I tried backpacking with no-cook foods rather than the usual cooked fare on a two week trip 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 and figured I would try some no-cook methods I learned from experienced thru-hikers last year. Also no cook backpacking meals saved me the weight of a stove and fuel!
One of the nice benefits of not bringing a stove on your backpacking trip, is the feel of an ultralight pack weight towards the end of the trip. You may start a bit more heavy, but by the end of the adventure, you’ll be thanking yourself.
You also may consider leaving your stove at home in the summer months. Don’t be the person that burns down beautiful forest. Some might find the thought of that rewarding.
Let’s go over some yummy backcountry ideas for no cook backpacking meals.
Making Yogurt on the Trail
I learned this from a thru-hiker. He made yogurt in a plastic baggie. I opted for a more durable plastic jar. It’s very simple to make:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I’m a coffee addict. I mixed whey protein powder, Nido powder and instant coffee in my bottle for a tasty instant coffee milkshake breakfast.
One of my all time favorite easy-to-make snacks is fruit leather! You just boil 4 cups of chopped fruit with a 1/2 cup of water. After 10-15 mins of cooking, do a taste test and add however much sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg , etc you’d like. Then you can dehydrate it either in the oven or with a dehydrator..
And nothing beats the taste of good homemade beef jerky. Marinate 1 1/2- 2 lbs of flank steak in 2/3 cup of Worcestershire sauce, 2/3 cup of soy sauce, 1 tb of honey, 2 tsp of black pepper, 2 tsp of garlic powder, and 1 tsp of red pepper flakes. Feel free to mix in other ingredients or switch it up to your creative liking and throw the strips in the oven or dehydrator.
I learned about cold rehydrating dehydrated foods from my 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 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 hiking friends, 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.
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.
One in our group was not ultralight but we were on more of a backpacking 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.
Wrote by former Trail Ambassador Diane “Piper” Soini and Editor