Cold Soaking Food – A stove-less method of Backpacking

A quick guide to Cold Soaking

Cooking meals on trail is some people’s favorite part of every day. Hiker hunger has kicked in and all you can think about is that next hot meal you’re going to cook. For others however, the thought of cooking on trail gives them nothing more than a headache; assembling the stove, waiting on water to boil, monitoring fuel canister levels, scrubbing the burnt sauces and food off the pot, other clean up, etc. This may be a healthy ritual to some, but a burden to others. Right now you may be thinking, “Kyle, I hate using a stove and cooking on trail, but the cheapest foods with the most calories require boiling water to prepare, right?” Wrong!

For me, I tend to have a love-hate relationship with cooking on trail. Sometimes I crave the taste of hot foods, no matter the extra weight or cost in gear, time, and effort. Other times I could care less about hot food or any of the foods I’d normally cook. The good news is, most of the foods we’ve been under the illusion of being “cook only,” can actually be prepared just as easily with cold water and a little extra time. This method is called “Cold Soaking.”

A great many of the foods you’d normally re-hydrate or cook with boiling water can be brought back to tender life with plain old cold water. The process is even simpler than cooking, as all it requires is a sealed container to soak the food in, as well as a little extra time. As far as the extra time goes, we’re talking maybe 20 to 30 minutes; however this doesn’t mean you have to wait longer to eat. The simple method around this longer prep time is no more difficult than adding the water to your food about half an hour before you plan to stop for the day, or whenever you plan to have your next meal. This way everything is ready to eat the moment you set your pack down, or the moment you finish setting up camp. Easy as that.

When it comes to the types of foods cold soaking works best on, they include, but are not limited to…

If you click on the images below the descriptions they will take you to Amazon where you can buy a bulk option of said food item. This can come in great handy if you were to portion them out in bags yourself (pre-hike) and have them mail dropped periodically while on trail. Most of these foods (not all) can easily be found in many towns, but not perhaps in the larger portions you might find at Sam’s Club, Costco, or online.

– Couscous: It hydrates in less than 20 minutes, but I like to add a pouch tuna to mine for a little extra protein and consistency.

– Ramen: After it hydrates, drain any extra water, add mayonnaise and voila! You have cold pasta salad.

– Instant Mash Potatoes: They hydrate almost instantly, so there’s still almost no prep time.

– Oatmeal: A cool trick for breakfast is to mix a packet/cup of oatmeal into a bottle of water along with a packet or two of “Breakfast Essentials” powder. You can drink it all down before the oatmeal even hydrates and it tastes fine. Some people will even add packets of coffee to it too. It’s a helluva way to start the morning, trust me!

– Grits: I don’t find eating cold grits pleasurable at all, but it is an option and they do hydrate quickly. I would add some bacon bits to them at the very least.

– Instant Rice: I’ve always enjoyed adding bacon bits to my instant rice, or adding freeze dried peas to it. A pouch tuna mixed in doesn’t hurt either.

– Refried Beans: Filling and calorie dense, you can eat them by themselves or put them in a burrito with your instant rice.

– Lentil Soup: Adding water to your soup doesn’t get much easier.

– Hummus: Put it on whatever you want, or dip whatever you want into it.

– Tabouli: A colorful vegan feast!

-Freeze Dried Peas: These are great by themselves, or added to just about anything.

– Anything Freeze Dried: ( Anything you personally freeze dry, or buy pre-freeze dried; think Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry, Alpine Aire, Paleo Meal To Go, Etc.)

-Anything Dehydrated: (Anything you dehydrate personally, or buy pre-dehydrated; refried beans, pasta, rice, vegetables, etc.)

Containers used to Cold Soak

Honestly you can use whatever container you want for your cold soaking, but the goal is go as light as possible. You can even use a Ziploc bag if you want, however eating runnier foods out of them can be a burden and clean up is tough (you end up burning through a lot of bags). Below are three of the most popular containers you can find pretty much anywhere, but don’t let these suggestions limit you.

Ziploc Twist n’ Loc Container (whichever size)

Talenti Ice Cream Container (Not available online, but in almost any grocery store. You have to eat the ice cream first :-))

Image result for talenti gelato ice cream

Peanut Butter Jar (Whichever size)

In conclusion…

So there you have it, that’s cold soaking in a nutshell. In fact, if you found a big enough nutshell, you could even cold soak in that. Of course this is all a matter of personal preference, as it’s not for everyone. For you hardcore coffee drinkers out there, you’ll probably never be caught without a stove; therefore the ability to cook sort of comes with the territory. This method is more for the backpacker looking to shave some weight off their pack, some time off their active meal prep, or both. Now take this knowledge and go out into the world!

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  1. Thank you for this! One option, if you also want to be able to cook with your cold soak container, is to use a metal (titanium or whatever) pot and lid set and cut a piece of silicone sheeting (food grade) to fit between the pot and lid and an x-band or a couple of heavy duty rubber bands to hold the lid on. It works great and you can also use it as an extra water container if you are hiking long distances between water sources.
    All the best, Scott

  2. Thank for an awesome post! I was wondering if there’s any worry to oversoaking. As in starting the soaking process too soon to when you will eat? Could it spoil?

    Also if you start your soaking before you’ve reached camp or are setting up camp where in ones pack do you recommend storing while the soaking occurs? Is it okay if it gets warm at the top of the pack or in some sunlight at camp or is it best to keep it in cooler conditions?

    Thank you!!

  3. Good info. I think I’m ready to make the leap to cold soaking, as it’ll drop two pounds off my pack weight (not counting the fuel). It dawned on me that hot food primarily carries emotional benefits; that’s important, but the body’s warmth comes from the calories, not the heat of the food itself.

    I’m going to give it a shot on a few weekend hikes, then evaluate whether I want to try it an a week-long hike. Let’s hope that this September isn’t as rainy in Washington’s Cascades as it was last year — when my stove broke & I damned near froze.

  4. Bob’s red Mill bulghur wheat, eat cold or add spoonfuls in spuds or couscous, not gluten free, doesn’t take long, depends on how much you do.

    1. There’s a dehydrated food company called Food For The Sole that makes cold soak specific foods. Namely the Triple Peanut Slaw and the Zesty Miso Broccoli Slaw. They rehydrate in 15 minutes or less 🙂

  5. Kyle, I’m assuming you carry your container of cold soaked food so it’s ready in the evening? Does that equate to the same weight as a superlight stove? I’ve never done cold soaking but am considering it for Te Aroroa and I’m wondering if you need more water for cold soaking than you would need for boiling? I’m Australian so think in grams, but 500ml of water is 500 grams so I’m concerned that I’ll have no hot food (read that as coffee) and then still be carrying the same weight anyway. Would you have some insight on that? Appreciate the response Kyle. Jenny

    1. Hey Jenny! Whenever I cold soak, I usually add a little bit extra just to make sure the food is really immersed, then dump out any extra (although I usually don’t care) if need be.

      Some people will soak in a plastic bag, while others will use Tupperware, nalgene containers, or plastic ice cream tubs. If you’re not carrying a stove and fuel, it’s certainly lighter to carry only a rehydration container.

      I carry a titanium mug pot with me (between 2 and 3 oz) so I can still boil water on a fire if I get the hankering for something hot (and there’sa fire). Or I just carry an ultralight stove on me (about an ounce) and buy fuel for it when I get to craving hot food (but won’t carry fuel for it most of the time).

      My favorite foods to cold soak are deff freeze dried foods because they rehydrate in almost the same amount of time as with hot water.

      But to answer your original question, as I understand it… yes it is still lighter to carry your cold soaking food in the cold soaking container while you’re hiking, because you’ll most likely have been carrying that water used to “soak it” whether you had your stove and fuel or not. So the only extra weight is your soaking container!

      I hope that helps, and sorry for the late reply! Let me know if I missed anything, and good luck on your thru!

  6. I don’t know if it’s a southern thing or a me thing however I like lots of food unheated so not an issue for me. My husband thinks I’m crazy but I could go on and on about what most ppl like hot or cold and I’m just the opposite. I also like convenience and less prep so benefits are very applicable.

      1. Many times the wife has told me to give my head a cold soaking, but I’m more inclined toward grains as you suggest. Hope you’re having a good day!

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