One of the constants in my Backpacking experience, up until recently, has been the use of a stove, whether it be a white gas or canister stove. Hot meals and drinks were just something I did. The funny thing about this is that I do not drink hot drinks at home, nor did I often have hot breakfasts. But for some reason it just seemed like the thing to do when out on the trail. Over the last 2-3 years I have slowly quit taking the hot chocolate and oatmeal along, opting instead for just water, sometimes with noon added and a bar for breakfast. This simplified meal preparation somewhat, and reduced the use of the stove to a single boil each evening to heat water for dinner.
Late last season (I generally only backpack in the warmer half of the year) I started thinking about dropping the stove altogether. It seemed like if I could shift over to cold dinners that I would be able to drop the 17 ounces of a JetBoil Sol and fuel canister. I had read about a number of people who had done just that, going stoveless for extended periods. The biggest problem for me though is that I am somewhat of a picky eater. I would read about what these folks ate instead of a hot dinner, but I could not imagine myself doing the same. I might carry it, and eat it if I got hungry enough, but I know that I would not eat enough to stay energized for a long trip. The food really needed to be appealing to my taste, or at least not too objectionable.
To add to that, I have yet to find a 'bar', or combination of bars, that I was willing to eat for very long. Seems like I was always bringing a significant number of them back home with me. So as I prepared for getting back onto the PCT this year I had three goals food wise. Eliminate the stove. Eliminate at least the lion's share of Clif Bars, Power Bars, Meal Replacement Bars, Luna bars, etc. And find food that is lightweight, tasty, and nutritious.
Breakfast was fairly easy. I like instant breakfast OK; just needed to find some milk to go along with it. Most of the powered milk I could find was low fat, but I really wanted whole milk. And I finally stumbled onto Nido at Walmart and it is pretty good and easy to make. I can prepare a sandwich Ziploc with 1/2 cup of Nido and 2 packages of instant breakfast. Then at breakfast I pour that mix into one of my half full, quart sized, Gatorade bottles, sake a few seconds and start drinking as I go about packing up for the day. My one bar of the day gets eaten here as well. Nature Valley makes some crunchy granola bars that go down really well with Instant Breakfast, and give me some crunch with the meal. Cleanup is as simple as adding a bit of water to the bottle, slosh, and drink.
I am not very good about stopping for breaks, so I am scheduling 2 lunches a day where I will drop the pack, kick of the shoes and eat for a few minutes. Lunch #1 is late morning and will either be PB&J on a small tortilla, or Spam, mayo and relish on a small tortilla. Individual Spam packets and tortillias are available from most grocery stores. I have found individual servings for the PB&J, mayo and relish at Minimus. This is quick and easy with only a few wrappers for cleanup, all of which will go into the breakfast
Ziploc. The whole stop only takes about 15 minutes and my feet and belly are both happy for a while.
Lunch #2 will be in the early to mid afternoon and will consist of some dried meat sticks (Bavarian Landjaeger), Babybel cheese and Wheat Thins. The cheese seems to last well out of the fridge and comes in several flavors. There is a wax liner that is discarded afterwards, but it is sure good eating out on the trail. Again, the break is short, but well worth it. These two lunches can easily be reversed, but both are planned for and needed.
Dinner has been the most challenging meal so far. My initial foray has been to make tortilla sandwiches using the foil packages of tuna, salmon and chicken. They work well, although require a lot of mayo, especially the chicken, to moisten them up. But those packets of meat, especially the chicken are heavy.
I am exploring some alternatives now, having found a source for dried pinto bean flakes. They reconstitute quickly and are ready to eat in just a few minutes. Rice also hydrates fairly quickly in cold water, about 20 minutes. One part rice, 2 parts beans, 1 part diced jerky, some burrito or taco seasoning and dried onions go into a Ziploc bag. 20 minutes before serving add 2 parts of water. pour out onto a tortilla and viola! Good eating. And while it takes some additional preparation, it is as light as a freeze dried meal but without cooking.
I generally wear a belly bag when hiking with the main pocket full of food: nuts, dried fruit, homemade granola, and candy. All of those things I can eat while walking the trail without hardly breaking stride. Each of these are in their own little bag and I try to alternate through the bags all during the day. Because they are tasty and easy to get to, they usually get eaten well and help keep the energy level up during the day. They also have a tendency to make me thirsty, which forces me to drink more, which is a good thing.
And what's the end of a day without some kind of dessert? Adding 3 or 4 cookies to the mix allows me to satisfy the sweet tooth as well as adding some additional calories at the end of the day.
I am a bit compulsive about the packaging for all my food. Each day goes into a gallon Ziploc bag. Each days snacks go into snack sized Ziploc bags as well. It makes it easy for me to keep an eye on how much I am eating. At the end of the day everything in the gallon bag for the day should be gone, or at least nearly so. And I don't have to worry about eating up the cookies or cheese to early and having none for the end of the trip.
So there you have it. No stove, and only a single bar a day, and that washed down with my Instant Breakfast. I do not know how many calories I get each day with this, but so far it has been plenty. And I am carrying just over 2 pounds of food per day, and maybe a bit less with the burrito instead of packaged meat sandwiches for dinner.
I should note that this is really for a hike with moderate temperatures. If I was expecting cold temps I think I would still be using a stove and would likely keep the hot chocolate and oatmeal. And the weight savings is not really all that great if all you do is replace the stove and freeze dried dinners with packages of chicken and tuna, although the burrito mix helps some. It does seems simpler so far though.
I would be very interested in any insights that you might have or alternatives to the menu.