I have been debating this question for several months now. I have a stove, a Jetboil Flash, that my wife gave me for Christmas last year. It’s a great stove that is simple to operate, boils water really fast, and weighs a pound and four ounces with the fuel canister. However, I have been intrigued by some articles and blog posts I’ve read by AT thru-hikers who did not cook their meals.
On the AT there’s no way to carry enough food without taking along a pack animal or a sherpa so you have to be really careful about deciding how to prepare your meals and whether or not to take a stove. The most important factor is to carry food that is high in calories but weighs as little as possible. The calorie-to-weight ratio is really critical. Of secondary concern is that the food at least be palatable.
I initially started out planning not to cook. I put together a list (that turned into a spreadsheet) of foods that I would like to eat that required no cooking. At the top of the list was anything chocolate, including Nutella, Snickers, and dark chocolate bars. Next came summer sausage, tuna packets, cheese, trail mix, Pop Tarts, dried fruit, jerky, and energy bars. Problem was, these things weigh a ton! I could drop the heaviest items, Nutella and summer sausage, but I still had to carry a lot of weight in food and the variety was somewhat limited.
I’m not a foodie by any means – just ask my wife. But I can imagine really getting tired of the limited variety of non-cook foods available. I might be able to suck it up for three or four days then gorge myself in a trail town but that doesn’t seem like a great plan.
So now I’ve decided to take the stove and eat freeze dried meals, drink hot chocolate, and maybe even have oatmeal for breakfast if I get really motivated about cooking. According my calculations, the weight saved with the freeze dried meals makes up for the weight of the stove and fuel, and the psychological benefit of a hot meal or drink will be priceless. (If you read my previous blog you can see that I’m concerned about being cold.)
So where will all this great food come from? Good question! I’m not going to do a lot of mail drops (mailing myself food boxes along the way) so I need to be able to buy the freeze dried meals along the trail. I know that outfitters carry them and so does Walmart, so I think that I should be able to restock every three, four or five days. At times when I can’t find freeze dried meals I can buy Ramen noodles, Knorr meals, and soups, so I won’t starve to death.
So my plan now is to take the stove and cook my dinner each evening and breakfast occasionally. If I find that I don’t like cooking I can always send the stove home and switch to cold meals. I’ll report from the field starting April 1st!