Cooking up a hot meal at the end of a long day on the trail is a simple pleasure. The allure of the steaming pot and luscious aromas is a motivator all day long. But cooking a hot meal adds complexity. I have experimented a few times with this idea - heading out on a multi day trip without a stove. So far, I haven't found it worthwhile to give up the stove. This year, things are different. I have a few trips in mind that will stretch the limit of the amount of ground I can cover in a few days. I'm looking forward to pushing my limits a bit, and I'm searching for ideas that will stretch the day and lighten my pack. Dropping the stove and dreaming up a decent cook-free meal plan suddenly seems like a good idea.
No stove. No fuel. No lighters or starters. Less time spent cooking. A simpler and lighter set of cookware. It's all pretty appealing. In the summer, the value of a hot meal is mostly psychological. It's not like a winter trip where soup or tea or hot stew can make or break your day. It's not needed. Some of the best summer meals I eat at home are cold - fruit salads, salsa, bean salads, sandwiches, cold pizza, tortillas, breads. Why do we need to cook in the summer? Is using a stove one of those stubborn ideas, like heavy hob-nailed boots, that we refuse to throw away? Then, suddenly it seems, everyone decides that heavy boots are crazy, and light boots or trail runners are all you need.
I'm committed to going stoveless this summer. My morning routine for a long day won't be impacted very much. Typically I'm up in the gray of dawn. I eat my morning meal of muesli type mixes or cereal after about 90 minutes of hiking. The early morning walk allows me to wake up and get in a few early morning miles. Then I sit and enjoy a meal a little later, in the warmer part of the morning. The rest is welcome, and now I'm plenty hungry. I will skip any notion of morning coffee. Now, I love coffee approximately as much as I love oxygen. But unlike oxygen, I've found that I can give up coffee easily, especially when I'm focused on a big day of hiking or climbing. Maybe I will chew a few chocolate covered espresso beans. Sacrifice factor = near zero.
All day long I only eat snack type foods. Dropping the stove matters not at all.
Sacrifice factor = zero.
The evening meal is the crux. Giving up the warm meal is truly a pleasure denied. But I'm confident that with some planning I can make up a cold meal that will be plenty satisfying. I'll avoid eating energy bars or just more snack food. Instead, I will try to plan meals that are different and more substantial than my daytime snack plan. Here are some themes for cold meals that I'm going to explore. Usually I follow up the main meal with a few blocks of chocolate - sometimes dark, sometimes with nuts, and sometimes with milk chocolate and caramel (my favorite).
- Sandwiches. Tortillas or dense breads. Cheese. Thinly sliced jerky or smoked fish. Salami or other cured meat. Olive Oil. Condiments. These can be fantastic meals. A side benefit - no pot to clean up.
- Spreads. Cashew, almond or peanut butter. Breads and some sweeteners (honey or jam). Dried fruit and nuts. Admittedly, this is just another type of sandwich. But the flavors and texture are so different, that I'm calling it a different theme. Again, no pot to clean up.
- Cold salads or stews. Tuna or chicken, condiments, rehydrated cold veggies, rehydrated cold pasta (this works great with no stove - and with planning it's easy). Pestos. Olive Oil. Spices. There are infinite variations.
With just those three themes, and creative variations, I can make up a menu that will have plenty of variety over a trip of up to ten days or so. I expect there will be some missteps - some bad meals with crazy combinations. But not too many, as hunger is the best spice.
The more I've contemplated this idea, the more it surprises me that I've been cooking all these years. Maybe after the summer I'll feel differently. But for now I'm keen to drop the stove and spend more time resting or walking or exploring.
For trips where I plan to spend a lot of time in camp, or hike only short days, the stove and all its benefits are well worth it. But when the focus is moving across terrain, handling difficult challenges, and maximizing movement and rest, then why not drop the stove?
What do you think?