April 14

Using a Jar for Stoveless Backpacking

I never thought I’d explore the many uses of a peanut butter jar until last summer on the Continental Divide Trail, when it became both my stove and my bowl. Repurposing the peanut butter jar was all part of an attempt to go lighter and simpler, and to secretly test my threshold for a daily serving of dehydrated refried beans.

Like many other hikers, my progression towards ultralight backpacking spans several trails and just as many pieces of gear. My collection of tents, sleeping bags, and packs, all impossibly hard to part with, are a tribute to the timeline that ultralight backpacking has seen over the years. One piece of gear that sticks out in my mind as having undergone a drastic change in both weight and function is my stove. I started out with a trusty MSR WhisperLite for the PCT and part of the AT, relishing every quickly-cooked hot meal that the sturdy stove produced.

Stoveless breakfast
Stoveless backpacking breakfast while hiking in Montana

Then I graduated to the homemade alcohol stove on the CT, having skipped a few iterations of stoves between the WhisperLite and the Fancy Feast can and having bought a titanium pot in the process. While the alcohol stove worked well, I updated my cooking system yet again for this past year’s CDT hike when I went completely stoveless, converting my peanut butter jar into a “stove” and eating only cold food that hydrated without heat.

meals Ziploc
Melted chocolate straight from the Ziploc

Why would I give up my love for a warm meal at the end of a long hiking day? Mainly because of weight, but also for logistical ease on the CDT. My love for peanut butter exists both on and off the trail so it was easy to obtain an empty peanut butter jar, weighing in at 1.3 ounces, and immediately cut out the weight of a stove, a cooking pot, and fuel.

Regarding logistics, I had already played the game of looking for Heet in small towns on the Colorado Trail and didn’t desire that added stress on the entire CDT, in towns as small as 100 people. For good reasons, fire bans in parts of New Mexico and Colorado made it downright illegal to carry an open flame stove. Once I embraced the peanut butter jar, there was a sense of freedom in going stoveless and the literal weight that was lifted gave me unmeasured enjoyment in a lighter pack.

Going stoveless was daunting at first, especially given that I ate a vegan diet, but a little research on the internet widened my possibilities and I gathered quite the mix of dehydrated meals that cooked well without hot water, such as refried beans, lentil soup, mashed potatoes, hummus, tabouli, ramen, and even a vegan taco meat. I tested different foods and hydrating times before the trail and then loaded up, purchasing forty pounds of dehydrated refried beans and ten pounds of dehydrated lentil soup, in addition to smaller amounts of the other meals, breaking them down into individual meals before packaging them up in resupply boxes for the entire trail. While it would have been quite a feat to eat forty pounds of beans on my own, I’m happy to say I shared those meals with my husband and hiking partner, Optimist.

Read about some ideas for no cook backpacking meals!


stove less backpacking meals
Easy cleanup – Just rinse and drink!

The real question is, how did it go? How was it eating a cold meal each day, including at least one meal of dehydrated refried beans, every single day, for over 100 days? Shockingly good! With each meal I also packed olive oil and “salty snacks,” as I called them, like corn chips, crackers, or some other crunchy vehicle to go with the soft food. The only fail along the way, and it was a big one, was when I ate a Lipton Noodle Side meal after rehydrating it in my jar overnight. The next morning it was a cold, mushy pile of dough. Even a scoop of Chex Mix couldn’t bring that meal back to life and I downed massive spoonfuls of it just to get it down and never re-live the horror. In addition to those meals, I rounded out our daily caloric volume, about 4,000 calories a day, with go-to hiker food like trail mix, energy bars, nut butter packets, dark chocolate, dried fruit, and granola.

All in all, dinner in a jar is my meal of choice. On the CDT, I loved how effortless it was to let my food rehydrate in the jar on the outside of my pack, never taking more than thirty minutes for any of the meals, and I really didn’t miss the warm meals or the hunt for Heet in town. Going stoveless may not be for everyone, especially for those coffee lovers out there, but for me and my CDT hike, it fit all the needs of being ultralight and hassle-free. That being said, I won’t go into what the daily serving of beans did for my marital bliss in the tent each night, but even that was just another part of the trail life.

This post was written by former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Julie ‘Stopwatch’ Urbanski, a Triple Crowner who has traveled through much of the U.S., whether on foot, via bicycle, or in a car. She has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Colorado Trail (2007, 2011, 2013, 2012), and bicycled down the Pacific coast from Portland, Oregon to the border of Mexico.