Wanna know what vegans eat and how when they thru-hike or backpack? (I mean, we published a list of vegan hiking snacks, freeze-dried vegan backpacking meals, and even a plant-based cookbook…) But our friends over at The Trek, a website dedicated to thru-hiking, particularly on the Appalachian Trail (AT), went one step further and asked last year’s class of backpackers how they eat and operate when it comes to food (and more) on the trail.
And while most of the hikers they surveyed weren’t vegan, there were some very interesting findings along those lines! So if you’ve ever been curious about thru-hiking as a vegan, here’s our breakdown of the info they gathered. But definitely go check out the whole article to learn about tick checks, how many hikers suffered waterborne illnesses, and more!
The Trek’s Thru-Hiker Survey Sample
Obviously not everyone who hiked the AT last year took the poll The Trek sent out. But 403 did! And 90% of those were full-on thru-hikers (as opposed to section hikers). Ages of those hikers ranged between 17-71(!), but the majority of those who answered were between 22-40 or so. Unsurprisingly, 93% identified as white (socio-economic factors and systemic racism have a lot to do with this), 3% as multi racial, 2% as Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% each as Black/African American and Hispanic.
The average pace for these thru hikers was 13.7 miles per day, a lot less than I would have guessed based on my section hike on the PCT with my friend “Possibly” where we did about 20+ miles two days in a row, followed by a “leisurely” 13-mile half-day! But the AT does notoriously feature more aggressive elevation change, so that likely has a lot to do with it.
How Many Vegan Thru-Hikers are There?
The Trek Data suggests that approximately 7% of 2022 AT hikers were vegetarian and an additional 4% were vegan. That’s probably about on par with the national average, though it’s hard to say (numbers range ridiculously from 1% to 14% depending on who you ask).
In any case, that’s a pretty decent percentage of folks fueled by sustainable, meat-free sources. But where do they get their meals and supplies during their hike?
How Often do Vegan Thru-Hikers Resupply and How?
While short-term backpackers might carry enough food to last for a week or more, thru hikers keep their packs light, preferring to restock their food supply more often, which AT hikers can do because they’re usually never far from a trailhead and a town center. In fact, according to The Trek’s poll, the vast majority (95%) resupplied every 3-5 days.
As for what vegan thru-hikers eat, well, that depends on the hiker, but it seems that a plant-based diet does affect when and where.
For example, the survey shows that for those with no dietary preferences, over 80% of people resupplied (stocked up on food for the trail) by purchasing meals and snacks in town, but those WITH dietary preferences, including vegans, it was just over 70%. Those folks resupplied via mail drops (and a combo of mail drops and in-town shopping) more than twice as often as those who eat anything.
What Type of Stove do Thru-Hikers Use?
So now our fellow vegans have food. How are they gonna prepare it? A massive majority of all hikers polled (86%) used a trusty canister stove. The MSR PocketRocket being far and away the most popular. But 9% of hikers went stoveless, opting to cold soak (or just eat prepared packaged food). A much smaller group used an alcohol or liquid fuel stove. Read more about these different backpacking stove types and which is right for what type of adventure here!
How do Thru-Hikers Filter Water?
The preferred way to filter water on the AT is, again, unsurprisingly, a small squeeze filter like the Sawyer Squeeze or Katadyn BeFree, which 94% of those who filtered their water used (And 87% always filtered their water). Only a very small number used something else, like chemical treatments, pumps, or a SteriPen. Read about how to filter water and how these devices are different here.
Vegan Thru-Hiking: Bottom Line
Can vegans thru-hike the AT? Abso-freakin’-lutely. Do vegans thru hike the AT. Yup, they sure do. And not a single one of them died of malnutrition (to my knowledge, anyway). Because despite popular belief, you can, in fact, get enough calories, protein, and all the necessary nutrients on a 100% plant-based diet.
The Trek’s survey results simply suggest that if you are meat-free, you may want to consider a smidge more advance planning and strategic mail drops than your meat-eating counterparts. Just don’t let dietary restrictions keep you from getting out there to wander on, whether that’s via an epic thru hike, weekend backpacking trip, or a leisurely stroll through the woods.
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Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com