Vegetarian Backpacking Meals

Backpacking takes a lot of energy but the usual suspects for backpacking meals are often palate-numbing, repetitive, and full of processed ingredients to make them portable. Most hikers and backpackers rely on beef jerky and hot dogs to make a good-to-go meal at a makeshift campsite or restore energy on a backpacking trail. Health-conscious backpackers or backpackers who have ethical concerns about meat consumption have likely been forced on more than one occasion to find workarounds to meat-filled high-protein backpacking meals and trail food.

Trail mix is a classic staple for the vegetarian or vegan backpacker, while backpacking dinners like the (in)famous “ramen bomb” have to be veggie-fied by leaving out the spam. That’s all good and well for a day hike or for backpackers who are only spending a few days out in the backcountry, but for a longer backpacking trip or a thru-hike, trail mix and meat dishes sans-meat aren’t going to keep a vegetarian or vegan backpacker satisfied.

Luckily, there are plenty of freeze-dried vegetarian and even vegan backpacking food products that are tasty, meat-free, and make good-to-go backpacking meals for hikers who are on the move but not looking to surrender their vegetarian or vegan integrity. Well-known backpacking food brands like Backpacker’s Pantry, Outdoor Herbivore, Harmony House, Alpineaire, Mountain House, and Clif have created a wide variety of freeze-dried and ready to eat vegan backpacking food options and vegetarian meals that have made sustenance on a thru-hike simple as pie for vegan a vegetarian backpackers. 

 

A bowl of veggies.

Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are great sources of protein and ideal for the vegan backpacker.

For backpackers unintimidated by a little DIY, meal prepping and preparation of more complicated backpacking food ingredients like quinoa, lentils, and black beans can cut downtime spent at cooking at the trailside and spice up food while adding some much-needed protein to vegetarian meals. Recipes that are more involved than good-to-go vegetarian meals but easy enough for any backpacker to make at home or on the trail include peanut butter granola bars, burritos, homemade hummus, chana masala, lentil soup, mushroom risotto, and Louisiana red beans. A dark chocolate smoothie can be a rewarding treat at the end of a long day hiking in the backcountry and replenish some of the nutrients spent in rigorous outdoor activity. 

Once upon a time, vegetarian meals on the hiking trail were rare and virtually all handmade; beef jerky and hot dogs were the ruling backpacking meals. Today, thankfully, we’re moving further and further away from that erstwhile meat (or “meat” in the case of most hot dogs) standard-bearers. Read on to learn all about the vegetarian meals available in freeze-dried and good-to-go form as well as some simple vegetarian and vegan recipes you can try out for yourself. There’s no reason backpacking food should be any less fulling or tasty than the vegan and vegetarian dishes we make off the trail. You’ll be happy to have the variety and sustenance of these vegetarian backpacking meals on your next thru-hike.

 

Freeze-dried vegetarian and vegan backpacking food

For ultralight backpackers or hikers on a thru-hike who want to stock up for the several days between grocery stores or resupply points, freeze-dried backpacking meals can be the simplest and most lightweight options for sustenance on the hiking trail. Generally speaking, all you need to do with freeze-dried backpacking food is add hot water and it’s ready to eat after about 15-20 minutes of rehydration time.

For ultralight backpackers, this can be a godsend because a super-lightweight alcohol stove or a campfire is al you’ll need to boil some water for your cooking needs. The market for vegan and vegetarian meals that come in freeze-dried form for backcountry hikers has been booming since freeze-dried food production was industrialized in the 1950s. Some of the foods freeze-dried backpacking food manufacturers have been able to craft are pretty impressive. 

The biggest freeze-dried backpacking food brands like Backpacker’s Pantry offer vegan backpacking food that cooks up in a flash and suits every meal of the day. Backpacking breakfasts like Huevos Rancheros egg scramblers to which hikers can add eggs if they so choose or alternatives like tofu are excellent options. for vegan and vegetarian backpacking food seekers.

Backpacking dinners such as Chana Masala, an Indian curry dish from the Punjab region that’s heavy on the chickpeas, is one of the tastiest vegan options you’ll find in the freeze-dried backpacking food market and gives hikers tons of protein and calories to revamp their trail-wearied bodies after a long day of hiking. For the vegan sweet tooth, Backpacker’s Pantry offers mango sticky rice, while vegetarians can enjoy dark chocolate cheesecake and astronaut ice cream. 

In addition to nearly good-to-go freeze-dried backpacking food, companies like Harmony House offer rucksack-ready seasonings as well, including gluten-free, vegan alternatives like their “Chickenish” and “Beefish” seasonings. Harmony House and some other brands also sell freeze-dried veggies for backpackers who want to cook for themselves without lugging around bulky full vegetables that will probably be crushed or spoil inside a rucksack.

 

Bread with toppings.

‘Bread-and-spread’ meals with peanut butter or hummus paired with fresh veggies make great backpacking food.

 

Homemade vegetarian and vegan backpacking food

Another option that can be accomplished with or without freeze-dried elements is cooking your own food in the backcountry. Simple recipes like bread-and-spread can be prepared before you hit the trail and offer something constructive to do at the campsite if you have some time to kill on a long thru-hike and tire of book reading easily. Hummus and lentil-based spreads are super easy to cook and are some of the backpacking foods that are naturally vegan and taste better that way.

Enterprising backpackers looking for vegan options without the plastic waste generated by standard market energy bars can easily whip up some no-cook alternatives with lentils, quinoa, or granola. It’s really easy to customize your no-cook vegan energy bars with blueberries, cranberries, or any other dried fruit you’d care to try. 

Backpackers looking for a vegan option to replace beef or turkey jerky should try kale jerky, which can be handmade very easily at home with the help of a food processor and brought along on a backcountry backpacking trip. Vegan pesto will delight and surprise backpackers who aren’t used to such an opulent Italian dish to show up with their more common trail food.

Pesto goes great with tortillas, which can be crisped up over a campfire to get an added crunch similar to tortilla chips. Essentially, with enough patience, almost anything you can find in freeze-dried form can be handmade on a thru-hike or any other backpacking trek if you do enough prep work before you head out. 

 

Vegan and vegetarian backpacking smoothies

Smoothies are a delightful way to refresh oneself and they’re some of the best backpacking breakfasts hikers could ask for. Backpackers can choose their own ingredients to suit their taste or nutritional requirements, and vegetarian backpackers can add milk powder or something similar while vegans can use nut butter or protein powder to make their smoothies. Cranberries, blueberries, veggies, and sweets like dark chocolate make great additions to smoothies. 

Smoothies whip up fast on the trail and help break up the monotony of one-pot skillet-style dishes, tasty as those may be. Most of the nutritional benefit of trail mixes and energy bars can be gotten from smoothies as well, which are just as portable and far more refreshing for backpackers exerting themselves along difficult thru-hikes. It’s also possible to make dehydrated or freeze-dried smoothie packs before you go out on a backpacking trip to make things even easier on the trail.

No-cook smoothies are super convenient for those quick pit-stops where a campfire isn’t feasible or else isn’t desirable for one reason or another, perhaps just the backpacker’s fatigue. They’re also ideal for the vegan backpacker who wants to skip milk-based beverages or powders with animal products such as gluten inside. Coconut milk easily replaces the animal kind and freeze-dried or dehydrated powders negate the need for either one. Water will work just as well out in the backcountry, provided you treat it correctly to make it potable if you find it in a natural water source.

DIY smoothie powder can be prepared at home with some simple ingredients, although to make them vegan can be a bit expensive if you have to go to a specialty grocery store to find them. If you are able to procure seeds like hemp and chia, maca powder, chlorella, matcha powder, cacao powder, and goji berries, then you’ll be able to make killer smoothies all along the hiking trail on your next thru-hike. 

 

A blackberry smoothie.

Smoothies and chia seed pudding make good-to-go backpacking breakfasts.

 

Homemade vegetarian and vegan backpacking food

Since we mostly prefer to promote the self-reliance that backcountry activities tend to reinforce in backpackers who take the hands-on, DIY route, we wanted to include some recipes for vegan and vegetarian backpacking meals that will keep you contented on your next backpacking trek. Read on to the bottom for a vegan alternative to the Ramen Bomb!

 

Backpacking breakfast burritos

This filling rise-and-shine backpacking breakfast burrito is so versatile that it’s almost difficult to write a formal recipe for it. Backpackers who aren’t going ultralight and can afford to lug around some olive oil and tortillas will have no trouble making these burritos. They’re likely to be the most feasible on the first night after a grocery store stop on a thru-hike or on a shorter backpacking trek that involves car camping or a more outfitted backcountry camping trip on which a cooler has been brought along. Backpackers can add just about anything they want to this recipe to make a skillet scrambler that’s either vegetarian or vegan and then wrap it up in a tortilla that is filling and portable enough to eat as you start out on the hiking trail in the morning. Here’s what you’ll need:

 

Recommended ingredients for backpacking breakfast burritos:

 

  • Bell peppers
  • Red onions
  • Tofu or black beans
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Seasonings of choice (turmeric, curry, cumin, coriander)
  • Lime (optional)
  • Hot sauce, if desired

 

Recipe:

 

1. Use part of the olive oil to heat the onions and peppers. Salt to taste. Cook until onions are translucent. 

 

2. Remove the olives and peppers on they’ve cooked. Heat the tofu or black beans with more olive oil. Add seasonings and lime. 

 

3. Place a spoonful of the black beans or tofu and cover with the onion and pepper mixture. Add hot sauce if desired and then wrap the tortilla into a burrito. That’s it! Try adding chickpea flour to the beans or tofu to make for a more filling and tasty burrito.

 

Spicy vegan backpacking chana masala

This is a super-easy, nutritious, and flavorful vegan backpacking recipe. The freeze-dried variety from Backpacker’s Pantry is pretty tasty too if this list of ingredients is too much to carry in your rucksack. Try to prep as much as you can so that you won’t have to do much at your campsite or pit stop before you can dig into this spicy vegan backpacker’s delight.

 

Ingredients for spicy vegan backpacking chana masala:

 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 can tomatoes (or one large tomato you’ve crushed)
  • 1 teaspoon Chana Masala seasoning
  • Sugar and salt to taste

 

Recipe:

 

1. Heat the olive oil and then add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent.

 

2. Add chana masala powder and heat for one or two minutes to activate the seasoning.

 

3. Add the tomato or canned tomatoes and add other seasonings. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil, then cook with the lid on for 10 minutes. 

 

4. Drain the chickpeas and add them to the mixture. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to permeate the chickpeas. 

 

The best thing about this easy chana masala recipe is that you can dehydrate it and pack it away with some dehydrated rice or fresh couscous on the trail. If you have a dehydration sheet, place the mixture on a dehydrating tray and allow it to cool, then dehydrate the chana masala until it breaks into peanut brittle-like shards. Place a few of these shards into portion bags. When you’re out in the backcountry, add one portion to a cookpot with one cup of water and heat it for about 10 minutes and there you’ll have a delicious chana masala brought back to life. If you don’t want to bother with dehydrating rice, couscous is a tastier option that can be made with boiling water right on the trail. 

 

Mushroom risotto for vegan backpackers

Mushroom risotto is a great option for vegan backpackers because the starch that’s brought out of the rice offers a comforting creamy texture without containing any cream at all. Rather than an animal byproduct, this mushroom risotto uses white wine and it dehydrates really easily for a quick backpacking meal out in the backcountry. Here’s how it’s done:

 

Ingredients for a vegan backpacker’s mushroom risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • Salt

 

Recipe:

 

1. Chop the onion and cook it in hot olive oil with a pinch of salt.

 

2. Add the rice after about 7 minutes. Cook the rice on low heat for a couple of minutes until the ends become translucent.

 

3. Add the wine and keep stirring the mixture until the wine has evaporated.

 

4. Add the broth and keep cooking. Add half a cup of water from time to time when all the liquid has evaporated from the pot. Never stop stirring the rice!

 

5. Keep cooking until the rice is tender, then remove it and set it aside to cool for dehydration.

 

Dehydrate the mushrooms and the risotto for about 6 hours at 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Any other veggies you want to add should also be dehydrated at this point. Make a portion of dehydrated shards inside a plastic bag or another container. Add cheese to make the mushroom risotto a vegetarian meal, leave it out to stay vegan. 

Out on the trail, all you have to do is soak a portion of the mushroom risotto in water and then bring it to a boil and then let it simmer until the mushroom risotto has been resuscitated. You can add more water if you need to to make the mushroom risotto tender again.

 

Three glass jars of granola and berries.

Hikers can prepare heartier backpacking meals with quinoa and veggies to save time out on the trail.

 

Vegan ramen bomb recipe

Like most of the vegetarian backpacking recipes we’ve mentioned in this guide, the ramen bomb can be turned into a delicious vegan option by simply leaving out any cheese or other animal products that vegetarians might choose to include. In our opinion, this vegan ramen bomb is better than the original and doesn’t make you feel like a lead balloon when you’re finished eating. It’s a super easy and ultralight option for backpackers who have just resupplied at a grocery store on a thru-hike or on a shorter backpacking excursion where food for the whole trip has been brought along. 

Pro tip: all the noodles may be vegan, but not all ramen noodle seasoning packets are vegan! Nissin, one of the largest ramen noodle sellers in North America, offers two flavors as vegan options: soy sauce and chili. Top Ramen’s oriental flavor is also vegan. Many smaller ramen brands have vegan options if you look hard enough. Here’s how to make a ramen bomb into a vegan option:

 

Ingredients for the vegan ramen bomb:

 

  • 1 package of ramen noodles (see above for vegan options)
  • 1 cup Vegetable bouillon
  • Fresh veggies (broccoli, mushrooms, etc.)
  • ¼ cup instant mashed potatoes

 

Recipe:

 

1. Boil about 2.5 cups of water. 

 

2. Add the ramen noodles, bouillon, and veggies.

 

3. Boil the mixture for about 5 minutes, then slowly add in the instant mashed potatoes until the broth becomes thick. 

 

There are tons of optional flavor additions for ramen bombs such as tofu, hot sauce, or any herb and spice you can think of. Many backpackers make ramen bombs in a freezer bag rather than in a pot and that’s certainly still possible with this vegan ramen bomb recipe. All the steps are the same except everything goes into a freezer bag. Make sure to let the ramen noodles cook all the way. You’ll probably have to mash the mixture around if you use the freezer bag method. Fresh veggies are great if you’re near a grocery store on your thru-hike, but otherwise can be subbed for more portable ingredients.

Final Verdict:

Backpacking food is becoming more varied all the time thanks to the creativity of backpacking enthusiasts. They say necessity is the mother of invention and no set of backpackers have faced a necessity to change their backcountry cooking skills like vegans and vegetarians. To forego the normal meat-laden recipes, vegan backpackers have had to get creative. Thankfully they’ve had the help of ethically-minded freeze-dried backpacking meal manufacturers like Backpacker’s Pantry, Outdoor Herbivore, Harmony House, Aplineaire, and Mountain House. 

If you have the right tools at home, including your own dehydration sheets to use in a standard oven, then you can forego the prefabbed freeze-dried backpacking meals and make your own from scratch. There are also many meals that can be made from scratch on a small portable camping stove or ultralight alcohol stove. Far from just mimicking standard backpacking fare like beef jerky with the healthier vegan kale jerky, many of these backpacking recipes are gastronomical successes in their own right.

From regional favorites like Louisiana red beans to international classics that’ll have you saying “ è delizioso!” like mushroom risotto, vegetarian and vegan backpackers will likely be the envy of their backpacking troupe with these zesty and nutritious recipes in their arsenal. 

Next time you’re on a backpacking trip in the backcountry and don’t want to tarnish your well-established vegetarian or vegan diet, or if you’re an omnivore that’s just tired of eating standard backpacking fare like hot dogs and beef jerky, turn to one of these vegan or vegetarian freeze-dried or homemade options to kick your backpacking food into high gear. With or without meat, you’ll be restored and contented by these all-star vegetarian backpacking meals. 

 

Bonus tip: Watch this video to see how the gluten-free, vegan Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans & Rice freeze-dried backpacking meal looks IRL!

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.