If you’ve been backpacking for a while then you likely know what your favorite back country foods are. Some of you probably aren’t amazed with any of the food you cooked while you have been out there. That is the same category that I fell into. I always cooked for dinner, if it was Knorr sides, instant mashed potatoes, or a freeze dried meal. I always ate them, because its what you do for dinner. I never questioned it. After being on quite a few backpacking trips, I began to dislike cooking. The cleaning, fixed portions, and excessive amount of time. It became one of my least favorite parts of the day. So after a lot of reading I finally found no cook, and stuck with it since then.
What does No Cook entail?
No Cook backpacking is basically an alternative to bringing a stove as the name sounds. At first, you’re probably wondering what you’ll be able to eat to get the energy you need. These were my initial concerns as well so I’ll go through and answer all the questions you have. There are a lot of staples of no cook, from prepackaged food to cold soaking.
In its simplest state no cook is simply taking food that requires no preparation while you’re in the woods, and can get as complex as you make it. I was a fan of keeping it simple because that was my ultimate goal.
No Cook Staples
While hiking I have a handful of foods that I find to be the staples of my diet. I found myself getting them every resupply without getting sick of them. Most people don’t cook for breakfast and lunch so no cook is already a large part of their day.
- Instant Breakfast
I found that a majority of hikers ate something like this in the morning. I was a fan of an extra large Kit Kat in the morning, not the most healthy but if you’re excited for your breakfast then you’re more likely to get up. I ate one of these every morning for about 1000 miles. They are the only food I couldn’t get sick of on the trail.
Other foods that worked well for breakfast included Poptarts and Oatmeal, both are easy to eat and cost effective. A lot of people got sick of these including myself. I vividly remember the day that I ate my last Poptart on the Applachian Trail, it was in Virginia. Instant Breakfast are a staple of the all day hikers, those who take no breaks and log huge miles. They can be consumed on the go and have a high calorie density.
This was usually a larger break throughout the day, and most hikers don’t tend to cook. There are still staples for all hikers here.
- Tortilla with cheese, meat, or peanut butter
- Prepackaged pastries such as honey buns or Little Debbie cakes.
- Bagels with cream cheese or tuna
- Cashews, or other mixed nuts
These were most of the staples that I used during my trip. Often times I would have the luxury of leftovers for town or pack things that would go back quickly out. Some of these foods get pretty bland but I found adding Tabasco Chipotle sauce spiced things up nicely. Over time you’ll find ways to spice things up in your own unique way.
Some people aren’t a fan of stopping and having a big meal so instead they continuously snack throughout the day. I always enjoyed the longer breaks since it often times broke up the monotony of the day.
Dinner is where most people end up cooking for the day. Personally I found the switch to be rather easy once you adapt the no cook mindset. When you expect dinner to be the same as lunch you have no problem. So most of my dinner staples happen to be the same as lunch but I usually added a few things.
- Ramen (eat them like chips)
- Instant Mashed Potatoes (re-hydrated cold)
- Pies(small ones from bakery)
- Pizza (packed out from town)
One question people always ask is, don’t you want a hot meal when it’s cold out? For me, when its cold out I want to get into my quilt as quick as possible and not cooking allows me to do that. After setting up my gear I can eat my dinner in five to ten minutes then be getting warm and going to bed.
Though this covers the three major meals of the day, as a hiker you probably understand the caloric needs of yourself and know you eat way more than three times a day.
This is a catchall, and one I won’t detail too much because snacks are pretty personal. Most of the time snacks include things that you want to eat like candy, gummy snacks, granola bars and some that you don’t want to eat like protein bars. These are some of the snacks that I ate regularly.
- Lara Bars
- Slightly expensive, but I didn’t get sick of them
- Gatorade Protein Bars
- I found these to be some of the most edible
- Peach Rings
You can pick just about anything you find in the grocery store as snacks. These were some of my favorites and I wasn’t too worried about nutrition out on the trail as long as I felt good and tried to eat well in town.
Cold soaking a popular method for hikers without stoves to get basically the same outcome as with a stove. Common containers for cold soaking are peanut butter jars, and frozen yogurt containers. The key for them is to have a tight sealing lid that won’t leak. The steps are pretty simple for cold soaking.
- Add food to jar
- Add cold water
- Wait a very long time
Personally, I am not a fan of eating cold soak food, I find it doesn’t hydrate nearly as well as with hot water and prefer to eat prepared food instead. If you’re interested in cold soak then you can find some great guides on some recipes and such.
If you’re looking to simplify your camp tasks then no cook is a great option for that. You can try it out on short weekend trips to see if you will miss cooking when you head out on those longer trips. No cook helped me enjoy the parts of backpacking and reduce those that I don’t. Food is a very unique topic for everyone and hopefully this gives you a little insight into what you can eat when you try out not cooking.