This year was quite special to me, I changed many things in my life. I quit the job I worked in for 6 years, to go on this hike from border to border, after that I moved from the city of Vienna back to the countryside not too far away from my parents place to the bottom of lower Austria´s highest mountain. Those changes did not happen because I was unhappy or not satisfied with the way I used to live. It just seemed right to follow some dreams and try something new. Currently I am about to go back to work and get the “normal life” going again. In between thinking about the PCT still keeps my busy, there is not a single day since I am back where I am not thinking about it.Somehow it feels like the end of a relationship, something is missing. Planning new hikes and spending more time with non outdoor related activities should help.
Enough about the past, 2012 is coming and I am allready excited about it. In April I will attend my first Ultra Trail race on Mallorca and there are more races on my mind. I will go on a hike, a shorter one, somewhere in Lapland. I have never been there before and I think I will like it far up north.
Thinking of some changes on this blog, there might be a new name (or a name at all) and a change of the design. Also I want to get rid of those ads, so I might move it to wordpress.org.
I am amused and sometimes even embarrassed about most/lately discussions in UL backpacking, there are people who think they have to make a science out of it. I was never one of them and I never will be one of them. UL means simplicity for me and I keep it simple also in 2012.
Happy new year and best wishes for 2012!
a guest article by Jake “Don´t Panic” Down
“Cooking” without cooking
With experimentation we have found a way to retain the weight savings of dehydrated food in a no-cook manner. Many freeze-dried foods and other fast cooking foods can be reconstituted by soaking in cold water. Instant mashed potatoes, instant rice and couscous are the easiest starches to “cook” with the no-cook method. Although instant noodles like cup o’ noodle or Ramen will work, the texture ends up being unappetizing and we have found that we were not able to enjoy them for long. With a starch making the bulk of the meal, adding a legume or other protein source can improve the flavor and the filling power of the meal. Our most common forms are: dehydrated refried beans, instant split pea soup, instant black bean soup, a foil pack of tuna or chicken for meat eaters or vegetarian dehydrated chili.
Keeping the flavors fresh is one of the most challenging parts of no-cook cooking. Having a full arsenal of spices helps. Among other things, we have used chili powder, curry powder, cajun spices, paprika, garlic powder, powdered milk, taco season, nutritional yeast, ramen flavor packets, chicken/beef/veggie bullion, hot sauce (Sriracha is our favorite), salsa packets, sweet and sour sauce, and soy sauce. Adding any type of oil will improve the flavor for most people. Olive oil is most commonly used among hikers, although different oils will provide different health benefits or flavors. One could try sunflower oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, or grape seed oil.
Since everything is rehydrated in cold water, the textures of most of the dishes end up very similar. There are also ways to add a little crunch and flavor complexity to the meal. Crumbling up a chip or cracker into a meal right before eating can provide a much need variety. Corn chips come in an amazing number of variations, from plain Fritos to Doritos in flavors such as “Nacho Cheese”, “Cool Ranch”, and “Jalapeno Fire”. There are even more different choices of crackers. A little bit of creativity can turn up even more options: Corn Nuts, almonds or other nuts, pretzels, or even cold cereal (preferably unsweetened).
The actual process of putting the meal together is simple. We each use an empty peanut butter jar to soak our food. We combine water with the ingredient that will take longest to reconstitute at our last break before dinner and let it soak as we hike. When we stop, we add any additional ingredients, top the jar with water, give it a shake and let it sit for a minute or two and it’s ready to eat. Cleanup is a breeze too. All we do is put a little water in the container give it a shake and dump it out (in higher use areas we drink the water to lower our impact).
The only part that is a little tricky is figuring out how long each item needs to soak. With most ingredients, there is no way to soak them too long and to find out the minimum amount of time needed is just a mater of trial and error. We prefer 45-60 minutes for rice or couscous, 30 minutes or more for beans, and just a couple of minutes for mashed potatoes. We add any crunchy thing to our meal as we eat it to ensure that they don’t become soggy.
A Sample No-Cook Menu
I ate a very regular diet on this hike. We put together resupply boxes before the start of the hike and ate pretty much the same thing every day. We found foods that we never got sick and had a menu that looked something like this:
Breakfast: Power-shake with powdered milk, protein powder, instant oatmeal, and instant coffee.
Snack 1: Handfuls of breakfast cereal from a bag
Snack 2: Snickers and peanut butter crackers
Lunch: Bagel sandwich made with cheese and Hummus or a lighter option would be soaked Ramen for those who can stand the texture.
Snack 3: Almonds or granola or an energy bar
Dinner: Dehydrated refried beans, instant mashed potatoes and Frito cracker.
Dessert: Oreo Cookies, or dried fruit for the more health conscious
A final word
When traveling no cook with people who cook, having to smell the aromas of their cooked meals can be difficult when you are not going to eat a warm meal yourself, however this is more than offset by being able to eat before them! By starting the preparation of the no-cook meal before stopping for the night, your meal can be done within minutes of arriving at your campsite. In fact, in many instances we were able to finish our first meal and be on to second dinner before our cooking companions were able to have their first bite.
If these reasons are not enough consider this, eating only cold food on trail makes that first hamburger and milkshake (or your town meal of choice) taste all that much better when you get off trail!
a guest article by Jake “Don´t Panic” Down
No cook on the PCT
Matthias has asked me to write an article about my experience traveling “no-cook” on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This year I hiked the entire PCT, the majority of the trip with my girlfriend, without eating cooked meals on trail. We did not carry a stove or even a pot. I hope to help you understand how and why we did this, and answer the most common questions we run into about it.
My girlfriend and I had hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) together in the two years previous to our hike of the PCT. When traveling great distances by foot one of my inevitable reactions is the desire to carry less weight. Carrying a smaller number of things that are all light weight makes hiking much easier. In our busy modern life we already have enough complex things. For many of us, hiking is a way to get back to a simpler way of living. No-cook hiking is a good way to heighten this.
On our hikes, we have experimented traveling stoveless, particularly when we wanted to spend more time hiking and did not want to spend the time cooking or cleaning the pot (our most hated camp chore). By switching to no cook dinners, we had much more flexibility on how to eat our last meal of the day. We could set up camp and eat in our sleeping bags without fear of having cooking odors in our campsite. Alternatively, we could eat on our last break of the day before stopping and enjoy a particularly beautiful dinner spot and then sleep in a more convenient or protected spot.
Early trials | Lunch meals for dinner | Power shakes
On our hikes we noticed that we often enjoyed our lunch time meals as much as or more than our dinners, so our first no-cook experiments involved eating a second lunch in place of dinner. This worked. It made clean up easier, allowed for us to carry fewer things, and let us skip the hassle of finding fuel in small trailside towns. Simply put it made our hiking lives easier. Before long, we found other meals we could make without a stove. Instant hot chocolate mixed with powdered milk made a surprisingly tasty snack. Add instant coffee and it would make an excellent breakfast. These tricks allowed us to get by without cooking, but often the food we were carrying would be heavier than the weight savings by not carrying a stove.
Frequently encountered concerns
When we tell people that we hike without a stove we run into several common concerns. Most people think that they need a warm meal in several situations: before going to bed, when it’s cold at night, when it’s cold in the morning, or when it has been raining. There was one time we were hiking in Chile, when we met an English couple whose sensibilities were so offended that we didn’t cook, they insisted we take some hot broth they made for us so we wouldn’t go to bed without something warm.
With summer hiking in particular, when I have hiked the entire day in the hot sun, I really don’t need or even want a hot meal at the end. Eating something filling and flavorful is often all I need before I go to bed. I look forward to the cool of the evening, to the winding down at night. If I need a little more entertainment, a small campfire can do the trick. In the case of rain or severe cold, most hikers find that they have spent so much energy that they want as simple a meal as possible and immediate sleep upon stopping. For me, it turns out that in most of the situations where hikers desire the hot meal, a cold meal can be just as satisfying.
People will often ask if increased food weight more than offsets the weight saved by not carrying a stove. We’ve found that it turns out that once you make the shift to “no-cook cooking” (more about this next time) there is no significant weight difference between the food carried when you carry a stove or not. This means that leaving the stove, pot, and fuel at home is weight directly off your back. Even compared to the lightest stove options (at least 250 grams when including 3-4 days of fuel) the weight savings is on par to very expensive gear replacements. To save the 250 grams of weight you could spend $500 on a top of the line new lightweight sleeping bag or $0 to leave your stove at home.
Concerns that no cook food is boring is unfounded. With proper preparations, the combinations of starch, protein, spice, oil and crunch are nearly limitless. It turns out that most backpackers who carry a stove are already eating the majority of their food no cook. It is only the rarest hiker who cooks more than two meals a day, and most will only cook one. By only switching out a single meal each day, you are not making a significant change in your hiking diet.
Thru-hiking vs weekend hiking
Our experience hiking without a stove is almost entirely in the context of thru-hiking, but the benefits can be felt on any sort of hike. Although you can get away with carrying too much stuff on shorter hikes, the hiking will be more enjoyable carrying just the bare minimum. When you lighten your pack as much as you can, like leaving your stove at home, your pack will feel little heavier than a day pack on short trips.
Coming up next – Part 2: Cooking without cooking