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:

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Deli subs, that’s 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.

Lunch time on the PCT

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.

Simple, light.

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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Comments 21

  • Jamie Nails : Dec 7th

    Very interesting. You definitely make a good argument. I’m thinking I could pull this off in summer, but I’m not sure about winter. There’s just something about a nice cup of hot chocolate after a cold day of hiking. I might need to leave the stove at home on the next long weekend hike just to give it a try.

    Reply
  • Cathy Tarr : Dec 8th

    Hot food in town is enough for me. I’m not a coffee drinker and I like to simplify. I do own a stove system and this is my first thru hike, so if I change my mind I’ll have it sent to me. The freedom of choice! I just can’t imagine wanting all the hassle.

    Reply
  • Becca Tompkins : Dec 8th

    Thank you!! I’ve been doing research on going stoveless & this is exactly the article I’ve been looking for! Great info & season advice!

    Reply
  • wizard : Dec 8th

    I have 1000miles on the AT going stoveless and it’s easy to do. As an old boyscout, making a small fire is not a problem. You’re in a woods full of fuel. I always try to carry about an ounce of birchbark or pine resin for rainy days. I also have developed a protein whey/carb mix for lightweight option(chocolate with starbucks via and mocha for morning quick-get-out-camp drink with 500 calories). Cold weather hiking is more comfotable with a stove. Always a happy hiker with no more than 17#on my back!

    Reply
  • Jennifer : Dec 9th

    This is perfect! I’m planning a stoveless AT thru-hike for 2017. People think I’m crazy for not wanting a hot meal at night but I honestly feel I’m warmer when I finish hiking and go straight into my bag then if I sit around and wait for the meal — not to mention the cleanup!

    Reply
  • ScottCT : Dec 9th

    Can you provide some suggestions regarding what to do with the screw-on plastic container you suggest?

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Dec 10th

      It’s meant to rehydrate whatever you would normally need a stove for – rice, pasta, dehydrated refried beans, etc. Ramen can also be rehydrated, and you can add all sorts of other dehydrated veggies, nuts, and sauces. Think of it like a cold pasta dish at the deli. The container also works for instant-breakfast powder, or powdered milk. Add cereal or granola, some fruit, etc. Some things rehydrate much better than others, so it’s best to experiment a little bit to see what you like best. Since the rehydration process can take a while, start soaking before you get to camp.

      Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      Dehydrated milk and cereal, pasta, beans and rice, anything you want to hydrate really. Experiment beforehand to see about hydration times. Some foods work well, some don’t.

      Reply
  • Hummingbird Ellie : Dec 10th

    This is a great article in promoting stoveless hiking! I hiked 650 miles of the AT without a stove and loved it. I felt like a “gourmet ” hiker when I saw so many living on Ramen noodles and mac and cheese. There were no boxes of food that I was chasing down at post offices or hours of dehydrating food to mail to myself. I never was deprived and very often shared my food with other hikers I met. I bought “share food” of hot dogs, marshmallows and bread stick dough cooked on sticks over the campfire. I used plastic bags and will certainly add the plastic container to increase the possibilities.

    Reply
  • Steve Miller : Dec 11th

    Good stuff, SB!

    Just found your writings. Gratz on the PCT! My wife & I went swimming with you & Odie while staying at the Hiker’s Welcome Hostel up in NH in ’15 (“those flippin’ Milander’s…went on to finish our flip-flop later that autumn). Keep up the blogging!

    Reply
  • Jaws : Dec 22nd

    Thank you, I feel validated now. I went stoveless half way through the AT. As a result, I had way more time to hike and explore. My budget demanded that I still ate ramen out of a freezer bag every night for dinner. Since the food was in the top of my pack, I’d pull out the ramen and soak it for 20 minutes while I setup camp. By the time camp was set, I was in my tent eating and giving the middle-finger to the mosquitoes bouncing off the netting. In the morning I’d soak my oatmeal while I packed up camp. By the time I had things packed, the oatmeal was ready. This became a very fast routine for me day-in and day-out.

    The biggest problem I thought I was going to have when I shipped my stove home was that I always need hot coffee in the AM. I just can’t drink cold coffee. What I found was that if I mixed my instant coffee with hot chocolate in my water bottle I had myself a nice mocha that I could not only tolerate cold, but enjoyed every morning.

    On my last hike, I added back my titanium pot with a few Esbit tablets just in case I really needed something hot in an emergency. The pot was useful in eating those ramen without the freezer bag. The little added weight wasn’t enough to worry me either.

    Thanks Silent Bob for all the other food tips. I will be trying them all out on my next trip.

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      Glad I could help you out!

      Reply
  • Katherine : Mar 19th

    Picture location ID: round about opie dilldock pass / north of north sister OR – am I right?

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      Haha not quite. That photo was taken on my second day, just a few miles past Lake Morena!

      Reply
  • Arlene (EverReady) : Mar 20th

    Great article Silent Bob! I also ditched my stove and pot in NY (post June 21, 2015) although I missed my end of day tea on cooler nights, I survived. It was great to start eating real food all the time and I am certain the weight of real food was not that much heavier than my stove, pot and fuel canister. Hope to follow you on your CDT hike in the near future!

    Reply
  • Kathleen : Mar 20th

    I’m going stoveless on the PCT and I’m wondering what foods you soaked and for how long? I know ramen was mentioned (20 minutes) but what about knorr sides, ricearoni, noodle dishes, etc.? I’ve read so many times that you can just soak your food and bam! Dinners done! But I haven’t seen any specifics in how long or what works and what doesn’t. Any help is appreciated!

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      Experiment at home! I think Knorr sides kinda suck for rehydrating. Ramen is great. Dehydrated refried beans are my favorite…100 percent would recommend.

      Reply
  • Natalie : Jul 10th

    How do you store your food on the trail? Cannister, hoisted or braving it in your shelter?

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      If a bear can is required, that. If not, usually a plastic grocery bag. If mice are an issue, I have an ursack minor for rodent-proofing. It’s not good practice, but I almost always sleep with my food. If I have a bear can, it goes away from my tent somewhere. I’m not condoning sleeping with food. But I have never had a problem.

      Reply
  • Mike : Aug 3rd

    But what did you eat say over a one month period?

    Reply
    • Silent Bob : Aug 19th

      Bars, cereal with powdered milk, dehydrated refried beans with cheese and tortillas, crackers and cheese, etc. Lots of snack food. I like to eat while I hike. I also like to hike out some avocadoes and a loaf of bread. Or bagels and precooked bacon with cheese. Those are some suggestions! I don’t mind weight if it’s food weight. Hiking is much more enjoyable for me when I am always fueled up.

      Reply

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