Cold Soaking: Ditch the backpacking stove and your troubles with it
There’s no question that when you’re doing any length of backpacking trip, and especially planning for a thru-hike, the two primary concerns of any object you place in your pack are: How much does this weigh, and how much space does this take up? Given the constant pursuit of the next lightest and best thing (looking at you gear junkies), what if you just removed the object entirely? The object in question is the stove. And before you say “I could never go without my morning coffee”, hear me out.
Cold soaking your food will:
Save you money (both initial purchase and long term purchasing of fuel) - A jetboil for example, is anywhere from $50-$150 up front and another $10 every time you need to refuel.
Save you time and energy in the cooking AND cleaning process. Seeing as you’re pouring cold water into the container the food came in, you don’t have to worry about melting your container/ food bag.
Take weight off your back AND you have one less item to worry about/break. Think about it, when you’re on the trail, the less ways your stuff can go wrong, the better.
And when you do eventually run out of fuel, you’ll be going cold soak anyways!
Sure, it’s not rocket surgery, there’s obvious practical benefits to going stoveless, but flavor and a warm belly is important too right?
I’m not going to lie, the warm belly thing can be a bit of a bugger, but personally, I’ll utilize that space/weight/money savings to ensure that I have a reliable warm layer that will fulfil that role. The flavor however, might surprise you, things like rice and beans, or lentils are actually really enjoyable as a refreshing cold bean salad.
For coffee, my preference is a mix of instant coffee (starbucks via is good but expensive, shop around), a milk powder that suits your diet, and ovaltine. I bring a big bag of this set to last me each day I plan to be out plus one. Put the coffee mix in 250ml of water the night before and when I wake up I give it a quick shake and it’s a burst of energy ready to go. The key here is, getting on the move right after coffee. The first 2-3 miles of the day in the early morning before breakfast happen so quick it’s not even funny. Just hike until you find a nice sunny rock to sit on and enjoy the first meal of the day.
Now we get to breakfast. In all honesty, quick oats are the way to go. Whether you make your own with freeze dried fruit and milk powder, the convenience factor is too good. If you use something like rolled oats ( we use the gluten-free variety) then the best best is to soak the oats overnight. Easy mode activated! Pro tip: It’s really nice when you have some sort of crispy or textured topping to go with the oats, take a look at what we do here.
Assuming you don’t have our cold-soak salads which rehydrate in 15 minutes, the practice for your lunch and dinner is going to be a bit different than you’re used to. It just takes a bit of planning, and being in tune with your body. When you are roughly 3-4 miles OR 30-45 minutes away from when you think you’ll want to eat, add the cold water to the food bag, zip it back up, and stow it in an outside pocket of your backpack. If you can face the food toward the sun it will help the soaking process. I’m a grazer so I’ll usually time the pre-hydrating of my meals with a light snack.
It’s worth noting, that some ingredients just won’t really ever get to the point of hydration as well as they would with hot water, and that’s just something you have to decide how you feel about for yourself.
So that’s all there is to it, you will learn through trial and error, which ingredients might need another 10 minutes, and which need a little more water than you expected to really get the food soaked through. For our meals however, we’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you. Take a look!
Henry’s recommendations in order of preference:
Zesty Miso Broccoli Slaw - Rehydrates in 15 minutes
Triple Peanut Slaw - Rehydrates in 15 minutes
Coconut Rice And Cuban Black Beans - (This one works really well!) Rehydrates in 20-25+ minutes
Lentil Walnut Pilaf - Rehydrates in 45+ minutes
Garlic Green Bean Cashew Stir Fry - Rehydrates in 55+ minutes but you should add extra water for the broth.
Ratatouille With Nutty Quinoa Pilaf - Rehydrates in 30 minutes
Cinnamon Cherry Crisp - Rehydrates in 50+ minutes
Sweet Potato With Kale and Quinoa - Rehydrates in 40+ minutes