5 Day Hiking Trail Vegan and Plant-based
Every hike is different in terms of length, terrain, equipment needed and of course, space and weight limitations. Even if your next hike or outdoor adventure differs to the one we did, I hope that this post will help provide you with some tips and ideas so that you can enjoy delicious plant-based food and have great recovery, energy and endurance on your adventure.
The Whale Trail is a 5 day hike through the De Hoop nature reserve in the Overberg district of South Africa. The hike spans about 55km over the 5 days and is considered a “slack-packing” hike which means that your luggage is transported for you from hut to hut instead of you having to carry everything you need on your back for the full 5 days. You still carry a day pack every day which includes your lunch, snacks, water, emergency and medical kit, rain jacket, toilet paper, sunscreen, swimming costume and towel, water shoes, etc. This bag can weigh up to 7kg’s if you are not careful of how you pack so lunches and snacks were kept as light-weight as possible.
The huts are equipped with solar lighting, a gas stove, kitchen utensils and crockery but no fridge as there is no electricity in the huts. Since we did the hike in mid-summer, keeping food fresh for 5 days without a fridge was the biggest challenge. See below for how we did this
In addition to the lack of cold storage, we were given serious space limitations for our main luggage: each person was only allowed 1x 60L container (which is provided by the organizers on arrival) for all their luggage, including clothes, sleeping bag, linen, towel, headlamps, toiletries AND food! In addition, you are allowed 2 x 55L cooler boxes amongst the whole group for perishable food. There were 12 people in our group (the hike takes a maximum of 12 people at a time) and so that meant that we had to fit all of our perishable food into the 2 cooler boxes and all of our non-perishable food had to be distributed amongst our 12 x 60L containers.
Tip: If you do the hike with less than 12 people, you can still purchase 12 containers and then have extra containers for food.
We decided that the easiest way to do the food would be to make communal dinners at night and for everyone to organize their own breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Since 10 out of the 12 in the group were meat-eaters and would be braai-ing (barbecuing) meat every night, the easiest way to make the meals communal and include us two vegans, was to make a communal vegan starch and veg dish every night that everyone could eat and then for the meat-eaters to braai meat and for us to bring with a meat alternative that could also be prepared on the braai to go along with the starch and veg.
Since the cooler boxes have to keep food cold for 5 days, the only way to actually keep food cold for that length of time in a cooler box is to keep it frozen with dry ice. That meant that we couldn’t have any fresh food that required refrigeration and the only food that could go in the cooler box would be freezable food which in the end was just our meat alternatives, meat, ice and cold drinks. All other food had to be kept at room temperature in our 60L containers and therefore had to be non-perishable.
Tips for keeping food frozen:
- Order your dry ice to be delivered directly before leaving for the trail. As soon as the ice is exposed to air it begins to melt and you want it to stay frozen for as long as possible into the 5 days so that your food doesn’t defrost.
- Order your dry ice in advance if you are doing the trail over the festive season! All the dry ice companies were closed for the season when we tried to order and only managed to find a company to provide ice a day before we left.
- Pack the dry ice into the bottom of the cooler box, then cover it with newspaper and pack your food on top of the newspaper. Once your food is placed in the box, cover your food with more newspaper and close up the box. Do this as quickly as possible in order to avoid melting of the ice.
- Make sure your cooler box is well sealed in order to avoid any contact of the ice with air which would make it melt faster. A cooler box with clips is preferable but we just used packaging tape and cable ties to secure it tightly shut.
- Don’t open the cooler box unless absolutely necessary. Every time you let air into the box the ice will melt faster and your food won’t stay frozen for the duration of the hike. We had a strict rule which only allowed us to open the box once per day to get the meat/ meat analogues out of the cooler box for that night. Make sure to pack your meat/ meat analogues in order (the last night’s “meat” should be at the bottom and the the first night’s at the top) so that you don’t have to spend too much time trying to get the “meat” out when you open the cooler box.
Tip: Take with a collapsible/ soft cooler bag that you can use for defrosting the “meat” through the day. In the morning, open the big cooler box and take out your “meat” for that night and put it into the collapsible cooler bag with a few ice bricks (from your big cooler box) to defrost through the day. This bag can then go into one of the 60L containers to be transported to your next hut so that your “meat” is defrosted and ready to cook by the time you get there.
Since we were worried about whether our food would stay frozen for the full 5 nights, we decided to take with a non-perishable meal for the last night and to not braai. We also took with a few extra non-perishables in case of any misfortunes which may have resulted in the frozen food defrosting before the 5th night. For us, this just meant taking with 2 sachets of cous cous and a tin of chickpeas as an extra emergency meal.
Lunch on the road
On the way to spend the night at our first hut, we stopped for lunch in a town called Napier which is directly on the way to the start of the hike. We discovered a restaurant called Pascals which had a couple of vegetarian options that they were happy to make vegan for us by omitting the dairy. We chose a lentil dhal (omitting the yoghurt) with rice and sambals along with a greek salad (omitting the feta).
Dinner at hut 1
We went all out for dinner on the first night. Since we had left home only a few hours earlier, we could easily keep all our food fresh and we didn't have any space limitations as all the night 1 food would be finished before our cooler boxes got collected the next morning. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a fridge and freezer in the first hut which meant one more night of refrigerated food and frozen ice bricks.
This was the only day where we could have a sandwich as everything was still relatively fresh so we took full advantage
- Sandwiches made with rye bread, nature et moi vegan cheese (this keeps well out of the fridge), tomato and cucumber.
- Safari boxed pasta and chickpea salad
This was one of the longest and hardest days so we took lots of high energy snacks
- Vital mini rice cakes
- Jungle oats dark chocolate energy bar
- Salty crax
- Fresh cherries and strawberries (however the strawberries perished in the heat so they had to be thrown away)
Supper at hut 2
- Stywe pap (traditional mealie meal porridge) served with tinned tomato/ onion mix
- Urban vegan burger patties
- Mexican salad made with tinned corn, tinned black beans, tinned red kidney beans, fresh red onions, avo and peppers. Dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.
- Leftover nature-et-moi vegan cheese
- Whole-wheat burger buns with B-well vegan mayonnaise
We are generally not dessert eaters so I didn't plan anything for dessert besides a bit of dark chocolate but one of our group members made a lovely dessert that just happened to be vegan and healthy. It was such a delicious treat to end our day.
- Banana's stuffed sliced length-ways and stuffed with dark chocolate and then grilled on the braai until the chocolate melts.
We decided to finish off the last of our rye bread before it started to perish in the heat.
- Rye bread with buttanutt nut butter sachets + some leftover banana and avocado
This day was another long day so we decided to take lots of high energy light-weight snacks that would keep us going. I always make sure to take a savoury snack every day as it's important to replace sodium when doing a lot of exercise.
- Mexicorn chilli ginger lime corn chips
- Peanut power Trek bar
- Baker's mini ginger nuts
We were eager to experience the beauty of the infamous Noetsie hut and beach so we pushed through day 2 as quickly as possible and managed to get to the hut before lunch. This meant that we had access to a knife and chopping board and so I decided to get creative and make us a little salad.
- Safari boxed bean salad mixed with pitted olives and some chopped cherry tomatoes
- Finn crisp crackers
- Pasta salad with wholewheat fusilli, sundried tomatoes, tinned artichokes, Ina paarmen coriander pesto and tinned chickpeas
- Israeli salad with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, red onion and lemon juice and olive oil for dressing
- Urban Vegan boerewors sausages
- Braai'ed eggplants coated in peri peri sauce
This was a shorter day so we didn't need as many snacks. As always I packed one savoury snack for the day.
- Dried mango
- Jungle dark chocolate energy bar
- Soleil pretzel snack mix (unfortunately I neglected to read the label properly and discovered that these had egg powder in them and were not vegan. The plain pretzels snacks are vegan.)
By this time most of our dry ice had melted and so our Fry's family strips were semi-defrosted. However, they were still perfectly fresh and safe to eat! Lucky for us veggie eaters, there is very little we need to worry about in terms of food poisoning.
- Potjie (traditional stew cooked in a cast iron pot over open flames) made with carrot, butternut, baby marrow, sweet potato, curry powder, coconut milk and Fry's family beef style strips
- Bulgur wheat salad made with bulgur wheat, lentils, green pepper and onions and olive oil and lemon juice for dressing.
Breakfast on the beach
Day 4 is a 7km walk along the beach so we decided to leave extra early (5am to be exact) in order to catch the sunrise, enjoy low tide and provide ample time for swimming. Therefore, we had a quick cup of coffee and enjoyed breakfast on the "road"
- Cocoa Oat Trek bar enjoyed whilst walking along the beach just after sunrise
- A packet of trail mix enjoyed after a dip in the ocean
Of course we arrived at the hut before lunch again which meant a lovely chopped salad.
- Gluten free gurus seed crackers
- Salad with chopped tomato, cucumber and smashed avo
- Safari sweet and sour rice and lentil salad
Day 4 supper was a completely non-perishable meal as we were planning for our ice to have melted by this time (and it had). This night also happened to be New Years eve and our last night on the trail so we stayed up late and ate up all of our remaining snacks and treats (and alcohol).
- Wholewheat spaghetti
- Lentil bolognaise made with tinned lentils, dried soya mince, Ina Paarman beef stock, bottled napoletana sauce and sundried tomatoes
Desert/ New Years snacks
- Hot chocolate (Nesquick is vegan)
- Dark chocolate
- Braai'ed bananas with dark chocolate filling
Day 5 was a short 5-6km hike to the end of the trail so we didn't pack anything for lunch and just finished off the last of our snacks. For lunch, we stopped at a petrol station along the way and picked up some snacks as we were in a rush to get back to the city due to some of our group members having flights to catch.
- Fry's family cacao kasha mixed with soya milk
The trail was a once in a lifetime experience and I loved sharing with you how you can do this kind of adventure as a vegan whilst still being satisfied and enjoying great endurance! If you are embarking on this kind of adventure soon you can click here for my full menu, gear packing list and food shopping list and feel free to comment with any questions. Happy plant-based travels!
Note: I am very aware of the amount of plastic packaging that was involved in the food for this trip and usually do try to reduce waste as much as possible. This was unfortunately not possible given our constraints for the trip but we did manage to recycle as every hut had recycling facilities.