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Without a Stove: No Cook Backpacking Meals

Yogurt with huckleberries

Yogurt with huckleberries and paleo pumpkin spice granola that I made on the Trail

I tried backpacking with no-cook foods rather than the usual cooked fare on a two week trip through Glacier National Park this summer. It’s not clear I saved much weight with no-cook foods, but with my gear so light, I had room for luxuries like musical instruments, so I figured I would try some no-cook methods learned from CDT thru-hikers last year.

Making Yogurt on the Trail

I learned this from a CDT thru-hiker. He made yogurt in a ziploc. I opted for a more durable plastic jar. It’s very simple to make:

  1. Bring a small amount of store-bought yogurt to get it started. Mix Nido powdered milk, water and the store-bought yogurt starter in the container. Shake it up.
  2. Keep fairly warm either by sleeping with it at night or by keeping it somewhere dark yet warmed by body heat or the sun. Inside my shirt while I hiked worked well. So did at the top of my pack in a place that would get warmed in the sun as I hiked. It made yogurt even if the temperature of the liquid only reached 75-80 degrees or so.
  3.  I stored the yogurt in my bear hang at night. If I slept with it I would remove it from my sleeping bag a few hours before eating so it would be cold for breakfast.
  4. Eat but save a little for starter for the next batch. Repeat.

It’s not clear that Trail Yogurt is a weight savings over other foods. The unmade yogurt was powdered milk but the yogurt I carried all day was 16 oz of liquid. However, it was delicious and promoted good digestion and it made a powdered, barely palatable liquid, into real food. Sometimes it was thin and sometimes thick but always welcome.

Coffee Milkshakes

I’m a coffee addict. I mixed whey protein powder, Nido powder and instant coffee in my bottle for a tasty instant coffee milkshake. I also had chocolate covered espresso beans, but the coffee shakes were better than choking down candy for breakfast.

Rehydrated Chicken

Rehydrated Chicken: Like the yogurt, this was a 16 oz. container of liquids and solids. But we hardly needed to carry drinking water, so it was okay. This tasted good but became a little boring after a while. Next time I will make more varied dinners such as chili and curry.

Dehydrated Dinners

I learned about rehydrating cold dehydrated foods from my CDT hiker friends. They would rehydrate lunch at breakfast, dinner at lunch and breakfast overnight. Their food looked very tasty and was all home-made, non-commercial dehydrated foods.

I spent months dehydrating cooked, mashed sweet potatoes, pulled chicken and pork and vegetables.

To make pulled chicken or pork, use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or pork tenderloin. Plop the meat in a slow-cooker and let it go for about 8 or 9 hours. Remove, pull the meat apart and put the shredded meat in your dehydrator. It dehydrates quickly. It also rehydrates quickly and has the consistency of real meat, not chewy or hard. Alternatively you can slow-cook in the oven and add spices.

I dehydrated raw and cooked vegetables. I find many raw vegetables provide too much fiber when rehydrated so I preferred cooked carrots, cooked butternut squash, cooked and finely chopped green beans, raw zucchini and raw corn. I also supplemented with dried mushrooms from the Asian market and freeze-dried Just Veggies corn/peas/carrots when it turned out I didn’t have enough.

Another trick I learned from CDT hikers is that you can dehydrate olives. They are very good!

I mixed the meat, vegetables and potatoes and filled my plastic screw-top container about 3/4 full with the dried food and filled it with water. It soaked during the day as I hiked and only took a few hours to be edible. I seasoned it with extra virgin olive oil, salt or dehydrated miso paste.

backcountry kitchen

My Kitchen: Left to right: plastic peanut butter jar, plastic container with threads removed (my cup and bowl), plastic screw-top container, plastic bottle. Used for yogurt, eating/berry collecting, soaking/eating dinner and coffee milkshakes respectively.

Wild foods

We were lucky enough to hike somewhere with lots of berries lining the trail. Although my black plastic cup/bowl was more of a luxury than a necessity, it earned it’s place in my pack by providing me a container to collect berries as I hiked. I began to refer to it as “my precious” because I put in so much effort collecting berries and running to catch up with the others. I began to worry I might trip and spill “my precious” berries.

We also had a mushroom expert in our group so we enjoyed a few wild mushrooms. We also had a Japanese heavy weight backpacker who cooked Japanese soup for us each night. My cup came in handy for the soup as the clear plastic container would melt if it came in contact with hot liquid.

Glacier Backpacking

Glacier Backpacking Friends: Shroomer, Piper, TrailHacker, Low Gear


Glacier is beautiful and well-worth the long drive it took to get there. It was fun to hike ultralight through the park from top to bottom, from Waterton Lake in Canada to Walton at the southern end. One in our group was not ultralight but we were on more of a backpack trip than a fast hike so we had plenty of time to enjoy the hike, take pictures, strum on my strumstick, swim in lakes and creeks, pick berries and search for the porcini mushrooms that eluded us.

Glacier requires you to camp in reserved campsites, prearranged through the rangers. This allowed us to meet new people every night and preach the gospel of ultralight hiking, making yogurt and no-cook meals and promoting Japanese backpacking cuisine which we learned about through our Japanese heavy-weight hiker friend, who earned the trail name Low Gear, for how he grinned up the passes with his 50+ pound pack.

This post was written by Trail Ambassador Diane “Piper” Soini.

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14 Responses to Without a Stove: No Cook Backpacking Meals

  1. Glen Van Peski September 24, 2013 at 5:01 am #

    Interesting article, I’ve never thought of doing yoghurt on the trail! I have had some great no-cook vegan meals from Outdoor Herbivore, and have done several recent trips heating dinners with body heat.

  2. Holly Naylor September 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Been working on no cook meals. Try cooking quinoa and then dehydrating it. Add pine nuts, dried pineapple and cranberries. I carried canned chicken, but next time will dehydrate my own. Thanks for the tip. And the resources for more good ideas. I’ve never had any luck with yogurt at home, but will try this one before I hit the trail.

  3. Jon Belcher (Gandalf) September 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Great article.
    What are the black plastic container with threads removed and the clear plastic screw-top container and where did you get them.
    I use a peanut butter jar for my hydration container and a snapple bottle (with top cut off) slipped inside a Smart (cut off) water bottle.
    I don’t like the rings of the snapple bottle, too hard to clean.

  4. RenegadePilgrim September 27, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    You can also get freeze-dried yogurt “pellets” through Thrive, a website catering more to preppers and LDS families but their food is DELICIOUS! No additives and really tasty.

    I spent five days in Glacier NP this summer on the Bowman-Kintla horseshoe and it was amazing. I can’t wait to go back and explore other parts of the park. The privy at Boulder Pass alone was worth the trip. :)

  5. Jim Parker September 30, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Screw top is a Talenti Gelato container

  6. Diane October 1, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    The black container originally held coconut oil. I got it in the supplement section of a local health food store. It’s quite thick and durable and a good shape. I’m always on the lookout for good containers. Sometimes I’ll even shop the grocery store just for the containers.

  7. vicky October 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Hi. Ok, so I have tried making the yogurt at home 3 times. I have tried making it the first time with the directions as is. Never thickened. Second time I added a teaspoon of maple crystals thinking the yogurt needed something to feed off of. No luck. Third time I tried a different yogurt. No luck. Active cultures in both yogurts. What the heck am I doing wrong? Help…..

  8. Monty Montana October 8, 2013 at 12:45 am #

    Temperature! If I remember correctly, the mix of milk and active yogurt culture must be slowly be raised to 138 F, and then maintained through the night. In the morning, voila!, yogurt. Salton used to make yogurt making kits, which are still found in thrift stores, so check’em out. Yogurt on the trail? I dunno…maybe on a hot day. Happy trails!

  9. Rosaleen Sullivan February 7, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    I agree that temperature might be the issue, but 138F might be a bit high to ferment yogurt. At home, I scald milk, allowing it to cool to about 110-112F before adding the starter culture. I’ve also made yogurt in motel rooms,going by “comfortably warm” on my inner wrist. IIRC, about 115F is safe for keeing enzymes alive for “raw foods,” getting back to 138 being possibly too hot. Below 90 F is too cool. I haven’t gotten past thinking about making yogurt on the trail.

  10. Kerstin September 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    There are yogurts that don’t require high heat – check Cultures for Health for the original culture. Also, Kefir powder might work for making a milk kefir…not sure about the powdered milk, but it also doesn’t require very high heat.

  11. Heather-lee March 29, 2015 at 6:18 am #

    When I’m planning a hike I just cook extra of my regular evening meals, dehydrate in suitable potion size , and then vacuum seal. At lunchtime I put the meal into a bottle that fits inside my cup with the correct amount of water. After I’ve made camp at night I either eat out of the bottle or tip into my cup and heat. No need to carry oil, seasonings or condiments, and the weight saving is big ! Brekky is any of my favorite cereals – portion in a mini ziploc bag with powdered milk and/or dehydrated yoghurt. Add water and eat from the bag. Easy, and the weight saving is good. All food for two weeks without any re supply is less than 5kg. I just carry fuel when I want my food hot.

  12. Billy Weinman March 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    When using liquid milk, raw or pasteurized, heating to 140 or so allows kill-off of competing bacterias, those that will thrive in the rich medium, just like lactobacillus. Then, when milk cools off to around body temp, 100 or so, one innoculates with the yogurt culture. If you add your yogurt cultures too soon (too hot) you’ll kill them off.

    I think that’s where using dehydrated milk could avoid a lot of that. It usually doesn’t make a great deal of difference, health-wise, but it can cause your yogurt to set-up runny (if it’s competing with other bacterias).

    I’ve got to try this. Big believer in adding some lactobacillus to the gut with frequency, and as we know, on the trail this is often a challenge.

    Thanks so much for the story!

  13. Jon Dickie March 30, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    I use a Ziploc brand Twist ’n Loc Container, 16 ounce size with a homemade cozie made from Reflectix (Water heater/pipe insulator). It is microwave proof which means it can take the heat without melting, and the cozie keeps the heat off your hands when using it. I use it as my food bowl and my hot beverage cup. Very light weight system. The Twist and Loc top keeps it secured and clean and I can throw in my foldable spork inside. I haven’t tried no-heat foods for main meals but your article will make me give it some thought.

  14. Stephanie March 30, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

    Can you tell me round about the ingredient measurements? How much milk, culture starter, and store bought yogurt. And did you use a new bag each time you made yogurt or the same one for 4-5 days? Thank you so much!

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