Saturday, March 16, 2013

I am: Stoveless

I am stoveless. I have been that way for all my thru-hikes. I hike differently than most and go farther than most, so finding ways to enhance my performance and sate my motor-driven mind is very important. Stoveless fits my hiking style: light, fast and efficient. Since I am not motivated by lavish meals on trail, going stoveless enables me to treat food as fuel to sustain the machine to the next town stop. I don’t like to spend time in camp cooking dinner. I spend most of my time hiking solo and I feel spending time in camp cooking dinner is more of a social bent. I need to use my time efficiently.

I use the craving for ’better’ food towards the end of a section to drive me forward to my next stop. Of course I love food, but while on trail I need that food to be purposeful. But that does not mean I will eat that monkish while in town. As stated in a previous paragraph, I am working on controlling the binges with proper food intake while in town. On trail, I want my meals to be healthy and simple. What that means to me is getting proper nutrition with dehydrated and compact foods (light) for the activity I do (speed hiking) and having the means to prepare the meal in little time (fast and stoveless).

I have my system and preparation down pat. For breakfast or lunch I will whip something that is instant, like a veggie-protein shake, mashed potatoes, dehydrated peanut butter or oatmeal. I supplement the time between those two meals with energy bars, such as ClifBars, Lara Bars, and the like. For lunch, I will have some type of salty snack to go with the mashed potatoes, like Fritos or Wheat Thins. Between lunch and dinner, I will consume more energy bars and some more of the salty snack. Around 530pm each day I will then soak my dehydrated dinner: a plenitude of mixtures that may include refried beans, mixed veggies, bell peppers, peas, TVP, kale powder, tomato powder, and mashed potatoes. The mixtures are soaked with water in a 16oz. plastic container with a twist cap to prevent leakage and stowed in my outer mesh pouch on the Kumo Superlight. I keep the mixture stowed there for about an hour and let sunrays heat the mixture up to an ambient temperature. Stoveless is essentially going ‘cold,’ however, almost every meal I make on trail for dinner is not. Cold in this instance implies no flame to heat my food.

Most food most hikers cook are in dehydrated form. I found that I didn’t mind eating something at room temperature, a left over burrito or a slice of pizza left in a box on a kitchen counter top. I applied that comfort level to the trail. I basically use the same product as most hikers except I leave out food items that would take longer to prepare such as rice and pasta noodles. I can get my carbs from either tortillas or flat breads. Since, I eat dinner around 630pm every night and use the meal for energy to hike another 2-3hrs, I found if I ate too many carbs I would bonk during that timeframe. So my last meal of the day is loaded with protein and fat. I try to have my morning and lunch meals carb-loaded as I expend more calories during those times of vigorous hiking. So, I even have a method of what to eat at specific times of the day to proficiently use the nutrients I intake.

And you know what? The dehydrated form of the food I eat saves weight. My food is condensed to have more calories per ounce. I also strive to have healthy food that have useful calories instead of empty calories. So, I do look at what I am eating and the weight of what I am eating. The powdered stuff I re-package for the section I am hiking, pretty controlled and straight forward there. However, for energy bars I look at the weight of the bar (ClifBar weighs 2.4oz.) and how many calories (ClifBar has 240cal), then deduce how many calories per ounce to then achieve the lowest, most efficient weight of bars to carry. As I say this, I am still able to carry about 2lbs of food per day and consume roughly 5,000 calories per day. My goal in conserving weight with food is not to forsake the nutritional value of food. I want more bang for the buck/ounce, basically.

Yea, yea, yea, some may say: How can you eat those things over and over again? Remember, I am not motivated by taste, per se, while on trail. I am motivated by proper fuel to sustain the machine to efficiently get into town healthily. So, it can proverbially ‘taste like shit’ but if it’s going to help me perform at high levels then I’ll do it. Well, at least it has to be food nutrition and not any other fake supplements. But last year, hiking with Lint broadened my taste spectrum with different, healthy ingredients. So, now I have more of a variety of dehydrated foods, all of which you can find online, and I know of more options of energy bars. I tend to get bogged down with tunnel vision or an intense focus and Lint shattered the steady glare with variety. I had started the CDT with more variety in flavors of ClifBars but my other meals were still bland, to say the least. I helped him in transitioning from a Bush Buddy stove system to going stove less, and he helped me with taste variety. After meeting Lint and applying our strategies together I now have a more flavorful and healthier diet of dehydrated meals. Sometimes, I do not even realize I am not cooking my food because the meals taste so good.

To me stoves and fuel are just pointless weight. They take up space and time with bulk and maintenance. Here are some other advantages:

*If I am going to carry any extra liquid weight it is going to be of the sort I can hydrate my body with. Liquid weight, as in fuel, can be cumbersome. If I am in especially arid conditions I want more capacity and space to carry water rather than fuel.

*My plastic 16oz. bowl is rinsed out with water daily and roughly shaken to shed water to clean. Quick and easy. And no mess!

*I save money because I do not have to buy fuel and name brand dehydrated food packages, like Knorr. I buy in bulk, then re-package. I use about 2 plastic bowls per trail.

*The actual time I use to cook my food is literally around 2 minutes or a tad less.

*Being stoveless is better on the environment and follows a strict Leave No Trace ethic. I do not start any fires, unless in an emergency, so scarring the land is extremely minimal. I release nothing in the air, save for the rear-end gas.

*Because I release minimal aromas, being stoveless is safer in bear country. Cooking food with flame releases scents from food and disperses the scents around the area. Bears have notoriously the best sense of smell around but they will have to be very close by to smell my food if I am eating it. Plus, when I am hiking and soaking my food the scent is dispersed in minimal, non-attractive concentrations.

I guess you can say stoveless is a form of ‘fast food.’ The difference between what the normal humans consider fast food and my method is mine is healthier and provides my machine with proper nutrition and energy. I cannot say exactly how much weight I save, however, I can estimate with an educated guess that I save about 4lbs on a typical section of trail, say 4 days and 125m, with reliable water resources, and with a typical backpack weight consisting of warm weather gear. This estimated 4lbs is a considerable sum. My pack without food and water is roughly 7lbs, with food and water I average roughly 20lbs in total of which water weight is 2L worth or 4lbs. If I am in extreme dry areas my pack would weigh close to 30lbs in total. Now add the extra 4lbs from stove and gas, then I would need to add more for the new backpack I would need, and I would be pushing 40lbs! With that much weight on your back it is really hard to do 35m, period


  1. I've got to try some of this out for my next hike (CDT i suppose) because I deffinitely like the idea of going stoveless, but when I tried it on the PCT it was without preperation and ended up in an even more unhealthy diet. Best of luck Dirt! I sent you my AZT water source notes on FB, should be helpful.

    1. thanks for the water sources info. liquid gold, my man...
      propose a trade: water resources for a p.o. food package with a stoveless set-up (maybe towards the end of your hike). thoughts?