What Food Should You Bring on Your Next Camping Trip?Published on 08/07/2023 · 11 min readAt a packing standstill trying to figure out what kind of food to bring on your next camping trip? We've got you covered, check out this guide on camping food!
Photo by Skorzewiak
Are you gearing up for a big backpacking journey or heading out on a long road trip soon? You’ll need to put some time and consideration into what you plan on bringing for meals! Meal planning can often be one of the most overwhelming parts of camping. Preparing food outside with camp gear and without access to your full cabinet of ingredients and spices or a grocery store can be a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!
I’ve been a frequent camper since a young age going on trips with my dad. As I’ve gotten older, I have gotten more and more into camping and eventually got sick of the classic, easy-to-make, dehydrated meals. Over the last five years or so, I have really dialed in my camp cook setup and my go-to camping meals.
In this article, I will break down the important considerations when thinking about the food you’ll bring along and list some easy-to-make options for each meal! Hopefully, this will take some of the stress off of planning your camp meals and help you make some tasty options while out in the backcountry.
Let’s jump in!
What’s Your Camping Style?
The first step in narrowing down the camping food you’ll bring along is figuring out what kind of camping you’re going to be doing. Backpacking and car camping meals will vary quite a bit. Let’s take a closer look at the differences!
Backpacking requires careful planning when it comes to food. When you’re carrying all your cooking supplies, food, and dishes for long miles of hiking, you want to make sure you keep your cooking setup and food situation lightweight yet nutritious enough to keep you sustained for full days of burning calories while hiking.
The most common cooking setup for backpackers is a lightweight stove for boiling water and dehydrated meals that aren’t heavy and don’t require much preparation or cleanup.
- Minimal prep and cleanup needed
2. Car Camping
Car camping is quite a bit more relaxed and flexible compared to backpacking, and there are endless possibilities of food options for car camping. It’s easy to pack a heavier-duty stove with burners or even a portable grill when you have easy access to your vehicle to store your gear.
Car camping also allows you to bring a camp cooler along, so you can pack perishables such as fresh fruit and veggies or burgers, which need to be kept cold until they’re prepared. Weight or minimal prep isn’t a concern for car camping, so you can get as fancy as you want with your food options!
- Available cooking equipment
Dietary Needs and Preferences
If you’re camping with other people or a large group, it’s also important to consider any dietary needs or preferences that people in the group may have.
It’s usually easy to make a few swaps and get a package of dairy-free cheese, veggie burgers, or gluten-free pasta. However, it’s important to think about this beforehand instead of figuring it out as you’re making a dinner that doesn’t include suitable food for someone on the trip. Here are a few dietary needs to think about:
- Allergies and Intolerances: Check with everyone in your group for specific needs and plan accordingly. If someone in your group is gluten-free, check out 10 Gluten-Free Camping Meals.
- Vegetarian or Vegan: Offer alternatives to standard meat-based meals, like tofu or plant-based proteins. If you want to get fancier, check out these 10 Vegetarian Camping Meals or these 10 Vegan Camping Meals. Or, if you’re a vegan backpacker, here’s a Guide to Being Vegan on the Trail.
- Family-Friendly Choices: Think about simple, fun-to-make options that children will enjoy.
Preparation and Storage
Another important thing to think about is food prep and storage.
Planning meals ahead can save you a ton of stress when you’re actually camping, so make a list beforehand and have the ingredients ready to go. If you can prepare some parts of your recipes at home beforehand, that can also save you some time. If you’re looking to really cut down on food prep, check out these 10 Camping Meals to Make Ahead of Time or these 10 No-Cook Camping Meals. If you’re backpacking, check out this guide on preparing food for a backpacking trip.
When planning your meals, think about what your camp cook setup is. A Jetboil limits your options because you can’t cook much at once, but it’s a great lightweight option. A camp stove opens the door to some other options because you can use a pot on one burner and a pan on the other. A portable grill will allow you to grill burgers, hot dogs, or veggies. And if you plan on making a campfire on your trip, you can also cook over the fire.
Pre-cooking storage of perishables is important to prevent anything from going bad before it’s time to cook. A camp cooler is a great option if you’re car camping, and most backpacking meals are made from non-perishables, making pre-cooking storage less of a concern.
Storage of your food waste, cooking supplies, and any food packaging is also important, especially if you’re camping in bear territory. Proper care of your food waste is an essential pillar of Leave No Trace and keeping campsites nice for future users. If you’re backpacking in bear country, be sure to have a bear canister for your food items to avoid attracting bears to your campsite.
Now that we have the basics out of the way let’s jump into our list of what food you should bring backpacking!
Essential Camping Food
A good breakfast should be nutrient dense enough to get you ready for a full day of exploring. If you have an early day planned, you’ll want to make sure that you have an easy-to-make option that doesn’t require a ton of time to make or clean up. Here are some options!
Oatmeal is simple and quick, and there are tons of options for toppings. It can also be a great option for backpacking since it’s lightweight and can be made by just boiling water. If you’re looking for more oatmeal ideas for backpacking, check out this article.
Pancakes or French Toast
You can either make pancake mix beforehand or bring a premade pancake mix. French toast is also easy enough since you only need to crack a few eggs, add some milk, dip the bread in the mixture, and fry it up in a cast iron skillet. These are generally a hit with kids, and maple syrup plus fresh fruit can be a great nutritious topping.
Breakfast Burrito or Sandwich
These usually require a bit more prep but are a hearty option to keep you fueled for the whole day. You can fry some eggs, bacon, sausage, peppers, and other veggies and slap them on some toast or a flour tortilla.
You can also make some breakfast burritos beforehand and wrap them in aluminum foil and a plastic bag and keep them in a cooler for a shorter prep time in the morning. If you go this route, you’ll just need to warm up the burrito over a fire or stove in the morning, and you’ll be set to start the day.
Dehydrated Breakfast Meals
There are tons of options from Backpackers Pantry or similar brands for breakfast foods. These make for a quick and easy option, especially for backpackers who want to cut weight.
If you want even more breakfast options, check out this list of camping-friendly breakfast meals!
Lunch is usually best kept simple because you’ll usually be out hiking, exploring, or doing activities, so you won’t want to take a ton of time to prepare food. Here are some easy options for lunch!
A pre-made salad – either a green salad from a bag or a pasta/quinoa salad that you make at home — is super easy to take out during an activity and eat quickly. You won’t have to prepare much, and both will give you enough nutrients and calories to sustain you through the day.
Another excellent option for backpackers, sandwiches are easy to make beforehand or on the trail. Individual peanut butter and jelly packets can be put on some bread as you hike. If you are car camping and have a cooler, you can even bring some cheese, tomato, veggies, or meat slices.
Quesadillas are great to bring along in your backpack on a hike with some salsa packets or quick to whip up around camp during lunchtime. You can add some chicken, veggies, or tofu to these to make them more calorie-dense.
Dinner is usually the fanciest, most intensive meal you’ll make while camping. Whatever dinner you make should have a lot of calories to keep you energized for the next day. Here are a few dinner options!
Pasta with toppings
If you have a double burner stove, you can put pasta in a pot on one burner and fry up some veggies or shredded chicken in a pan on the other burner. Mix them together and add in some sauce for a delicious, nutritious meal.
Burgers or hot dogs
The classic go-to camping meal, burgers or hot dogs, can be cooked over a pan on a fire or on a grill or camp stove. These are quick to make, and if you have vegans or vegetarians, you can bring along some veggie burger patties.
This meal will seem fancy, but it is a super easy camping recipe to make. Just toss some veggies, potatoes, and spices in a pot, make some rice on the side, and let the veggies simmer for a while. It’s a particularly warming meal for cold weather camping, has a ton of flavor, and if you have leftovers, you can store it in your cooler for a great lunch the next day.
One of my favorite go-to meals every time I camp is fancy ramen. I bring along a ramen packet, some extra spices and toppings, and some eggs if I’m car camping. It’s cheap to make and another great cold-weather camping option. I like to bring some peanuts and green onions and poach an egg in the ramen as I cook it.
Again, dehydrated meals are an excellent option for backpackers. They make everything from pad thai to mac and cheese and rice and beans. All you need is to boil some water and let the boiled water sit in the bag with the dehydrated meals for ten minutes, and you’re ready to go. There’s also minimal cleanup since the only trash you’ll have is the bag, which can easily be sealed up and packed back in your bag.
Snacks and Desserts
Snacks are a must-bring on camping trips, even if you don’t typically snack much at home. While camping, you are typically more active and doing things constantly, so you’ll need more calories and energy to sustain that. If you don’t end up snacking during the day, they could make great side dishes for your dinner! Here are some of my favorite camping snacks:
- Tortilla chips and salsa
- Trail mix
- Hummus and pita
- Peanut butter and bananas
- Fresh fruit
- Veggies and dip
For even more ideas, here’s a list of 10 camp snacks!
To keep morale up and make the kids happy, also make sure to pack some dessert! This can be as easy as candy bars or as fancy as pineapple upside-down cake! More ideas for camping desserts can be found here and here! Pro tip: keep it a secret that you brought dessert until you finish dinner! It will be a fun surprise for your fellow campers to have a sweet treat!
Planning Your Camping Meals
Camping is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature. The food you bring can make for a fun experience of cooking outdoors and make your trip better by keeping you well-fueled and energized for a full itinerary of exploring new places. Whether you're a well-experienced backpacker, a new car camping enthusiast, or anywhere in between, good planning and preparation are key for a successful camp trip.
So get your pen out, make your shopping list, and pack your cooler with a full menu of delicious options. If you still want help gearing up for your camp meals or need advice on what camp cooking gear to purchase to be prepared, reach out to me or another Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated, and we’ll be happy to help!