“Why would anyone choose to not carry a stove???”
“You must be out of your mind, they’re not even that heavy!”
I fully understand these reactions when I talk about stoveless backpacking…and all I have to say to the skeptics is – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
There are a ton of benefits of going stoveless, the biggest of which is not the weight savings – it’s the simplicity.
Now you may think you like the ritual of cooking yourself a hot meal after a day of hiking, but compare that to the ritual of not having to do all that work and just relaxing instead. Which one sounds better?
There are certainly occasions where a stove is warranted and I wouldn’t go backpacking without one. For example, in the winter stoves are a crucial part of not only comfort but staying safe.
But on summer trips, stoveless backpacking meals can be just as delicious and satisfying as a cooked meal.
I’ve found one barrier to going stoveless is not realizing the abundance of great, no-cook food that is available on a backpacking trip.
I’ve rounded up my favorite stoveless backpacking meals and categorized them for easy scrolling and reference. As you’re planning a trip, you might also want to mix and match meals from different categories to make sure you have enough variety.
I’ve also included some tips for going stoveless so make sure you check those out towards the bottom of this article.
Protein is critical when you’re on a backpacking trip. It keeps you full longer and gives you energy throughout the day. Your body also needs it to support your muscles which have been taxed from all that hiking. It may also help you sleep (although some information out there is conflicting on this issue).
Here are just a few ideas to get your protein on your backpacking trip if you’re not carrying a stove:
1. Beef Jerky
The king of light weight protein. Many people complain about how expensive it is but just think that you pay for the protein to weight ratio.
2. Other Jerkies
Buffalo, turkey, deer – all are packed with protein.
3. Packets or Cans of Tuna
Tons of protein and great in a tortilla. Cans are a little heavy but some people prefer that over the packs, just don’t forget to bring your P-38 can opener! Also, get it in olive oil rather than water to add some healthy fats.
4. Protein Powder
It’s easy to carbo-load on the trail but just packing in some whey or plant-based protein powder is a great way to get the protein you need. Have it with granola or cereal for a full meal!
5. Salmon Packets
An alternative to tuna, these are also delicious in a tortilla.
6. Pepperoni or Salami
A great way to pack in protein that won’t spoil.
Grains and Pasta
Surprisingly, many grains that you would normally cook will rehydrate when you let them soak. And while they still won’t be hot when you eat them, they are perfectly fine (and delicious after hiking) to eat.
Try these grains and pasta to load up on carbs for more energy:
Pack it in a plastic bag, add water and wait about 15 minutes.
8. Instant noodles (ramen)
These take about 30 minutes to rehydrate but they’re fine once they absorb enough water. This is because the noodles are already cooked and when you “cook” them at home, you are just speeding up the rehydration process.
9. Pita Chips
Combine with some other “dip-able” items on this list and you’ve got a mouth-watering meal!
10. Baked Goods
Best for the first day or two of a trip but don’t discount how awesome a buttery croissant can be when you’re miles from anywhere
Dehydrated legumes are different than uncooked legumes. These are legumes that have been cooked and then slowly dehydrated so that when it comes time to eat them, it doesn’t take long for them re-adsorb water and become edible again.
Legumes are full of complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest and make you feel full longer. They also provide a very good portion of protein and many consider them among the best sources of vegetarian protein.
You can sometimes, but not always, find dehydrated (or simply called dried) beans at the grocery store or health food store or you can order them from Amazon. You can also make your own in a dehydrator.
Any of these go well with tortillas or pita chips for a very filling meal.
11. Dehydrated Beans
Black, pinto, red…whatever you like. You can get them dehydrated or make your own (remember – dehydrated doesn’t mean uncooked). They are full of fiber, protein, and are sure to keep you full.
12. Dehydrated Lentils
Lentils are filling and even have some protein! Just remember, they take longer to re-hydrate when you’re not using warm water (as with most things)
You can buy one that you mix, buy it dehydrated, or you can even make your own and dehydrate it using a dehydrator
14. Bulgur Wheat
Make sure you don’t get cracked wheat because it’s not the same thing, although they look very similar. Bulgur wheat is already cooked and will rehydrate just fine, given enough time (but it takes a while). Also, it goes rancid within a few months so it’s fine for a backpacking trip but maybe don’t take that bulgur wheat you found in the back of the pantry that has been there since time immemorial.
Tortillas with Filling
Tortillas are great because they don’t get smushed and are dense with calories. They can be packed into just about any corner of a full backpack. So many things are delicious inside and they make eating without a plate simple and easy – just put one in your hand and it becomes your plate that you can eat!
Here are a few of my favorite things take along with your tortillas:
15. Hard Cheese
Hard cheeses can easily last a few days without refrigeration. After a day of hiking, you don’t really care if your quesadilla is not melted…you’re just happy to have a quesadilla!
16. Cream Cheese
17. Peanut butter
This is among the heavier options on this list and while this may add a little weight to your pack, the ratio of calories to weight is still pretty high so it’s probably worth it if you love peanut butter. Bring some honey packets too and it’s like a 4-star restaurant!
These take some care to keep from smushing but wow! Imagine essentially having avocado toast in the morning while your friends are waiting for their water to boil for their lame oatmeal
Still want a hot meal? MREs might be the solution for you. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) have been a staple of the military and wildland firefighters for decades. They come with all kinds of options, include different sides with each one, and sometimes have a piece of gum!
The myth that MRE gum contains a laxative is false…just in case you were wondering.
The real kicker here is that this is the only stoveless option on this list that you can eat hot because MREs come with a self warming packet that actually gets quite hot. If you’ve never had an MRE, I recommend trying one just to see what they’re like. It’s not the most delicious food but it’s not bad and eating an MRE is a little experience in itself. You can buy them on ebay, amazon, or sometimes at army surplus stores.
Snacks and Sides
Of course you’re going to need some snacks throughout the day but some people might just eat a few different snacks for a meal! To each their own.
Good Old Raisins and Peanuts. The original trail mix. Salty and sweet with protein and good fat from the nuts. Experiment to get your own ratio just right but a good starting point is equal parts raisins and peanuts. Add one part M&Ms to kick it up a notch.
21. Trail Mix
Of course you can buy trailmix from the store or you could save some money and customize with your favorite ingredients. Here’s a helpful guide and some starter recipes.
22. Energy Bars
So many options these days, from protein-packed to superfoods!
23. Dried Fruits
A little on the heavier side but a small amount can be an amazing desert or sweet snack
Bring some powdered milk or protein mix to make a complete meal
25. Powdered Mashed Potatoes
Idahoan is a go to for many backpackers. There are many flavors to choose from. Bring some bacon bits to make these mouth-watering good!
How to Go Stoveless
Here are a few things that might make going stoveless easier for you:
- Start slow – on your next trip, take your stove but plan for eating half your meals from the recipes here. That way you can see how you like it without ditching that stove cold turkey
- Give it time – rehydrating foods takes more time than cooking stuff so keep that in mind before you eat. Maybe get your noodles soaking before you set up your tent? Nothing is worse than being starving and having nothing to do but sit and watch your food soak.
- Plastic containers are worth more than gold – Talenti ice cream jars have a screw top and are super light. That’s all you need to know.
- If you want to step it up a notch – get a dehydrator. Most of the meal ideas here are stuff you can get in the store but if you have your own dehydrator, the possibilities are endless. There’s a ton of great recipes at trails.recipes
Going stoveless is a personal decision that is more about simplicity than it is about weight. Most people don’t realize the variety of meals that are possible so this list of 25 stoveless backpacking meals is meant to show the possibilities. If you’re skeptical about backpacking without a stove, maybe plan a stoveless meal or two for your next trip but still bring your stove for other meals. Don’t knock it until you’ve experienced the time saving and simplicity of not having to cook after a hard day of hiking.
Cooking at a campfire or coal barbecue? You’ve got try my foil packs (a.k.a. hobo dinners)! My favorite is the gourmet Garlic Butter Shrimp and Veggie or there is the infamous Beef and Veggie Foil Dinner.