Cold Soaking 101 [ What, How, and Why Choose It ]

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Cold soaking, have you heard of it? Honestly prior to this last year I was unaware that there were options for uncooked foods other than snacks. This method of food preparation is where you soak them over time instead of cooking to get them prepared and ready to eat.

This process is stove-less which means it can be pretty easy and straight forward to do once you get it practiced enough and are able to time it, so what Is cold soaking and how do you do it well?

Cold soaking is the process where you take a container with a screw-on lid which is empty, you add in a food that is dehydrated preferably. Then you add water to just cover the food you have added into the container. After you wait about 30-60 minutes on average you can open the container and eat.

Now that we have covered how you can perform cold-soaking we can now look into the benefits and drawbacks associated with using it as a primary food creation method. We will also go into some good foods which can be cold-soaked that provide good caloric and nutritional value.

What are the Benefits and Drawbacks to a Cold Soak Approach

There are many solid benefits to cold soaking, it allows you to carry less gear which can help drop significant weight and pack space. It does carry with it some negatives as many do enjoy warm meals, especially after long colder days in poor weather like rain.

Benefits To Cold Soaking

There are numerous benefits to cold soaking in regards to time management while on the trail. If you need to cook then you must start your preparation which typically means breaking out everything you need from the pack and spending dedicated time at a location.

Using cold-soaking you can easily pull out the container, add your food to soak, add water, shake and place back in your bag. Then in 30-60 minutes, in most cases, you can stop and pull out your food, add some additional seasoning or protein and eat with minimal travel downtime.

Additionally, since you have multiple different options to cold soak you can vary your eating without much effort being expended to thinking about it. You can pick up a few different seasonings and proteins and be able to create multiple foods each day so it doesn’t feel overly repetitive.

Another big benefit to cold soaking over stove cooking is the overall reduction in extra gear and weight that a stove adds to your pack. This is a large way to reduce your overall base weight for your trip which can allow you to have an easier carry throughout.

Drawbacks To Cold Soaking

The drawbacks to cold soaking are tied back to the variety of foods that can be brought when preparing foods in this manner. It does limit the protein sources in a large manner due to the fact that you aren’t bringing a cooking tool so your meats need to be pre-cooked and shelf-stable for long carrying periods.

Another drawback is the time it takes to have foods available to eat. For cold-soaked foods, you need to start the preparation at least 30 minutes to an hour before you want to eat, this means you can’t just sit a pack down and eat if you feel hungry.

This planning can mean that you may eat through more “snack” foods as you are waiting for the meal to be ready to eat.

Cold Soaking Jars or Containers

There are not many quality options for cold soaking containers that feature screw top lids. There are some ways to use free containers also but these tend to be one use and not multi-function, so what is a cold soaking jar?

A cold soak jar is a container used to hold the food while it is absorbing the water it is submerged in, many times this can be 30 minutes to hours. These jars can be made from plastic, metal, and other materials but the most frequent is plastic like peanut butter jars, Talenti jars, and similar.

These options below are able to be used for cold or hot use which allows for boiling water and other things from campfires if you should want or need warm foods.

Vargo Bot-700 (Best Multi Use)

Our favorite is the Vargo BOT – 700 which helps to decrease cooking times, meal waiting times, and if you use it, fuel utilization. It features a watertight screw-top lid and a 700 ml volume which is perfect for pre-soaking dehydrated and freeze-dried meals.

It can also carry, cook, measure, store, and hold almost whatever you want it to. No other pot can match its unique versatility, though if your hike will take you up and down you may want to unscrew the lid to relieve pressure build up.

Quality Nutrition Sources To Use With Cold Soaking

Most cold-soaking will involve some form of carbohydrate source preferably with a decent amount of protein. The thing to make sure is that over a long duration, like a thru-hike, you are causing damage to your body that needs to be repaired.

This makes protein your number one priority to maintain muscle mass and strength along with ensuring proper bodily health and ability to combat disease and other things encountered along the trail.

Below we will cover some of the normal items you would cold soak and what you can add to them to make them very nutritious!

Cold Soaking With Couscous

I haven’t personally used couscous but I have heard the following methods as typically it can take a lot longer than an hour.

In your container with your morning breakfast, you throw your portion of couscous and the hot or warm water you have left.

The exact amount is not too important.

Seal up the jar and carry it around with you all day. When you arrive to your camp in the evening, you check on the couscous and if necessary add some cold water if it doesn’t look right.

Then at mealtime, you add in some olive oil, salt, and whatever other seasoning or flavorings.

Cold Soak With Quinoa

Quinoa is a good source of many vitamins, carbohydrate, and protein which can help you have a good base of nutrition for a meal.

As with most cold-soaked items I prefer to add seasoning into the mix to give some additional flavor, I like spicy for some reason with quinoa prep.

One Cup Of Quinoa Contains:

  • Calories: 222
  • Protein: 8g
  • Carb: 40g (Fiber: 5g)
  • Fat: 3.5g
  • Electrolytes:
    • Magnesium: 30% RDA
    • Potassium: 9% RDA

Cold Soak With Ramen

These are excellent to cold soak as you can buy them and empty their contents into a ziplock or similar container but you may be wondering, how long does it take to cold soak ramen?

Ramen can be ready in 30 minutes or less as a cold soaked food item, it is one of the faster foods you can bring with you and eat while cold soaking. This is due to the speed that it absorbs the provided water and becomes edible without being crunchy and not appealing.

Personally, I crush them up into smaller bits instead of leaving them as longer noodles to allow easier fitting into the container.

I love to add protein and the sauce packets, the packets of flavor they have are very high in sodium which you lose fast while hiking, add enough for your taste as that is personal.

Cold Soak With Oatmeal

No-cook oatmeal is a nice way to eat a good breakfast when out on the trail. I love to take oatmeal, add some water, milk powder, and if I have them, raisins, nuts or maybe some chocolate.

Then I put them in the jar to cold soak overnight in the food bag so in the morning they have been soaking and mixing together.

This then gives you time to clean up camp without waiting for food to be ready an hour after you wake.

Additional Protein Sources To Supplement Cold Soaked Meals

Tuna (Preferably In Oil)

Tuna is an amazingly light very good protein source for backpacking. It doesn’t require cooking and is easy to add to almost any food as it doesn’t have an over the top flavor.

We prefer to purchase the tuna packs which come in olive oil or similar as you need to get the good fats in also to maintain your health while on long trips.

You are burning a massive amount of stored energy and want to ensure you provide your body everything it needs to resupply.

Can I Use Mountain House Meals?

These are very appealing to hikers and backpackers as they are basically grab and go without the time required to figure out the calories suited, this leads to questions like, can Mountain House meals be cold soaked?

Typically the Mountain House meals can be cold soaked, the aim being that you have to double the time listed on the heated instructions to allow for full absorption. In my opinion the Mountain House meals can be useful in a pinch but not a favorite for outdoors cold soaks.

Any person who backpacks will know you see many of these pre-packaged foods as they are an easy answer to food on the trail, I still am a huge proponent to good nutrition on the trail and many times these have macronutrients but lack real micronutrients for complete health.

Final Thoughts on What is Cold Soaking

I hope to have conveyed some good reasons why you should look at adding cold soaking to your hiking as a good means of nutrition and to lessen your weight carried.

Both of these things will mean a better experience while out on your backpacking trip and ensure that you will be able to finish as strong as when you started.

I would love to know anything you do for cold soaking, especially if I didn’t cover it above as maybe it can help myself and others in their next backpacking trip.

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