Going stoveless / Hiking no-cook PART I
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