You could spend your day off in the kitchen, toiling over a hot stove and roasting a bird. You could make the stuffing from scratch, cook up the cranberry sauce by hand, roll your own pie crust and mash your own potatoes. You could do all that. Or—hear us out—you could ditch tradition, use your precious days off to celebrate Thanksgiving on the trail this year, and discover a whole bunch of reasons to be thankful.
This easy, homemade feast comes together with just an hour or so of prep work in the kitchen (and a couple pre-made shortcuts) plus a few minutes in camp. It doesn’t taste exactly like an old-school feast: after a long day on the trail, we’re willing to be it tastes even better. —The Editors
Cranberry Gouda Bruschetta
Start the festivities as soon as you roll into camp with this easy appetizer. Serves 4.
- ½ pound Gouda cheese
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 loaf French bread
- 1⁄3 cup dried cranberries (or 4 oz. cranberry sauce)
At home: Store cranberries and Gouda in separate zip-top bags, and put oil in a leakproof container. Store loaf in a large plastic bag, and stow at the top of your pack to avoid squishing.
In camp: Slice Gouda and cut bread into 1-inch slices. Warm a dash of oil over medium heat and toast bread until golden. Flip, add cheese, and cover until melted (2 minutes). Top with cranberries or a dollop of sauce, remove from heat, and serve.
Cut prep and cleanup time by turning the feast’s centerpiece inside out. Serves 4.
- 1 lb. turkey breast, cooked
- 3 sticks celery, diced
- 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 5 Tbsp. butter
- 1 six-oz. package seasoned stuffing mix
- 1⁄3 cup dried cranberries
At home: Cut turkey into ½-inch cubes or shred with a fork. Put in a zip-top bag and freeze.
Before your trip, put frozen turkey bag in the middle of your pack to keep it cool (cook on day one). Pack butter in a leakproof container. Store dried cranberries in one zip-top bag and whole carrot and celery in another. Pack whole onion. Pack stuffing in its original package.
In camp: If turkey is still frozen, let thaw. Meanwhile, chop vegetables. Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, add veggies, and sauté for 8 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add turkey. Cook for 2 more minutes, or until turkey is warmed through and onion begins to brown.
Heat 1 ½ cups water and 3 Tbsp. butter in a pan until water boils and butter melts completely. Reduce heat to low and stir in stuffing mix, vegetables, and turkey. Remove from heat, add cranberries, and serve.
Tip: Out for a few days? Instead of turkey, sub in dried, cured turkey sausage.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Some holiday classics are worth schlepping in the real thing. Serves 4.
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 1/3 cup + 1 pinch brown sugar
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ginger
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- 1 cup mini marshmallows
- ¼ cup walnuts or pecans
- 4 strips bacon, cooked
At home: Store butter and orange juice in leakproof containers. Pack sugar and spices in a zip-top bag. Crumble bacon. Pack it, nuts, and marshmallows in separate baggies. Chop potatoes into ½-inch cubes and pack in a zip-top bag.
In camp: Boil potatoes until soft (10 to 15 minutes). Drain, then mash with a fork in a separate bowl. Set aside a pinch of sugar mixture, then combine remaining sugar, spices, butter, and orange juice in the pot and heat, stirring until smooth (about 5 minutes). Stir in potatoes. Top with marshmallows, nuts, and reserved sugar, then return to medium heat and cover for 2 to 5 minutes. Toast marshmallows, if desired. Top with bacon and serve.
Eggs, shmeggs. This backpacker-friendly drink will have you laughing around the campfire long into the night. Serves 4.
3 ¼ cups milk from powder
2 oz. instant vanilla pudding
2 pinch cinnamon
3 pinches allspice
3 pinches nutmeg
2 oz. bourbon, brandy, or cointreau (optional)
At home: Measure pudding, spices, and powdered milk into a zip-top bag. Pack any alcohol in a plastic bottle or flask.
In camp: Add 3 ¼ cups cold water and powdered ingredients to a medium-size bowl. Stir until smooth, about 1 minute. Add alcohol (adults only) and serve.
Bonus: How to Roast a Bird on the Trail
With a little ingenuity, you can make your Thanksgiving turkey (or, more likely, Cornish hen) in the backcountry. Get the Recipe
Originally published November 2017; last updated November 2021