Vegan Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

A guest post by Alyssa Engiles

Hi all, I’m Alyssa! Jessica was kind enough to invite me to write a blog post about my upcoming vegan adventure of hiking the Appalachian Trail! As a relatively new vegan and a novice backpacker, planning to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail has been quite a learning experience!

The Appalachian Trail runs 2,189 miles from Georgia to Maine this year, though the course is changed annually to take alternate routes to minimize human impact. The A.T. runs through 14 states and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that it takes most hikers 4 to 6 months to complete the trail in its entirety. With long days comprised of carrying a full pack over mountains, hikers can consume as much as 2 pounds of food a day, and need to eat up to 4,000 calories!

Since my transition to veganism was one that took place over time and after years of vegetarianism the food aspect of this lifestyle was an easier portion to plan than all of the equipment. For better or worse, I did not have any of the gear that is deemed necessary or practical for a 6 month long backpacking trip. For the better it gave me the opportunity to make purchases without animal products, for the worse it meant investing in a lot of equipment!

Alyssa's gear for the thru-hike

Alyssa’s gear for the thru-hike

While shopping for equipment it does help that online stores often supply a lot of information about their products. Not only do they describe the materials (useful while shopping for vegan friendly gear) but they also tell you weight and other practical qualities such as whether they are quick drying or wicking.

When it came to purchasing the necessities it seemed to be a balance of trying to compromise between quality, weight, and price (while keeping everything vegan). When it comes to long distance backpacking it would seem that “light makes right”, though having ultra-light gear does come at a cost (a higher cost than heavier products with similar qualities).

Obviously Vegan Outdoor Adventures is a great site to check out products that have been verified vegan, but since manufacturers often give specs there are some key items to avoid to help with making ethical shopping choices. I avoided any products that contained wool, leather, down, silk and opted with trail runners that have been verified to not use glue comprised of animal products.

The bright side to opting with synthetic materials for insulation in sleeping bags (or in my case a top quilt) is that it is often cheaper than down, and it also functions while wet (which is a plus, but I wouldn’t recommend it!) Clothing with synthetics like polyester may also be cheaper than their counterparts with wool, though I have heard that they retain odors more- but hey, getting smelly is part of the fun right?

While I am now very used to scanning questionable food for non-vegan ingredients I am still a bit hesitant about food on the trail! While Sam Maron completed his thru-hike mostly eating food he found in towns (you can read an interview Jessica did with him here on Vegan Outdoor Adventures!)

Okay, I haven’t bought this much Nutritional Yeast… yet.

Okay, I haven’t bought this much Nutritional Yeast… yet.

I am hoping to supplement my supplies by sending some mail drops from home! For purchases made in towns it will be easy to find peanut butter and whole grain bagels or tortillas and hopefully lots of fruit and veggies to gorge on! While Ramen noodles are a common trail staple for omnivores I have been purchasing Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods soups in bulk in order that I can mail some to myself on the trail. Like Ramen it is light weight and fast to cook but it’s better because it’s vegan and focused on nutrition! I am also stocking up on items that I think may be difficult to find along the trail such as Primal Strips (even jerky can be vegan!) and Red Star Nutritional Yeast and Probars.

As far as physical and mental preparation go I tend to be physically active and in pretty decent shape which I hope is a good start! As I live in the Florida Keys there are no mountains around to climb up so while I am getting practice hiking with a pack on, elevation and hills will be a good challenge in the beginning!

As the gear is all somewhat new to me, I have been working to familiarize myself with my new equipment to hopefully avoid any surprises later. Mentally I think that a positive attitude will do wonders, and keeping in mind just how long I have waited to tackle this particular challenge. I also read the book Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis, in which he talks about the mental challenges that can be encountered on a thru-hike. I highly recommend it for anyone looking into any extended physical challenges.Hiking in CO

Thank you all for reading! I will be keeping a blog of my journey at . I would love to hear any recommendations or advice you might have for me. Thanks to Jessica for the hospitality and the amazing vegan resource!

Thanks Alyssa! I’m looking forward to following your adventure!

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