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10 Tips for Cold-Soaking your Food

If you’d like to make your next overnight trip a bit simpler or your pack a bit lighter, cold-soaking your food could be just the thing.

By Jessi Loerch

The days are long and getting warmer, and some of the best-backpacking months in the Northwest are stretching out ahead of us. If you’d like to make your next trip a bit simpler or your pack a bit lighter, cold-soaking your food could be just the thing. Cold-soaking is what it sounds like — you prep your meals by adding water to soften them, rather than cooking in hot water.

A shallow dish filled with rehydrated meal sits in a hikers lap.
Photo by Tyler Mitchell.

Tips for cold-soaking

    • Find a jar with a good seal. Ideal jars are at least 16 ounces (more if you eat a lot) and are wide and shallow enough to let your spoon reach the bottom. Talenti gelato containers are a popular choice.
    • Treat or filter your water before soaking food.
    • Prepare your food in advance. For instance, you could start soaking breakfast when you wake up and then eat after a bit of hiking. While you’re at it, start lunch. Put your container in the sun to speed up the process.
    • Plan your food carefully at home. If you’re unsure if an item will rehydrate well cold, test it at home or on a day hike.
    • Look for items like powdered peanut butter or hummus to add to a variety of meals.
    • Dehydrate your own meals at home. Just make sure whatever you make is in small pieces, for easy dehydrating and rehydrating.
    • If coffee is vital, make cold coffee with instant powder.
    • Pack extras such as oil or hot sauce to add calories and flavor.
    • Keep your container clean. Immediately after eating, pour in some clean water, put on the lid and shake. Drink the water and you won’t have to worry about leaving bits of food behind. A small cloth or bit of paper towel (that you pack out) can help get any stubborn bits.
    • Bring some foods, such as a bars, that don’t require rehydration.

Benefits of cold-soaking? You'll shave off a bit of weight by leaving the stove and fuel at home, and never need to worry about running out of fuel mid-trip. You won’t have to worry about a rogue spark from a stove during droughts or burn bans. Your food “cooks” while you hike, and prep work is limited. Plus, there is usually very little waste.

Downsides of cold-soaking? No hot food or drinks to warm you up on a cold night. You'll need to do a bit more time-management, as cold-soaking can take longer. Food options may be limited, as not everything tastes great cold (trust us, cold ramen just isn't the same). And, it'll take a bit of water, so it might not be ideal for a dry camp.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.