Cooking is a pain... especially in the backcountry. The weight of the stove, pots and dishes always adds a couple pounds to your bag. Not to mention the time-consuming messy setup and cleanup.
Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts that choose NOT to cook their meals are time-saving kings living the ultralight high life on the trails. Leave the stove and propane behind to feel the freedom on your back while hiking. You’ll stand carefree when everyone else is windscreening their stoves to boil water or cleaning the dirtiest alfredo dish known to man. As long as you’re willing to sacrifice some warmth in your belly and leave a few taste buds unsatisfied, you’ll experience the hassle-free, time-saving methods as a non-cook backpacker.
The following nine meals provide what you’d need for your next 3 day backpacking trek. Keep in mind we reuse the same vegetables and pita bread to help consolidate your meal plan grocery list.
Breakfast is the meal that kick starts your day on the trail, so it’s an important one. These meals, however, would go well anytime of day. Mix and match ingredients and feel free to adjust the quantity to your liking.
This breakfast is unbeatable. On the Appalachian Trail, we prefer the Quakers Instant Cream flavors, but they are more artificial. The Organic packets come in Original, Maple and Brown Sugar. They taste great hot, but add some dried fruit for a quick, easy, and tasty start to your day. Cold water, 2 packets, dried fruit, you’re done.
This one is sure to fill you up. Spread as much peanut butter and honey on one, two, or three bagels and feel satisfied knowing you have protein, carbohydrates, and fat to start your day. Justin’s Peanut Butter is convenient because it comes in squeeze packs. Also, consider a sprinkle of dried fruit, or even M&M’s if no one’s looking.
Here’s a meal for the serious ultralight hikers. One packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast powder mixed with a cup of water, add a tablespoon or two of chia seeds, and you’ve got a super food breakfast beverage packed with a few hundred calories, omega 3-fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and more. The chia seeds will actually soak up the liquid to help provide more food mass. If you know you’ll be in a hurry the next morning, you could even prep this the night before in your water bottle. When you wake up, your camp-made energy drink will be ready for you.
You could have a larger portion of one of these meals for a lunch OR have a smaller portion of each of these snacks every day on the trail. Personally, I prefer having a rest every couple of hours and eating yummy snacks to keep me going. This way, I don’t feel weighed down by a big meal and morale stays higher. Either way you do it, here are a few staples that everyone will enjoy having on the trail.
Greenbelly Meals provide 1/3 of your daily value of calories, carbs, protein, fats, sodium and fiber packed into two deliciously natural meal bars. These supercharged, nutritionally dense, bars surge a whopping 650 calories to your system. 3 flavors to choose from: Peanut Apricot, Cranberry Almond, and Dark Chocolate Banana. It doesn’t get any easier than these.
Pita bread is a tough bread that can handle the hardships of being in a pack. Your taste buds will appreciate some savory hummus. A nice addition to all this trail food is some fresh vegetables. Add raw carrots, broccoli, green beans, or peppers and you’ve got a balanced meal to keep you fueled.
BBQ goodness (or whatever flavor you fancy) and all-natural ingredients make for a mouth watering jerky! The true, fail-safe snack for any hiker on any trek is trail mix. You can’t go wrong with nuts, dried fruit, and the occasional chocolate bonus. There are tons of healthy mixes to keep you happy. This sort of sweet and savory combo is a favorite among many backpackers.
The meal you’ve been waiting for all day has finally arrived. Admittedly, this is the meal that might be difficult to forego heat. These meals do tend to be a bit heavier on the meat. You can always substitute with hummus or beans.
Pizza tastes good hot OR cold. With a little preparation and the right ingredients, your pizza wrap can too. Pack tomato powder, add some water, salt, pepper, and other herbs, and you have a tomato paste for the base of your wraps. Cured meats like pepperoni, salami, or chorizo are ideal for backpacking and stay preserved long enough without being cooled. Firm, aged cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Asiago, or Gouda do best on a multi-day trek as well. Layer those wraps with the sauce, sliced cheese and meat. Some hot sauce or bbq sauce can liven the wraps up.
A relatively easy prep dinner. Hopefully you didn’t eat all the vegetables from your earlier hummus-dipping frenzy. Save yourself a bell pepper (preferably 2), a few other raw vegetables, cheese and cured meat. A nice filler for the meal is fine couscous. The couscous will rehydrate after 15 minutes of sitting in cold water. While the couscous sits, slice and dice everything but the peppers. You can also add a spicy sauce to the peppers. Dump everything inside the bell pepper cavity, shake it around, and you have an edible bowl of fresh veggies, couscous, and meat your body has been craving all day. Simple goodness.
Cheap, easy to carry and great for those trail leg muscles, tuna is a favorite among hikers. Crackers can be great if you can prevent them from crumbling. Add ingredients like sliced veggies, hard cheese, and you have pita pockets full of yumminess. Just be sure you’ve got at least 2 packs of tuna to be fueled for tomorrow's hike out.
For long distance hikers, uncooked meals can get a bit monotonous. To resolve this, get funky with some of these meal ideas and mix and match ingredients. Don’t forget you could always treat yourself to a nice, warm meal when you get home! You could even make hard-boiled eggs or dehydrate pasta. Regardless, even if you’re a stove lover, give the cold foods a try. Keep an open mind to the stoveless possibilities!
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.
*Affiliate Disclosure: Some links on this page may be affiliate links. This means we may receive a small portion of any potentially referred sales. This comes at no extra cost to you. We just want to be completely transparent.
650-calorie fuel. No cooking. No cleaning.