Cook vs No Cook

Posted by: Carlos C

Cook vs No Cook - 03/01/17 04:24 PM

Is there any value in going to a no cook method over bringing a lightweight stove and using dehydrated or freezedried meals?

I have a friend who is no cook but I wonder if there are major differences other than less gear. Has anyone gone to no cook and been happier?
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/01/17 05:47 PM

Not quite. I quickly learned, way back at the beginning, that I only needed one hot meal a day. (That's all I eat at home, so why would I do differently on the trail?)

I usually eat a cold breakfast - some sort of granola bar or near-cousin, or perhaps some cold cereal (same as at home.) However, in colder weather I'll sometimes take oatmeal, and add boiling water to the pouch and eat from the pouch.

Lunch is also cold, consisting of some protein (often, beef jerky or an Atkins or similar low-sugar, high-protein meal bar), some dried fruit and maybe some nuts or another granola bar. Again, similar to home (cold cut sandwich, fruit, cheese, salad, etc.)

But supper needs to be hot. I find one hot meal a day comforting, and to that extent, necessary. Freeze-dried works, but so do homemade quick-cook meals.

My own one-time experiment with no-cook saved me about 8 ounces of cook gear, plus some fuel. However, the no-cook food was heavier than the freeze-dried (it already had the water in it), so my net savings were about 6 ounces, and I was a lot less happy. I never made a second experiment.
Posted by: topshot

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/01/17 10:23 PM

Similar to Glenn, I prefer a warm dinner. Sometimes if it's cold I'll heat water a bit for my breakfast drink (or oatmeal).

This summer I did my first no-cook trip (6 days mostly off trail) and it was a success. I did take my stove just in case and did use it one morning even though there wasn't a real need. It had gotten down to 18F and I didn't really want ice cold water for my breakfast drink. I could just have well hiked a while first.

Can't say how often I'll do that, but it was a good experiment.
Posted by: toddfw2003

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/01/17 11:28 PM

I have also tried no cook backpacking. I ultralight. My base is 6.5. When I dont bring a stove and fuel i save 8 oz. Not enough difference to notice. At 6.5lb I am still comfortable. Part of my enjoyment with backpacking it the hot meal at the end of the day
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/02/17 10:37 AM

I don't think my wife would agree to breakfast without something warm...especially when it's a cold morning.

In the "good old days" we used to bring matches as our stove, and cook everything over a fire. But that was 40 years ago.
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/02/17 11:46 AM

I've done both, and as with various aspects of backpacking I find that there are trips (or portions of trips) where I prefer one approach, and other trips where I prefer the other.

The only time I find it good to go no-cook is when I'm either hiking alone, or with another (typically long distance hiking) partner who is also going no-cook. With my wife and/or other friends, I just assume I'll be cooking. But as others have said, the dinner meal only, "just heat water" approach.

No-cook takes a certain mental shift, and expectations are important. If you sort of approach the whole food thing with an open mind and don't compare on-trail eating to at-home type of eating, I think you might do better with it.

There's been a lot of discussion of this topic; if not on this backpacking forum then on others. Issues include *what* foods work best for going stoveless, analysis of whether such an approach tends to save weight, is weight neutral, or is a heavier approach to backpacking, some discussion on how much a person "needs" hot food and/or beverages when hiking in cold conditions. Long distance hikers talk also about how easy it is to resupply (food) when sticking to things that can be eaten cold. Then there are various sort of "tips and tricks" --- for example, rehydrate refried bean powder by putting the water+powder in a reliably watertight container and carry it under your clothing for a while while you hike, both to rehydrate better but also so it's not totally cold when you eat it.

So --- lots of stuff "out there". My experience in talking about this is that often people *who have never tried it* are confident that they would never want to do it, I guess a sort of "yuck" factor. This can be exacerbated when fans of the approach sort of make things worse by picking out some of the meals to talk about that they're okay with but that don't sound good; for example, I find that dried mashed potato powder mixed with cold water is surprising good, or at least "not bad", and easy + filling. Someone who hasn't eaten that will often seem to just "know" that they would never be satisfied with such a meal. I expect I was pretty confident that I wouldn't like it either --- until I gave it a fair try, with the proper mental state. Again, mental shift, and expectations.
Posted by: BZH

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/02/17 11:48 AM

The advantage of no-cook is the simplicity. It is quicker and less messy to make a no-cook meal. There can be some weight saving but not too much since you tend to carry food with higher water content.

For me, like others above, the value of a warm drink on a cold evening or frigid morning is worth the weight. I would find it a lot easier to switch to no-cook in warmer climates. Los Angeles (where I live) is certainly a warm climate but it gets cold in the evening particularly at the elevations I backpack at.
Posted by: Carlos C

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/02/17 03:27 PM

The reason I am asking is because I may be joining a fellow coworker and his brother on a trip to do the Unitas Highline Trail. I know they both mostly lean to no cook with all kinds of snacks and what not. I am not sure what kind of water accessibility will be there also. In addition with the higher elevations I would assume longer boil times and more fuel usage.

It seems it is more preference driven than location or weight driven am I correct?
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/02/17 09:06 PM

Actually, at higher altitude, you have shorter boil times, because the boiling point of water is lower the higher you go. If you cook rather than rehydrate dried food in a cozy, there will be slightly longer cooking times. Since I just bring water to a boil, add it to my dehydrated meal, wrap it up to keep it warm, and let it sit about 15-20 minutes, I haven't noticed any difference in fuel consumption due to altitude.

If you and your friends are each doing their own meals, no problems. If you are sharing, that could be an issue. I personally could not go more than a day or two with just snack foods. As with everything else, YMMV!
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/03/17 12:13 AM

Although if you are cooking breakfast, and your friends are just eating an energy bar and hitting the trail, you will quickly learn that those two styles don't work very well together.

It would be a good idea to talk this through before you make it to the trailhead!
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/03/17 12:40 AM

Sorry, I didn't think about breakfast, since I fire up my stove only for dinner. For breakfast I eat meusli with extra nuts and dried fruit, with a little reconstituted dried milk. Five minutes at the most, and no stove needed.

I once was on a group trip using a gasoline stove (requiring lots of pumping). Everyone else had butane canister stoves. Even though we started preparations at the same time, everyone else was done eating before my water boiled! Needless to say, I switched to a canister stove right after the trip!

Yes, pre-trip discussions are a good idea!
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/03/17 10:58 AM

"It seems it is more preference driven than location or weight driven am I correct?"

There are multiple possible reasons for leaving the stove home (and the fuel, and the pot, and the wind screen ...).

As you suggested, if you're okay eating cold I think you can better match your overall backpacking "style" to that of your companions when they're doing so. Not required, however; I hiked a good long distance with a couple of friends who were going no-cook while I was cooking dinners, and it was okay. They were typically done eating while I was still heating my dinner, however, and as we were doing some relatively strenuous days, it did feel to me that they had a little more evening leisure time as a result, but not a huge deal.

And I've been on the other side of that one too; I've had a number of times where people offered to heat some water for me, which I accepted a time or two when it was clear to me that they had an excess of fuel (or were cooking over a fire), but mostly I didn't. People sometimes joke about being clever by getting other people to carry stuff they need, but that's definitely not the guy I want to be.

Reasons for no-cook can vary. As someone else mentioned, it's just very simple: you start eating, voila, dinner prep and cleanup is non-existent. Kind of nice at the end of a long day. It's also nice when it's very cold out, and/or raining/snowing/sleeting/hailing, or when the bugs are buzzing fierce and you just want to get in your tent and stay in.

And on a longer trip you needn't be concerned about how much fuel you're carrying or where to get more along the way. On my most recent trip I brought a multi-fuel setup that allowed me to burn twigs: I figured I would extend my alcohol fuel that way as resupply wasn't certain, and unless you can find HEET in a gas station, you can typically only buy alcohol fuel as denatured alcohol at something like 32 oz (or more) in a shot --- way too much.
But my hiking partner and I found that we weren't using the twig option as much; just a lot more time and effort there spent in gather the fuel and babysitting the fire.

Going stoveless might save you weight and/or bulk. Typically people reckon that the savings in gear carried is to some varying ratio offset by ready-to-eat foods that are heavier (more moisture content) and/or bulkier. I think that can vary a lot, and depends a lot too on what you're willing to eat, and the packaging it comes in. I figure that on a relatively long stretch, perhaps 6 to 7 days, I might start out with my overall food weight making my load a little heavier than it might be with a light stove setup (maybe?), but as I eat that down, I quickly end up ahead of the game. For shorter stretches between (food) resupply opportunities I'm sure that my pack is lighter as a result.

Another reason that people will sometimes go without the stove is concern about drawing the attention of bears. When I first did extensive hiking in Grizzly country I did just that, my first experience at eating cold.

Yet another reason, and I think this is a better one for those of us who live in the west, is that forest fires are becoming more and more of a problem all along the three west coast states. Even where stoves are allowed, increasingly the type of stove is restricted, which has an impact on access to fuel for those of us who do long distance hiking, but just in general the last thing we need in fire season is more fires lit of any sort in very dry country.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 03/06/17 09:07 PM

For longer trips, I do not feel you save any weight with no-cook and certainly not volume. My biggest concern on a longer trip is fitting 10 days food in a bear can! I even go as far as using non-instant items to save volume. Yes, more gas is needed, but that does not have to go inside my bear can.

To me it boils down to: 1) do you like to cook and 2) do you have time to cook. Honestly, cooking is a nice activity for me since I really do not have the energy to be going full-steam all daylight hours.

And IF you decide to cook, there are three methods - the boil water only method (fd meals), the cook pre-packaged non-freeze dry meals (think of Lipton side dishes with added meat), or 3) cook from scratch (just bring ingredients and cook from your "pantry". I do a combination of #2 and #3.

Stoves nowadays are really light. And also efficient - only needing about 1 oz of fuel a day. If you are careful (use a cozy and only partially cook) you can even use about 1 oz a day with cooking from scratch.

I keep my cooking to one-pot meals. I really hate eating out of a plastic or mylar bag (just-add-hot water stuff) so I bring a light pot no matter what.

And for me, bottom line is I WANT MY HOT COFFEE!!!
Posted by: rio nueces

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 06/28/17 06:13 AM

Hot food and drink at least once a day are a morale booster for me.
I can only take so much Clif or Snickers bars. Even tuna or jerky gets wearisome.
How about a hot johnnycake or 5 minute oatmeal? A nice bowl of soup? Need me some hot coffee too.
Posted by: Lonerock

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 06/30/17 05:39 PM

Coffee in the morning, especially when it's cold, and easy freeze dried in evening after a long day works for me. I do bring some light weight fresh foods for snacks to balance things out.
Posted by: AnN B

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 07/12/17 12:17 PM

Every time I've gone backpacking, I have never brought a stove. It is simpler for me to bring a hatchet and make a camp fire instead. In the long run, a nice 40 dollar hatchet and generic sharpening stone will turn out cheaper than purchasing fuel for your stove.

Cons: Hatchet weights 2 pounds

Pros: It is a WHOLE lot of fun to use laugh and it is cheaper than fuel

Sidenote: from an environmental standpoint, it would seem like cooking food with fire is more eco friendly than creating a demand for fuel by using a stove. However, to properly analyse this situation we would need to know what chemicals are released from a campfire, we would also need to know what is being burned. So its unclear to me which of the two are more environmentally friendly, on the long run i always try to combust the bare minimum possible.

On another sidenote: You can cut off weight by not bring a hatchet and using sticks that lay on the ground. Saws are very light.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 07/12/17 02:35 PM

At least out here in the West, campfires are banned in many places, and it's not a matter of choice.

During the dry season, which at least in the mountains coincides with backpacking season, open fires are strictly forbidden due to the wildfire danger. In the past few years, many jurisdictions insist that we use only a UL-rated stove with an on-off switch, which means no alcohol stoves, no esbit, and definitely no wood stoves--all that is legal are isobutane canister or gasoline stoves.

For environmental reasons, in the western mountains campfires are generally banned above a certain altitude even when the weather isn't dry. This is because firewood is in short supply as you get close to timberline, and what little dead wood exists there is needed to rot and replenish the thin soils. In addition, fire rings scar the ground permanently in those areas of thin soils and very short growing season. Even at lower altitudes, scars from campfires can last for several years.
Posted by: AnN B

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 07/12/17 03:16 PM

That sucks. Where i live on the east side of Canada, i have never heard of any strict regulations regarding fire making. I have heard stories of people burning down forests from lighting a fire in the ground which lit up a root system. The fire then followed the roots to the tree and proceeded to ignite a fire inside the hollowed dead tree. A rule of thumb for me is to light my fires on boulders.

National and provincial parks however are a different story, and they have their own rules and restrictions concerning open fires. What are some areas where you can light open fires?
Posted by: Jeffrey

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 07/28/17 06:48 AM

I tried no cook method back in the days, and it didn't work for me. There wasn't a big difference in weight, but the lack of hot coffee felt really bad.
Posted by: Adventurejus

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 11/12/17 01:17 PM

I do no cook pretty often during warm weather but prefer to have a warm meal for dinner during colder months. I am very curious what no cook/cook foods people are packing for their no cook foods to barley save them weight. When I no cook it saves a lot! No jet boil and the food is much more calorie dense than any dehydrated meals i have ever come across. I'll edit this later with specifications but my no cook food is usually never less than 140cal/oz.

Honey Stinger Waffles 150-160 cal per waffle and each weigh 1oz.
Assorted trail mixes( high nut content), basically all of them are 140-180 cal/oz.

Posted by: aimless

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 11/12/17 02:22 PM

my no cook food is usually never less than 140cal/oz.

This is interesting. 140 calories per oz. is the equivalent 4.9 calories per gram. That's pretty high. Both pure carbohydrate and pure protein are 4 calories per gram, and of course water, salt and fiber have zero calories per gram. It would be impossible to find edible no-cook food that doesn't have some water content and only the most refined foods would have no fiber. So, it seems to me your no-cook foods must be very heavy in fat.

It's not as if that is inherently bad on a short backpack trip where you're getting plenty of exercise, but I personally would find getting a very large percentage of my calories from pure fat would be unappetizing. I couldn't eat potato chips (or their equivalent) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Posted by: Adventurejus

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 11/12/17 04:36 PM

Having a high fat diet is essential for multi day long mile treks in my opinion. It's extremely hard to get the amount of calories I need otherwise. The average person probably burns 5,000-8,000 calories a day backpacking 20-30 miles. I definitely don't pack near that amount even with high fat foods. Your body processes mono and polyunsaturated fats more like carbohydrates than fats. I suppose if you were thinking of saturated fats then I'd agree, that is unappetizing. I more stick with trail mixes as stated above.
Posted by: troutstalker

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 06/04/18 04:09 PM

The only point of no cook or cold soak method is for having your food ready to eat when you stop hiking like in a thru hiking situation, in my opinion. With the BRS stove now, weighing only 0.9 oz, I personally would rather carry that extra weight along with a half full or less 100 g size gas canister in order to eat hot food.
Posted by: Billy02

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 07/19/18 01:58 AM

I dont care much about breakfast, i can live on bars, i usually get hungry after dawn, so would only use stove for a good dinner.
Posted by: haan9953

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 04/20/20 07:15 AM

There is nothing wrong in eating raw foods in the evening. If your digestive capacity is good, you can go ahead with your usual eating habits. Raw foods are full of nutrients since they are close to nature. But according to Ayurveda, raw foods are simply difficult to digest
Posted by: 4evrplan

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 04/20/20 10:28 AM

Haan, by "no cook", I don't think they mean raw. Rather, I think they mean all the cooking has been done ahead of time at home, and when they are out in the backcountry, they do not heat it up.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 04/20/20 10:52 AM

Except that raw foods are heavy, and we are backpackers.

Somebody doesn't know where they are posting...
Posted by: Masonic18

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 06/06/20 04:08 AM

Originally Posted By Carlos C
Is there any value in going to a no cook method over bringing a lightweight stove and using dehydrated or freezedried meals?

I have a friend who is no cook but I wonder if there are major differences other than less gear. Has anyone gone to no cook and been happier?

A camping stove is okay if it suits your style but I prefer to cook my meal naturally so I bring only a camping pot that fits my backpack. Never been try no-cook camping before because a warm drink in the morning really makes my whole day. Also, warm food in the evening is more satisfying for me.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 06/21/20 07:46 PM

Bear in mind that if you plan to hike in California that all "natural" fires are prohibited in the backcountry. Too many knuckleheads have started huge forest fires with their little cooking fires...
Posted by: a_gunslinger

Re: Cook vs No Cook - 08/25/20 09:25 AM

Being well fed is one of my few luxury needs. I cook. The weight savings is almost negligible to cook. Especially with some of the new freeze dried foods plus your own spices and condiments.