Nature Gourmet

Note that a permit is needed even for camp stoves in the Los Padres National Forest during fire season; charcoal and wood fires are all-out banned, even in campgrounds.

When the fog starts to clear and fewer tourists are near, that’s locals’ summer. It’s a time for residents to reintroduce themselves to the spoils of living in Monterey County; a time to check for cancellations at our typically teeming campsites (check first for fire-related closure orders).

Whether you are car camping at a developed campground or backpacking deep into the forest, one question looms large for adventurers of all skill levels: what to eat?

Depending on equipment, type of trip and time of year, the answer to this question can vary greatly and require more deliberate planning. Charcoal and wood fires have been prohibited throughout the Los Padres National Forest and as we enter peak wildfire season, expect those prohibitions to remain throughout the rest of the year. Worry not: modern society offers plenty of other options.

Car camping allows bulky cargo so I always bring along a small, dual burner propane-powered stove, which can be found for under $50 and is worth its weight in gold. Whether car camping or in the backcountry, these stoves require a California Campfire permit. With a cast iron skillet, a pot to boil water or heat soup, and a cooler to keep your raw food from spoiling, the options are endless. I aim for minimal prep and minimal cleanup, which often leads me to picking up a carton of tomato soup, a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, a block of cheese and, if I’m feeling extra, some cured meat. When out in nature, I can’t think of anything that scores higher on the easy and cozy scale than a soup and sandwich dinner.

Backpacking requires a different skill set. Jacqui Bergner, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance’s former youth and wilderness program director, says when with a group, it’s worth it to bring real food, instead of the freeze-dried stuff. During her time in national outdoor leadership programs, Bergner became a backcountry meals wizard.

“One of my favorite meals is my backcountry burrito with soyrizo,” Bergner says (see recipe, left). Her pro-tip: Bring mini bags of spices.

There are core values to packing food for backpacking. Bergner says you don’t want something that can be easily crushed, like a banana or tomato, because “when backpacking you’re trying to fill every bit of space in your pack.” She says backpackers have to consider how well raw items do against the elements; meat should be eaten on the first night, while vegetables and cheese can last for a few days.

Cleanup is another cardinal rule and whatever comes in should go out. Bergner says dirt provides a nice natural scrub when cleaning pots and pans – which should be rinsed away from rivers, creeks or ponds.

Last but not least, critters. For storage, Bergner recommends a bear canister or hanging your food bag from a tree (for tips, visit

Another pro-tip: These burritos are best enjoyed while stargazing.

Jacqui Bergner’s Backcountry Burritos

Yields: 3-4 large burritos


  • Tortillas
  • Soyrizo (soy chorizo)
  • 1 can of black beans
  • red pepper
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 can of corn (optional)
  • Avocados or guacamole
  • Shredded cheese (optional)
  • Cooking oil
  • One packet of taco seasoning


Chop vegetables. Over medium-low heat on your favorite camp skillet, pour a generous amount of oil. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. Add the beans, veggies and taco seasoning to the skillet. Cook for another 5 minutes, until beans and corn are warm and veggies are soft. Transfer to your camp bowl.

Pour another generous amount of oil into the skillet. Add soyrizo and sauté over high heat, stirring frequently, until browned. Add to vegetable mixture.

Place a tortilla on the skillet and spin it around to pick up the oils. Flip and warm tortilla and add shredded cheese if desired.

Pour a portion of the veggie/soyrizo mix into the tortilla. Add a scoop of guacamole or a few slices of avocado and roll your burrito. Repeat as needed.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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