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Going stoveless / Hiking no-cook PART II

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!

Happy Hiking

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.

Personal history

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

Review: Littlbug Junior Stove

Weight: 145 g
Height/Diameter: 16 cm / 14 cm
Packsize: 17 x 13 x1 cm
smallest diameter for pot: 10,5 cm

Coming up next: Firstlook at the Littlbug Junior Stove

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Firstlook: Montane Featherlite Pants

Weight: 129 gramm/4,5 oz (size M, incl. Stuffsack)
Fabrics: Pertex Microlight Mini Ripstop, PEAQ AIR, 3M Scotchlite Reflective
Color: Black

This wind/water resistant pant is just the ideal item to carry on long-distance runs, hiking trips, mountaineering and cycling. The packsize is comparable to an apple and can be stuffed easily into its mash sack. It has reflective parts on the front and back which makes night travel more safe. What I really like is the zipper which runs up to the knee for ventilation or for dressing without removing the shoes. The pant has four velcro straps on each leg to adjust the width on the shin part which is really nice in wind or to tighten it for cycling and running. It has elasticated ankles and waist. The waist commes with an adjustable draw cord. It feels really soft and nice on the skin too and the fit is really good. As I know from many other clothing I use which is made of Pertex it is really fast drying.
Perfect pant to leave camp on chilly mornings or to hike on windy ridges without the feeling you are wearing too much.

Available at trekking-lite-store.com

PCT Slideshow (130 days in 17 minutes)

It took me a while to look and to choose the pictures and videoclips for the slideshow, so here it is finally. I will do some public presentations in the upcomming months, dates will follow as soon as they are fixed.
Hope you like it!

The micro adventure (first packraft)

I went on a dayhike yesterday. I shouldered my raft (alpackaraft/yukon yak) and hiked up my home mountain, Schneeberg to reach the Höllental on the other side. Thats the gorge which separates Schneeberg from Rax. The river is called Schwarza. It has a good mixture of whitewater which is not too strong that time of the year and nice slow flowing parts which are perfect to learn how to manoeuvre the raft.It is actually kind of simple. I was surprised how easy to handle it was. So I decided to go downstream a litte bit further than I first planned. I passed several whitewater sections and was happy to have the spraydeck attached to the boat. My backpack and shoes in front got wet but I stored all electronics and spare clothing waterproof on the inside of the pack. I saw that the upcomming section might be to narrow for floating through so I landed on this bank of gravel, ate lunch, dried the raft and packed it all up again to hike back where I came from. Really looking forward to include the raft in multiple day hikes in the future.

PCT Gear reflections

::Gearlist::

Ok I am not going through every item in my gearlist. It all work as I expect it before. But are few things I like to talk about..

Maps and Navigation: Overall the PCT is a well marked trail, the year 2011 was something special because of the heavy snowfalls during winter along the west coast.
I never would buy “erik the blacks” PCT Atlas again. Halfmile´s maps and GPS waypoints are way better and for free.
I loved the iPhone 4 as an GPS in the Sierras. There was not a single day where I lost signal. It worked perfectly. A Smartphone was also nice to have in towns. I had Wi-Fi connection in almost every resort or town.

Shelter: Loved the space in the MLD Duomid but I only pitched it because of heavy wind, exposed areas or rain which was not even 20% of the trip. Next time my shelter would be smaller and I think it would be Silnylon made. Thinking of an MLD Solomid or a simple Poncho Tarp.

Bivy: I used the MLD Superlight Bivy for the whole distance and because of sleeping under the stars most nights it was really nice to have, it kept wind off, bugs out and my sleeping bag free of dust.
There where some nights where I had to open it for ventilation because of high temperatures.

Backpack: Think I would take my Golite Jam next time for the whole distance.

Sleeping bag: Maybe a lighter bag would be enough, but I dont to sleep with clothes or to freeze at night.

Cuben Fabric: This is how those fancy MLD stuffsacks look like after 5 weeks of use. I just carried extra clothes like raingear in it. In my opinion its not worth the money.

PCT FAQ

I have been asked so many questions during and after the hike that I thought to summarize them for the blog. Feel free to drop a line in the comments if there are more.

1. How many pairs of shoes?

4 pairs.

2. Daily average?

32 km

3. Highest distance on trail in a day?

65 km

4. For how many days have u been out there?

About 130 days incl. 22 “zerodays”

5. When did u get up in the morning?

In between 5 and 6 o’clock

6. How many brakes during the day?

Depends, normally first brake after 3 hours (10 to 15 mimutes), one major lunchbreak (30 to 45 minutes), one in the afternoon (15 minutes)

7. Kcal per day?

3500 to 5000, depending on the mileage and terrain.

8. Whats your baseweight?

Inbetween 4.5 to 6 kg. Depending on the sections.

9. What would u change in your gearlist?

Nothing but no more cuben fibre for long distance hikes.

10. Favourite sections?

All of California and Washington.

11. What would you do different next time?

Fewer townstops.

12. Snow?

Yes, for 500 miles continously.

13. Have u had an iceaxe?

No.

14. Would u do it again?

I would.

CANADA!!!!!!!!!!

I finished my thru hike at the Canadian Border on the 14.09.2011 just in time before the first winter storms and rain hit Washington. Washington could be my favourite section on the whole trail if there would not be so many of them. One thing for sure, the PCT says good bye not in a silent way. It shows you the beauty of nature and that part of the country till the last minute. I am allready back home but I miss the trail, the friends I made, the hiking, sleeping outside and all the things that made my summer to something special.

I know now what Barney Mann ment when he dropped us off at the Mexican border whith the words “You will have the time of your life out there”.

Thanks to my friends and family, the Manns, the Saufleys, the Andersons, the Hansens, the Dinsmores, Michael and Jean, the Downs, all the thru hikers I met especially Anders and Asger, Dont Panic, Wrongturn, Rainer, Thano, the people who gave us rides to towns an back to the trail, Anitra Kass, Carsten Jost, Laufbursche and the the US Postal Service.