Easy meals that you don't have to turn on a campstove or light up a fire to enjoy
A nice, hot meal is a comforting way to end a day of hiking or camping, but it comes at a price. Building a campfire isn't always an option due to weather conditions or fire bans, and camp stoves malfunction, require fuel and add weight to your load. Planning no-cook meals avoids these issues, and you'll get to spend a lot more time enjoying the outdoors instead of cooking, cleaning or coaxing a reluctant fire into life.
No-cook meals for daytripping or overnights
Short excursions are the easiest to pack for because you don't have to worry too much about keeping food fresh. A lightweight, soft-sided lunch cooler and a frozen water bottle or two are all you need to keep sandwiches or wrapped food safe throughout the day for lunch or dinner.
Pro tip: Sturdy bagels or crusty rolls are less likely to get smashed or flattened than are sandwiches made with sliced bread. You can also pack firm cheeses or dry-cured sausages like Genoa-style salami for protein and fresh or dried fruit for quick energy. Granola and energy bars are both excellent breakfast options, and so is no-cook oatmeal prepared overnight with water or yogurt in a zip-lock bag.
Options for longer trips
If you're out on the trail for more than a day you won't have the option of keeping foods cold, so eat up perishable items on the first day, then fall back on more durable foods. Energy bars that combine nuts, grains and dry fruit are a good option at any time. If you make your own, you can custom tailor the ingredients. Peanut butter and other nut butters are a good option for protein and energy, especially when combined with tortillas or other flatbreads. Canned goods, especially meats, are a nonperishable option for heartier meals, but they're heavy to carry and you'll need to pack out the cans if you're in an isolated area without trash removal. Dehydrated foods are lighter, but many won't rehydrate properly without hot water. Read the labels carefully before you buy them.
No-cook options for vegans and vegetarians
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, or you camp with people who are, your options are much the same although the details change a bit. Instead of meaty fillings in sandwiches and wraps, go with cooked beans or lentils with grains and shredded or slivered vegetables. If the fillings are wet rather than dry, pack them separately in bags or sealed containers so the wraps or breads don't get soggy. Bulgur wheat can be prepared by simply soaking it in water so it makes a good base for hearty, filling salads with shredded vegetables or lentils mixed in. Energy bars are useful for vegetarian hikers, but often contain honey or non-vegan ingredients, so if you aren't making your own be sure to check the labels and buy vegan-friendly varieties.
Don't forget snacks and hydration
Even if you are normally not a snacker, you'll probably find yourself craving something to nibble every hour or two if you're hiking or canoeing. Good-quality snacks can make the difference between enjoying your day or being miserable by mealtime, so don't skimp. Mixtures of nuts and dried fruit, like the ever-popular gorp, combine protein, natural sugars and healthy fats to keep your energy levels high. Energy bars do the same, and jerky and dried sausage – or bean dips and nut butters for vegetarians – provide useful protein. It's important to note that all of these snacks are relatively dry, so carry and drink lots of water. It also helps to make room in your pack for sturdy fresh fruit, such as apples and oranges.
Mind the waste
Going the no-cook route means you'll have a lot less to fuss over, but you'll still generate waste in the form of packaging, inedible peelings, apple cores and other trimmings. If you're camping in an area that's maintained by the park service or private operators, there may be trash receptacles along your route, but that's not something you can count on. Food that's left behind, even if it's burnt or buried, becomes a magnet for the local wildlife and can disrupt their normal behavior. It's best to carefully flatten, bag and pack out all of your packaging and food waste so you can dispose of it in a way that won't impact the natural environment you've been enjoying.