No-Fuss Trail Meals

It’s time for the main course! This week, we’re featuring five easy to prepare dinner dishes that are sure to satisfy after a long day on trail. We’ve got hearty burritos, savory soups and more that will help add some flavor and variety to your trail menu. Plus, each of these tasty dishes qualify as organic, vegetarian or gluten-free for those with special dietary needs. 

1. Backpacker’s Bistro: Risotto Primavera

Light and tasty. ~ Eli

At the end of a long hiking day, this vegan, carb-loading dish of rice and veggies really hits the spot—and earns the top choice on our list of easy trail meals. Combining fluffy arborio rice with carrots, asparagus, broccoli and onions, and flavored with white wine and olive oil, it has a light, mild flavor. We found it great—and quite filling—as-is, but also as a nice base for some BYO protein. Try it with Patagonia’s Pink Salmon (see No-Cook Lunches), or mix in some parmesan or cheddar cheese. Prep takes a while (20 mins.), so get this started before setting up camp.

CARBS: 76g    
PROTEIN: 12g   
FAT: 18g  

2. Packit Gourmet: Big’un Burrito w/ Fajita Chicken

A hearty, satisfying trail meal. ~ Brandon

This flavor-packed, gluten-conscious dish made our tasters very happy campers. With a mix of chicken, black beans, brown rice, roasted corn, jack and cheddar cheeses and savory Southwest spices, it makes a perfect filling for trail burritos, tacos or pitas (BYO bread). Going GF? Mix in some BYO tortilla chips for a crunchy fajita bowl. Each 9-ounce serving provides a well-rounded amount of calories, carbs and protein, with an extra boost of potassium (see Pro Tips). We recommend steeping a few minutes longer than indicated to fully rehydrate.

CARBS: 53g    
PROTEIN: 25g   
FAT: 11g  

3. Patagonia Provisions: Black Bean Soup

Really tasty and super-satisfying. ~ Mitzi

Black beans are powerhouses of heart-healthy protein, fiber, potassium and essential minerals that promote healthy bones, low blood pressure and good digestion. That makes this savory blend of black beans, corn, tomatoes and chipotle spices good, and good for you. Prepared as directed, we found this mildly spicy dish to be more like a thick chili than a brothy soup, and that the 8-ounce serving size was plenty filling. This dish gets extra props from our tasters for its use of organic, gluten-free, whole-food ingredients and restaurant-quality flavor. Steep longer at high elevations.

CARBS: 53g    
PROTEIN: 16g   
FAT: 2.5g  

4. Patagonia Provisions: Green Lentil Soup

Very good flavor with the right amount of spice. ~ Lisa

Earning a second placement on our list is another of Patagonia’s savory soup mixes. This organic blend of lentils, bulgur wheat, veggies and garlic provides a good serving of complex carbs for slow-burning energy, plus magnesium for improved circulation and oxygen distribution. Our team was split on this dish’s mild, earthy flavor; some finding it just right, some finding it a little bland. Our solution: add some black pepper, curry spice or hot sauce for a little kick (see Pro Tips). The package also suggests adding some BYO parmesan cheese. Steep longer at high elevations.

CARBS: 40g    
PROTEIN: 13g   
FAT: 1.5g  

5. Trailtopia: Ginger Chicken Stir Fry

Big veggies and nice ginger flavor; very impressed. ~ Tami

A somewhat recent discovery, Trailtopia offers a selection of regular and GF trail meals and desserts. Our tasters gave this gluten-free dish of chicken, long-grain rice, veggies, tamari soy sauce, garlic and ginger a shot and gave it a thumbs-up. The trick to preparing this one is to use a little less water than directed, and steep for a little longer than indicated. After that, it cooks up to a filling, albeit fairly mild dish. A few of our tasters recommend adding some extra spice or hot sauce to boost the flavor. If you like extra-spicy, try their Jambalaya, which definitely packs a punch.

CARBS: 49g    
PROTEIN: 19g   
FAT: 1g  

HYDRATE: Cusa: Instant Iced Teas

Great instant tea that doesn’t taste artificial. ~ Rachel

Available in a variety of crisp, refreshing flavors—including Black Lemon, Green, Mango Green, English Breakfast and Oolong—our team gave high marks to Cusa’s instant, unsweetened teas. Prepared hot or cold, they make a refreshing accompaniment to any in-camp meal. Plus, it’s easy to tailor the intensity of the flavor by simply adding more or less water. A fave among our tasters was the Black Lemon, with its bright, citrusy tang. Plus, the tiny, practically weightless packets let you carry several, and are much easier to pack out than soggy, used teabags.

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


POTASSIUM POWER: We mentioned this in an earlier food feature, but wanted to double-down on this one because it’s such an important part of a healthy trail diet. This essential nutrient is a powerhouse for hikers. Maintaining a regular intake of potassium (4,700mg/day for adults) can help stimulate neural activity, strengthen muscles, prevent cramps, boost your metabolism and reduce stress. LEARN MORE.

SPICE IT UP: You can punch up the flavor of your trail food by packing along a few spices and seasonings. Salt and pepper is a no-brainer, and can be easily packed along in small packets that you can obtain at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. Pack along other seasonings such as curry, chili and ginger powder, red pepper, garlic salt and Italian seasonings in a tiny spice container.

SAMPLE FIRST: As everyone has different tastes, likes and dislikes, we recommend that you always sample trail food before committing to take it with you on trail. There’s few things worse than discovering on trail that something you packed along doesn’t meet your flavor preferences, or doesn’t agree with your stomach. This also helps you avoid packing out heavy bags of uneaten food.

Next week we’re wrapping up this year’s Trail Foods Taste-Off with a selection of tasty treats to enjoy on the trail and in camp. There’s some good stuff in here that you’ll definitely want to add to your trail menu. 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
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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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