Stoveless Food Options and Cold Soaking for the Backcountry
I have not pursued cold soaking or stoveless food options because I really enjoy my cup of hot tea in the morning and a warm meal at night. What grabbed my attention a few months ago was a statewide stove ban in all of California’s National Forests during our unprecedented fire season. I realized that at some point, hopefully not soon, we may not have a choice in some regions. There is a growing contingent of backpackers who have been going stoveless to save weight who don’t have to depend on fuel so they have already figured this out.
What is cold-soaking?
Cold-soaking involves adding cold water to soften foods that might normally be heated and leaving them to sit for a period of time. It takes longer to cold-soak foods that might be ready in a few minutes if simmered or soaked in hot water.
I like to soak my lunch foods by adding cold water at breakfast. While I’m eating breakfast, I assemble everything I need for lunch and keep it in a separate bag outside of the bear canister so I don’t have to unpack the canister. I add the water to dry food in a hard sided container with a lid or zip top baggie in the morning and by lunch time, my food is rehydrated.
I’ve been cold soaking lunches for years but I’ll be the first to say that I’m not an expert in cold soaking. My colleague, Aaron Owens Mayhew, is very experienced, having hiked the Oregon Trail entirely cold soaking. If you’re interested in her subscription recipe service at Backcountry Foodie, I highly recommend it for cold soaking and regular meal recipes (I’m a contributor to the site). I will be trying more cold soaking and stoveless options in the future.
What kind of foods can be used?
There are many options for going stoveless by using foods that don’t need to be heated or softened (cheese, cured meats, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc), including packaged, ready-to-eat foods (crackers, foil pouch or canned fish and meat) and instant foods (instant pudding mix, drink mixes and powdered milk). See my article on Stoveless Deli Plates for more ideas.
Some foods, such as ramen, instant rice, instant mashed potatoes and bulgur, have already been cooked before drying so they are good candidates for cold soaking. Other foods, such as Italian pasta, grains and beans, must be cooked first and dehydrated. Freeze dried foods can be cold-soaked as well.
Trail smoothies are another good option. I have a several smoothie and drink recipes listed in The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes and Backcountry Foodie lists nearly 30 drink recipes and more than five smoothie recipes on the subscription service. AlpineAire has a couple of packaged smoothie drinks.
Tortillas form the basis for most of my lunches so I cold-soak the foods that will go in the tortillas, often a combination of cooked and dehydrated beans, grains and veggies along with spice mixes and condiments. These are some examples of ingredients that I combine together (from “The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes”).
Dehydrated cooked black beans (3 parts), instant rice (1 part), dried corn, dried salsa, Mexican spices. Add string cheese on the trail.
Dehydrated cooked red beans (3 parts), instant rice (1 part), dried green peppers, Cajun spices. Add salami on the trail.
Tabbouleh (bulgur-does not need to be cooked and dehydrated), dried grapes, olive packet, True lemon powder, Moroccan spices.
Hummus powder (cooked or canned chickpeas, dehydrated and ground into a powder or purchased as powder), dried red bell pepper (ground into powder), garlic powder. Add olive oil and hot sauce on the trail.
To any of the above, add extra olive oil as tolerated as well as seeds or nuts (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, cashew, peanut, walnut, etc) and cheese (hard aged cheese, string cheese or wax covered cheese)
Granola with chopped nuts and/or seeds
Muesli with various toppings
Fruit (freeze-dried or dehydrated)
Milk powder (full fat such as Nido or Peak)
Lunch or dinner ideas
Crackers (from grains or 100% cheese). Triscuits, Wasa Crispbread and Trader Joe’s Norwegian Crispbread crackers are sturdy and maintain a satisfying crunch. Cheese Whisps or other brands are 100% cheese and are gluten-free.
Cured meats (salami, sopraseta, summer sausage—make sure the label does not say to refrigerate)
Jerky (beef, turkey, salmon), meat sticks
Tuna/chicken foil packets
Cheese (hard, aged or string cheese or Baby Bell)
Bean and grain mixtures (see above in “Cold Soak” ideas)
Baked Falafel mix (without oil)
Tofu (dehydrated or freeze-dried) or tempeh
Vegetable and fruit bark (see Chef Glenn’s recipes for dehydrated, blended vegetable and fruit bark that can be eaten as a snack in the hardened form or cold soaked; e.g. creamed corn, sweet potato, fruit with root vegetables) https://www.backpackingchef.com/food-dehydrator-recipes.html
Cold mocha drink with instant coffee, full-fat powdered milk, hot chocolate mix
Flavored drink powders
Spices, Flavorings, Condiments
Dehydrated lemon or orange slices, zest or powders
Tomato and other vegetable powders
Cheese powder (Parmesan, cheddar, etc.)
Dairy powders such as sour cream, buttermilk and butter
Spice blends (purchase or make your own such as Mexican, Italian, Moroccan, Asian, etc.)
Herbs (mint, parsley, etc.)
Individual packets (mayonnaise, relish, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, honey, jam—these may be purchased individually from Minimus.biz)
Dehydrated salsa (fresh or jarred)
Dehydrated pickles (bread and butter are good, dills can be too salty)
Vegetable powders from fruit or vegetables (purchased or home-dehydrated) may be added to cold soak meals and will rehydrate faster than pieces.
More Cold Soak Ideas
Bulgur (ready to cold soak)
Couscous (ready to cold soak)
Ramen noodles (ready to cold soak)
Instant rice (ready to cold soak)
Instant mashed potatoes (ready to cold soak)
Dried beans (used cooked or canned and dehydrate —can be mashed or left whole)
Lentils (must be cooked and dehydrated)
Quinoa (must be cooked and dehydrated)
Vegetable and fruit bark (see Chef Glenn’s recipes for dehydrated, blended vegetable and fruit bark that can be eaten as a snack in the hardened form or cold soaked)
Freeze dried meats (soak for 1-2 hours maximum)
Angel Food cake (dehydrate slabs or small squares for snacking)
Instant pudding (mix in a water bottle with cold water)
Dark or milk chocolate
Angel food cake dessert (combine all of the above): top slabs of dried angel food cake with instant vanilla pudding (reconstitute with water), rehydrated dried strawberries and dark chocolate shavings.
Pumpkin pie bark (mix canned pumpkin, sugar and pumpkin pie spices and dehydrate).
I’m ready to embrace more stoveless food options, now that I’ve considered all the possibilities.