Walking – Eating – Sleeping. These are the three central corners of a every hike. It doesn’t matter if it’s a multi-day-hike or a long-distance-hike. This article is about food and how we cook while hiking. The listed methods for outdoor cooking just cover a fraction of the possibilities out there and only refer to our favourite methods for muliti-day-hikes.
Outdoor Cooking – The Cooking System
- It must be fast
- It must be easyily doable
- It must be uncomplicated
These three factors are relevant if it comes to outdoor cooking while hiking and doing other outdoor activities. If you’re cooking system applies to these criteria you’ll have much more time to look at the stars, to read a book or to hike further.
When we’re hiking (overnight) we always cook with the “1-pot-system” and for dinner only. Cooking with one pot doesn’t mean that you’ll only eat Ramen noodles and packet soup. With a bit of creativity you can cook wonderful meals, even outdoors.
Tipp: There are a lot of cooking books for 1-pot-meals, which supply you with the basics for trail recipes.
We create our menus always with the same 3-point-principle:
Food with lots of carbs like pasta, Ramen noodles, rice (instant), couscous and/or food with higher amount of protein like lentils and quinoa build the base for every meal. These ingredients have the longest cooking time and are prepared with the cooking methods from the next chapter.
Carbs fuel your hiking-engine
In the second step we enrich the meal with other ingredients, which are added while or after cooking:
- Spices: mix of herbs, pepper, salt, stock
- Sauces: tomato paste, pesto (calorie bomb), sauce mixes (Mexican, Thai), packet soup
- Garnish: dried vegetables (peas, onions, soup-mix, etc.)
- Extra Protein: cheese, tofu (luxury), nuts and legumes (beans, chickpeas, etc.)
Energy Boosters are fats like oil (olive, coconut), peanut butter and nuts. Fatty foods deliver enormous amounts of dense calories à calories per 100g. We couldn’t cover our whole calorie consumption with carbs and proteins alone.
- 100ml olive oil has 809 calories
- 100g noodles have approx. 400 calories
Info: We cook vegetarian. Therefore, you won’t find the usual suspects like salami, tuna and beef jerky in our cooking tips. We compensate the missing protein from meat and fish with nuts, cheese and legumes.
Outdoor Cooking – Calorie Requirement
An universal calorie requirement (RDI Recommended Daily Intake ) per day for men and women is as useful as using the BMI (Body-Mass-Index) as only indicator for obesity. But such numbers are useful as approximate guidelines. You can also calculate your increased calorie requirement for hiking on websites like Calorie Burn Calculator or Calorie Lab. The more factors (altitude, km/h, duration etc.) you can feed into the calculation, the more precise the result is.
But as soon as a hike takes longer than a week, the calorie requirement can increase. 10 days. After this duration most long-distance-hikers experience an increased need of calories, because their metabolism will have adapted to the new situation.
Experiences also show, that most long-distance-hikers lose weight because they can’t completely cover their calorie need.
Outdoor Cooking – Cooking Set
At the moment, we use an Evernew Titanium Non-Stick 1.3l pot for hiking. The size of the pot is perfect for us. The material is very light, but pricey. The two handles are foldable for transportation and are protected against the heat of the titanium with a rubber band.
Your calorie requirement is very important when you chose a cooking pot. Consider buying a larger (more volume) pot if you’re a big eater or have to keep going a muscular body.
Furthermore, we use two titanium mugs (4,5dl) from Snow Peak for tea/coffee, two titanium spoons from Sea to Summit and tow peanut butter jars for soaking.
Outdoor Cooking – Cooking Methods
We use the following cooking methods while hiking to save fuel and time.
To soak ingredients saves us both: fuel and time.
- For breakfast we eat porridge mixed with sultanas, shredded/desiccated coconut, cinnamon, (coconut-)sugar, etc. Instead of cooking – which would be pleasant in cold weather – we soak our porridge in water in a peanut butter jar over night. We have a ready-made meal in the morning and don’t have to clean a gooey cooking pot. With a bit of water and vigorous shaking, the peanut butter jars are easily cleaned.
- If we have planned to have some beans or lentils for dinner, we soak them during the day while we’re hiking. However, this means that we have to carry additional water/weight (2-3dl).
Boiling Up And Simmering
Noodles and rice require a long cooking time. Most of which is used for simmering. We save these 15 minutes by setting the cooking pot aside after bringing the water to a boil and letting the ingredients soak slowly. Should the ingredients not be cooked after a while, we simply put them on the stove once more.
If you want to make this method more efficient, you can make a Pot Cosy for your cooking pot.
Outdoor Cooking – Pot Cosy
A Pot Cosy is an isolating shell around your pot, which slows the cooling process down. It’s very easy to make your own Pot Cosy. We used the material Reflectix, which is used for isolating houses or for car sunshields. (→ more information on DIY Camping Gear)
We had to change the original design because of the two rubber handles of the Evernew cooking pot. The rubber and the Reflectix stick together like glue. That’s why we cut a small opening into the Pot Cosy so that we can fold the two handles around it.
And the Pot Cosy does have another advantage: You can hold your cooking pot while eating without getting burned.
You can find numerous video-tutorials and instructions on YouTube and blogs.
Outdoor Cooking – The Stove
After several attempts with different stoves and fuels we prefer cooking with gas or alcohol stoves. We would only use multi-fuel stoves (petrol, diesel, kerosene) again, if it were crucial. For example: Remote places and countries where the availability of white gas and methylated spirits are limited.
We haven’t used wood stoves yet. Wood is a (sometimes abundantly available) natural resource, but we try to leave as little traces as possible. Especially in ecologically fragile environments, you can do much harm with wood collecting. That’s why in some areas (e.g. National Parks) wood collecting might be prohibited. And if there is a fire ban your wood stove could be banned as well.
Most long-distance hikers use DIY-alcohol stoves because of their weight. So far we’ve tried a double-walled aluminium can and the cat stove. After the first trials with the can stove we weren’t happy with it because of its inefficiency. With the cat stove (tuna can, pet food can etc.) we had better experiences.
Advantages Alcohol Stove
+ Availability: Despite the numerous different names (methylated spirits, denatured alcohol, methyl alcohol, ethanol, Brennsprit etc.) you can find this fuel almost everywhere (supermarkets, pharmacies, chemists, outdoor shops).
+ Rationing: You can always see how much fuel you have left.
+ Price: A 1l-bottle usually costs half as much as a gas cartridge (230g). 1l of alcohol lasts four times longer than a 230g gas cartridge.
+ Backup: Because of its weight and availability (material) alcohol-stoves are an ideal backup besides a gas stove.
Disadvantages Alcohol Stove
– Fuel value: The fuel value of methylated spirits (alcohol) is half (1:2) as large as the fuel value of white gas like butane and propane. This means that you need twice the amount of fuel for cooking with an alcohol stove, compared to cooking with a gas stove.
– Temperatures: Alcohol burns poorly if it’s getting below 10 degrees Celsius and further. In temperatures below freezing you will most likely have to wear the fuel bottle on your body.
– Efficiency: Not only is the fuel value low, but the DIY-alcohol stove is also less efficient than a gas stove. The design of the stove and cooking pot (shape) are relevant. Either too much energy is wasted or the pot’s content doesn’t get hot enough.
Moreover, alcohol doesn’t always burn with the same intensity and you can’t regulate the heat.
Industrially produced alcohol stoves like a Caldera Cone Stove or a Trangia are much more efficient than DIY-stoves.
– Stability: Alcohol stoves are not very stable and on uneven surfaces not of much use. With most designs, the stove directly comes into contact with the underground, which then gets damaged by the heat. In areas with fragile underground or in arid places with dry vegetation your stove can do a lot of harm.
Advantages Gas Stove
+ Fuel Value: Most gas cartridges do have a fuel value twice as high as the one of methylated spirits.
+ Efficiency: Gas stoves are industrially manufactured and designed by engineers. So the efficiency is much better. Additionally, you can regulate your gas output. A fully turned on gas stove would waste too much fuel.
+ Stability: Gas stoves, which are screwed on top of a gas cartridge, are relatively stable and do have a bigger bearing surface than an alcohol stove. The heighten position of the flame requires a bigger windshield but the heat doesn’t damage the underground.
Disadvantages Gas Stove
– Rationing: Because there are no transparent gas cartridges, it’s very difficult to estimate how much fuel is left. The only help is your experience about how much you normally use per Day/Week. Weight your gas cartridge before and after a trip and note how many litres of water you’ve boiled. With this information you can more or less estimate how long one gas cartridge will last.
– Availability: It can be very tricky to find a new gas cartridge in remote areas. Not every dairy sells them. You have two choices: Either you carry an additional gas cartridge or you make a plan with resupply points in advance.
– Price: A gas cartridge with 230g of fuel normally costs twice as much as 1l of methylated spirits.
– Waste: There are some refillable gas cartridges on the market but they are expensive or just too heavy to carry. Another possibility is recycling. You can remove the valve with tools (hammer, nail etc.) or use a CrunchIt from MSR (28g) and dispose the decompressed cartridge in the metal recycling. But in the end a PET bottle with methylated spirits is probably still ecologically friendlier..
Weight: Alcohol vs. Gas
When it comes to the weight comparison we haven’t found an answer.
The weight of an alcohol stove (DIY) is generally less because of the use of thin aluminium cans. Surely, there are lightweight gas stoves as well. We cook with a titanium stove from Kathmandu, which only weights 48g.
But more important than the weight of the stove is the weight of the fuel. A gas cartridge with 230g fuel weights approx. 360g in total (depends on manufacturer).
If we consider that we use twice as much fuel with an alcohol stove, we would need approx. 460ml methylated spirits (incl. PET bottle) for the same performance. Thus, in the beginning you carry more weight with an alcohol stove, but at the end of the hike – if calculated correctly – you shouldn’t have any fuel left, just an empty PET bottle. But with a gas stove you still carry the empty gas cartridge, which weights 140g. Now you can do the math and decide for yourself.
The decision about using an alcohol or gas stove depends on different factors. The pros and cons like mentioned above and others like:
- Time of the year
- Durance of the hike
Our current choice: We use a gas stove for our hike on the long-distance trail Te Araroa in New Zealand because it shouldn’t be a problem to resupply. But it doesn’t hurt to have an alcohol stove as a backup.
Outdoor Cooking – Ingredients
Following, we listed some ingredients we regularly use on hikes. We cook vegetarian as far as possible and don’t list meat and fish in this list.
- Couscous – hot water, oil, salt, ready!
- Ramen (instant noodles) – calorie bombs
- Pasta – fast cooking
- Oats – Porridge (cold, soaked in water) for breakfast. Surprisingly high in protein.
- Crispbread, Crackers – long-life
- Wraps – long-life
- Muesli bars – best when homemade
Proteins & Fat
- Tofu – long-life despite non-refrigerated
- Nutritional Yeast – great in sauces
- Shredded/desiccated coconut
- Seeds & Kernels:
- Sunflower kernels
- Legumes (soaking is advised):
- Red lentils
- Chick Peas
- Peanuts (no soaking 😉 )
- Carrots (fresh)
- Dried vegetables – soup mixes
- Instant coffee – with milk or vegetable powder and sugar
- Coffee alternatives – caffeine free alternative made with malt, rye, barley etc.