by Scot “So Far” Forbes
The idea of backpacking for many conjures one of the quintessential elements of backcountry living: the campfire. Many backpackers will often say that food on the trail tastes better because of the environment, and one of the places where people geek out on the most with their gear is in their portable kitchen with everything but a standup mixer. I get it: Everyone loves a hot meal. I went to college in Ashland, where many of us know that there is a hot food tax- they know that visitors to their city expect the luxury of something prepared in the oven or on a stove to go along with their vacation. It’s nice. It’s cozy. It reminds us of home.
Hiking stoveless is a departure from this, and it is part of a larger mindset that I have in real life as well as when hiking. For me, I am anything but what one would call a gourmand. I appreciate good food when I come across it, but I don’t by any means expect it. I am perfectly content grazing at home, and consider the distinction between a large snack and a meal to be inconsequential. The focus for most hikers, and indeed most Americans, is a large meal in the evening. The banquet or feast that we call dinner. I have found that at home as well as on trail, I have started to try to minimize that meal and focus more on eating throughout of the day.
When on a hike, I leave the cooking to the professionals and get my cooked food in town.
Among the miracles of the post-war, echo to the Industrial Revolution, we made great gains (some would call losses) in the ubiquity and quality of available foodstuffs. When I use the word “quality,” I am referring only to our ability to preserve these foods from spoiling. Over time, much of the processing for foods can have demonstrably detrimental effects on one’s health, but for a long hike, embrace the fats, salts, and, that are available and ready to eat in our nation’s small-town convenience stores. I am known for my famous all Cheez-It dinners. You’re on vacation!
There is one important qualifier: Fiber. The best way to get some fiber out there is to dehydrate at home. I recommend kiwis, blueberries, red peppers, and red onions. These cover the bases as far as sweet/savory, and between them, can make any “meal” more delicious. Most people dehydrate specifically for their cooked meals, but I think it’s even better for modifying much-needed fruits and vegetables for ready-to-eat convenience.
I am a person who doesn’t want to have to deal with much out there, and looking for fuel in small towns and having to deal with proper storage and carrying a liquid that I cannot drink are low on my list of reasons to go backpacking. Also, cooking is not part of my experience. Going stoveless helps me achieve my goal of getting to sleep early and simply look forward to another day of hiking.
All this being said - if anyone else ever wants to cook for me. . .