Cookless Backpacking Food

A lot of people have asked us about what we’re eating on the trail, and how we’re resupplying to get more food.  I usually wind up telling people that we’re planning not to bring a stove, and I get a myriad of reactions, many of which basically amount to “you’re stupid.”  Let me first try to explain why we’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail without a stove, and then let me explain what we’re actually going to eat.

On the Appalachian Trail, Dirt Stew and I found a routine that worked fairly well: Dirt Stew would set up the tent while I would cook dinner.  We decided this after Dirt Stew proved once and for all that he was incapable of cooking anything without spilling it all over the ground, for which he earned his trail name.  Personally, I think it was just a clever tactic to get out of the cooking chore.

As far as I can tell, there are three benefits to cooking/having a stove:

1. There are more food choices available to you, some of which are arguably lighter than non-cook foods.

2. You get to eat hot food.  Not only is this nice, but it could also warm you up on a cold day.

3. Your stove can boil water, which can serve as an emergency water purification method.

The drawbacks to cooking/having a stove:

1. You have to carry a stove, a pot, fuel, and a lighter.

2. You have to spend time cooking, which is not only tedious, but also can actually result in you getting cold.  If you didn’t have to cook, you could jump right into your sleeping bag and keep warm.  I strongly discourage you from cooking while in your sleeping bag (note to self, add this to the list of annoying things to learn from experience).

3. You have to keep in mind where you are going to find fuel.

4. You are likely to bring food that has to be cooked.  I think there is nothing worst than not having the choice to cook or not cook.  If it is pouring rain with strong winds, do you really want to have to cook that mac and cheese you brought?  Your alternative is to eat it raw.  Yuck.

The biggest concern for Dirt Stew and I was food availability.  We were afraid that by not bringing a stove, we would be limited to eating nothing but snickers bars for the whole trail.  But through some experimentation and research we actually found that there is a large variety of food that can be eaten cold!  In fact, a lot of food we normally eat hot can actually be eaten cold.  Let me now give you lots and lots of examples so that you can plan your next backpacking trip and leave behind the stove, pot, and fuel.

Our kitchen now consists of two spoons, one twist and lock 2 cup Tupperware container, and one bowl (mostly because we’re bad at sharing).  Also, the Tupperware container allows us to have roughly an extra liter water capacity.  (EDIT: We found that a twist and lock container wasn’t strong enough for us.  We found a wide mouth nalgene seal-able bowl that worked great and was strong and is still basically like new after 2,500 miles).

Twist and lock container requires a long spoon.

Twist and lock container requires a long spoon.

What’s on the menu:

Breakfast:

Most of our breakfasts are going to be really yummy “handmade” oatmeal packets.  I got the idea here.  My modified recipe which I put in ziplock bags is: 2 cups of oatmeal (either the quick kind or the slow kind, or a mix of both), 1/4 cup Nido or instant milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup (or more) of one of my “flavors”, of which there are many: nuts, freeze dried fruit, chocolate chips (and some powdered chocolate), coconut, raisins, etc.  I also sometimes add up to a tablespoon or more of chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and oat bran depending on what I have.  These oatmeal “packets” taste really good when you just add cold water.  They probably serve 2.

Lunch:

Powdered hummus with Frito’s or other chips, or on Tortillas.  Nutella or peanut butter on tortillas or any other bread-like food… or actually on anything, really.  Same goes for tuna or chicken packets (I don’t think we’ll actually eat many of these). Peperoni, slimjims or beef jerky if we want meat.

Dinner:

All of these dinners can be rehydrated with cold water, and taste delicious even cold.  We use the twist and lock container to rehydrate some of these while walking.  Some of these dinners barely need any time to rehydrate.   Instant mashed potatoes, instant stuffing mix (really good with craisins), couscous, instant hummus, instant refried beans and/or instant black beans (with chips), ramen.  There are also many many soup mixes that work well with cold water.  We also plan on taking left over town food with us to eat at least on the first night out, especially pizza and sandwiches.  I can see us carrying A LOT of pizza 🙂

Snacks:

Lots and lots of nuts and chocolate.

Many different bars: probars, cliff bars, luna bars, snickers bars, butterfinger bars, builder bars, and many many more types.  There are probably more types of “bars” than I could possibly imagine.  Along with bars, we also eat a lot of little debbies/ hostess, which I know are basically the definition of junk food, but they’re kind of… really… good… and have a lot of calories and fat: honey buns, cosmic brownies, swiss rolls, oatmeal rounds, etc.

I’ve made many different trail mixes so that we don’t get tired of any particular one.  Here are some examples: Almonds and dark chocolate.  Cashews, white chocolate chips, and dried dates.  Peanuts with M&M’s and raisins.  I also found a prepackaged spicy trail mix that is delicious.

Candy:  The world is your oyster with candy.  I just found giant sized Toblerone bars on sale and bought about 20 of them to put in resupply boxes.  Dirt Stew really likes Hot Tamales.  How awesome is it that you can just buy a bunch of your favorite candy and eat it with minimal guilt?

Drinks:

We’ve made some protein shakes that include carnation breakfast, a scoop of protein and powdered milk, and they taste delicious.  We’re also packing some gatorade mix and lemonade mix.  I’ll particularly be glad to have these when water sources look like muddy puddles (probably because they are muddy puddles).

Ok, that’s about it folks.  I hope you find some inspiration here, and feel free to leave more food ideas in the comments.  Happy Trails!

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4 thoughts on “Cookless Backpacking Food

  1. I was thinking about how I like warm food so much more and could never do this. Then I remembered I’m no stranger to just pulling something out of the fridge and eating it. I think the worst part would be no warm coffee on a cool/cold morning.

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