If you’re planning a multi-day trip into the wilderness, there are many items that should be on your camping checklist, and figuring out options for food should be high on your list of priorities. There are many factors to consider, including how long you’ll be gone, the wildlife that exists in your camping destination, and the weather forecast.
Here’s a complete guide on planning food for a camping trip, including what food to bring, how much to bring, how to keep your food fresh, how to prepare your meals, and more.
What Food to Bring Camping
There are many different styles of campers and camping trips. Individual food choices will vary depending on the length of your trip, how many people you’re going with, dietary restrictions, and your method of cooking. Consider these questions when creating your customized food itinerary:
How long will you be gone?
Obviously, the length of your stay will determine the amount of food you need. You should ensure you have at least three meals per day, as well as snacks.
If you’re going for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to eat some repeat meals. If backpacking, keep your load as light as possible. Always bring plenty of water!
How many people are in your camp group?
If it’s just you and one other person, your camping list should be relatively simple, and hopefully it will be relatively easy to agree on what to eat each day. Once the group starts growing, the camp menu may become more complicated as everyone has different food preferences or restrictions. It may be necessary to split the group up if some people want different items. If camping with children, bring kid-friendly options, such as gummies, crackers, and simple meals.
Does anyone have diet restrictions?
Ask everyone if they have any dietary restrictions. Perhaps they are lactose intolerant, vegan, or keto. Plan around these restrictions.
Tip: Even if you are a meat eater, vegetarian meals are less likely to spoil. Consider ditching the meat for a hassle-free camp food experience. Of course, meat lovers can still satisfy their cravings if they have a cooler for refrigeration. You can also opt for non-perishable meats like beef jerky or canned chicken.
Will You Have Cooking Equipment?
Will you have a propane stove? Is it a single burner, or a double burner? Will you be cooking on the grill, or perhaps on the campfire? These factors will all influence your food choices.
Single pot meals are easiest. Consider meals like pasta, rice and bean burritos, or ramen. Don’t forget to bring materials to clean your pots or pans, including extra water, soap, and a towel.
BBQ or Grill
If your campsite comes with a grill, or you bring your own, you can cook meals such as kabobs, hot dogs, and burgers. Make sure to pack tongs and/or a roasting stick!
Opt to cook food in the fire the good old-fashioned way. A campfire favorite is the aluminum foil camp dinner. Pack your choice of chopped veggies, potatoes, and meat, along with oil and seasoning, into a large sheet of tin foil. Wrap food securely. All veggies and potatoes should be covered completely with about two layers of tin foil. Place your food on hot coals near the fire, and let everything simmer! Otherwise, use a roasting stick to cook camping classics like hot dogs, corn on the cob, and of course, ‘smores.
Cooking Supplies You May Need
Pot and pan
Plates or bowls
What if I Don’t Bring Cooking Equipment?
No equipment? No problem. You don’t need to cook to enjoy food while camping. If you want to avoid the extra time it takes to cook and clean, consider making heat-free meals. There are many delicious foods that don’t require a heat source.
Foods that Don’t Require Heat to Make
Premade pasta salad
Chips and salsa
Veggies and hummus
How To Keep Your Food Fresh While Camping
If you plan on bringing perishables (meat, dairy products, prepped food, etc.), you’ll need to ensure their freshness. Here are some tips to ensure your food is safe to eat.
Invest in a Cooler
A cheap styrofoam cooler may work for an overnight camping trip, but any longer than that and you’ll need something more sturdy. You can buy an affordable plastic cooler, which will keep your food cool for an extra day or so. If your budget allows it, your best bet is a higher-end fiberglass or steel cooler. These coolers are designed to keep food cool for several days and often have features such as shelves and drainage plugs.
Opt for Ice Packs and Freeze Meat
Ice bags from the gas station will likely melt in a day, or even less if it’s hot out. Prepare ahead of time, and use ice packs or frozen water bottles. This prevent ice from melting and creating a mess, or causing any items to get soggy. Freezing your meat will also help reduce the temperature within the cooler, and keep your meat fresh for more days.
Keep Your Food in the Shade
Place your cooler under a tree, away from direct sunlight. Do not leave your cooler in the car if it’s hot out, as cars can overheat in the sun. For added insulation, wrap your cooler with a blanket or towel.
Pack Non-Perishables and Fresh Fruits and Veggies
You should always bring some non-perishable items to be safe. Canned and boxed food is a good option, as well as nuts and dried fruits. While they aren’t technically non-perishables, most fresh fruits and veggies will be good for at least a few days without refrigeration.
Foods that Don’t Require Refrigeration
How To Store Food While Camping
Wherever you go, there will likely be some sort of animal that would love to dig into whatever food you brought. Mice and raccoons are a nuisance if they gnaw their way into your backpack full of groceries, but bears can pose actual danger to you. Additionally, bears that become too comfortable coming close to humans often end up getting killed due to safety precautions. This is why it’s extremely important to properly store your food.
Food Storage Options
Whatever you do, do not leave scented food items or trash lying around camp or in your tent! Animals will find it and get into it. Instead, use one of the storage options available.
Designated Metal Food Lockers (or Bear Boxes)
If your campsite has one, leave your food in a metal bear-proof box. Just make sure to properly close the latch.
If there are no bear boxes and you have your car with you, your car is a great place to leave food. It’s unlikely animals will be able to get into your car or even smell the food.
If you have a higher-end cooler with latches, you may be able to use your cooler as a mode of storage. Do not use a cooler that can easily be pushed open, or a zippered cloth cooler.
If you are backpacking through bear country, use a bear canister. These are plastic with screwable lids and come in different sizes. They usually weigh a few pounds, but you can be quite confident a bear won’t be able to twist it open.
These are lighter than a bear canister. However, be aware that some backpacking areas do not allow these as a form of bear-proof food storage.
Example of a Four-Day Camping Trip Menu
Here’s an example menu for a four-day camp trip. Note that several ingredients are used multiple times, such as eggs, peanut butter, and veggies. This helps minimize the amount of ingredients you need to bring. Additionally, planning ahead will allow you to only bring as much as you need.
How much water should I bring camping?
You should bring two liters of water per day, per person.
How much food should I bring per person?
Each person should be eating around one or two pounds of food per day, or 1,500 to 3,000 calories.
For an example, if there are only two of you, you could bring individual packs of oatmeal and potato chips, a couple apples, one can of beans, and even pre-made PB&J sandwiches to avoid bringing bulky jars. Preparation will help you know what you need so you can lighten your load!
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and avocado
Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Dinner: One pot spaghetti and marinara
Breakfast: Bananas and yogurt
Lunch: Hard boiled egg sandwich
Snack: Veggies and hummus
Dinner: Burgers and potato chips
Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins
Lunch: Hummus and veggie sandwich
Dinner: Rice, beans, and veggies
Breakfast: Yogurt and cashews
Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Snack: Veggies and hummus
Dinner: Potatoes and veggie kabobs
Savor Your Food Amidst The Great Outdoors
All the preparation will be worth it once you finish pitching your tent. There’s something about camping that makes your hard-earned food taste that much better, a warm meal bringing comfort after a long day of hiking. In addition to your flavorful meals, don’t forget to pack your favorite outdoor gear. Shop KÜHL products below.
Nancy Raven Kirk Nancy is a writer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast originally from Los Angeles. She's had work published in the L.A. Times, OC Weekly, and various other publications. Check out her website at www.copybykirk.com.
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