The Joy of Stoveless (aka No Cook) Backpacking
On my first thru-hike, I came across an individual with a peculiar way of eating their food – with no stove. No cannister fuel, no denatured alcohol, nothing. My infantile hiker brain was baffled. I tried for weeks to wrap my head around the thought of why on earth someone would ditch the weight cost of their precious warm food. It took me until the middle of my AT thru-hike to get the brass to send the alcohol fuel, cat-food can stove, and cook pot home. 3,500 miles later, I have yet to commit to the stove life again. Here is why:
Efficiency is Freedom
The thing about stoves – you have to plan around your meal time. When will you sit down and add another routine to your day? Get to camp, set up, boil water, eat, clean the cook pot, etc. It adds unnecessary energy output at the end/start of the day. Instead of being a slave to the flame, consider the freedom of waking up in the morning, mixing up some powdered milk and granola, and having breakfast inside your shelter. That’s extra time in bed, folks, and at no cost of your hiking time. After feeding time, you can quickly pack up and get moving. No need to dilly dally with a stove or mess.
Go to a Bakery
Packing out fresh baked goods (On the PCT, I became an avid fan of packing a loaf of artisan Sourdough bread) is amazing. Who needs a hot drink in the morning when you have chocolate chip cookies? Or a cinnamon roll? If you are worried about something spoiling, or how bulky a loaf of bread can be, eat it first. In Washington, I liked to pack bread and individual packs of peanut butter for breakfast. I have even found that bagels with cheese and pre-cooked bacon are amazing on trail. A friend of mine also embraced the no-cook lifestyle – we relished over olive loaf bread with avocadoes, salt and pepper, and some butter. Lunch doesn’t have to be ramen, or cheese and crackers and an energy bar.
Hike More Miles
On the PCT, pumping out big miles is doable. It’s even more so when you can start “cooking” dinner while you hike. Just before dusk, start soaking your food. Now dinner will be ready immediately when you get to camp, so you can forgo the time needed to cook. Alternatively, my favorite approach is to eat dinner before camp, allowing me to get a boost of energy at the end of the day to squeeze in more miles. This is also applicable to breakfast; hike a few miles in the chilly morning, then eat. This strategy can easily tack on miles to your day. Wake up early, hike late, eat along the way.
By now, you might also be wondering “why would you ditch the stove, and then replace it with heavy food?” Ultimately, having food that gives you more variety and sustenance will lead to more energy to hike more miles. Trying to “calorie up” in town is hogwash in my experience. If you deny yourself quality food on trail to save weight, your body will hate you. I love having a light pack, but if there is one thing I don’t mind being heavy, it’s food. I eat like a king every night that I can on trail, especially the first night out from town. Pack out a sub sandwich? Sure. Some fresh fruit? Absolutely.
What You’ll Need
Personally, I like to carry a small screw-on lid container, such as a plastic ice-cream jar, with a spork. Some people prefer plastic bags, but I have been down that road before. I find liquidy foods are much harder to eat from a bag, are much messier, and having a container is nice for when you are offered chocolate milk from a trail angel. The jar also comes with free ice-cream! I also find an oxygen absorber (found in dehydrated food bags, such as beef jerky) to be useful at cutting the musty smell down after using the same container for a while.
Next time you head out on a hike, or if you are planning a thru-hike, throw around the idea of ditching the stove. It definitely is not for everyone. People need their coffee, I get it. But maybe going stoveless can open up some new avenues for food on trail you never considered. Think outside the ramen bag.
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