The day I left for Campo, packed and ready with a stove! Photo by Megan Gomes.
Before starting a long trail, one of the most common questions I got asked was if I was going to wear those stereotypical outdoorsy, zip off, sectional pants. However, once I actually started hiking and after I finished the PCT, the most common question I continue to encounter is: What did you eat?!
I learned quickly I’m a pretty lazy thru-hiker. I ditched some common equipment in the first couple of hundred miles to simplify my routines — my stove being one of them. I love food, but I am also not a picky eater. Coupled with not having any dietary restrictions, going stoveless worked well for me.
A 5-day stoveless resupply. Multiple bread slices & tuna packets are stacked and hiding ; )
Many people can't fathom the thought of hiking trails without a stove. There’s no badge of righteousness if you choose to go stoveless or a cloud of shame if it is or isn’t right for you. But if you’ve never considered it, here are my reasons why it’s a great option for long-distance hiking.
Less to Pack, Carry and Organize
Even small amounts of saved weight can be incredibly helpful on a thru-hike. Eliminating my stove, pot and fuel made me feel more simplistic. Further, dehydrated meals tend to be bulky and have more packaging.
Less Concern for Carrying and Saving Water for Meals
This was really what turned me onto the idea of going stoveless in the first place. When I was in the SoCal desert, knowing that all the water I was carrying was for my hydration pleasure, gave me a lot of mental peace.
No Need to Purchase Fuel or Worry About Fuel Levels
I felt stressed managing this component and found myself worrying if towns would have fuel when I needed it.
Quicker meals meant more time for post-lunch naps. Can you spot my two favorite stoveless food items in my tornado of belongings? Photo by Old Lady.
Time Efficiency: Less Time to Cook Meals & Less Clean-Up
At meal times, I grabbed my food bag and nothing else! I didn’t have to wait for water to boil or food to rehydrate. Without fussing with cooking, it was also easier to roll out of camp in the morning. Again, lazy hiker here … one less thing in the morning meant one less step to getting my day started.
I am happily chowing down dinner, while Sleepy is perplexed by his cooking directions. Photo by Foamy.
Decreased ‘Decision Fatigue’ in Town when Resupplying
I can get overwhelmed by choices. This feeling was exacerbated when I needed to resupply on town days, which can already feel hectic. By narrowing down my options of what I could purchase, it was easier for me to get what I needed, quickly, and with minimal mental effort.
The combinations and platters you’ll come up with will feel ingenious. In reality, you will likely be so hungry that almost anything tastes good on trail.
Without a Stove, Town Food Feels Even More Indulgent and Satisfying
Baked goods, iced lattes, and ice cream were always my first priority in town. Eating simple foods on trail made these trips that much sweeter! Pile on a cheeseburger, veggie bowl, or pancakes and I was in literal heaven.
Ice Cream in Leavenworth, WA. Left to Right: Warrior, Wonderwall, Jazz, Has Ben, Maui, Sleepy, Moonbeam, Foamy
That being said, what DID I eat?
I am not claiming to be the most informed stoveless hiking chef — but I may be the laziest — and I was still well fed. So, I think I can offer some solid advice.
I liked to pack out two avocados. I would store my second avocado in my cold-soak jar to keep it from getting squished! Photo by Magic Oats.
Breakfast of Champions
For breakfast, I exclusively ate protein bars. I usually packed up camp and waited to eat whenever I felt hungry in my early miles of the day. Oftentimes, finding the first sunny spot with a great view for a quick break. I looked forward to enjoying this little moment every day. I packed a handful of tried-and-true flavored bars, but always tried to mix in a variety of brands, textures and flavors for each resupply.
For when I felt hungrier, I brought additional breakfast munchies, including protein balls, granola and breakfast biscuits.
Did I ever get sick of this breakfast? There was one point near the end of the Sierras where I was exclusively eating Quest bars for a high-protein breakfast, and did eventually struggle to down the seemingly identical-flavored bricks. Other than that, I happily ate my morning bar and looked forward to losing myself in a stack of pancakes in the next town.
Lunch & Dinner
Meals for lunch and dinner were interchangeable for me. I chose what I ate depending on my hunger level and lazy level. (Yes, some evenings, spreading peanut butter & jelly felt like a chore).
- Peanut butter & Jelly on bread
- Pizza tortilla: cheese, peperoni, olives, sauce on a tortilla
- Couscous & tuna (on a wrap or on it’s own)
- Tuna/ chicken packet & cheese wrap (level up by adding bagged salad and/or avocado)
- Cold soaked ramen (tastes exactly the same as hot ramen!)
- Cold soaked oats: my favorite combo was 1 regular pack mixed with 1 fruit & cream pack. Sprinkle in trail mix for texture & flavor.
- Rice & beans (on a wrap or on it’s own, with condiments, cheese, avocado)
- Rice, bacon bits, & parmesan seasoning
- Pulled pork & cheese wrap (I could only ever find these packets at Walmart, super tasty!)
When I could find it, I would spoil myself with a cold-soak backpacking meal. Some of the options made by small, cottage brands are packed high with protein and the flavors are insanely delicious. This satisfied my ‘fresh food’ cravings.
For rice dishes, use minute rice — add water and let it sit in your cold-soak jar while you hike the last quarter of your day. By dinner time, the rice is soft.
My first 30 mile day. Rocket and I were happy not to have to cook in the evenings after especially long days. Photo by Stretch, who was also stoveless, and vegan!
Snacks: Chip, Chip, Hooray!
I packed a LOT of snacks. My snacks always accompanied my main meals, and I ate however much I needed to feel satisfied at meal time. I also munched throughout the day when I needed the energy. When I say snacks, I mostly mean candy and chips.
- Chips add great flavor and texture to almost any meal, or are yummy on the side
- Chocolate bars & candies
- Sour and gummy candies
- Nutella by the spoonful, with crackers, or on bread
- Honey mustard pretzel bites
- Jerky & meat sticks
- Greenbelly Meals
- Trail Mix
- Fruit leathers
- Larry & Lenny Protein Cookies
- Chocolate covered almonds
- Cheese & summer sausage
- Extra protein bars
- Fruits & veggies when I could
One banana and a family sized bag of chips, it’s all about balance.
The Ultimate Pro Tip: CONDIMENTS!
By the end of the trail, I was carrying a squeeze bottle of mayonnaise. Finding the small condiment packages in town was always difficult. I caved once, bringing a whole bottle and never looked back. Sriracha, mustards, olive oil, and any other flavor-enhancing drizzles are a welcome spruce to any meal in the backcountry for both calories and taste.
The OTHER Pro Tip: Town Food, The Most Superior Stoveless Food!
What’s better than having a meal already completely prepared and ready to scarf? Packing out town food, like leftover pizza or a local sammie piled with all the goodies, were my two favorites for my first dinner back on trail.
I also learned late in the game to pack fresh fruits and veggies for the first several days back on trail. Having a banana with my morning bar was refreshing. So was adding avocado, sliced peppers or cucumber to wraps. In fact, adding avocado to anything became a quick and easy go-to. Avocado bread with Cheez-Its? Delicious, salty, crunchy, satisfying!
For the Long-Haul, But Not Every Haul
Going stoveless is my method for long-distance hikes because I prefer my meal choices to be simple, light, quick, and satisfying. On a thru-hike my food choices focused on providing my body calories and my mind sanity. Nutrition wasn’t always a top contender when shopping. However, when I am casually backpacking and camping with friends, I do bring a stove and indulge in classic dehydrated meals or even cook up a meal similar to something I would make in my own kitchen at home.
In all honesty, my main fuel was sugar. I’m convinced there is a correlation between candy consumed and success when analyzing completed thru-hikes.
By the end of the Pacific Crest Trail, my system was well-dialed, and I even convinced my trail family to ditch their stoves too. With creativity and some cold soaking, you can certainly have a diverse range of delicious meals.
If you’re not yet convinced to go stoveless, there is one more important point of consideration. That being, when your friends and family find out you are hiking a week or more at a time without hot food, they are apparently very inclined to send you home-made baked goods. Special thanks to my Aunt Lisa & bestie Gianna for all of the delicious goodies that kept me and my stoveless tramily fueled and happy!
Sleepy, Foamy and Old Lady enjoying Lisa’s famous home-made Blueberry Buckle, providing a moment of bliss in the midst of mosquito madness.
Alli is a thru-hiker and freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She humbly aspires to be a strong voice in the outdoor industry centered on positivity and inclusiveness for all bodies, with the hope that her work connects with those who have any feelings of doubt toward their personal pursuits outdoors. Alli encourages all to be silly and simply take small steps toward their goals, with the wish to spread awareness that you don't have to be an extreme athlete to have an extreme amount of fun. Aside from writing, she enjoys backpacking, hiking, snowboarding, trail running, and snuggling with her dog. Find Alli on Instagram, @bucketsofmoonbeams.
I only go on short trips, lots of overnighters with higher miles.
I went stoveless. Less to worry about, less to pack, less to clean, and I don’t mind eating like a raccoon if needed.
I imagine I would do the same thru hiking.
Different strokes for different folks. I dehydrate just about all of my food, except for the bars, and it is super light and not bulky. I am not sure why you think dehydrated food is bulkier than carrying actual bread slices and a jar of Nutella. My food bag is certainly much lighter than yours and my stove, pot etc are very light. All of my food decisions are made up front and since I mail drop everything, I don’t have to decide anything in a town except maybe what flavor of ice cream I want. I also think it is potentially dangerous not to have the ability to quickly heat up water and be able to eat or drink something hot. I once felt myself in the first stage of hypothermia and it was in the 50’s so by having a stove I was able to quickly get something hot in me and warm up.
I find it hard to believe that no cook is lighter than carrying an UL stove and pot. Dehydrated food is so light! And using eat out of the bag meals seems fast and clean up free. I do think dehydrated meals can be bulky: pro tip: make a pin hole near the top, squeeze out excess air.
I carry an alcohol stove, about 4 ounces of fuel, and a small titanium mug. But I’ve not used a stove while hiking in several years. I’ve found cold-soaking to be more convenient than boiling water. And I’m not burning a carbon-based fuel or dealing with canisters.
I highly recommend Backcountry Foodie. Their service has a lot of recipes that don’t require hot water. The founder is an RD & ultralight hiker.
To be fair, I didn’t read through your article, but skimmed it, and would mostly like to say here that I do not believe you should encourage people to go without a stove. What happens along the way is that hikers are not satisfied with cold food and they start cooking with fires. I ran into a completely foolish and dangerous hiker, “Softserve”, up in Washington State, building a fire when there was a fire ban and active fires throughout the West. She just assumed it was her RIGHT to cook over a fire because otherwise what would she eat? AND she claimed she’d been cooking over fires all summer (this was in September), so what was the big deal. Another problem I see with your selection of foods is that a steady diet of junk food snacks will gradually take a toll on your health. When I’m out on the trail, I’m never in such a hurry to ‘cover miles’ that I don’t take care of my health and my enjoyment of healthy foods. Just my 2 cents.
My traditional hiking style is time-efficient cooked breakfasts and dinners only heating water. Add to that no cook lunches. Total no cook is a challenge to consider. But, I think you make a convincing argument and interesting examples of how it can work and even be fun. If I attempt thru hiking in the future I would give it a try. Are her any no-cook cookbooks or Websites you could recommend?