore Good looking vegetarian and vegan dehydrated meals, including gluten free options. I have not tried these, and hear mixed reviews, but am very curious about the instant quinoa.
Pack-It Gourmet The grocery section is full of fancy dried things to add to your couscous/rice/noodle dishes. White wine powder; soy sauce powder; freeze-dried sautéed onions; freeze-dried olives.