Vegan Camping 101: An Outdoor Adventure Guide
Before we get into it, let’s acknowledge that when we say camping, it’s imperative we take into account the term “camping” encompasses many varietals of the activity. There is a full spectrum to consider, ranging from rugged, off-the-grid style; to Provincial Parks with basic amenities; to setting off on the West Coast Trail with a week’s worth of supplies and goods stacked on your back; to campsites which now meet amenities and extend them with comfort perks including WIFI, electricity, and in some cases, a five-minute-drive to grab extra groceries, or an early morning coffee.
My personal experience spans all of the above. I could write a second and third volume of this article, discussing each variety and my preferences. Two varieties come up in conversation the most frequently, and since the extent of my experience is in them both, they are my focus here: backpacking, multi-day camping (where food and all supplies are on your back, carried for the duration of the journey and/or hike), or mid-range-site camping (your average Provincial Park: your food is living in a cooler, and you may have access to water and more ice.)
Spoiler alert for all camping varietals: there is no inherent reason that makes camping food as a vegan more challenging, more time-consuming, or more expensive, than camping food as a non-vegan.
The Westcoast Trail was my first multi-day hiking/camping trip, and also my first as a vegan. In my pre-prep, I was grateful to find accounts of many folks online, who had done the trip as vegans, and had an abundance of information to offer. There were varying perspectives; meaning a wide variety of budgets, access to food, different bag sizes, and ultimately, different priorities. My priorities in planning my food for the WCT were:
1) Keep my bag weight as low as possible.
2) Have a variety of foods that were functional for times when we were set up and camping, but also easy-to-grab options to access as we hiked.
3) Food selection and choices that were cost-efficient, budget friendly (which inherently means less packaged goods such as dehydrated camping meals), and based around ingredients that didn’t require refrigeration of any kind.
4) Coffee. There needed to be coffee, and enough of it.
(Post-hike, I learned that some of these priorities should be adjusted, which I touch on later).
After some streamlining, unpacking and repacking, my food bags (projecting for 5 full days of hiking and 4 nights) included:
Oatmeal (bought in bulk), pre-mixed with chia seeds and flax
Mixed dried fruits
3-pack individual soy milks (powdered is an option, as these add more weight. For me, it was a non-negotiable)
Individual packs of nut butter: plain almond butter, almond-mocha butter
Dehydrated Veggie Ground
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein): ultra lightweight, and a great protein source that only requires some seasoning and boiling water
Dry seasoning options: salt, black pepper, lemon pepper
Instant coffee packs
Powered peanut butter
Miso soup packs
Simply Protein Bars (minimum of 1 per day; Simply are the most nutrient dense bars I’ve found thus far, arguably weigh the lightest, and the most delicious)
Protein powder packs, mix with water or added to oatmeal bowls
3 kinds of vegan jerky
Energy chews (check brands for hidden gelatin)
Fuzzy Peaches + Sour Patch Kids
Raw almonds and dark chocolate chips
Crystal Light drink mixes
“Non-dry” goods included a few wraps and Smoked Tofu; which were consumed in the first few days, since you’re not hiking with a cooler.
Meals each day were similar, and based around the fact that we would be cooking with boiling water in the morning and evening when we were set up for camping, but not during the day while we were hiking.
Morning: instant coffee + soy milk, oatmeal (sometimes mixed with powered PB or protein powder.)
Lunch: (a combo of) wraps, protein bars, vegan jerky, leftovers (from dinner previous evening)
Trail Snacks: dried fruit, almonds + chocolate, candy, energy chews
Dinner: Quinoa flakes + Veggie Ground, Miso Soup, (more) oatmeal.
We had two meals “ out on the town” at the on-trail ‘cafes’: veggie burgers and baked potatoes.
There aren’t any glaring instances that jump out from the trip, where I was hungry. That said, based on the amount of food I had left towards the end of the trip, and the speed at which you consume food (therefore your pack gets lighter), I suggest the following tips and my re-adjusted priorities for multi-day camping hikes.
Your bag being ultra light isn’t priority one, but your bag having a low weight while still ensuring everything you need is included, is a priority. There are some heavy items that are worth having, and the sustenance that is literally fueling your journey is at the top of that list.
Powdered and dry carbs are your BFFS: oatmeal, quinoa flakes, instant mashed potatoes (credit to SM; ensure there are no milk ingredients), lighter nutrient-dense cereals. Base your meals, and your backpack, around these: carbs are your BFF, your ally, your lover, your everything.
Dehydrated food vs. non-dehydrated food: pre-packaged, ultra lightweight meals at many outdoor stores run in the range of $11-$15 per pack, which adds up quickly. If you are adamant to go the dehydrated route as an avid hiker/camper, consider getting your own dehydrator (or borrowing one). You can do huge batches, and it ends up being much more cost efficient. I did the WCT trip with only two dehydrated store- bought packs (the Veggie Ground).
Mentioned before; mentioning again for importance: you have two sets of food. One is the set you eat when you’re set up for camp, with access to fire and water. The other set are the quick, easy, grab-and-go items in your pockets for snacking on the trails. You’ll need it, and you won’t want to stop and unpack all of your equipment every time you want to grab a snack.
Extending the most appreciation to folks in the zero-waste space: you may need to afford yourselves some flexibility in this realm. A multi-day hike with your pack on your back does not offer the option for multiple large glass jars, giant containers, and the like. Do what you can, but in advance: don’t berate yourself if you do produce more waste here than you normally would.
As a person who eats primarily fruits and vegetables, I came to terms with the fact that some ways of eating won’t be as efficient on a multi-day camping hike, as they are when we’re at home. If you need to have things like leafy greens, select produce (apples bananas), remember they are a) heavy and b) should be eaten within the first day or two.
Remember, and be at peace, with the fact you cannot mirror the exact same way that you eat at home, when you’re on a trip like this. Whether it’s fruit and veg as mentioned above, macro tracking for a training goal,tons of smoothies, raw vegan, and the like: it’s going to be different here, and that’s perfectly ok. Unless you have tricks up your sleeves to share, it will be next to impossible to mirror the exact same foods you eat at home.
Mid-Range Site Camping
This is where the crux of my experience lies. We’re talking multi-day camping trips at Provincial Parks, or off-the-road sites. There is usually vehicle access to bring in gear (read: more food); access to bring in coolers, (depending on the facility) access to get more ice when your cooler needs a refresh, and you’re cooking on a either a campfire or a camping stove.
In preparing for most camping trips of this nature, my priorities are:
1) Food selection and choices that are cost-efficient and budget friendly.
2) Coffee (do you notice a pattern?)
3) A broader range of ingredients and meals: having access to a cooler and a stove (or fire) will open up opportunities for more cooking, and overall, more diverse meal options. Some folks will want to spend less time cooking and some will want to spend more, so this tries to take that into account as well. In no particular order, these are my top, tried-and-true, camping meals, which all fit the bill for the aforementioned circumstances:
PB+J sandwiches (you can use wraps or bread; ensure whatever you choose will be ok in the dry bin, as opposed to taking up precious cooler space.)
Granola bowl (make your own granola, yogurt + fruit from the cooler)
Oatmeal or Red River breakfast cereal (extra points if you eat it from a mug instead of a bowl)
Sandwiches/wraps: PB + J, vegan sandwich slices, smoked Tofu, vegan cheese (all of this will depend on what you prioritize cooler space for)
Grilled tofu and veggies (only one grill plate necessary, which sits on top of the camping stove)
Corn-on-the-cob (cooked in boiling water on the camping stove, can also be cooked over a campfire)
Baked Potatoes (foil wrapped + cooked over the campfire)
Veggie burgers, veggie sausages, veggie dogs (you get the picture)
TVP (anything and everything): mentioned before, Textured Vegetable Protein is light, plumps up with boiling water, and can easily be added to bowls, pasta dishes, sauces, sandwiches and salads.
Pasta bowls, tomato sauce, and No Harmesano
Salads (pick your favourite ingredients): spinach, kale, lettuce, (and any leaves) will wilt first in the cooler. Prioritize them or bring less. Carrots, peppers, cucumbers, raw cauliflower, mushrooms, and cooked + cubed yams will afford you a few extra days.
Mac and Cheese camping style: pasta of choice, sauce (made in advance: blended: steamed cauliflower, garlic salt, nooch, soy milk); extra vegan cheese shreds to sprinkle on top.
Hummus wraps and/or veggie dippers (hummus is one of my staples; therefore is always has a reserved space in the cooler).
(Disclaimer: I prefer to cook easy meals while I’m camping; though there are some folks who go the route of extensive pre-camping meal prep and arrive with everything ready to go. If that’s more your route, there is no shade thrown whatsoever. I also don’t use recipes a lot.)
Coffee, Desserts, and “ Other”
One-cup pourover or French press, and BYOB (Bring Your Own Beans) pre-ground. As someone who has a challenged relationship with black coffee, unsweetened soy milk takes priority space in the cooler.
Do not miss the Smore goodness! Smores (veganized!): Dandies (budget tip: now available at Superstore) and Sweets from the Earth, are two brands who make vegan marshmallows (for folks who may not know, non-vegan marshmallows have gelatin in them.) Pick your dark - chocolate bar of choice (mine is Zimt), and elevate your Smores game by using cookies instead of graham crackers to sandwich you roasted/toasted glop of goodness.
Peach (or nectarine) crisp a la campfire: wrap your stonefruit of choice in tinfoil, grill, and then add granola, more fruit, and/ or coconut cream right to the foil pack.
Ice cream, frozen fruit bars, and the like, will not fare well in the cooler. Don’t take up precious space trying to prove me otherwise.
Organize your meals working with your items in the cooler: what needs to be consumed first for maximum freshness, and what can wait until later in the week (this may be your ingredients stored in the dry bin: pasta, rice, etc.)
For any camping situation: be mindful of leaving the space in better condition than it was when you arrived. On a journey like the WCT, this means taking out all of your garbage, recyclables, and compost materials. Follow directions accordingly at campsites for garbage and compost disposal; place your food items in the bear caches when they’re available, and leave nothing behind (which also means you can have a grand feast on the last night.)
With camping trip after camping trip, you’ll see your preferences emerge: favourite meals, tips and tricks, ways to navigate a variety of budgets, and particular ingredients that may be very successful, or the exact opposite. No matter where you’re camping, and how you choose to do it, at the end of the day: realize and celebrate the fact that camp food as a vegan is feasible, it is easy, it is cost efficient, and above all: it tastes damn good.
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