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Quick and Tasty
No-Cook Lunches

We’ve reached the halfway point in our Trail Foods Taste-Off series. This week we’re featuring a selection of tasty no-cook lunch foods to help you ditch the meat sticks and meal bars for some fresh and flavorful alternatives. And for those on special diets, we’ve included organic, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Lightweight and simple to prepare, these delightful dishes may just have you hiking a little faster to reach your lunch stop. You may even want to pack a few extra for quick, no-cook dinners!

1. Packit Gourmet: Many Beans Salad

One of my faves! So much flavor, and really fills me up.~ Mitzi

Fresh food on a long-distance hike is a rare treat, which makes this flavor-packed veggie salad the next-best thing—and a top pick among our tasters. This refreshing vegan, gluten-conscious dish features five kinds of beans (red, black, garbanzo, edamame, string), along with sweet peppers, onions and fire-roasted corn in a tangy, balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Plus, each 6-ounce serving provides a powerhouse of calories, carbs and protein to help you keep moving on your big, after-lunch push. Prep takes a while to rehydrate, so we recommend preparing in the morning before breaking camp and letting it marinade in your pack while you hike (see Pro Tips). Then, whenever you’re ready, just find a lunch spot, break it out and dig in!

CARBS: 93g    
PROTEIN: 25g   
FAT: 43g  

2. Patagonia Provisions: Wild Pink Salmon

I could eat this every day on trail! ~ Eli

Eating fish on your hike is one of the best ways to get a healthy dose of fat-based nutrients, including protein, potassium, vitamin D and omega-3s. All this contributes to increased energy, better mental fitness and improved sleep. And when it’s as good as Patagonia’s gluten-free smoked salmon, you’ll be treating your body as well as your taste buds. This is not jerky. This is fresh, flaky fish flavored with organic lemon, olive oil, garlic and black pepper. Eaten cold, it’s great wrapped in a tortilla or with a handful of crackers (see Pro Tips), which helps add some carbs to your meal. Each 4-ounce pouch contains two servings, but we found it so good that there weren’t any leftovers for later. It can also be eaten warm by heating the packet in boiling water.

CARBS: 0g    
PROTEIN: 12g   
FAT: 3.5g  

3. Packit Gourmet: Pico de Gallo Salsa

Tastes like eating fresh food, with really good flavor. ~ Lisa

Ok, so this item isn’t so much a meal as it is a condiment. But our panel found it so tasty, we thought it was a worthy inclusion for giving other lunch foods a fresh flavor boost—including some on this list! With just a little water, this gluten-free blend of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, jalapenos, cilantro and lime rehydrates into a zesty, chunky salsa you’d think you bought in a fresh foods deli. Some of our team’s favorite lunchtime applications included adding to wraps, either meat or cheese, or just spreading on crackers. You can also use as a garnish to spice up dinnertime meals. Spread some on your salmon, mix into bland rice dishes, or add to bean burritos.

CARBS: 7g    
PROTEIN: 1g   
FAT: 0g  

4. Cache Lake: Bean Spreads

Tastes like the refried beans you’d get in a high-end restaurant. ~ Tami

Speaking of bean burritos, our tasters sampled several varieties of Cache Lake’s bean spreads and were quite pleased with their flavor and consistency. With just a little water, these powdered bean blends rehydrate almost instantly into creamy spreads that are perfect on tortillas, pitas and crackers, and provide a decent amount of calories and carbs. Our tasters liked the regular Beans with Cheese blend, which is vegetarian and gluten-free, as well as the Beans with Taco Bits, which include spiced, crunchy vegetable protein pieces. Equally tasty both cold and hot, you can up the ante by adding some of Packit Gourmet’s salsa (see #3), BYO cheese or your favorite hot sauce.

CARBS: 25g    
PROTEIN: 7g   
FAT: 0g  

5. Mighty Organic & New Primal: Jerky

Good smokey flavor. Not too peppery or sweet. ~ Rachel

Arguably one of the easiest lunch options on trail, beef jerky is a classic go-to, so we sampled a few of the “healthier” varieties. Mighty Organic offers three tasty, gluten-free flavors—Original, Peppered and Teriyaki—made from grass-fed beef, seasoned with organic honey and spices. Our tasters compliment their nice flavor balance—not too sweet or spicy. New Primal offers a selection of gluten-free, paleo-friendy beef, turkey and chicken varieties flavored with pineapple juice, coconut aminos, garlic and spices. We found the simple Sea Salt and Pepper Beef Jerky to have the best flavor and texture; the Spicy Beef was flavorful, but a bit tough and heavy on the spice.

CARBS: 4–7g    
PROTEIN: 11–12g   
FAT: 2–2.5g  

HYDRATE: Laird Superfood: Coconut Water

It’s like a tropical vacation on my tongue! ~ Tami

Coconut water is one of those love-it-or-hate-it things, but several of our tasters went so gaga for this light and revitalizing drink mix that it earned Laird Superfood another spot on our bevvies list. Made from just two ingredients—freeze-dried coconut water and Aquimin—one 8-ounce serving is loaded with potassium, electrolytes and essential minerals to help rehydrate and refresh (see Pro Tips), with no chemicals or sweeteners. For maximum enjoyment, we recommend using with fresh, very cold water and consuming in short order. We also suggest purchasing the large bulk package and packing multiple servings into a zip-top bag to help reduce your on-trail trash.

CARBS: 10g    
PROTEIN: 0g   
FAT: 0g  


PREP WHILE HIKING: For food items that require long rehydration times, prepare them ahead of your planned eating time and let them rehydrate while you hike. In order to prevent leaks or spills in your pack (which could ruin a sleeping bag and/or attract hungry critters), pack along an extra large zip-top bag to contain any rehydrating food packets. Then just roll into camp and chow down.

GF BREAD SUBS: When you don’t have the convenience of eating flour tortillas and pitas due to a gluten-free diet, there are several substitute options you can use that are just as easy—and tasty! We recommend Blue Diamond Nut Thins and Artisan Nut Thins. They’re lightweight, come in a variety of flavors and are exceptionally tasty. The sesame and multi-seed varieties are great with fish, spreads, nut butters and dips.

GOOD HYDRATION: As good as cold, fresh mountain stream water is, your body needs more to replenish itself in order to keep energy levels up and stay in optimal condition. The best way to do this is to replace the electrolytes you’re sweating out by adding a supplement to your water. As you’re hiking, drink regularly, adjust needs for temperature, and increase the amount you’re drinking in higher elevations. MORE INFO.

Next week, it’s dinner time. We’ll be sharing some of our favorite organic, vegetarian and gluten-free backpacking meals. There’s some pretty good stuff on our list, so you don’t want to miss this one. See you next week!

Meet Our Taste-Off Panel

asars spot
Tami Asars
brandon spot
Brandon Fralic
lisa spot
Lisa Holmes
kramer spot
Philip Kramer
mitzi spot
Mitzi Sugar
wood spot
Rachel Wood
eli spot
Eli Boschetto
This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, PCT: Oregon may receive a small commission. These commissions help offset PCT: Oregon’s hosting, operating and development expenses. Affiliate links do not change your purchase prices.
Based on sample availability and dietary restrictions, not all panel participants taste-tested all menu items. Nutrition information is based on single serving size. *Indicates a food item that is made with gluten-free ingredients, however it may not have been produced or packaged in a gluten-free environment.
Main photo: Sunrise near Hobart Bluff, on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon.

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