Hard-won insights on gear and skills

Trail Tested

The Best Backpacking Meal

Our columnist has eaten this simple meal on hundreds of trips. He's still not sick of it.

Try this hearty and delicious dinner recipe on your next backpacking trip. (Andrew Skurka)
Andrew Skurka

Our columnist has eaten this simple meal on hundreds of trips. He's still not sick of it.

Need a simple and inexpensive, yet hearty and delicious dinner recipe for your next backpacking trip? Try this one. It’s my favorite. It goes on every single one of my backpacking trips, and I’ve had it hundreds of times. I never get tired of it. My clients love it too. Need more convincing to try it?

Key Stats

  • Recommended meal weight: 5.7 oz
  • Total calories: 668
  • Calories per ounce: 117

Most people have no problem eating the whole thing, but if you have a small appetite you may want to use less of the beans or rice. If you want to increase calorie count or caloric density, add more Fritos.

Andrew Skurka
Meal ingredients (Andrew Skurka)

Ingredients

I assemble my recipes by weight instead of conventional cooking measurements like tablespoons. This allows me to easily scale the recipe for larger groups.

Per meal per person you will need:

On all of my trips, I also bring a spice kit consisting of salt, pepper mix (black pepper, chili pepper, paprika), and red hot pepper flakes. I keep them in one-ounce plastic storage bottles.

Andrew Skurka
Clockwise from cheese in upper right: Cheese, taco seasoning, rice, refried beans, and Fritos (Andrew Skurka)

At-home preparation

For groups, I do the following:

  • Each group member is given one 2.5-ounce snack bag of beans and rice mixture.
  • Fritos and cheese are kept together, and divided proportionally in the field.
  • Meals are individually seasoned with the taco seasoning and group spice kit.

When solo, my approach changes. If I plan to have this meal several times on the same trip, or the same leg of a thru-hike, I have pre-spiced snack bag of beans and rice for each meal, and my supply of Fritos and cheese is kept together (but I divide the block of cheese equally so that I don’t steal tomorrow’s calories for tonight’s dinner). If I plan to have this meal just once, I will use up to three bags (beans/rice, cheese, Fritos) but I’ve also combined everything into one bag before. It works out okay since the ingredients are fairly easy to separate in the field.

Cooking instructions

For perfect consistency:

  • Add 12 ounces of water to the pot.
  • After—or shortly before—the water is boiling, add the beans, rice, seasoning, and spices.
  • Simmer for 60 seconds, stirring to avoid boil-over.
  • Cut cheese into dice-sized pieces and add to meal.
  • Add Fritos just before consumption. If added too early, they will soften.

Personally, I recommend using more than 12 ounces of water. It makes the meal soupy, but it’s easier to cook—you can add the beans/rice mixture at the start, and there’s much less risk of burning the meal. Plus, the extra broth is nice in colder conditions.

Filed To: Recipes / Food and Drink / Hiking and Backpacking / Adventure
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