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Backpacking without a Stove

Stoves let you cook inside a shelter when the weather is bad
Stoves let you cook inside a shelter (with proper ventilation) when the weather is bad

I am not a huge fan of backpacking without a stove, but whether you do it or not should be based on the environmental conditions you’re likely to encountry on your hike, the duration, and location of your trip.

Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your safety margin in order to say that your backpack weighs less than 10 pounds or 5 pounds. I’ve let the ultralight label dictate what I bring on a backpacking trip in the past (including no stove) and although it’s understandable why people do it, it’s not a good enough reason to leave gear behind that you need to be safe and comfortable.

Still, there are some circumstances where I were I could see backpacking without a stove, if I on a short 1 or 2 night trip, there was a favorable weather forecast, I had a reason to minimize the time spent eating or in camp, and I was hiking on well-established  trail where I was likely to encounter a few people every day. But remove any one of those ifs and I would definitely bring a stove and cooking fuel.

The Functions of a Backpacking Stove

Consider the functions of a stove:

  • Boiling water for purification
  • Cooking food for sustenance
  • Heating water to augment my insulation/prevent hypothermia

While you can perform all of these functions with a campfire provided you have a pot to cook with and the ability to hold it when it’s hot, you can’t light a fire if you don’t have firewood, your firewood isn’t dry, and high winds or pouring rain prevent you from starting a fire outside your shelter. How likely are these conditions? I encounter them fairly often in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont where I do most of my hiking, and where it snows 12 months of the year on the higher mountains.

What to Eat Without a Stove

Let’s say that conditions are perfect for backpacking without a stove: the weather is clear and it’summertime. What are some good foods that can be eaten raw without heating and aren’t junk food.

  • Probars are dense food bars made out of fruit and nuts
  • Peanut butter, honey and tortillas, wraps, bread, or bagels
  • Tuna packed in olive oil is a great source of protein and fat
  • Hot sausages or salami keep well without refrigeration
  • Small wheels of Edam or Gouda Cheese sealed in wax keep well
  • Granola, eaten dry or with a little cold water added
  • Home made gorp with a mix of nuts, fruit, and chocolate bits
  • Protein shakes made with cold water, in moderation
  • Store-bought cakes and quick breads
  • Dehydrated hummus and chips, pita bread, or bagel chips
  • Packit Gourmet puddings (mmm!)

Do you ever go backpacking without a stove?

What do you eat that doesn’t require cooking?

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  1. Awesome! I have often fantasied about this! Looking forward to the follow up post!

  2. I have actually done this on one occasions. But I had somewhat of an advantage. Each night was spent at a wilderness hot springs, so I was able to heat up coffee/meals in the source of the hot springs. It worked well, but the warming time had too much variation based on the condition of the hot springs source.

  3. This worked out great. The weather on my trip this past weekend was incredibly hot and I wouldn't have wanted to use a stove anyway. Next time, I'm going to bring more gouda and edam cheese wheels and bread. No more dehydrated smoosh for me, until winter, at least.

  4. How about a posting on menus that you have used and liked? A weekend and one week example would be great. Thanks for all the info!

  5. Good idea. I'm about to leave for a trip, but will post my meal plan when I get back. Lots of Logan bread on this trip. Again no stove. Cheers.

  6. Doing a short backpack in Hawaii (without a stove) and was stumped. Thanks for the ideas! They will be perfect.

  7. Great ideas. With hot sausage, cheese, and tuna on the menu I assume you won't be sharing a tent with anyone ; )

  8. One of the perks of solo hiking – eat whatever you want.

  9. Powder milk and granola divvied up into your desired serving sizes in zip lock bags. Add some water and you have breakfast.

  10. Also, pepperoni stick and block of cheese cut up and put on one of those Thomas's bagels that comes in the 6 pack for unch or dinner. The bagel is key because it has lots more calories than a slice of bread… About to hike a section of the AT in Mass without a stove. Its November. haha

  11. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of this site and have diligently read every article you and guests have posted over the last year or so.

    As a rule, I don’t carry a backpacking stove. When I first started I always carried a stove but I found after a long day of hiking I rarely had the energy to use it at night. In the morning, my mind set is always to be up and out of camp at the crack of dawn (even if I’m tasked with clearing out the spider webs for all the other hikers) so I don’t waist time cooking breakfast. As I started to go through what I call “The natural progression of a backpacker” (the quest to reduce pack weight) I could no longer justify carrying a stove, cookset, fuel and food.

    The only time I make an exception to this rule is in the winter. I live in the Northeast and go backpacking all 4 seasons. During the winter I carry a stove.

    My backpacking menu may seem boring to some, but it has become standard practice for me and I actually enjoy it.

    Pound Cake (one of your suggestions)

    Bagel w/ Peanut butter

    Tuna packets w/ Tortillas or
    Peanut Butter sandwich’s on wheat bread.

    Snacks: (eaten with each meal and between meals)
    Trail Mix
    Cliff Bars
    Nutrigrain bars
    Cheese and wheat thins

  12. My trips range from overnight to 5 nights. I’m hoping to do an 8 day 7 night trip on the AT in VT in late August or early September.

    I don’t postpone for bad weather because I work 2 jobs, have a wife and son. It’s very difficult to coordinate time away from work and home so when I get a few days to myself, I’m pretty much committed.

    My lightest sleeping bag is a Sierra Designs Ridge Runner rated for 35 degrees. I sleep hot and find the bag to be too warm for most three season conditions and often sleep with it unzipped. So when the rain has me chilled I change into “night cloths” and crawl into the bag.

    This is 3 season of course. For winter I have a completely different setup.

  13. I like Nestle’s NIDO whole milk powdered milk ( from Packit Gourmet) – 3 tablespoons in a cup of granola along with some freeze dried berries. Add half cup of water to ziplock bag and shake, then let sit for 5 minutes – excellent way to start the morning.

  14. Summer 2010 I hiked without a stove across all of NJ, PA and MD, should have shipped the stove & mug home by the time I reached Bear Mtn in NY, keep in mind it was summer. I rarely carry a stove of any kind during warm months living here in the southeast I don’t want hot food on the trail or at home.

  15. JJ – What type of food did you generally carry? I’m always looking for ideas.
    Steve, I never heard of Nestlé’s powdered milk. I’ll have to look into it.

  16. Kevin- I carry chicken, tuna, salmon in foil the pouches, dried fruits and veggies, lots of nuts. My food bag isn’t lighter by not cooking just easier for me to eat cold food in warmer months.

  17. I’ve been going stoveless on all my trips this year. I either do cold starbucks via or Tang for my morning drink, along with a probar. I snack during the day with homemade larabars, beef jerky, gorp, snickers, etc. Dinner is usually pepperoni or summer sausage and cheese, bagel with peanut butter and jelly, almond butter and raisins on tortillas, tuna and cheese on tortillas, or instant black beans and fritos on tortillas. Works really great. Is also great for my 4 year old on our 1-2 night trips. He can subsist on granola bars, beef sticks, and Tang for days on end. He refuses to eat rehydrated mush.

  18. I have been doing this more and more. Hiking in the Southwest, I don’t really want hot food after a long day in the heat. ProBars have been a staple for me, but my last few trips, I’ve been eating bars from Greenbelly (http://www.thegreenbelly.com/). Greenbelly bars are delicious. My other go to food is peanut m&m’s. 6 oz has over 300 calories. The chocolate kicks in right away and the peanut protein sticks around to give you energy later.

  19. sorry…wrong link for Greenbelly bars –> http://greenbellybar.com/

  20. Anyone carry the fold-flat titanium woodburning stoves like the bushbox?

  21. A cup of oatmeal a cup of water and a handful of dried berries the night before makes a great breakfast no heat required.

  22. Baby cereal and carnation instant breakfast 50/50 for breakfast. Shake it up and go. Cheese and jerky and dried fruit and granola bars for snacks, cheese is only the first few days of long trips. Dried peanut butter mixed with sugar and and crumbled banana chips baked into little bars when the bonk hits (don’t have a name for these). Gorp for dinner.

    Mostly California three-season hiking. That includes potential snow storm periods at higher elevations. I only take the stove for overnights with the whole family, when the little dudes deserve hot cocoa and the wife has to have her coffee.

    I DO carry a pint stainless water bottle/pot and I will happily warm up that breakfast shake on a cold day if someone has a fire going or they offer to trade me some dried fruit or jerky for their fuel and it’s a chance to chit chat.

    I DON’T freeload peoples fuel ever. Makes for bad blood. Cold camp is my decision, because I can carry that much more food and water on bad feet.

    The warming impact of a cup of liquid is almost entirely mental. You feel better psychologically more than it makes much physical difference. I’m not being negative, we all need creature comforts that may not make strictly logical sense. Many people who grew up with cooked meals every night find it’s a critical part of their process of unwinding and preparing for sleep.

    If you don’t sleep, the next day is NOT fun. I generally turn on my phone and burn battery for an hour to read myself to sleep. That’s not “practical” either.

  23. I want to go stoveless on the SHT 5 days at a time. Anyone use MCT oil as a food source

  24. Curious as to why it is mentioned to avoid protein shakes for extended periods?

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