Cold Soaking With No Mail Drops (For Beginners)

My fingers shook as the breeze blew beneath the quaking pines. The wind carried the chill of late October in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, seeping through my trail runners to my toes. For a second, I considered lighting my stove inside of my tent. I would be cautious, but then again, they do call me Thirteen for a reason. Biting the frost bitten bullet I stayed perched on the log outside my makeshift home. I vowed that next camping trip I would enjoy my meal sans stove. All the better for sleeping bag snacking.

       And I haven’t looked back.

Cold Soaking, for my non-backpacking readers out there, is when you seal freeze dried foods in an airtight container to rehydrate instead of warming with a stove. This is best done 30 minutes to an hour before you arrive at camp. The most popular container among backpackers is the Talenti jar. You get the joy of devouring the creamy gelato inside as well as the benefits of the perfect twist lock jar!

In previous years, I have mailed myself boxes with pre-dehydrated foods. This year, with the availability of post offices being in question, along with how incredibly inconvenient it can be to have to arrive promptly at the post office for pickup on a weekday during their open hours, I plan on resupplying in towns 100% of the time. This means selecting foods that are not only easily rehydrated, but available in most general stores and gas stations along the way.

Why I chose to Cold Soak for a late February Appalachian Trail Thru Hike, and why you might want to as well…

  1. Because I am one lazy hiker and hate having to clean a dirty pot on trail! With a cold soak container the only clean up is finishing the liquid left in the jar resulting in less waste.
  2. No smells wafting into the woods encouraging wildlife to come take a peek in my pack while I sleep.
  3. Immediate results when I arrive at camp if the meal is pre- soaked while walking.
  4. Saves weight (so I can pack more food).
  5. I used to be a habitual tent cooker. Once I am done hiking it is hard to resist the urge of snuggling up in my sleeping bag and cooking while comfortable! Especially if it is raining (which it usually is on the AT).

Over the past few weeks, my kitchen has begun to resemble something from Dexter’s Laboratory. Jars of my experimental half rehydrated meals cycle in and out of my refrigerator. My goal is to find the tastiest, simplest, and most readily available cold soak recipes out there. I am a vegetarian, but jerky, packaged tuna, chicken, or spam can be added to any of these recipes.

My Top Recipes

  • Hiker Trash Pad Thai (a classic)
    • Soak Ramen Noodles with or without the flavor pouch for 30 minutes then stir in hot sauce (my favorite for this recipe is Yellowbird Blue Agave Sriracha) and a scoop of peanut butter
  • The Ramen Bomb (a classic)
    • Soak Ramen Noodles with or without the flavor pouch for 30 minutes, then stir in Idahoan Instant Potatoes. Spam can be added here for the classic Bomb but crumbled cheese can be added instead for vegetarians
  • Near East Couscous (any flavor- I gravitate toward Parmesan or Toasted Pine Nut)
    • Soak Couscous for 25 minutes then drizzle with olive oil/ghee, dash of salt and pepper, and top with sprinkled cheese
  • Knorr’s Pasta Sides *
    • Soak your choice of Knorr’s Pasta Sides for 1 1/2 – 2 hours — overestimate! Add in olive oil/ghee for extra calories
  • Protein Packed Quinoa Mix
    • Soak Instant Rice for less than 10 minutes then add Ocean’s Halo or GimMe Organic crumbled seaweed strips, nuts, and drizzle with soy sauce- this is also great in a wrap!
  • Chocolatey Oatmeal (Breakfast)
    • Stir oatmeal, Carnation Breakfast Essentials packet, a dot of powdered milk, water, and let sit overnight. When you wake up just shake and go!
  • Instant Mash
    • Pour water into Idahoan Mashed Potato packaging and stir until thoroughly mixed in. Enjoy immediately!
  • Powdered Hummus and Tortillas
    • Mix with water and a drizzle of olive oil/ ghee, then use tortillas for dipping

The key to successfully cold soaking for an entire backpacking trip is supplementing your diet with an abundance of no cook meals. For me this looks like…

Tortillas smeared with a combination of peanut butter/almond butter/ M’Ms/ dried fruits

String Cheese

Shelf Stable Cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Colby- Jack, or Manchego

Trail mix (the kind with M&m’s are a must)

Nuts and seeds

Granola bars

Fruit snacks/ leathers

Dehydrated veggies/ dried fruits – I love to grab Mariani’s Apricots and Prunes

Carnation Breakfast Essentials High Protein Drink Mix

All in all, Cold Soaking is an effective way to have a quick meal and hit the hay on trail. It is a time and money saver and, personally, 100% worth the switch from hot meals.

Last but not least, pack out beer. Beer heals all trail injuries, both mental and physical and it is highly advised.


If you have any tried and true Cold Soak or No Cook recipe suggestions, drop them in the comments! I would love to hear any suggestions, that hiker hunger is already burning!

* While the Knorr’s Pasta Sides took forever to rehydrate, because of how easy it is to find them along trail and how cheap they are I still intend to use them.



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Comments 12

  • David Smith : Jan 21st

    OK…you almost have me convinced. I LOVE Top Ramen. I plan to write an article on how to make trail food a whole lot better for a very limited number of ounces in a backpack. I have to give a hard pass on Knorr anything but food is a personal preference. Apparently it must be a staple of Dollar Store shoppers – they are universally available.

    So my deep soul-searching question is, can I live without hot coffee in the morning? And, even more, is it possible to break myself of my very serious caffeine habit before March 7th?

    Great article.


    • Emma Slaughter : Jan 21st

      Thank you!

      I typically won’t eat like this off trail, certainly no Knorrs Pasta Sides at home! But it is easy to find on trail so it remains in my pack list. I’d be curious to read that post when it comes out! Im always looking for new recipes.

      I also have a gnarly caffiene addiction and plan on quitting cold turkey on the trail.

    • Dave Michel : Jan 27th

      I use Starbucks instant coffee, cold, for morning caffeine. Miss it with chocolate instant breakfast for mocha like taste. It’s not hot, but then my last sips of coffee at home usually aren’t either. No caffeine withdrawal.

  • pearwood : Jan 21st

    Thanks, Emma!
    I am an incorrigible hot food eater, but your simple recipes look wonderful to me. I also plan on resupplying 100% in town.
    Steve / pearwood

    • Emma Slaughter : Jan 21st

      They can all be done heated too so give some a try! Thanks for reading!

  • BAB : Jan 21st

    Cold soaking does not eliminate odors.

  • Morgan : Jan 22nd

    I like to bring two cold soaking jars, one for my overnight oats and one to shake up instant coffee and creamer. I don’t mind cold instant coffee if I can shake it to mix it well. For the oats, I find that whole rolled oats soak well overnight and feel much more like real food than instant oats.I also put the powdered creamer in the oats along with whatever nuts and fruit I have.

    • Emma Slaughter : Jan 22nd

      Thats a great idea, Ill give it a try!

  • Canoe : Jan 25th

    Eating cold meals in the cold is miserable. I’d highly recommend bringing a stove until at least late spring.

    • Emma Slaughter : Jan 25th

      You do have a good point but I’m going to give it a go anyways. I have cold soaked in the winter up in NY where I live for long(ish) periods of time and didn’t mind it. Worst comes to worst Im not against hitching into town to buying a cheap stove.

      Mostly I wanted to comment because I dig your trail name. I’ve never met a Canoe on trail, very original!

  • Christopher Hillier : Jan 27th

    Thank you for such a great article! We cold soak in our titanium Vargo Bot. The lid screws on for soaking and flips over to double as a pot lid if we want to cook. We’ll be NOBO on the AT this year.


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