If you’re planning a multi-day backpacking excursion, thru-hike, heck, even an extended day hike, nutrition is important. You’re going to need some serious calories, for sure, but your body also requires protein. A lot of it. And one of our favorite quick and easy ways to get it, on OR off the trail, is with vegan protein powder.
But let’s back up for a minute. According to Outside’s rather intimidating Backpacking Calorie Estimator, I, a 165 lb man, could easily burn 200-300 calories per mile, meaning on a 15-mile day, I could be burning between 4,000-5,000 calories. That’s a lot of calories.
Do you really need to eat that many calories to stay healthy on the trail? Not for short periods of time, but you do need to eat enough so that your body can recover for the next leg of your journey while limiting muscle breakdown as much as possible. In short: Not enough calories or protein and you’ll end up looking like Captain America before the super soldier serum.
So how much protein should you be consuming to maintain your muscle? Borrowing from the world of body building, the general rule is to take in 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. And while the range varies from person to person, peer reviewed studies show that a high protein diet can be instrumental in maintaining lean body mass in athletes.
And while there are plenty of great snackable, packable vegan protein options these days: vegan jerky, whole food protein bars, and seitan, for example, plant-based protein powder can help you get protein and calories fast while on the trail (without all the cruelty and extremely unsustainable factory farming required to make whey protein). And without a lot of the weight or time required to prep a whole meal.
5 Vegan Protein Powders Ranked
But there are a lot of vegan protein powders out there. A lot. These are just five of the over 60 floating around on the web and on store shelves that I came across during my research. And that’s not even all of them.
For these five, I’ve selected a few you’ve probably heard of, a few you perhaps haven’t, and a few “ultra” low-cost supplements. The goal? To see which ones mix and taste the best with water. Yes, I said water. Why you ask? Because when you’re out on the trail you’re probably not going to be carrying around a carton of almond milk in your backpack (at least, I hope you’re not). Plus, by taste testing each with water, all flavor sins will be laid bare. So let’s begin!
1. Gnarly Vegan Meal Replacement ($3.84 per serving): The Tasty One
Protein Per Serving: 20g
If you’re not familiar with Gnarly, you should be. They make one of the tastiest meal replacements out there. And it is a meal replacement. As in, there’s lots more than just protein in here. Another thing I like about the brand? They create their products with outdoor pursuits in mind.
This protein shake thickens when mixed and is smooth for a protein powder. It’s sweetened with stevia and evaporated cane juice and the chocolate flavor is one of the more decadent on this list with a subtle stevia aftertaste.
What we like: It contains additional vitamins, minerals, and all 9 essential amino acids. It’s a meal replacement, after all, not just a protein supplement. Plus the flavor is bomb and the stevia aftertaste is minimal.
2. Vega NightTime Rest and Repair ($3.13 per serving): The Most Unique Formulations and Flavors
Protein Per Serving: 18g
Vega is a widely recognized plant-based protein powder. They offer lots of flavors and formulations (including ones for gut health), but for this test, we tried their NightTime Rest and Repair, which contains 3mg of melatonin to help regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep more naturally. So drinking this in the late evening may be helpful if you generally don’t sleep all that well in the outdoors. The only issue? Drinking your protein 30 minutes to 1-hour before bed may having you crawling out of your tent in the middle of the night to answer nature’s call.
As for taste? This one is ever-so-slightly grainy but thickens a bit when shaken for a relatively pleasant mouth feel. The flavor itself is, shall we say, not bad, but not great. I went with the Vanilla Caramel which made for a very sweet sip. It’s sweetened with monkfruit, which can be a deal breaker for some, but wasn’t overpowering.
What we like: This vegan protein powder contains additional vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, so acts as more of a meal replacement. Plus, we like how t helps lull us into slumber.
3. Garden of Life Raw Organic Chocolate ($2.54 per serving): A Good Balance of Flavor and Price
Protein Per Serving: 22g
This raw plant-based protein powder is the second grainiest on the list after the Vega (but still not bad from a palatability standpoint). Garden of Life is another brand you’ll see at grocery and health food stores pretty regularly, so it’s fairly accessible.
And while it advertises itself as a “shake” right on the tub and does contain some thickeners, it leaves something to be desired in terms of consistency and features only a light chocolate flavor. Even so, this one is a good “middle of the road” option: Not overly expensive and without too many compromises on flavor and texture.
What we like: It contains additional vitamins, minerals, essential and non-essential amino acids, plus probiotics and is raw.
4. NOW Sports Plant Protein Complex ($1.35 per serving): The Best on a Budget
Protein Per Serving: 22g
NOW is a brand you’ve probably seen in the vitamin aisle of your local grocery store. The brand produces a wide range of products at approachable price points. One such product is their plant-based protein complex. While this is the grainiest vegan protein powder on the list, it doesn’t feature the intense sweetener taste that plague some of the others as it’s sweetened with a combination of xylitol and stevia.
Unfortunately, it does tend to separate if you don’t drink it immediately. This isn’t a problem at home if you’re blending it with other things like banana and peanut butter (our fave protein shake mix-ins), but for outdoor recreation purposes, you’ll probably want to give it a shake before each sip. So while the texture may not be ideal, it’s a great value for quick and easy protein.
What we like: It contains additional vitamins, minerals, essential and non-essential amino acids, plus is budget-friendly.
5. Equate ($0.92 per serving): Don’t Bother. Just Don’t.
Protein Per Serving: 30g
Let’s cut right to the chase. This is probably the worst protein powder I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth.
The Equate Plant Protein formula has a handful of thickeners in it that produce an extremely unpleasant consistency. The vanilla flavor is more subtle than the Vega, but it really doesn’t matter much because all you can taste is the sucralose and the unpleasantly pasty consistency. Even blending in a banana, peanut butter, and almond milk couldn’t fully cover the awful flavor or thin out the texture.
If you’re looking for a budget friendly protein, don’t waste your money on this one. You’ll regret it. I did.
Bonus: It contains additional vitamins, minerals, and 3 amino acids, has the highest protein content, and is super inexpensive.
Starting to see a pattern here? While not true every time, in general, you get what you pay for. The higher up in price we go, the better the flavors tend to be and the more palatable the texture.
While all of these vegan protein powders are perfectly valid options for your next outdoor adventure (except maybe the Equate), the prize for best combination of price, flavor and texture in our very scientific assessment goes to Garden of Life.
But if price isn’t a concern, if you’re looking for something a little better tasting after a hard hike, Gnarly lakes the gold. It tastes great and contains 20g of protein and 200 calories per serving, which should help you recover after a long day on the trail.
So that’s it! What vegan protein powder should we take a look at next? Let us know in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you get yourself some new protein powder, you also help support Terradrift and the teeny team who runs it. Win-win.
Josh is a freelance video producer, DP and editor based in Austin, TX. When he’s not out exploring the world, he loves talking movies, tech, and travel. Check out his website, joshmcdarris.com