Going stoveless has gained immense popularity in recent years and there are many good reasons as to why. Cold soaking makes meals easy and snacking simple. It also creates less smell and often results in fewer dirty dishes. Plus it makes fuel management a thing of the past — you no longer have to worry about how much camp fuel you have left or where you can acquire more (which was surprisingly challenging during the COVID camping surge!)
Depending on what foods you choose, going stoveless can be lighter-weight, more cost-effective and take up less space in your bags. During extreme fire bans, some places even implement a no campstove policy, in which case cold-soaking can be a very safe solution.
I must admit that when I first heard about the idea of forgoing my camp stove on a backpacking trip, my hot-beverage-loving body recoiled in disgust. A morning without coffee was simply not an option.
But over time, I came to wonder if my fear-based reaction to the concept might be a sign that I should challenge myself to try it ... if only for one trip.
As I got myself ready for a nine day hiking trek along the Sunshine Coast Trail in British Columbia (without a resupply), I looked lovingly at my JetBoil and ultralight pour-over coffee filter and tucked them back up on the shelf. I wondered if I would miss them.
I went to my computer and typed ‘cold-soaking meal ideas’ into Google search. The same suggestions kept coming up — instant mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, soaked oats, couscous and Starbucks instant coffee. I sighed.
One, two or even three days of that might be fine, but was I really willing to eat the same, bland colored foods with suboptimal nutritional value for a whole nine days? And sure, Starbucks has saved me in a pinch but it wasn’t exactly my first choice. I glanced at my camp coffee regalia sitting next to my shelved stove and reminded myself that our separation wasn’t forever.
I took out a piece of paper and started jotting down all the things I love to eat in my everyday life that didn’t require cooking. I focused on things that were calorie and nutrient dense and worth their weight in my bag. This is what appeared: overnight oats, chia seed pudding, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, nut butters, dark chocolate, crackers, hard cheese, cured meats, hummus, beef jerky, thick skinned fresh fruit (like oranges and apples), foil packaged fish, tough veggies (like carrots, radishes and pea pods) and fruit leather.
I scoured the internet for dehydrated fruits and veggies that I could add in with instant mashed potatoes or the occasional ramen noodle nosh and found a plethora of options from black bean flakes to bell peppers, broccoli and beyond. I came across powdered foods to toss in the mix, like coconut milk, hummus and even sweet potato powder. I instantly felt better (pun intended).
The bonus was that many items didn’t need to be cold-soaked, making them even easier to prep, pack and enjoy. I just needed to shift my preconceived notions of ‘supper’ so that I was free to replenish my day with a backcountry charcuterie platter followed by apples and celery dipped in nut butter, topped with dates for dessert!
My love of overnight oats and chia seed pudding coupled with some inspiring online add-ins had me eagerly testing out and making up pre-portioned, individually packaged breakfast soaks.
The only thing left now was for the java junkie in me to overcome my longed for morning coffee. I went to No.6 Coffee where my talented friends Denis and Kurt roast small-batches of artisan coffee beans and picked their caffeinated brains. Together, we came up with a brilliant plan to finely grind their fresh roasted coffee beans into an almost instant powder and then add some into each of our breakfast soaks.
Even though I wouldn’t have the same warm morning coffee ritual, I was elated to know that I would still get to buzz off the beans I loved all while adding an exciting layer of flavour to my new-favorite breakfast soak.
I found myself getting so excited for this newfangled experience that I started looking forward to leaving the stove at home, instead of being fearful of it.
The stoveless, cold-soaking, raw-food-eating hiking trip went off without a hitch and the biggest bonus was that the BC berries were in full summer swing, making them the perfect addition to our morning soaks.
I can’t say that my food bag was any lighter than it would have been had I brought my stove and some dehydrated backpacking meals, but the quality, nutrition and enjoyment of those calories was far greater than any multi-day mission I’d ever accomplished.
In the end, I came to acknowledge that I personally loved the simplicity of being stoveless, eating more real food and waking up to a superpower cold-soaked breakfast.
My SuperPower Cold-Soaked Breakfast
½ cup gluten free quick oats (optional, but adds carbs + 150~ calories)
2 TBSP chia seeds
2 TBSP shredded coconut, unsweetened
2 TBSP pecan pieces (or any nut of your choice like walnut, hazelnut, etc.) 2 TBSP dried blueberries (or any dried fruit, preferably with no added sugar) 2 TBSP coconut milk powder (optional, but delicious + good fat source)
1 TBSP hemp hearts
1 TBSP ground flax seed
1 TSP fine ground/instant coffee or cacao nibs (for optional stimulation)
½ TSP cinnamon powder
Dump your pre-portioned soak into a spill-proof container, add about a cup of water (you can always add more in the morning) and give it a shake to mix the coconut milk powder. The chia, oats and dried fruit will absorb most of the liquid. If you do this the night before, the soak will be chilled by morning and the chia will be gelatinous. You can also do it just before eating — it's still delicious. I always stir in a generous serving of nut butter just before eating to drive up the calories and make it even tastier!
I believe that focusing on elevating the nutritional nourishment in my life, whether through cold-soaking, hot-soaking, cooking or eating raw foods, has been one of the most profound factors in helping me become the person I want to be, happier, healthier, kinder, more patient and infinitely more well, both on and off the trail.
Was just randomly looking and saw your cold soaking article and thought Id give it a read:) I was surprised to see that you had done the SCT! I’m from Powell River haha and my partner and I hiked the whole trail this summer, we also cold soaked and brought our stove. We cold soaked our “brunch”. So we just have coffee for breakfast and eat our cold soaked meal at like 11. Or when we are hungry..We made four different flavours of oatmeal mixes with all the goods.one thing we added was freeze dried coconut milk. This made it very awesome. We also made our own dinners but used the stove for those. Our food was excellent over our nine days and we contemplated cold soaking only one day.We do love our hot drinks though you can’t beat a hot tea after a big day. @mrbrownhikes
I was in the skeptic camp for a long time, but after a conversation with a PCT thru hiker at Snoqualmie Pass I decided it was worth a try. I won’t deny the emotional impact a hot meal can have, but coldsoaking is so much more convenient for me. I’m ridiculously slow getting out of camp in the morning, and not dealing with a stove is one less chore. (I eat a snack & drink a cold faux mocha and then start second breakfast soaking. After an hour or so on the trail I eat second breakfast. If the trail allows and it suits my mood, I’ll eat while walking.) I usually start soaking dinner in the afternoon; that means it’s ready when I arrive in camp & I don’t have to wait.
Most trips, I carry an alcohol stove as a ‘just in case’ back-up. But even with a week of rain, I didn’t miss hot food. Switching to dry clothes & crawling under my quilt was enough to warm me up. I use Backcountry Foodie’s service, and I make all my meals myself. It saves a lot of money and time on the trail.
It’s really nice to not have to deal with empty canisters that cannot be recycled locally, and I’m not burning fossil fuels. For me, that’s a win all around.
This is a great article. I’ve been putting together a survival kit in case an emergency arises and packing food for long-term storage has always led me to freeze dried meals. Although my kit includes a small stove to boil water my thoughts always question the what if situation that prevents a scenario of not being able to take the time to use heat. In one past occasion I was not able to make a hot enough flame to sustain the heat required to allow for a boiling temperature and was left with barely warm water to pour into the freeze dried meal. The meal was fine although not as delicious as if it had been hot, it still worked. The list you’ve included is a very nice one and allows me to consider the options out there. Thank you.
Don’t just think of these meals as just for breakfast, lunch, dinner. You can have them as any meal. It is the nutrition that counts not what time of day you eat it. Heck, have it for every meal if you like it that much.
Love this article. I’m mad for this breakfast idea. Thanks! And i love her awareness of food and happiness.