Outdoor Articles

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.

Fruity Quinoa Salad

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.

Look for backcountry recipes for pasta, ramen, vegetable and grain salads for backcountry. I have several salads in my book, The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes: Quick Gourmet Meals for the Backcountry: Chinese Chicken Noodle Salad, Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Peanut Dressing, Fruity Quinoa Salad and Moroccan Chickpea and Quinoa Salad. Backcountry Foodie has several salad and grain recipes for cold soaking.

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.

Moroccan Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Cold-soak ideas

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 lentils (3 parts), dehydrated cooked quinoa (1 part), freeze-dried peas, dried tomato, Indian spices.
  • 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)

Tropical Muesli

Breakfast ideas

  • 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)
  • Smoothies
Vietnamese Cabbage Salad

Lunch or dinner ideas

  • Tortillas
  • 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
  • Fig spread, honey packets
  • Peanut butter
  • Spreads from powders: cream cheese powder, peanut butter powder, hummus powder, avocado/guacamole powder
  • Nuts (cashew, almond, pine nut, peanut, walnut, etc)
  • Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
  • Dried or freeze-dried fruit or fruit leather
Dehydrated pickle, 100% Parmesan cheese cracker, Duke’s Shorty Sausage

Snacks

  • Energy/granola bars/meal bars
  • Candy such as Jelly Bellies or lemon drops
  • Dried fruit
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Nuts (cashew, almond, pine nut, peanut, walnut, etc)
  • Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
  • GORP (make your own mixture of dried fruit and nuts)
Steve enjoys some powdered Cusa Tea with cold water in the Sierra

Drinks

Dehydrated lemon zest adds bright flavors

Spices, Flavorings, Condiments

  • True Lemon/Lime/Orange
  • 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.)
  • Olive oil
  • 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.  
Cooked quinoa, cooked sweet potato and fresh salsa ready for the dehydrator

More Cold Soak Ideas

  • Instant mashed potatoes (ready to cold soak)
  • Instant rice (ready to cold soak)
  • Couscous (ready to cold soak)
  • Bulgur (ready to cold soak)
  • Ramen noodles (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)
Good-quality chocolate makes a simple, satisfying dessert

Sweets

  • Angel Food cake (dehydrate slabs or small squares for snacking)
  • Instant pudding (mix in a water bottle with cold water)
  • Dried fruit
  • 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)

Resources

Stoveless Deli Plates

The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes: Quick Gourmet Meals for the Backcountry. Inga Aksamit. Recipes with a focus on just-add-water recipes using unprocessed, healthy, delicious foods.

Backcountry Foodie. Aaron Owens Mayhew. Many cold-soak recipes in addition to a wide range of other recipes.

Recipes for Adventure. Glenn McCallister. Instructions on dehydrating food, including making bark (book).

BackpackingChef.com. Glenn McCallister. Instructions on dehydrating food, including making bark and tofu (website).

More articles from Inga’s Adventures about backpacking food and meal planning.

Links to articles about cold soaking for more inspiration:

Inga enjoys Happy Camper wine at Red’s Meadow Resort while resupplying on the John Muir Trail
Inga and Steve on the John Muir Trail

All photos by Inga Aksamit, unless otherwise credited.

One thought on “Stoveless Food Options and Cold Soaking for the Backcountry”

  1. Stoveless Trail Deli Plates | Inga's Adventures August 25, 2021

    […] been experimenting with stoveless food on the backpacking trail (see Stoveless Food Options and Cold Soaking for the Backcountry) and find that I’m drawn to foods I would normally eat without heating. A variety of […]

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