Just because you’re camping, it doesn’t mean your only option for food is spreading Spam on white bread or scooping spoonfuls of beans from the can. On the contrary, camp food can actually be quite delicious. Whether you’re cooking big group meals or taking advantage of single-sized backcountry packets, the best camping food comes in many forms.
From fruity snack bars and freeze-dried soups to tried-and-true home-cooked recipes, there exist a wide variety of tasty options capable of making dining on the trail a scrumptious experience. To help, we’ve rounded up the best of the bunch for every meal — including snacks, dessert, and a special bonus section — so you can take to the great outdoors and actually look forward to your rations.
Nutrition and energy exertion
It’s important to keep in mind how hard you’ll be physically working. Will you be relaxing by the lake on patio chairs or spending long days hiking up grueling hills? The type of proteins and nutrients you want, as well as the volume of food you’ll need, depends on your daily energy expenditures.
Will you be driving your car to the campsite, or hiking your food and gear in? If you’re hiking, it’s important to consider how much other weight you’ll be carrying, as well as how much space there is in your backpack. For car campers, keep in mind you’ll likely still have to schlep coolers down to recreation areas. The amount of food you have to carry and where you carry it to are key factors in making your meal choices.
Equipment and gear
Another important aspect of choosing the right trail food comes down to the kind of stove you plan on using. Perhaps you’ll opt for a full-sized chuck wagon, or maybe a smaller tabletop two-burner will do the trick — even using a single burner for boiling water is a convenient choice. We also recommend taking note of whether you’ll be cooking out of large bowls (or collapsible cookware) and how much water you’ll have readily available. If there isn’t an easy way to refill your water reservoir, then that greatly changes your options for preparing food.
Understanding how much cleanup is required for each meal is one of the most important points on this list. If a recipe calls for a large number of dishes for preparation or multiple trays and utensils to serve, it’s likely not the best choice for roughing it. Perhaps there are steps to some of the meals you can complete at home (to help avoid dishes) but it’s always important to think hard about the cleanup effort that’s involved when selecting your meals.
Number of ingredients and cooler space
Similar to the tip about cleanup, if a recipe calls for twelve different items for preparation, it’s likely not the best to whip up on the trail. Meals which require three or fewer items are much more ideal, not only making them easier to make but they greatly reduce the amount of space they take up in your pack.
Furthermore, perishables such as meats and dairy, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, (obviously) require a method for keeping them cold until you’re ready to dig in. Even seasoned car campers can attest that free cooler space is often times at a premium, so, when possible, packing dry food and non-perishable goods are preferred.
Group size and meal breakdown
Whether you plan on being the only chef making meals or if have some assistance, the number of people who plan on eating during the outing greatly influences the type of food you might bring along. For feeding larger groups, meals which are easier to prepare in large batches are recommended — think macaroni and cheese or spaghetti (for car campers, that is) — but if it’s just a buddy and you in the backcountry, smaller volume meals are the best way to go.
Don’t forget to think about the specific meals you plan on eating and exactly where you’ll be eating them. You may be able to get away with simply packing snacks to eat on the trail during the day, saving full-on meals for breakfast and dinner. Some people prefer coffee in the morning, so know this adds a bit of weight — an added weight coffee enthusiasts will gladly take on. Knowing exactly which meals you want to serve and what their purpose will be will help your planning effort.
Do you or any members of your group have any dietary restrictions to consider? When planning your meals, be sure to consider options for people who have allergies or are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or on other special diets.
Bet you didn’t think you could have smoothies on a camping trip, right? Think again. This banana and strawberry smoothie made by AlpineAire is full of protein, delivering the perfect blend of healthy and delicious to your mornings outside. Just add cold water, mix, and enjoy.
Whether you’re devouring it alone or using it to woo your sleepy fellow campers out of their tents, there’s no better way to wake up than with a plate full of bacon. For the campfire edition, simply weave each strip onto a skewer, leaving a few inches at the end. Rest the skewers over your fire and rotate until you’ve reached your desired crispness.
There’s nothing better than a warm bowl of hot cereal on a brisk outdoor morning. This lightweight packet made by Patagonia is so simple it’s silly — just boil water and mix. Nine minutes later you’ve got a sweet, oatmeal-like breakfast that’s perfect with a little fruit or honey.
Want something hot for breakfast instead but don’t want to drag along any fixings? This Mountain House delight delivers the deliciousness of home-cooked hash browns, sausage, veggies, and scrambled eggs without the hassle. Just add boiled water and it’s ready to go.
Pancakes are an easy, crowd-pleasing breakfast just about anywhere — and camping is no exception. For this delectably gooey version, just whisk eggs, peanut butter, milk, and vanilla with pancake mix and chocolate chips. Pop the mix into a skillet on your camp stove or cook over an open fire.
Sloppy Joes are the easiest and most delicious way to feed the masses. Simply pre-cook ground beef before your trip and throw it in Ziplock bags. Once there, mix with salsa and pour on hamburger buns. Voila — happy campers everywhere.
Soup and lunchtime go hand in hand, and this awesome sampler from Harmony House offers a tasty assortment of various flavors, all of which are both vegan and gluten-free. You can bring the whole collection to pass out to people, or take them one by one on solo trips over the course of the summer.
There’s a reason sandwiches have stood the test of time as the ultimate picnic lunch to take outdoors. They’re easy to make, require only a few ingredients, and can be easily tossed into backpacks and knapsacks. Whether you opt for a basic PB and J, or one of the fancier options listed in the link above, sammies always make a great midday camping meal.
Throw these delectable cutlets on rice, toss them into tacos, or eat them straight out the packet. These mouthwatering salmon pouches from Patagonia provide a savory way of packing a little protein into your noon-time meal. Lightly smoked and peppered, this wild pink salmon is sourced ecologically from reef nets off Lummi Island and require no refrigeration before opening.
Canned chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, and mayo — three basic ingredients that mix together for the ultimate in lunchtime simplicity. The mix can be made prior to your trip or easily prepared once you get to camp. Spread it on bread, plop it on crackers, or eat it on its own.
There is no freeze-dried camping meal more delicious than this award-winning Thai curry from Good To-Go. With spicy yellow coconut, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and green beans mixed with flavors of lemongrass and tamarind, it is heavenly to taste and, as a bonus, both pescatarian and gluten-free.
You can’t go wrong with pizza, especially when it’s rolled into a never-ending log of pepperoni, cheese, and other toppings. Just prep the dough into a log before you go, add toppings of your choice, then wrap in tin foil. When it’s time for dinner, cook it over the campfire for 30 minutes and you’re good to go.
For a scrumptious dinner that can be carried on multi-day backpacking trips or served around a group campfire, AlpineAire’s Spicy Chicken Gumbo is a superb choice. The low-fat dish is made with rice, corn, bell peppers, okra, onion, celery, and chicken. Best of all, in its tiny compressed packet, it weighs just 5.5 ounces.
Spaghetti is a classic everyone loves. This one from Backpacker’s Pantry makes it even better by offering a vegan option you can serve as an alternative for folks who don’t eat meat. Rich, flavorful tomato sauce and a healthy helping of noodles — what more do you need?
Another classic tin foil recipe, chicken fajitas are easy-to-prep, easy-to-cook camping wonders. Toss some precooked chicken in with your favorite veggies and wrap them in foil before you go. To cook, heat them over the fire and throw on top of a few warm tortillas.
A quintessential snack for hiking, backpacking, and camping, beef jerky is lightweight, compact, and chockfull of protein. This one from Mountain America blends hot and sweet spices with hickory-smoked beef. Everything you want in a hearty camping snack.
No more worrying about hummus taking up space in the cooler or spilling on the road. Bring the dry pack along and mix with water when you get to camp. With garbanzo beans, taco seasoning, and spicy jalapeno flavoring, it makes a great happy hour treat.
Trail mix is fun to make ahead of time to play with your favorite ingredients. Try different combinations of peanuts, raisins, M&Ms, granola, cashews, dried fruit, coconut flakes, banana chips, spices — it’s all up to you. On the trail, it always seems to be exactly what your brain is craving whenever you pause to soak up the view.
No camping trip food plan is complete without the inclusion of a few snack bars. These ones come in delicious mango flavors, as well as Inca berry and apricot varieties. The entire line is one hundred percent vegan, gluten-free, and made with organic fruit, almonds, and chia seeds. They’re the perfect go-to for hiking provisions or midday snacks.
Bananas plus marshmallows plus chocolate equals heaven. Stuff the sweets into the banana, wrap it in tin foil, and crimp it into a pseudo boat to roast over the fire. What emerges is a gooey, magical mess you’ll crave for days after you return home.
This recipe for a fruity camping cobbler comes from REI’s outdoor cooking classes and, though it takes a bit of preparation, is fairly simple to make once you’re in the wild. Mix berries with sugar, cornstarch, and lemon before sticking it in a dutch oven. Crumble buttery, floury dough on top, bake it over hot coals, and dare yourself to eat only one piece. (Spoiler alert: You can’t).
Going camping is virtually synonymous with making s’mores. The simple chocolate-marshmallow-graham cracker combo is a classic campfire staple that tastes amazing and gives everyone something to enjoy together around the fire.
This simple recipe involves melting chocolate and peanut oil in a pan (with a touch of water) and dipping mango and ginger slices in it like a fondue. To mix it up, try strawberries, dried apricots, or other fruits. Our mouth is watering just writing about it.
You probably thought ice cream can’t be enjoyed while camping or backpacking — and a rational person might agree with you. (Unless, of course, you have a very fancy and expensive portable freezer). Yet this adventurous woman insists you’re wrong. Read her amazing account of camping with ice cream and then try it for yourself.
To achieve the refreshing taste of a Moscow Mule without the extra time and accouterments, whip up this simplified version: Add vodka to a can of beer and splash it with ginger ale. Sprinkle in a dry lemonade packet and you’ve made yourself a delicious camping cocktail.
Whiskey is the perfect libation to warm your belly on a clear night under the stars. This small-batch dark amber bourbon — made in a rugged distillery in Kirby, Wyoming — features a floral nose with a hint of vanilla bean and caramel pudding. It’s medium-bodied with a palate of charred oak and a hint of citrus, rounded out by a smooth, lingering toffee finish. We’ll have a double.
If you’re heading into a wilderness area where wild blackberries grow, take advantage of your surroundings and pick some of the sweet treats for a cocktail. Add them directly to bourbon, or shake with ice and sugar for a delightful drink to sip in the sun.
Whether you drink it with your breakfast bacon or sip it around the campfire at night, adding Irish whiskey or a shot of Bailey’s to your coffee is a strikingly simple way to spice up your cup of Joe.
Car camping trips often involve coolers full of beer but did you know you can enjoy a can of brewsky when you’re backpacking, too? Get yourself one of these innovative carbonator bottles, along with a few brew concentrate packets, and you can toss back a cold one deep in the backcountry. The packets come in pale Cascade hops and dark roasted malts, as well as various soda options.
If you have a dog, and you are bringing him camping, check out this guide to dehydrated dog food.
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