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8 Easy Backcountry Dinners You Can Cook for Pennies

Quite possibly the easiest meals you'll ever make with three ingredients or less

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There are two kinds of backpackers: those willing to haul fresh veggies, backpacking ovens, and a French press in service of gourmet cuisine, and those who would rather just rehydrate their peas and be done with it. I’m a card-carrying member of the former group—and not surprisingly, this site has catered to hikers with foodie tendencies. But not today.

‘Cause, let’s face it, there are some nights where you’re so bone-tired, you can barely work your jaw. You just want food—anything will do, as long as it’s hot (and even that’s debatable). The easier, the better. For those nights, try these ultrasimple dirtbag meals, all with three ingredients or less. You may notice a pattern here: Start with a quick-cooking carb, stir in a foil packet of meat, and add extra flavoring. It’s an enduring formula for a reason. No chopping or filleting required, we promise. And yeah, they still taste good.

Tuna Mac

Serves 2-3.

Cook 1 box of macaroni. Stir in cheese powder. Add 1 packet of tuna. (Note: Shells & cheese are encouraged.)

Poor Hiker’s Pad Thai

Serves 2.

Cook 1 packet soy-flavored ramen noodles. Stir in 2 tablespoons peanut butter. (Have a lime? Toss in a little juice for some acidity. It’s nice, but not essential.)

Pesto Pasta

Serves 2.

Cook 8 ounces of your pasta of choice. Stir in 2 ounces of pesto and 1 packet of pink salmon. (Note: Do NOT attempt to pack the pesto in a zip-top bag. You will regret it.)

Ranch Wraps

Serves 1.

Spread 1 packet of ranch dressing on 1 or 2 tortillas. Add 1 packet of chicken. Roll and eat.

Instant Indian

Serves 1.

Place the foil bags that come in 1 box of Tasty Bite Indian cuisine meals (I like Spinach Dahl & Basmati Rice) in boiling water. Heat, then remove the bags and mix the contents together in a bowl. (Not really a recipe, but we’re giving this one a pass.)

Sweet Wild Rice

Serves 2.

Cook 1 box of instant wild rice with seasoning of choice. Stir in 1 cup dried cranberries and 1 packet chicken.

Spuds at Sea

Serves 2.

Boil water and mix with 1 packet of flavored instant mashed potatoes (try Garlic & Parmesan or Southwest from the Idahoan brand). Stir in 1 packet of tuna.

Tomato Tortellini

Serves 2.

Cook 8 ounces of cheese-stuffed tortellini. Stir in 2 ounces pesto. Add 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes.

With thanks to Steve Howe and Kris Wagner.

Originally published 2009; last updated March 2022