Meeting our daily caloric needs along with keeping our pack weight as light as possible is our main focus when selecting food items for our meal plan. With the decision to do this plant-based, the planning will require some careful considerations. Animal products keep you feeling full for a longer period of time, which means we will need to be eating much more often. This constant drip of nutrition is actually better than fewer larger meals when on a thru hike (or any endurance sport) because we will better be able to manage food crashes while maintaining a light and athletic feeling (getting too full all at once can leave you tired and lethargic).
Calculating the caloric density means looking at how many calories per gram are in each food item. The higher this number is (cal/g), the more calorically dense the food is, which means less weight for more calories!
I am categorizing breakfast, lunch and snacks all together as our ONE VERY LONG “GRAZE-MEAL.” The nutrition intake from morning until dinner will most likely happen DURING hiking throughout the day (with the occasional break). We plan to be consuming calories at least every hour or small bites even more frequently to keep the constant drip of nutrition flowing. Flexibly thinking about Brunch as constant grazing throughout the day will allow for us to adjust our consumption based on how much water we are carrying vs what kind of terrain we will face that day vs what our stomachs and bodies are needing.
With that in mind, we will loosely follow the template of “Breakfast”, “Lunch” & “snacks” while knowing that these are comprised of all the calories we need to consume throughout the day and the order really doesn’t matter.
No warm breakfast?! 😱 We have decided to scrap the traditional light up the stove kind of breakfast. Sorry oatmeal (too much bulk, weight and work to fire up the stove every morning). This will hopefully allow us to some efficiency in the mornings to get on the trail pretty quickly and eat/drink on the go.
We will consume a decent portion of our daily calories by drinking them. This allows us to hydrate and eat all at the same time - yay efficiency! I am accustomed to having liquid as my morning metabolic wake up call so keeping the loose routine of a morning “smoothie” on the trail is something I was interested in investigating. I have used Vega One meal replacement protein powder in the past in Europe to ensure that I am getting enough plant nutrients while travelling and it seemed to do the job. We decided to see if going the protein powder route was worth it. It turns out - these vegan meal replacement protein powders are incredibly calorie and nutrient dense and we are stoked to bring our blender ball whisks to help shake up our “smoothies” every morning AND afternoon!
We have researched various vegan protein powders based on caloric density (cal/g).
Soylent was the most calorically dense with 400 calories for only 90 grams of powder (4.44 cal/g)! It is also the cheapest option as far as all of the smoothie powders go. Organifi came in second with caloric density, but was a bit more pricey, and tasted a bit too sweet for my taste. But since we bought some to try out, we will use up the rest of it on the trail to help bring in some variety. Vega One is 3rd in caloric density, tastes great, but is still more expensive than the Soylent. We will probably stick to Soylent for a majority of the smoothies, but we will definitely throw in some of the others to mix up flavor etc. And yes, Soylent sort of tastes like leftover cereal milk, but Jamie and I both really do like it and it mixes super well with the blender balls!
Our calorie dense search for on-the-go vegan finger foods led us straight to protein bars. We knew this would be a staple as we’ve done this with other extended hiking trips so no surprise here. While some are more processed than others, the ingredient lists in Larabars are kept to usually no more than 4-6 ingredients, all of which are totally recognizable!
The Banana Bread flavored Larabar keeps the ingredient list simple: Almonds, Dates, Unsweetened bananas.
Probars, GoMacro, Thunderbird (local Austin brand!), Picky, and Redd bars also keep the ingredient list recognizable with real food, so I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing too much with these bars. If we were robots we would stick to only Probars as they pack 370-390 calories a bar, which is unrivaled in bar-land. However, we are humans with taste buds and will probably use as many different kinds of vegan bars as possible to add variety.
We categorized our bars into 3 different levels: high cal, medium cal, and low cal.
High calorie bars: >300 calories. Only Probars fall into this category
Medium calorie bars: 250-300 calories (Certain flavors of Vega, GoMacro, Cliff, & Thunderbird)
Low calorie bars: 195-245 calories (Larabars, Picky, Redd, Cliff, and most other bars on the market fall into this category).
Not worth it: any bar that was less than about 200 calories was deemed not worth it.
SNACKS & ELECTROLYTES
We are super excited about bringing Power Wraps (by GoPal’s) with us. We are stoked to have 260 calories per package and achieve a different flavor profile than chocolate+nuts+dried fruit (basically all the protein bars). Power wraps offer a savory flavor, are packed with raw, sprouted nuts, seeds and flavor, are super calorically dense (5.38 cal/g), they are wrapped in nori! Seaweed is an awesome superfood powerhouse for energy plus its delicious and lightweight! Unlike the protein bars, Power Wraps taste like you’re really eating real
food! I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing at all when with regards to processed foods and added sweeteners when eating these savory power wraps! To top it off, GoPal’s is a small local business! One hour from Abilene, the company is on 100-acres dedicated to a cow protection project. As you can see, I’m quite a fan of their products! (You can buy them at Wheatsville or Amazon). ;)
We will snack on peanut butter whenever we can. Maybe we’ll add it to our bars, eat it plain, or add it to our smoothies or dinners. It is a no-brainer to bring it because the caloric density of powdered peanut butter is unrivaled (5.29 cal/g)
. We are bringing Outdoor Herbivore’s dehydrated peanut butter because it is high in calories (unlike many of the low cal weight loss peanut butter powders on the market).
We will also be sprouting while we are on the trail. I'm very excited abotu the prospect of having some fresh microgreens to add to every meal at every chance we get. We have a hemp bag that I will clip to the outside of my backpack for the sprouts to grow in. They require 8 hours of soaking for germination (overnight), and then a rinse each day. After a few days we will be able to harvest our sprouts. Each batch should last a few weeks. I'm very excited about this super lightweight nutrient dense opportunity to grow sprouts as we walk :)
We decided to scrap trail mix (even though we were thinking about adding it in for different mouth feels and textures), but ultimately ditched it because it is just too heavy. As we go through towns we can grab some dried fruit and nuts to eat that day instead of packing it, carrying it, and mailing it (it is so readily available all over the trail!).
We also plan to drink more calories throughout the day our and will bring coconut milk powder and coconut water powder. Coconut milk is the most calorically dense item we are bringing (6.83 cal/g) and is delicious on its own in powder form, as a drink, or mixed with a smoothie or dinner. It’s high fat and packed with calories giving us a more full tummy feeling.
CocoHydro (dehydrated coconut water) replaces electrolytes very well (except for sodium, which we feel confident we will get plenty of in the store-bought backpacker meals) while also providing 80 calories per serving. It is also delicious and refreshing.
We will also use Nuun (no calories) and Skratch (yes calories) to have other electrolyte replacements in the mix.
We will also bring chia seeds with us to add to our drinks/water. They pack in the protein and calories and are super lightweight with a caloric density of 4.90 cal/g.
We will have a mix of homemade dehydrated dinners as well as store-bought backpacker meals. We have found that we really like Outdoor Herbivore for their ample vegan selection and caloric density! Backpacker’s Pantry is less calorically dense, has fewer vegan options, and tends to be quite bulky. We will have some of both, but we are definitely leaning way more on the Outdoor Herbivore dinners. We plan to each indulge on a 900 calorie box of Daiya mac’n’cheese on resupply days so we don’t have to carry them with us very far due to their weight.
As for our homemade dinners we will use dehydrated veggies, beans, grains and different spice blends and mix and match to make different recipes. Beans and rice, lentil soup and rice or quinoa, and a few ramen mixes are some of the DIY dinners.
We plan to carry/eat the “Hungry Double” portions from Outdoor Herbivore (serves 2-3) and two single servings from Backpacker’s Pantry.
SECOND HALF AMENDMENTS
We are open to the idea of adding some different breakfast options for the second half if we are sick of the smoothie routine (enter chia puddings, oatmeal, dehydrated tofu scramble etc). It will likely comprise of a mixture of DIY as well as Outdoor Herbivore products. Assuming the temperatures will be dropping in Sept-Nov, we may want a warm breakfast here and there (not to mention some variety).