Backpacking Without a Stove - Simple Non-Cook Meal Plan
Most of you know me as being somewhat of a backpacking stove geek. I don't exactly hide the fact, but I am trying to get it under control. Just a few months ago I mentioned that when the conditions are right I occasionally like to go backpacking without a stove or any other cooking equipment with me. This seems to have shaken some people's world a little bit and sparked a lot of inquiries via email about what my daily food menu might look like.
It's taken me far longer to pull this backpacking meal plan together than I had intended, not because it's rocket science or anything (it's not), I just kept forgetting to make time to write it up. To those of you who have waited patiently or given me the occasional nudge or poke online, I thank you. Hopefully this will answer the questions that you have been waiting for.
Why Go Non-Cook?
There are may reasons why I sometimes decide to go backpacking without a stove. Sometimes I simply don't want to carry very much gear. Other times I do feel in the mood for fussing around (yeah I said it) with a UL stove when I'm feeling hungry. And sometimes I'm just done with my hot food meal options and the same old rehydrated stuff. I'm sure I could spend more time researching and testing better trail recipes, but to be honest when I'm hungry out on the trail all I want is food!
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy great tasting, gourmet food as much as the next person, but when I'm backpacking I usually fall into a mindset of food=fuel and I want to fill my cakehole - that's just me.
Regardless of the reason why I reach this point or start to feel this way, I had to figure out a way to address it and create an alternative food plan that would be quick and easy to use for multiple meals over multiple days and require no cooking.
Just Grab a Snickers Bar and Go
As I said earlier, putting together a non-cook lunchbox is not exactly rocket science, throw some crackers, cheese, and salami in a ziplock baggy and you're good to go right? Absolutley! If that works for you, have at it. I've done that too many times over the years to mention, even with my kids, and it's been perfect.
However, I've been eating a strict Paleo diet (Google it) for close to a year now and wanted to come up with a meal plan that stayed close to the fundamentals of the Paleo diet, while providing just a little wiggle room for treats I wouldn't usually have. Besides, I'm usually burning calories like a mad man on most hikes, so a few extra sugar calories aren't gonna make a dent.
As you will see from the photos and lists below, the backbone of my meal plan is comprised of PROBARs. Each bar is packed with flavor and quality ingredients and has a high enough calories to be a meal replacement. While PROBARs are not strictly Paleo compliant (side note: they totally could be if PROBAR decided to make them and corner the market - HINT!) I've found that this is where I want to make my trade off and allow for content that I wouldn't otherwise eat. Hey, in my head I've justified it and it works for me. So here we go, this is more or less what I pack for a day of non-cooking hiking.
I absolutely cannot live without my morning cup of coffee, I've tried too many times (unsuccessfully) to quit. I like the taste and it makes me a much nicer person to be around if I have it - trust me. Not having any hot water with which to make my morning cup of Joe posed a bit of a problem, until I got a little creative with how I take my coffee. I just needed to get that caffeine fix somehow.
I use a single packet of Starbucks Via coffee and a small plastic water bottle to shake up an iced coffee that I can sip on while I'm eating the rest of my breakfast. I know it's not exactly a steaming hot cuppa, but it is pretty darn good coffee and it feels just like my normal morning ritual. I also carry small portions of Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered espresso beans. I can munch on a handful of these to get my caffeine fix if I don't have time to shake up an iced coffee. Or I can have both for an extra yummy buzz.
An Oatmeal Raisin PROBAR is my preferred breakfast bar option. It tastes exactly like a bowl of oatmeal and I've found that making breakfast feel like breakfast is half the battle for me in the mornings. I'm a big fan of dried apricots, so I carry these with me on most hikes to have with meals and as snacks if necessary. These are one of those high-fiber foods where a little goes a long way, if you know what I mean, so don't over do it on dried fruit.
I don't always stop to eat my lunch while I'm out backpacking, so going with a non-cook plan is definitely an advantage f your are trying to cover more distance. Even when I am carrying my cooking gear I personally prefer to eat my lunch on the move whenever possible. It's an old habit.
In addition to another PROBAR I like to consume a good amount of protein throughout the day. I add a healthy dose of home-made beef jerky to my lunch to provide protein and give me something savory to chew on while I'm walking. I find I can make the jerky last a long time if I chew on it well.
Macadamia nuts and almond butter are my go to snacks. They are brimming with essential minerals, vitamins and heart-friendly mono-unsaturated fatty acids. They are delicious whole, chopped, or ground finely. I try to include them as part of almost every meal plan whether I am cooking or not. Justin's Maple Almond Butter is my personal favorite and I try to snag individual pouches of it whenever I see it in stores.
I usually combine macadamia nuts with some dried raisins to make an ultra simple, but extremely healthy trail mix. I won't go on and on about the benefits of dark chocolate, I include a single piece of Dove silky smooth dark chocolate for no other reason than because I enjoy it as a treat.
By now you're probably thinking that I eat almost the same food three times a day. Well I do, for the most part. As I said earlier, when I'm hiking food=fuel and I can happily eat the same thing day after day, that's just me. If you need to vary the meals more than I do, go ahead. There are no rules.
Another PROBAR eaten with jerky and nuts makes up my typical dinner. I like to have a pretty decent amount of protein in my dinner so that my body can repair muscle while I am sleeping. The macadamia nuts provide those essential minerals and good fats. At night I combine small bites or chunks of Dove dark chocolate with each apricot to create a slightly decadent dessert option. It sounds silly, maybe even too basic, but give it a try and I promise you'll be surprised at how good it tastes at the end of a long day.
Snacking is Good Too!
I carry small ziplock baggies of macadamia nuts and home-made beef jerky (cut into smaller pieces) in the hip belt of my backpack. I snack on these throughout the day and in between meals. I make sure that these are filled up each morning before we start hiking and then use them whenever I get the craving or urge to snack. I've never had a problem from over eating on healthy nuts or jerky so I don't restrict myself on how much I eat other than simply by the amount I carry.
I have purposely not included my daily fluid intake as part of this post. Just know that I drink a lot, almost constantly, while hiking. I also believe that hydration is a very serious subject and one that would be better addressed in a longer, more in-depth post in the future. Note to self.
For my gear list friends and excel freaks, here is the obligatory line-by-line calorific break down of the meal plan I have just walked you through.
I'm not sharing this so that you feel as though you have to copy it to the letter, but if you want to that's fine. I'm sharing this to give you some ideas of how you can quite easily hike for several days and eat well without the need to carry a stove and cookware. I hope you found this useful or interesting and would love to hear what you pack for hikes when you don't want to cook.