As we slammed back another frozen burrito by definition, but soggy burrito by reality, our stomach protested at the taste, but loved the quick calories. Instead of taking the pack-off, stopping and having our legs cool down to much, this soggy burrito was just what we were craving, not so much taste, but our body demanded it nonetheless. That burrito would power us the next 10 miles of a 40 mile day, without having to break, and cook food, or get food out of our packs. It was the perfect tool for the job.
Great Meal. Quick, easy, no mess. Word of Warning: Will get extremely soggy after 3+ Days!
As you can see from the title, in this article we want to take a shot at the Cook Vs. No Cook hiker debate. If you are a new hiker, or beginner and do not know what this means, we will give you some context. When out hiking a trail whether that is 10 miles, 20 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, or even 3,000+ miles food decision's affect the way your body functions as well as appeases the mind with creature comforts when there is so few. Pretty much anything you can buy at a grocery store, realistically you could pack out onto a hike. This could be anything from a Rotisserie Chicken to a can of Spaghettio's. Of course you probably will not pack out either of these items due to weight and practicality, but we wanted to give you far flung options to show you, that realistically you could choose to pack out any food you wish, it is your preference, and your poor back that will make the decision.
We are not going to get into the food choices as heavily, because of the vast variety, and that being an entire different article itself, defining what foods are best for each option, whether that is Cook Vs. No Cook. What we want to tackle with this article is what each option gives you in pros and cons, for different types of hiking styles, as well as different hiking mentalities. We are going to focus on the Big 3 of pros/ and cons with each style. Our Big 3 of these are Weight, Time, and Enjoyment/Taste. There are more factors that go in as skill level and preferences evolve, but we found these are the Big 3 that revolve around this decision making.
The Big 3 of Cook Vs. No Cook. If you look at the first picture, it looks like there may be 10+ cook systems in that pack!
Weight - What is the weight associated with cooking food on trail? Well, for one right of the bat you are going to have to carry a cook system. This can be as primitive or as fancy as you want. You can use an alcohol stove, which is the size of the base of a candle, or you could use a Jet-Boil that is the size of a thermos. It all comes down to preference. Generally, if you are going to go the cook route, use the system that you are comfortable with. Your preferences can always evolve and change when you see others using different systems, but if beginning, pick something that you are familiar with, and use it. So, choosing the cooking route, there are another Big 3 things you will have to carry. You are going to have to carry Fuel, a Stove, and a Pot or Container of some sort to put the boiling water in. Once again the variations here are immense, so choose something that you are comfortable carrying (no IRON-SKILLETS! unless you love pain). Then on top of this you have to carry all the other necessities of cooking; a spoon or fork, a lighter, extra bags for your pot to contain the smell, the list goes on. Now take into account where you are going to fit all of this. Your pack can only hold so much, so you now have to pack this inside, in a way that is comfortable and there is room for other necessities. The weight associated with cooking on trail is not just the food in the pack, but everything else needed to cook in the wilderness, which can add up quite quickly. So, as far as weight goes it would lean in towards the con column. Yet, even with being a con many hikers continue to carry this because it is worth the weight, we will get more into this in the Enjoyment/Taste section.
Time - To cook you need time. Most hikers that we know, if they still cook, only cook at night when they get to camp. Yet, this still demands time after a long day. There are many ways that this category can be a pro and a con. The pros of this is if you are specifically going out on a hike that you want to spend time in camp, or at a beautiful lunch spot. This is awesome, because it is a type of hike that makes you happy! Yet, you are most likely at the least going to spend 30 min - 1 hr in camp in the morning cooking coffee, and breakfast. Then another 30min at lunch cooking and eating. Then at dinner another 30min - 1hr cooking and eating. As you can see those times add up quickly, but once again if doing a relaxed hiking schedule this is a beautiful way to hike. Now for the cons of this. If you are in a time crunch and are attacking miles you simply do not have time to cook. Well at least in the morning or the afternoon, you can still cook in camp at night, but you might be so exhausted you wish you would not have packed out only cook dinners. This is another type of hiking, one that is meant for someone trying to go fast, so the time of cooking would be a con for them.
Enjoyment/Taste - This is going to be heavily favored in the pro column. Of course, when you have the option to cook, food is generally going to taste better. Warm ramen is better than cold ramen. Warm oatmeal is a better taste and consistency then grinding your teeth against oats. We have heard hikers say, "oh we prefer the taste of cold ramen!", and we do not want to call anyone's sanity or character into this, but..... Us personally have had many days on trail that we have looked forward all day to cooking in camp. The enjoyment aspect of sitting around with your buddies and cooking a warm meal at the end of a hard day, cannot be replaced. It is way better than a cold burrito. There really is no con for this section, cooked food simply is going to taste better on trail than uncooked food.
Small fuel canister, small stove, and small pot, loved it!
Weight - Well, you now have no cook system. No pots and pans. No stove. No bulky fuel canisters. You may still have your ultralight spoon just incase you run across a steaming bowl of clam chowder in the middle of the woods, but besides that no cooking gear. This can easily cut out multiple pounds of weight from your pack. A fuel canister alone can easily weight half a pound. Not only this but now there is also more room in your pack. This means less bulky packs that fit tighter to the body, and move with you instead of bouncing around you. All in all there really is no con, when looking at this from purely a weight perspective. You have less gear that is not a necessity, thus less weight. Less weight is always better!
Time - There is now nothing holding you in camp in the morning. You pack up your stuff and you are gone to go crush some miles. At lunch you may inhale a tortilla or two, but that could take all of 5 minutes. Who knows you may even crush a few power bars while walking and not need to stop for lunch. You have been hiking hard all day, and as the night is falling you crash into a campsite. Setting up your tent and getting prepped for sleep is really all the energy you have. As you pull out the food bag, you grab that soggy burrito and fall asleep while chewing. No time needed to cook, no time needed to set-up your cook system, simply eat and sleep. As far as time is concerned, once again there is not much in the way of cons. When looking at trying to isolate time that could be spent hiking out of the day, this can easily add 2+ hrs of more consistent hiking each day without having to cook.
Enjoyment/Taste - Alright we will admit, that this category is almost going to be heavily cons. As we had said prior, a warm meal is usually better than a cold meal. Yet, in the light of enjoyment, this could factor into having something easily accessible. Having the option to instantly eat is sometimes better when starving then waiting for a cooked meal. Yea Snicker Bars taste great, and of course we can destroy bags of candy, but there is something missing without a warm meal, something that cannot be replaced.
If you go the No Cook route be prepared for BARS, BARS, and more BARS!
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each part of Cook Vs. No Cook. Yet, these do not have to be universal rules but instead can be guidelines for the type of hike you are looking for. Us personally, have started leaning heavily into the No Cook camp as we continue to increase our mileage and look for our hiking style to be faster. That is what we enjoy so it goes hand in hand that we would use No Cook for these hikes. Yet, we also have hikes that we specifically pack out cooking gear. On the GDT this year, we could not imagine not having a warm meal in camp. It lifted our spirits, and filled our bellies with warmth, it dried our souls a little bit from the consistent dampness of the world around us. This is where the tool aspect comes into play.
We believe the way you hike, the trail you are on, and what you are looking for out of the experience ties directly into your choice on Cooking or Not Cooking on trail. On our IAT speed record, we were attacking consistent 40+ mile days, and were extremely happy not to cook. Yet, on our PNT hike, we were still attacking consistent 30+ mile days but really enjoyed the camaraderie and ritual of cooking at night. You do not have to purely fall into the No Cook camp, or purely into the Cook camp. Instead if you plan your trip, and know what you are going after, whether that is more miles or more time around a campfire, the food system can work for you instead of against you. You may want to carry that extra weight because for you, it is a necessity, it makes your hike 1,000X more enjoyable. You also may not want to carry the cook system to keep weight of your back to tackle higher miles.
It is all a balancing act for your preference and your type of hiking style for each different hike.
When using the Cook Vs. No Cook techniques as a tool, is where real mastery comes into play. Once you have tried both, and seen what you preferred for each hike and hiking style, then you can start to play and mix and match. Find what works for you, find what you are looking for, and go out there and cook some steaming chicken ramen, or inhale some cold-soaked beans while walking, whatever works for you, just have fun!
With flashbacks of soggy burritos on our mind,