Matt & Jen's Favorite Thru Hiking Trail Dinner | Freeze Dried Beans + Minute Rice + Taco Seasoning

  • Updated: February 12, 2024
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Over the last four years I've spent months each summer running around outdoors. And one of the biggest ongoing challenges has been managing trail dinners that I haven't burned out on. And when you factor in the need to keep costs down and availability in the more remote sections of trail that's not been a trivial task.

The store bought backpacker meals I used to lean on heavily are now unsustainably expensive on the scale I need them. When I did the PCT and soon after the Eastern Continental Trail I did a lot of the cheap and ever avaliable Knorr sides but by the time I started the CDT I was burned out on pretty much every variety.

Fortunately I came across instant refried beans and they quickly became our favorite dinner.

Instant refried beans are available from a few different brands. I started using Santa Fe beans which we found on Amazon and at local Ralphs. I've found the Mexicali Rose brand at Walmart and the green chilli and spicy chipotle are both favorites of mine. 

Buying them on trail Walmart is usually the safest bet though I've also had a surprising amount of luck finding them in small town general stores like in Reserve New Mexico.

The rice I use is just Minute Rice since it's cheap, quick to cook, and easy to find. And for seasoning I just use whatever taco seasoning packets I can find with verde being my current favorite.

These are the basic proportions we use. When we make them at home we have access to cup measures but in the field I generally use 1/2 and 1/3 of my coffee mug in order to get in the right ballpark.

Whenever I can find it I supplement the mix with extra sharp Tillamook cheddar. Or other cheese but personally the black label Tillamook shown above tastes far better than anything else.

This is my normal cook set. The pot is an MSR Titan Kettle while the cup is a Snow Peak 450 ml mug.

When I cook I have the beans, rice, and seasoning pre mixed in a ziplock for compact storage in my food bag. I add 1.5 cups of water into my pot, bring it to a boil, turn down the flame, and then add the beans / rice / seasoning mix. I only let it heat for about a minute while I stir and the biggest challenge is usually not letting the beans burn on the bottom of my pot.

As far as measuring the water I use a trick with the 1 liter Smartwater bottles that I always use to carry my water on trail. I basically start with a full 1L bottle and I dump in water until it's down between the W and the a in Smartwater. The above image is something we whipped up to give us an easy way to measure on the trail.

I used to add them to tortillas and make burritos but I've gotten away from that as the tortillas were just too heavy and bulky. Also just eating them with a spoon has the advantage of not requiring the amount of water to be too precise and more soupy isn't as much of a problem. 

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  1. It’s too bad you can’t find those instant beans in northern Walmarts, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve even checked Mexican grocery