Cook vs No Cook

Food, one of the most important aspects of life. I don’t know about you, but I love the stuff, and sometimes I can never have enough. Diet can be a very personal choice, our special relationship with food has manifested itself as a divisive topic in the hiking community: Traditional cooking on trail vs ultralight no-cook minimalism. In this brief guide, I’ll be going over the pros and cons of cooking and the no-cook style. As a proponent of hiking your own hike, I won’t declare which one is the best, but I’ll definitely share some food for thought on the subject.


A titanium pot over a small fire in the woods


Hot Food Can Boost Morale

There’s something to be said about the morale-boosting effects of having something warm to drink and eat, especially in cooler conditions. Sometimes the simple things like stuffing yourself with piping hot chili mac after crushing some miles goes a long way towards motivation.

A nice hot meal after a long day of spiraling ascents and zig-zagging switchbacks? Yes, please. A steaming cup of coffee first thing in the morning to compliment the brisk dawn’s air? Sign me up chief. I like to think of it as a nice reward for a job well done.

Back Up Water Treatment

A titanium mug pour water into a frozen body of water

Going ultralight doesn’t mean you have to be ill-prepared. We all love our Sawyer Squeezes and Katadyn BeFrees, but sometimes things don’t always go as planned on trail. You may find yourself in a situation where your primary water treatment fails or goes tumbling down the side of a cliff. Not so nice. If you’re carrying a stove and some fuel you at least have a backup water treatment option. 

Variety is the Spice of Life

It seems like every day there is a new dehydrated backpacker meal brand releasing delicious pre-made dinners. Now, you can be isolated in the middle of nowhere without sacrificing your addiction to Thai Curry, what a world. This variety also gives you options nutritionally speaking as well. With a stove, you’re not stuck taking in the same source of carbs, proteins, and fats day in day out. The body loves variety, so give it what it craves by cooking up some chicken and dumplings for dinner at camp.


Slows You Down

The time and preparation required for cooking will slow you down, no doubt about it.

For some hiking is all about maximizing trail time, if you’re stopping to boil water at every meal you’re really cutting into that time. This might be a big con if you’re on a tight timeline and have to be back at work in 4 days.

Heavier and More Expensive

A titanium pot sitting on top of a lightweight stove in front of an assortment of ultralight backpacking equipment

I hate to break it to you, that stove and pot/mug isn’t helping your pack weight stay low.

Purchasing fuel and expensive pre-made meals will definitely help keep your wallet pretty lightweight. If you’re looking to save some ounces and some dollars you might want to consider going no-cook.

Uninvited Guests

Your outdoor kitchen smells great …. to local wildlife you may not want to acquaint yourself with.


Pouring water into a bottle with oats in it for cold soaking


Simplicity and Frugality

Like I said before, cooking takes time and effort. When you go no-cook you save not only the time you’d spend firing up your stove, you also save some dollars by bringing along much more economically viable food options. Not to mention the huge savings on purchasing extra fuel cans on longer trips.

Plan a Hike and Spend Most of Your Time Hiking

Is going on a hike about hiking or camping? The answer to that is up to you, but for all those speedy no-cook pros out there the answer is hiking. Going no-cook enables you to move efficiently down trail without having to mess around with finicky stoves or fuel sources when it’s time to chow down. Just reach for your cache of snacks or that cold-soaking oatmeal you made the night before.

You’re Lighter Dude

Two titanium spoons sitting on top of a rock

The food options for the stoveless lifestyle are often lighter due to less packaging, but you’re also cutting out the need for your stove, pots, and fuel. All you really need for going no-cook is a nice resealable container for cold soaking and a good titanium spoon or spork, then you’re ready to flex on all the normies huddled around their misfiring pocket rockets.


Cold Mush is on the Menu Tonight

Partially hydrated backpacker meal in a bag with a spoon in it

For a lot of people, the idea of eating cold, tepid, unappetizing mush doesn’t really sound like a good time. I mean damn, I’ve already exposed myself to lyme disease and almost got swept away during that river crossing, why make it worse by shoveling cold, partially hydrated oats into my mouth? Not to mention, partially or improperly reconstituted dried foods can lead to bloating and aches during digestion. I don’t care how tough you are, no one likes a belly ache.

Junk Food Diet

Cold soaked lentils and chia seeds not your vibe cousin? Don’t worry, you can always live exclusively off Sour Patch Kids, Doritos, and Snicker Bars. It’s like a dream come true for your childhood self! It’s hard being an adult and resisting the temptation to eat an entire bag of Swedish Fish, cause you’ll just burn it off anyway right? However, we all know eating like that consistently does a number on our body and teeth.

More Thought and Effort When Planning Your Meals

A lot of healthy no-cook options aren’t readily available at some of the more common resupply points along trail, so you’ll really have to put some serious thought into your meal planning during your hike. This kind of cuts into some of your free-time pre-hike, as you’ll be running around prepping a bunch of pre-packaged dehydrated veggies, oats, and other grains.


Obviously the answer lies in the eye of the beholder, duh. 

If you savvy yourself a true ultralight minimalist that is all about bangin’ out miles then no-cook seems to be the way to go. A lot of us at Zpacks prefer to go this route, cause we can be a bunch of gram weenies from time to time.

Now if you’re really not about giving up that hot cup of joe first thing in the morning, then I’d say bringing along a stove is worth it.

Either way, you have to eat, so pick the style that works best for your unique style and needs, cause as we all know…. 

Hike your own hike dudes. 


All photos provided by Deux Pas Vers L'Autre (Nil & Marie)

Zpacks Adam

About the Author : Adam "Huckleberry" Lee

Adam is just a photographer and would prefer to not get credit for writing this blog, even though he did.

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