Dinners | Breakfasts | Lunches | Snacks+Drinks | Ingredients+Sources+Notes | San Diego-area Asian Markets
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not difficult for vegan hikers to have decent food on the trail.
It means more reliance on mailing yourself resupply boxes as a supplement or replacement for the limited options in near-trail stores. And it probably means assembling most of your own meals, since commercial vegan options are fairly limited (and expensive). If you have a dehydrator and have the time to cook and dehydrate meals, more power to you – but my own practice is to buy individual freeze-dried or dehydrated ingredients, and then assemble meals from a variety of individual ingredients, for freezer-bag-style “cooking” (rehydrating in hot water) on trail. This saves time and money while giving you total control over ingredients.
Here are notes on some of my favorite meals & snacks that are vegan (or vegan+honey, since I eat honey), mostly lightweight and, in most instances, reasonably compact so I can get a lot of food in my bear canister. I’ve listed info+sources for key ingredients below.
Note: If you are a PCT hiker shipping resupply boxes up the trail from San Diego, check out regional rate Priority Mail – much cheaper than regular Priority Mail, though you have to get the special Regional boxes, not available at every P.O.
The prospect of a cold dinner after a long day of hiking fills me with despair, so all of these dinners are hot, and almost all of them use the “freezer bag cooking” (FBC) method of cooking – simple, fast, and fuel-efficient, since the only “cooking” involved is bringing a pot of water to a near-boil.
Portion size: My appetite varies wildly while hiking. I put together smaller portions for the beginning of a hike, or perhaps for the first few days at high altitudes; and larger portions for later on. Remember that dehydrated food is only lightweight until you rehydrate it – so if you are going to end up with leftover food from any meal, it is much better to be able to carry the leftovers in a dehydrated state. Before you rehydrate, eyeball the meal portion, and if you think it is more food than you want, just move part of it to a spare ziploc BEFORE rehydrating your meal. You can always rehydrate more if it turns out you want the extra.
Ingredient options: With freezer-bag cooking, you’re essentially working from a “pantry” of foods that cook just by sitting in hot water for awhile, and you’re mixing and changing out ingredients and seasonings to try to get as much variety as possible, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same thing night after night. There are a relatively limited number of bases (Asian noodles of various types, rice, cous cous, pastas, and mashed potatoes, for example), a limited number of ingredients I call “protein” (by which I mean things like beans, tofu, faux dehydrated meats, lentils), a pretty big range of freeze-dried or dehydrated veggies, and quite a few seasoning options to help change things up. In the dinners described below, I tend not to give exact quantities for each ingredient, and generally list a bunch of ingredient options. Only by a little experimenting can you find the quantities and combinations that best suit you.
1. Forbidden Rice Noodle Dinner (with miso or Panang curry flavor)
In a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag: Put one block of Lotus Foods black “forbidden rice” ramen noodles (or a half-block for a smaller appetite); 4-6 freeze-dried tofu cubes (or another protein, such as soy “knots” or Bob’s Red Mill textured soy protein); dried shiitake or other mushrooms; a good variety of freeze-dried vegetables (usually about 1T. of each vegetable; options include: kale, broccoli, mixed-color bell peppers, carrots, asparagus; and from the Asian market, Japanese eggplant, wakame or other non-hijiki seaweeds, taro, daikon radish); and, if using a miso soup base, the contents of the “dry” package from one serving of miso soup. Or, if you can find it, you can add dried miso granules instead.
Pack separately: The miso pack from one serving of restaurant-style miso soup, for a milder dinner; or a packet of Panang curry and a packet of coconut milk powder or paste for a terrific and spicy Panang curry. NOTE: since I can never tell in advance whether I’ll be in the mood for a spicy or mild dinner, I often take the seasonings for both versions.
Prep: Add the separately-packed seasonings to the Ziploc (for the Panang curry version,you add just a small amount of the curry paste, depending on how fiery you want the dish to be, plus coconut milk paste or powder, to taste – definitely not anything close to the entire packet). Add nearly boiling water, a little more than to cover (or more if you want a very soupy version); pop into a cozy for about 10 minutes. For non-vegetarians, a foil pack of salmon or chicken could be a good protein option for this dinner, instead of tofu.
2. Mediterranean-Style Wheat Cous Cous and Lentils
In a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag: 1/3 cup (adjusted for your preferred portion size) whole wheat cous cous; 2/3 cup of cooked/dehydrated lentils (see below for source); 1 T. ore more of freeze-dried asparagus, mixed-color bell peppers, and freeze-dried spinach (or other veggies of your choice); 1/3 tsp. each of dried basil, oregano, thyme, onion (powder or flakes), and garlic powder; 1 Tbsp. tomato powder; 1 Tbsp. or so of pine nuts or slivered almonds; and the contents of one packet of True lime or True Lemon powder (a key ingredient to punch up the flavor!). You can also add dehydrated olives (or, packed separately, a small packet of shelf-stable olives).
Pack separately: Olive oil. Some people like cut-up dried apricots, prunes, cranberries or sun-dried tomatoes in this dish. If so, don’t put them in the main Ziploc bag, because their moisture will affect the dry ingredients; pack them separately in a sandwich or snack bag.
Prep: Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to the Ziploc;. plus any dried fruit you want to use; add nearly boiling water (enough to rehydrate everything without making it soupy); pop into a cozy for 10-15 minutes. For non-vegetarians, you can add a foil pack of whatever you like – chicken, tuna or salmon, or, hey, a cut-up single-serving Spam slice- and reduce the lentils by half.
3. A Vaguely Shepherd’s Pie
This is comfort food par excellence – but it does require heating the bean mix in your cookpot for a few minutes, so it involves a bit of dishwashing, and a bit more fuel. It also requires you to remember to start rehydrating the beans 45 minutes or so before dinner time. Don’t try this with regular dried beans; you need precooked, dehydrated beans (see below, in Sources, for details.)
Beans: Pack a serving of precooked, dehydrated beans in a freezer Ziploc, along with 1-2 Tbsp. each of three or more different freeze-dried veggies – carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale or spinach, for example. I like kidney beans for this dish, but you can use black, red, or garbanzo beans as you prefer – just make sure you label the ziploc with the rehydration time for the beans of your choice. Reconstitute the beans during the last 45 minutes or so of your hike before your dinner stop – just add unheated water to the beans (the water is proportional to the beans+veggies – e.g., 1 cup water for 1 cup of dehydrated beans+veggies – a guesstimate is fine). Make sure the ziploc bag is tightly sealed, and put it in an outer pocket of your pack if you are rehydrating while hiking, so if it does leak, it isn’t disastrous. You can also double-bag if you are the cautious or paranoid type.
Packed separately: A freezer ziploc with 1 (generous) serving of mashed potato flakes (Bob’s Red Mill, plain Idahoan, etc.), and nutritional yeast to taste (maybe 1 Tbsp.). If I have it on hand, I add 1 Tbsp. of “Better Than Milk” soymilk powder. The nutritional yeast adds a nice, vaguely cheesy flavor, plus a nice dose of B12 vitamins.
Also packed separately: Olive oil (see below for packing recommendations).
In a separate sandwich baggie: chili seasoning, either from a packet (the kind carried in natural foods stores, not the junky ones from the supermarket), or assembled from your spice cabinet – I like a mix of New Mexico chili powder, ground cumin, onion and garlic powder or flakes, dried oregano, and a little salt and pepper. Cayenne and paprika are also good additions.
Don’t forget to rehydrate your beans during the last part of your hike before dinner, based on the rehydration time for the specific beans you are using. Just take a quick break, put some of your filtered drinking water into the ziploc, seal it well, and hike on. Once you are ready to cook:
1. Heat enough water to rehydrate the potato flakes; add to potato Ziploc bag once you’ve stirred the ingredients in the bag to mix them well; add a splash of olive oil, stir again (or knead the bag) to mix everything well, then pop into your cozy.
2. Add the rehydrated beans+veggies and the chili spices to your cookpot (a little of the rehydrating water is good; drain or add water as needed), and heat thoroughly (watch carefully & stir often so as not to have a scorched mess at the bottom of your pot). This works best if you have a stove that allows you to turn the flame down. You should end up with something like a chili or thick stew.
3. Put the mashed potato mix on top of the chili bean mixture, and enjoy! (If you’re eating from your cookpot, just add the mashed potato in increments as you go, since it may not all fit in the cookpot at once.)
4. Unfried Rice – Asian or Spanish-style
This is not a very glamorous dinner, but it adds a different-textured base (brown rice) to the dinners listed above, and it can have an Asian or Spanish-style flavoring, depending on what you add.
In a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag: One serving of Minute-style instant brown rice (from a box, not the ready-to-eat kind in a cup), a nice assortment of veggies that will go well with your flavor option (typically, 1 Tbsp. of each freeze-dried veggie; I might put red or mixed-color bell peppers, and asparagus in the Spanish-style version, for example); dried mushrooms; and the protein of your choice. For Asian-style, tofu cubes or “soy knots” would work well. For both Asian and Spanish-style, the soy-based dehydrated faux meats (from Asian markets) that mimic chicken or beef pieces would work. Also add to this Ziploc any dry components of your chosen flavorings (herbs, spices, etc.) For the Spanish-style version, this would include tomato powder, onion and garlic powder or dehydrated flakes, ground cumin, chipotle or other chili powder, cayenne pepper, dried cilantro or parsley, etc. You could also add sundried tomatoes (from a dry pack, not the oil-packed kinds).
Pack separately: soy sauce and/or sriracha-style hot sauce packets for the Asian version; a Mexican-style hot sauce packet if you want to add additional zip to the Spanish-style sauce.
Prep: Add near-boiling water to the freezer bag and pop in a cozy for 10 or maybe 15 min., until the rice is done. Add soy sauce/hot sauce to taste.
5. Pasta – “cheezy” or marinara-style
In a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag: One serving of pasta (based on your appetite; for Ancient Harvest pasta (which I highly recommend for the quinoa protein and overall higher nutritional value), I divide the box into 3 servings, rather than the rated 4).
In a 2nd freezer bag: For “cheezy” sauce: 2-3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, 1 Tbsp. Better than Milk soymilk powder, 1/2 packet of True Lemon, a pinch or more (to taste) of onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, chipotle pepper flakes or powder (or similar spices, as you prefer), 1-2 Tbsp. each of freeze-dried broccoli and red or mixed color bell peppers. For marinara sauce: 1 Tbsp. (or more) tomato powder, 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, a pinch or more (to taste) of onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, chipotle pepper flakes or powder (or similar spices, as you prefer), 1-2 Tbsp. each of freeze-dried broccoli, red or mixed color bell peppers, asparagus, and other vegetables of your choice.
Pack separately: olive oil.
Prep: Add near-boiling to pasta and pop into cozy. Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus just enough hot water for sauce consistency to 2nd freezer bag, and stir or knead thoroughly to mix; pop into cozy alongside the pasta. After about 15 minutes (depending on pasta), pour out excess liquid, if any, from pasta (hey! it’s a hot, if somewhat starchy beverage, LNT-style), and add pasta to the sauce bag; stir well to coat pasta with sauce.
Think Powerball The five dinners above are examples of what I put together from my “hiker pantry” of ingredients, featuring the five bases (Asian noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, cous cous, penne or similar pasta) I use the most, plus a lot of different veggies, “proteins” and seasonings. If there are 292,201,338 possible number combinations in Powerball, I know there are a huge number of combinations from my array of ingredients. Just by varying the seasonings, or the type of noodle (thin brown rice vermicelli from the Asian market, for example, instead of forbidden rice ramen), and having as many different vegetables and seasonings as possible to choose from, I can create enough variety to keep dinner on the trail appealing.
A few commercial options The bulk bin section of natural food stores may have some hearty dehydrated vegan soup mixes: split pea soup or curried lentil soup, for instance. These are economical, and super fast and easy on-trail. I also add an occasional commercial meal into the mix, for a change of pace, though they are expensive. These sources have at least a few vegan choices: Good To-Go (herbed mushroom risotto, marinara with penne, smoked three bean chili), PackIt Gourmet, Outdoor Herbivore, and MaryJanesFarm (check the ingredients; not all are vegan).
Since hot coffee is my favorite part of the morning, I’m heating water anyway – so I like to have a hot breakfast on the trail, especially on cold mornings. No matter what I eat for breakfast, I’m always hungry about 1-1/2 hours later, so I tend to stop for a short break to eat “second breakfast” (or eat it while walking).
Coffee: If it isn’t Peet’s, I have a hard time liking it, but I’m not willing to pack out wet coffee grounds. Starbucks Via packets taste really bad to me. So Though I generally drink black coffee, for the trail, I am experimenting with Coconut Coffee from CAcafe, at Costco for $9.99 (18 servings) – delicious! (Be sure to use the recommended ratio of powder to water.) It’s also available from CAcafe online, but at a much higher price. It tastes like a decent caffè latte. I repack this in sandwich or snack bags (not freezer bags), since I’m reconstituting it in my mug. The caffeine level is pretty low (65 mg per serving), so I may take a half-tab of caffeine to get an adequate level of my morning “drug of choice.” CAcafe also makes a caffè mocha version, plus unsweetened versions, but I haven’t tried those.
First breakfast: I am totally done with instant oatmeal – it is on my growing list of “famine food” – things I will eat only to avoid starvation. I’m also always looking for savory (not sweet) breakfast foods. Here are a few things I still like for breakfast:
Savory Mush (featuring grits and stuffing) – This is probably an acquired taste, but I like this as a savory, rather than sweet, breakfast mush. In a freezer ziploc: 1/3 cup instant grits; 1/3 cup Ian’s gluten-free savory stuffing; 2 Tbsps. nutritional yeast; 1 Tbsp. chopped raw nuts – walnuts, (or chop them on trail, to keep them fresher until ready to eat). Prep: Add water just to cover, stir, and pop in a cozy for 5-10 minutes.
10-Grain Cereal, powered-up – Pack in a freezer ziploc: 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain Cereal; 1 Tbsp. chia seeds. In another baggie: 1 scoop of Vega Choc-A-Lot protein powder (or similar protein/smoothie powder, as you prefer). Adv. Prep: At dinner the night before, heat some extra water; pour enough onto the cereal to fully rehydrate the grains and chia; pop into cozy and store overnight (e.g., in your bear can). Final prep: Add the protein powder to the grains, plus additional hot water to make the cereal consistency you prefer. Stir or knead the bag well to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Nutritional note: Using the Vega powder noted above, this dish has 280 calories, 24 grams of protein, and 36 grams of carbs, with 12 grams of fiber. Variations/additions: this version is only minimally sweet, so you can add stevia or other sweeteners if you prefer; nuts are also good in this, and would boost the protein, healthy fats, and other nutritional values.
Chia Pudding or Smoothie – Pack 1 Tbsp. chia seeds, 1 serving (per package directions) of a vegan protein powder (e.g., Vega protein smoothie, various flavors; Trader Joe’s organic chocolate flavored hemp protein powder; Amazing Grass powders in various flavors) and, if you want to boost the sweetness, some stevia. Prep: put the ingredients in a small, wide-mouth plastic bottle or a lidded container (small Ziploc bowl, Talenti container, etc.). Add 6-8 oz. cold water, and shake well. The consistency will be range from pudding to smoothie, depending on the amount of water you add, and how long it sits. You can do this the night before and stash it in your bear can, so the chia will be very softened by breakfast; otherwise, let it sit for a while before eating/drinking.
Breakfast Burrito – In a freezer ziploc, pack a serving of “refried” beans (pinto or black), plus Honeyville potato dices (or dehydrated “hash brown”-style potatoes), and other ingredients that appeal to you: spinach, red or mixed color bell peppers, dried mushrooms, for instance. Rehydrate with near-boiling water in a cozy for 5-10 minutes (as much as is needed for the potatoes), then put on a tortilla; top with some nutritional yeast and hot sauce, and wrap it up, burrito-style.
Commercial options: I’m adding a few commercial hot cereals into the mix for my PCT thru-hike, to try to sneak around my oatmeal aversion: Love Grown Foods Super Oats, with oats, chia seeds, quinoa flakes, and amaranth flakes; and Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grain Oatmeal, with oats, flax seeds, quinoa flakes, chia and hemp seeds, and puffed amaranth. With any luck, I can make both savory and fruity/sweet versions of these cereals, for enough variety to keep them from going on my list of “famine food.” I also like some of the GreenMax “pestle cereals” from the Asian markets (see below), and often mix two different varieties for breakfast.
Second breakfast: This is really just nothing more than one of my snack options, but I still call it “second breakfast” since my first breakfast reliably fades away after about 90 minutes. This is always a no-cook mini-meal, whether I stop for a short break or eat it while walking. Options:
- a snack bag with dehydrated (but not freeze-dried) fruit – especially mango, fig, plum, and cherries
- one of the commercial bars I’m not sick of yet
- baggie of mixed raw or roasted nuts (assembled at home from large Costco bags of individual nuts)
- baggie of one type of flavored nuts (e.g., wasabi almonds, mesquite BBQ macadamia nuts, or spicy & sweet pecans from Trader Joe’s),
- a chia-protein smoothie or pudding (see above), made earlier that morning to give it some soaking time.
Lunches are always no-cook (unless I’m swapping lunch and dinner on a given day, for some reason). Some of my faves:
- Bean burrito: [Yes, this is only a slight variation on the above-listed breakfast burrito. The breakfast version is hot and has potatoes; this one is “room temperature” – or, more accurately, the approximate temperature of the water from your water bottle.] Pack in a baggie in advance: a serving of “refried” pinto or black beans; nutritional yeast to taste (about 1 Tbsp.); freeze-dried red or mixed-color bell peppers; onion and/or garlic powder or flakes; chipotle or other chile flakes. Prep: Add unheated water to the baggie – just enough to rehydrate the beans without making them soupy; after about 10 minutes, squeeze it from the baggie onto a tortilla, add hot sauce to taste, and wrap it up, burrito-style. If you prefer, you can keep the red bell peppers separate, and add them on top of the beans before wrapping your burrito, to add a little crunch.
- Hummus: Dehydrated hummus powder (see below) is actually supposed to be rehydrated in cold water, so it’s a perfect no-cook lunch. Just pack a lunch-sized portion in a ziploc bag, and keep your olive oil handy for lunch. I love hummus on Dr. Kracker Seedlander Crispbread (thick crackers, very hearty). Most brands of dehydrated hummus have lemon already added, so just add water and some olive oil to the mix. It rehydrates quickly, so you can either rehydrate it when you stop for lunch, or you can do so after breakfast.
- “Famine food” lunches: Because no-cook options are somewhat limited, I sometimes resort to a food I no longer love for lunch: peanut butter or almond butter, with a packet of Mamon jam or marmalade, on a Dr. Kracker or tortilla base. even the addition of a Justin’s chocolate hazelnut packet (a vegan and healthier version of Nutella) doesn’t make me any happier to be eating one of these famine food lunches. But I know that many people feel differently about peanut butter.
I won’t bother listing bars – if you’re a hiker, you have your own short list of bars you love, and much longer list of bars you hate, or can barely tolerate. I haven’t found one I don’t get tired of very quickly, and there are new brands and types of bars on the shelves all the time. So my strategy is to buy just a couple of any brand/flavor that looks tolerable, preferably when they are on sale, and then I rotate the types rapidly in my food bag and resupply so they don’t make me gag on sight. Trail mix is permanently off my list of snacks, as well, because I just end up with a sad, picked-through baggie containing the things I couldn’t bring myself to eat. Instead, I pack snack bags of single ingredients.
Snacks and drinks I tend to like consistently:
- Philippine brand dried mango from Costco, which I repackage in sandwich or snack bags. Yes, I could get the dried mango without the big hit of sugar and preservatives, but they aren’t as tasty. These, I know I will love. I’m also trying out some premium organic, unsweetened versions that still seem fairly moist and soft. I also still tend to like the moister versions of dried figs, plums, and cherries, but, alas, I think I am totally over Trader Joe’s flattened bananas.
- Plain and flavored nuts – if I rotate the flavors enough, I tend to keep liking these, and they are easy to eat while hiking. Faves: wasabi-flavored almonds, BBQ-flavored macadamia nuts, plain walnuts, raw cashews, sweet and spicy pecans (Trader Joe’s).
- Inka corn – plain or flavored.
- “Cluster” snacks – If I rotate different versions of these so I don’t see the same one too often, I like the mixed-ingredient “clusters” – sold in large packages at Costco, for instance: Royal Hawaiian blueberry pomegranate macadamia clusters; SuperSeedz chocolate pumpkin seed clusters, Mrs. May’s (cran-blueberry, cashew crunch, almond crunch, etc.)
- Honey Stinger organic energy chews – okay, these are essentially pure sugar, but I have found them to be “power balls” for hiking a big elevation gain, and along with Shot Bloks, they are something I can tolerate when I have some altitude-induced nausea. They are expensive, but I buy them discounted from Sierra Trading Post. They contain honey, so they aren’t vegan.
- Weird faux jerky from the Asian store – sometimes, you just want something very chewy and salty. My local Asian markets (see below) have a crazy-big selection of fake (vegetarian) jerky, in big “economy” packages, and I repackage small portions in ziplocs. Primal Strips are a similar if somewhat less-weird product, but more expensive; they come in soy- and mushroom-based versions, and lots of flavors.
- Orange Blast-flavored Power Pak from Trace Minerals Research, “a ‘fizzing’ drink with vitamins and over 72 electrolytes.” Hat tip to Carrot Quinn for recommending this, which I get at my local Vitamin Shoppe. This is the only electrolyte drink I have tried that I like (sorry, Nuun, Skratch, and others . . .).
- Ginger tea – either in high-quality teabags (Traditional Medicinals or Yogi, for example), with some added stevia (a small Sweetleaf packet); or in granulated form with added sugar in individual foil tubes or packets, from the Asian markets – these are insanely sweet. A great “comfort” drink for nausea or upset stomach, and a nice dinner beverage.
- Water – this is the best drink ever. The only way it can be improved is with the addition of crushed frozen water (aka “ice”). I filter religiously on the trail with the Sawyer Squeeze (I’ve switched back to the original 3 oz. version from the mini), because I assume there have been humans and other animals somewhere upstream from me. My fantasy trail magic: someone handing out giant paper cups of crushed ice.
Beans – flakes, “refried”: You’ll find lots of options for dehydrated and flaked beans, which reconstitute into a consistency similar to the refried beans in, say, a Taco Bell bean burrito. Many natural food stores (Sierra Sundance in Mammoth Lakes, for example) have one or two spiced versions in their bulk bin section. Honeyville’s version has just three ingredients: pinto beans, salt, and onion. They are labeled “refried beans” but I don’t believe any frying, much less re-frying, ever occurred. These are good enough that I’m happy to use them at home. Some markets carry smaller packages of refried beans, such as the Santa Fe Bean Company brand – try to get the ones with just one or two ingredients (beans, or beans and salt), rather than the ones with “interesterified Soybean Oil (with TBHQ), since the process for making fats “interesterified” sounds a lot like the trans-fat process (and may be identical, for all I know).
Beans & Lentils – Whole: Dehydrated bean flakes are fine for burrito-style lunches, but for some meals, nothing beats the texture and flavor of whole beans. PackIt Gourmet offers a great lineup of beans that have been precooked and dehydrated, so that they fully rehydrate fairly quickly in cool water: black beans and pinto beans in 45-60 minutes; red beans and kidney beans in 30-35 minutes; garbanzo beans in 90-100 minutes. PackIt Gourmet also has precooked and dehydrated lentils, which apparently have the second-highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, after soybeans – and they rehydrate in just 3-4 minutes in hot water.
Coconut milk powder or paste: The powder is hard to find. Of the two brands at Lucky Seafood (see below), one has a dairy ingredient; the other has an ingredient which apparently has a dairy derivation but is so attenuated in processing that FDA does not require it to be listed as a dairy product. My fellow vegans can contemplate the acceptability of that… The other option is a paste form, which typically comes in a small box with 3 plastic packets, in a fairly solid form, but it liquefies in hot water (e.g., when you add it to anything you are rehydrating). The powder is obviously much lighter weight.
Cous cous: This is a wheat product, and it is widely available in markets. However, Trader Joe’s has a nice whole wheat version, $0.99 cents for a box with about 8 servings. Check bulk bins as well. Ignore the cooking directions; all cous cous works fine in freezer-bag cooking.
Cozy options: as noted above, a cozy is great to have for FBC cooking, so that your dinner stays warm until it’s ready to eat. DIY options: you can make your own from Reflectix insulation (available in a big roll from a hardware store, or for a smaller quantity, you can apparently get a Reflectix-type windshield reflector at an auto supply store – or hit up any of your hiker friends who have already own a gigantic roll). If you do it right, your cozy should be somewhere in the 1.5 oz. range. You can also use Reflectix to make cozies for a cookpot, a mug, or a Ziploc “twist’n loc” plastic container (useful for soaking food while hiking, or in lieu of a mug or bowl). I use metal tape for Reflectix cozies; it should be in the hardware store near the Reflectix. Commercial options: Antigravity Gear offers a nice cozy, made in the USA, that is 1.3 oz. It’s quite small, but fine at least for a one-person dinner. (PackIt Gourmet offers one, but, alas, it has an off odor, and is made in China.) Cozies are a great place to store your spork or other eating utensil between meals, since it’s an easy thing to lose or misplace; and if you remember to take it out before adding a freezer-bag dinner filled with boiling water, a chocolate bar will remain reasonably intact in a cozy, since the insulation will help protect it from a total meltdown.
Curry: Asian markets typically carry a variety of curry pastes in shelf-stable packets, probably about $0.60 each, with Panang Curry being my favorite. There is too much in one packet, however, to use up during a typical stretch of trail, and it’s not something you can repackage. With some coconut milk powder or paste, it makes an ordinary dish (like a noodle-based soup) spectacular, if you’re in the mood for something spicy. Lighter, probably not as fabulous, but easy to repackage are any of the commercial curry powders in the Asian markets; not so much, the ones in the spice racks of regular supermarkets.
Dr. Kracker Crispbread: Not all varieties are vegan, but Seedlander Crispbread is, along with some others, and these are more nutritious and heartier than many other crackers, and they’re pretty dense, so one cracker is about right for me as a lunch base for hummus, “refried” beans, or the dreaded peanut or almond butter. Available at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores, and many supermarkets.
GreenMax pestle cereals: These are powdered, sweet cereals (or drinks, depending on amount of water you add), with an astonishing array of grains, beans, seeds, etc. in the mix. For example, the Yu Shan Pestle Cereal variety has this amazing ingredient list:
Black soybean, brown rice, black glutinous rice, pearl barley, pearl rice, oat, buckwheat, wheat germ, black sesame, white sesame, pumpkin seed, green tea, Gordon Euryale seed, yam, tuckahoe, ginkgo nut, chrysanthemum, western ginseng, raw ginger, medlar, crystal sugar, vitamins, minerals.
A GreenMax bag typically has 14 individual packets. Two packets make a small-ish breakfast, about 220 calories. You’ll find this product at many Asian markets. GreenMax’s slogan: “Make healthy, beautiful wish!” My favorite flavors include one called “purple and yam” and any of the ones with black sesame in the name; and I like to mix “purple and yam” with a Yu Shan Pestle Cereal packet. Some varieties have matcha (powdered green tea). A few have non-vegan ingredients, so read the ingredient list.
Hummus: I used to see dehydrated hummus (powder form) in supermarkets all the time, but it seems to have disappeared from the shelves. You can still get it online. Decent brands include Fantastic Foods and Casbah. The same brands also make tabouli mix, which is still in most supermarkets, right next to where the hummus used to be. Go figure.
Lotus Foods black “forbidden rice” ramen noodles (organic, gluten-free; vegan): I prefer the 4-pack of noodles, rather than the individual packets of noodles+seasonings, because the noodles are less expensive, and the seasonings packet is not as good as what I put together. Available at Whole Foods, most natural food stores, some supermarkets, and online. Lotus Foods has other types of ramen noodles, but the forbidden rice ones are my favorite. (I saw a different variety – Jade Pearl Rice Ramen, I think – at Costco recently, but I’m guessing it will not be a permanent Costo item.)
Miso soup (instant packets): Available in many large supermarkets in the “ethnic/international” aisle, and online. Note that many brands (including Kikkoman) include bonito (fish); so if you are vegetarian, check the ingredients carefully. My preferred miso soup (shown at right) is the kind with a “soft pack” of miso, instead of dehydrated miso – it’s a little heavier, but to me, it seems more natural and unprocessed. The label says “Japanese Restaurant Style Miso-Cup,” it is a made in Japan, and each portion has one soft pack of miso, and one dry pack of tiny tofu cubes, vegetables, and seasonings. This is just for flavoring a more substantial dinner, since there are very few calories in each serving. Miso powder, which is freeze-dried miso without the other soup ingredients, an sometimes be found (at Gelsen’s supermarket, for example).
Town food: You might be surprised at what (usually off-menu) vegan meals you can order even in small-town, near-trail restaurants. In Mojave, CA, for example, I recently had a stellar raw kale salad with green and purple cabbage and whole pinto beans, at the Mexican restaurant by the Statler Bros. supermarket (and right next to a big array of Tesla charging stations!). It was not on the big menu on the wall, but a chicken version was on a small whiteboard stand, and I just asked for beans instead of chicken, after making sure the beans were not cooked with manteca (lard). In restaurants without vegan menu items, just scan the menu for ingredients, and ask them to put together a custom vegan plate for you. Or order a menu dish that has non-vegan ingredients, and list all the ingredients you want them to omit or add. (Sometimes, the server or cook will tell you what you are ordering won’t taste good, so I just assure them that it will be fine, and I promise not to send it back.) In Mexican restaurants, ask about manteca (lard), traditional ingredients in beans and flour tortillas, and chicken stock, used sometimes in rice and sauces; in Indian restaurants, ask about ghee (clarified butter), in many dishes and breads (but it can be omitted from some dishes, by request). In Julian, CA, most of the famed apple pie has butter in the crust, alas.
Nutritional yeast: Widely available in natural foods markets, and not to be confused with brewer’s yeast or baking yeast. Also, you can vastly overpay if you buy this prepackaged, especially if you get it in the supplements aisle. I like the Red Star brand, available in the bulk bin section at Jimbo’s and other natural food stores.
Olive oil: There’s a lot of mislabeled olive oil out there, apparently! Single-use small packets are available from minimus.biz, but expensive. I use a small Rum Runner flask (made in USA; 0.3 oz for the 8-oz size; ignore the pervasive Rum Runner theme of sneaking booze onto cruise ships…) or a small plastic bottle from REI, and refill or swap it out at resupply points.
Pasta: Check the cooking time on a pasta package – it will typically rehydrate, freezer-bag cooking style, in about 2x the listed cooking time; just add near-boiling water to cover, and then pop into a cozy. Hydrate the sauce+other ingredients in a separate freezer bag, alongside the pasta in your cozy.
I like the more nutrient-dense pasta from Ancient Harvest, including gluten-free corn-quinoa penne, which rehydrates in about 15 min., and lentil-quinoa rotelle, which needs about 20 min. – these are available at many supermarkets and natural foods stores. Trader Joe’s is also a great source for inexpensive pasta, with some whole-grain versions available.
Stevia: A lot of hiker food is very sugary, so I like to use stevia for things I am making that need sweetening. Some products marketed as stevia have other ingredients you might not want. I like Sweetleaf packets so I don’t have to measure, or worry about having a container of powder getting wet and clumping.
True Lemon/True Lime/True packets and other condiments: One of these packets of crystallized citrus does a lot to punch up the flavor of a dish. Available from minimus.biz. which is my go-to place for condiment packets/tiny bottles, including organic chipotle habanero sauce (stellar for bean dishes), Cholula hot sauce, sea salt, Bonne Maman apricot preserves (when dire circumstances force me to eat peanut or almond butter), etc. Prices are higher for anything you can find in a store (bars, for instance), but shipping is free for $20+ orders. Minimus also carries some useful non-food items, like Deet towelettes, and tiny packets of triple antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone cream.
Rice: The only kind of rice that works for freezer-bag cooking is “Minute”-style rice, which is rice that has been parboiled and then dehydrated. Minute brand is available in white or brown rice versions; the brown rice needs a little more rehydration time.
Seasonings: a good all-purpose option is Kirkland Organic No-Salt Seasoning (Costco), with 21 herbs/spices – great to add flavor to many meals ($8.29 for a 14.5 oz. container). Asian markets have lots of curry options (Panang, red and green Thai-style curry pastes, for example, and curry powder; watch out for Japanese curry, which often include beef tallow). The major spice brands offer some good spice blends – for example, McCormick has a “California Blend” with green and white onions and parsley, a chipotle and garlic “grill masters” blend, and an Asian blend. (For other seasoning mixes, I typically hit my spice rack when I’m assembling my freezer-bag dinners.
Tabouli mix: Tabouli is a traditional Middle Eastern salad with a bulgar wheat base, and you can find it in many markets in a dehydrated, instant form. You add hot water and olive oil, and let it stand; traditionally it is refrigerated and served cold. Typically, you would add diced fresh tomatoes; on trail, you could improvise with sun-dried tomatoes or tomato powder. It works well on its own, in a tortilla, or with other ingredients added – olives (dehydrated or from a small shelf-stable pack), a fresh tomato if you’re just hiking out from a resupply stop, rehydrated garbanzo beans or lentils, additional veggies, and many other ingredients should work well. The Fantastic Foods version includes organic bulgar wheat, dried onion, sea salt, parsley, onion and garlic powder, peppermint, citric acid, non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil, natural flavor, and rosemary extract.
Tofu cubes: Freeze-dried tofu has a great, 750+ year history starting at Buddhist temples. Freeze-dried tofu cubes are not that easy to find, even in Asian markets, but I’ve found two good brands – Asahimatsu and Hitokuchii – in San Diego at Mitsuwa Market, which has 7 California locations. These cubes reconstitute with a chewy, semi-spongy texture that doesn’t resemble regular tofu, so it might be an acquired taste, but at least on trail, I find them substantial and satisfying. The cubes I look for are about 1-inch cubes, though this product also comes in larger squares, such as the version made by Eden Foods, which is pricey but no doubt high quality. North Bay Trading has smaller freeze-dried tofu cubes, but I haven’t tried them, since they seem more expensive than the local Asian market versions. Mitoku Snow-Dried Tofu is available online, and has an interesting production story, but I haven’t actually seen or tried this product, since it is pricey and I am a tightwad. All of these reconstitute fine in freezer-bag cooking methods, no matter what the package says about cooking time. Another tofu-based product is “soy knots” made from dehydrated yuba, or tofu “skin”, tied in a knot, and available from Lucky Seafood (see below).
Vegetables – If you are putting together a lot of hiker meals, an economical way to get high-quality freeze-dried vegetables is through Honeyville, which sells veggies (and other foods) in big #10 cans. I especially like Honeyville’s asparagus, broccoli, shoestring carrots, and mixed bell peppers (red, green, yellow). Their tomato powder is terrific, too – just add water to get any consistency from tomato paste to pasta sauce to soup. A #10 can of tomato powder is probably more than you can use in one hiking season (though I use it in home cooking as well, and just keep it in my freezer in freezer Ziploc bags). Another good source for vegetables, especially if you want smaller quantities or organic options, is North Bay Trading Co., which has both freeze-dried and air-dried vegetables, and you can get tomato powder in smaller quantities than the Honeyville option. North Bay has kale (both air- and freeze-dried), spinach, cauliflower, okra, and some other vegetables that are not in the Honeyville lineup.
Vegetables – Asian With any luck, you have at least one giant Asian market in your area, because you can add a lot of variety to hiker meals with freeze-dried or dehydrated Asian vegetables – including Japanese eggplant, taro root, burdock root (“gobo” in Japanese), shredded daikon radish, a variety of seaweeds (I like wakame, and avoid hijiki because of arsenic issues), and more. These markets are also a good source for shiitake and other mushrooms, dried miso soup packets, and other hiker-friendly food, including an astonishing array of vegetarian jerky.
My favorite Asian markets in San Diego include:
Zion Market (Korean), which devotes big shelf space to dehydrated/freeze-dried vegetables, some of which have limited (or vague) English labeling – give them a try!
Mitsuwa Market (Japanese) – as noted above, the only source I’ve found in San Diego for freeze-dried tofu cubes.
Nijiya Market (Japanese) – Nijiya is the store with the biggest focus on organic foods, and it has locations throughout California, and in NY and Hawaii.
Lucky Seafood (Vietnamese) – (no website – the link is to Yelp; located at 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92126). Along with dried vegetables (and a huge array of soy-based meat analog products), this is one of the few places to find powdered coconut milk.
And, of course, there is Ranch 99 Market, with stores in CA, WA, NV and TX.