Travel Food: Testing the Best Ways to Make “Hiker Trash Pad Thai"

A bowl of 'hiker trash" ramen pad thai noodles

Have you ever had hiker trash pad thai? It's not actually pad thai in any traditional sense of the word, but rather a sort of peanut and noodle concoction designed for ultra-easy preparation while camping and backpacking. It usually consists of noodles that can be quickly cooked with a jet-boil or pocket rocket, plus soy sauce, peanut butter powder, and also optionally seasonings, dried vegetables, peanuts, and fish or meat from a pouch. It is probably the most common recipe I see for backpacking and minimalist camping, probably because it packs a good amount of carbs and protein without a lot of weight. The term “hiker trash” refers to backpacking, especially to those trekking over a long enough time that they temporarily lose touch with which mannerisms are appropriate for normal life, and which are appropriate only for the trail.


I decided to test the best ways to make hiker trash pad thai. I experimented with cooking methods, noodle type, and pouched fish to see how each combination fared in a taste test. My boyfriend also tasted each combination alongside me. (Thank you! 😊)

Materials:

a collection of noodles and seasonings, and an electric kettle

Noodles

I tested three types of noodles. Classic ramen noodles, wide rice stick noodles, and a type of pre-moistened par cooked rice noodles advertised as “thai ribbon noodles”. 

Sauce

I made my sauce from peanut butter powder, soy sauce, garlic and onion powder, red pepper flakes, and just enough water to cover the noodles after shaking them around a bit. 

Veggies

I pre-dehydrated some cabbage and zucchini in my airfryer/toaster oven beforehand. If you do this at home, onion, peppers, and mushrooms would also be great options. 

Fish

To pair with our noodles, I purchased a pouch of sesame ginger seasoned tuna and a pouch of lemon pepper flavored salmon. A more thorough testing might have also included pouched chicken or pork, but I didn’t really care to. 

Toppings

I like to put roasted peanuts on top for some crunch. If you feel fancy, shredded coconut, rice crackers, or crunchy wontons could be appropriate. However I didn’t have any. 

Heat

I heated my noodles in an electric kettle. Yes, the infamous one I used all through college rather than getting a microwave. I thought it would be the best way to simulate the small volume and high intensity of a jetboil system.

Tools

In addition to the cooking implements, forks and bowls that would be obvious, some of these cooking methods require a jar for safely shaking the noodles up while they cook. The traditional hiker trash jar is a Talenti Gelato container, since it is wide, shallow and lightweight. However, I don’t have to worry about weight while at home so I just used a salsa jar. 

Round one: Cold Soak Hiker Trash Pad Thai

two bowls of noodles made from different types of noodles

Cold soak is a method favored by ultralight backpackers, because forgoing heat means less fuel has to be packed. It is also helpful when water is limited, the weather is too hot for a hot meal, burn bans are in place, and a variety of other scenarios. Outside of my personal cold soak experiments for this blog, and “in the wild” I have only seen ramen used for this purpose. (spoiler, it didn’t take long to see why)

Each noodle was “cooked” in the same sauce recipe, soaking for about 30 minutes before being served. After doing a pre-test with the rice stick noodles, it was clear that only the ramen and the thai ribbon noodles would be edible as a cold soak.

Our thoughts on the noodle texture and temperature: 

Him: It tastes like I'm eating leftovers that have been refrigerated.

Me: (laughing) yeah! How is the noodle texture?

Him: The noodle texture [of the thai ribbon noodles] is shockingly not… ah, keeping in mind that I'm ok with firmer noodles. You're not going to like it, but I’m okay with it.

Me: Probably. I have tried this before in “the wild” and I had opinions. 

Him: How is the ramen?

Me: I thought it just tasted like normal cold ramen. It could have soaked a little longer. 


Me: They [the ribbon noodles] have… they're chewier. Uh, I’m trying to explain what it is that makes it different from cooked noodles. It has an interesting texture after you chew them up. It's not chalky, but it's in that direction. 

Him: Now that I've had the ramen, the rice noodles…those don’t seem to hold your peanut butter soup concoction very well. The ramen is actually soaking it up really nicely. [The ribbon noodles are] just sitting in a puddle of peanut butter. I’m not a huge fan of that. I think that the ramen turned out better.

Me: That being said, despite all the critiques, if I had been hiking all day and someone handed me a bowl of this, I probably wouldn’t have terrible complaints.

Results: 

If you cold soak, ramen is a requirement! I have a suspicion that no matter how long you soak Thai ribbon noodles, they won’t loosen up without heat. Cold soaking is best if you don’t mind cold food, and love leftovers best straight from the fridge. Not recommended if you just want a hot meal. 

Round Two: Cold for 10 Min, Hot for 1.5 Min Pad Thai

three bowls of noodles made from different types on noodles

This method uses some of the benefits of cold soaking, plus a short burst of heat to get a better texture without wasting fuel. We tested all three noodles on this one. 

Our Thoughts On the Noodle Texture:

Him: I'm expecting there to be a texture difference on the thai [ribbon] noodles. 

Me: Oh, there definitely is, I could tell as they were cooking.

Him: Actually, before I even take a first bite, I’m going to make a comment that this has clearly soaked up more of the water. The water clearly looks like the peanut butter powder is mixed into it better and the noodles are soaking it up. 


Him: My observation was fine; my prediction could have been better. Even though the noodles have clearly soaked up the water, it's not holding it like the ramen did. So once again I think we have a point in favor of the ramen. Now I’m curious about the rice noodles.

Me: Those [wide rice stick noodles] turned out good, I didn’t expect them to cook so fast because the package said to cook them for like 8 minutes. 

Him: These [wide rice stick noodles] are a little firm [for me] yet. Some of them are still kind of standing sideways [on the fork]. (Note: he likes moosh)

Me: Maybe it would be worth doing a round where I cook them longer? Is the texture similar to the cold soaked thai noodles? 

Him: Yeah. 

Me: Texture-wise I really like the thai noodles.

Him: I dunno, I think the thai noodles are salvageable with fish, but it's not wowing me. 

Me: I really like the texture, this is my preferred texture. But you prefer the ramen?

Him: Yes. Once again the ramen holds the sauce as you eat it. I prefer that. 

Me: I actually don’t mind the texture of the rice stick noodles. I think they could use a smidge more cooking, but they are darn pretty close. 

Results:

Preferences will differ whether you like Thai ribbon noodles or ramen best, when cold soaked and then briefly cooked, depending on how much bite you like your noodles to have. Don’t use this method on a thicker rice stick noodle. 

Round Three: 5 minute Pad Thai

a bowl of cooked rice stick noodles


We decided that the ramen and the ribbon noodles worked well enough with a short cooking time, that we didn’t even need to test them at 5 minutes. Instead, We tested only the rice stick noodles. We confirmed that they could cook in 5 minutes. 

Results:

It worked, and had the texture that rice stick noodles are supposed to have. We didn’t have that much interesting to say beyond that. If you like rice stick noodles, and you aren't being stingy about time or fuel, this is another great option. 

Round Four: Thoughts On Toppings, Protein And Seasonings For Hiker Trash Pad Thai


Me: We have the same meats if you would like to use them. And by meat I mean fish out of a packet. 

Him: Mmmm, a delicacy. Actually, i’m pretty happy over here with my salmon

Me: The tuna is not bad. It's probably better than regular tuna. I think the ginger sesame cuts down on the fishy tuna taste a little bit. 

Him: This is lemon pepper pink salmon and it tastes about like salmon. Oh, that's good! I actually think that this could be had as a meal.

Him: [Trying the tuna] yeah I think that… Hmm, the ginger is interesting.

Me: I’m glad I didn’t do this with plain tuna. I don’t think I would recommend plain tuna for this. 


Me: How do you feel about the veggies? Do you think there is a difference between this time and last time?

Him: No. I saw that there were veggies and completely disregarded it. But I’m glad that they are there for nutritional purposes. I think you need a higher concentration.

 

Me: I wonder if you can get powdered lemon for this. I really love the lemon from the salmon in the noodles. 

Him: Wouldn’t that be lemon pepper? (Laughing)

Me: You are right! I think it needs lemon pepper! 

Results:

If you add packet fish, avoid plain tuna, since the distinct tuna taste doesn’t really cooperate with the other flavors. Asian influenced options would probably work best. If your add-ins don’t already include a tart component, consider adding lemon pepper to your seasonings. Don’t be shy about adding dehydrated veggies to the mix. Additionally, peanuts add an appropriate amount of texture. 

Final thoughts

I love eating and being outside. So, any time I get to do both at the same time, or plan for it, it makes me very happy. If you found this useful, or know someone who would like it, please share the love here in the comments, or on my instagram. www.instagram.com/hungryforadventurez

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