Why I switched to NO-Cook backpacking - think outside the cook pot!

I stopped cooking food on trail last season. A lot of people end up switching up to a no-cook kitchen setup on long hiking trips.


Finding stove fuel in town, worrying about running out of fuel on trail, cleaning a cook pot every time you use it (while also having to follow LNT and avoid contaminating water sources and attracting animals to campsites), and waiting for food to heat up got REALLY old for me after a couple of months of backpacking.

Perhaps more importantly, I realized that I was eating lot of ramen and pasta or rice side dinners that didn't have a lot of nutritional value. They did give a lot of calories, though, which was nice. My diet was basically just protein and carbohydrates. I lost a lot of weight hiking with this diet and I felt really poorly with low energy.
Now, you can carry a better variety of food without going no-cook, but with the added hassle of cooking and cleaning thrown in, I just decided to ditch all that kitchen gear. I simply do a better job picking tasty and nutritional foodstuffs when those easy hot carb meals aren't there to eat. I am much happier, with a much more varied diet, going no-cook. 

Mix it up when you want to!

When I finish a jar of peanut butter I'll use the empty jar to soak-cook/cold cook for a couple of days. The jars get gross eventually despite my best efforts to keep them clean, so I end up trading them for a new full peanut butter jar. It gets hard sometimes when you get tired of peanut butter, but there are so many options at grocery stores that you can use to mix it up (I get tired of eating the same foods VERY quickly). Some of the small towns have very little variety in their little shops. Sometimes you have to resupply out of a gas station and can't find a lot of variety. In those instances food might get a little boring for a day or two until you manage to reach a better resupply location, but don't ignore the more nutritional options available to you just because it's not exactly what you want right now.

It's really easy to get into a habit of eating the same stuff all the time on trail, and I've found that it is so worth it to pack extra food weight to be able to have fresh veggies like bell peppers, and fruit like apples, oranges, and bananas. I cut stuff up and keep it in sandwich bags for a day or two and it does just fine. 

Where you can find fruits and veggies buy what you like, but understand that not all fruits and veggies are created equal. You don't have to be a health nut, diced peaches in syrup are one of my greatest pleasures on trail. Some veggies are just better cooked, while others give very little caloric or nutritional value for their weight. Where you have a larger selection be more picky about what you buy, some foodstuffs travel better in a backpack and give you much more 'yum' for the weight.

My favorite no cook food is my snack mixes. When I find a store with a lot options I fill a gallon sandwich bag with granola cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruit (both chocolate-coverd and not), chocolate chips in bulk from the baking section, and whatever else seems tasty. You can make all kinds of mixes, from kids cereal and tree nuts to granola and malted milk balls. I keep my snack bag in the top of my pack so that I don't have to dig my whole food bag out during the day and pull from it constantly on little breaks.

Sometimes you just want something hot, right?

I get cravings for hot food fairly frequently on trail. Just because I don't have a cook pot and stove doesn't mean I have to go without a hot meal though!

There's a lot of stuff you can heat up over a camp fire when someone builds one up in a fire-ring. You should always have some way of starting a fire for safety reasons when you are out on trail.

No, you don't want to be building fires everywhere to have hot food every day. You might even say that doing so isn't very (LNT) Leave No Trace-friendly. Long distance hikers just don't make fires as frequently as those that are out on an over night trip or camping trip either since it takes a lot of effort.

The point is that when there is a fire, why not make use of it? Spam heated up on a stick is delicious and salty. A tuna melt with your cheese of choice gives an explosion of warm, cheesy, flavory goodness. Think outside the cook-pot for hot meals every once in a while, and I think you'll be happy with the results!

If no-cook doesn't seem right for you 

I understand you might just want hot food every day and a cook stove and pot make sense for you. Furthermore, and in the colder months, it is a good idea to have some way to heat up food and water to keep warm and happy in camp. 

If you decide that no-cook isn't for you, think about making a commitment to yourself to vary your diet more on trail and bring foods that give you the vitamins and minerals I forgot to include in my diet that would have kept me feeling great on my hike.