Hope Westall grew up playing various team sports, and that feeling of being in motion has continued into her adulthood with backpacking, mountaineering, thru-hiking, and with her dehydrated meal company, Alt Route Meals.
Now settled in Tennessee and working to get her company off the ground, Hope recounts what first sparked her interest in backpacking:
“I met (this older lady) on my first trip up Mt. Leconte. She must have been in her 70s, was carrying this giant backpack, and was standing on this summit with me, which I felt like I was going to die from climbing with just my body weight.”
She was hiking the AT for the third time, and she proceeded to tell me that in her lifetime she had hiked over 20,000 miles of trails and my jaw nearly bounced off a rock.”
I wanted to have 20,000 miles of stories to tell at 70. I wish I knew her name or anything about her, I would love to write her a letter and thank her for that conversation. It changed the trajectory of my entire life.”
That poignant moment was the start of Hope getting into backpacking, followed by mountaineering, mountain biking, trail running, and extended paddle trips.
So how do backpacking meals fit into all this? Hope hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016. She planned every piece of gear and every mail drop as carefully as possible, but found the food she’d chosen to send to be heavy and not nutritionally dense.
“My favorite things were always the one dried meal that I got myself as a treat for each box,” says Hope. “The food in my boxes got boring, it was heavy and a lot of worthless calories.”
By the time Hope finished the AT, she had lost a significant amount of weight. So much that she felt fit and accomplished from her thru-hike, but not necessarily strong. By the time she started the PCT a few years later, she had transitioned to a plant-based diet, which she acknowledges is not for everyone, but worked well for her.
As a result of this diet change, Hope began developing plant-based recipes, and started researching how to fuel adequately and pack food for places where this wouldn’t be available. Essentially, she was looking to maintain her diet while seeking mountaineering objectives at high elevations around the globe. As it happened, these meals were easier and more cost-effective to prepare herself. By doing it herself, she knew exactly where the food was coming from and how it was prepared. This was the seed of Alt Route Meals.
“Alt Route Meals are a source of clean energy for those who really care about what they are putting in their bodies,” says Hope. “They are simple, filling and delicious. I turn plants, grains and spices into meals that you daydream about on the trail.”
During her PCT hike, Hope said she received a “ridiculous amount of interest” from other hikers about what she was eating.
“By the time I had reached Cascade Locks for Trail Days, I ended up sending about 50 meals up there. I handed them out to hikers I knew, but mostly those I didn't and asked them to send feedback.”
The feedback was the last bit of encouragement she needed, and after finishing the PCT, she decided to start her own backpacking food company.
Alt Route Meals are 100% plant based, dehydrated meals with no preservatives. The non-traditional packaging is smaller than other packages, with a transparent front so you can see the real ingredients. They come with sauces and oil packets for additional calories and to add depth to the flavor profile. Alt Route Meals are prepared in a kitchen that meets the standards and codes for commercial food preparation in Tennessee, and once the food is prepared, meals are transferred to a home kitchen and packaged.
The grains and bulk dry goods come from an online retailer that sources high-quality organic ingredients, and the spices come from a farmer’s market in Atlanta, which Hope says is well worth the three-hour drive. Fresh food — produced during the primary farming seasons in Tennessee — makes up the bulk of ingredients found in Alt Route Meals.
“I think it’s important to keep things as local as possible,” Hope says, “and to really be part of boosting the community around you.”
While production is time consuming and managing the budget can be difficult, consumer response to unique meals like Southern Biscuits and Gravy makes the challenges worth it.
“I get so excited every time someone shoots me a text or email after a trip and tells me how good the food was, or how it turned their whole day around, or they felt like they had so much energy the next day,” Hope says.
Conservation and sustainability is important to Hope, and she says that in 2022, she wants to host events that bring awareness to recreational spaces.
“I want to sponsor trail clean-ups, trail maintenance projects, and show people how they can make a difference in their own communities,” she says.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com