A family friend used to tell stories from when he went camping in college. He said that he would always bring a sack of potatoes and his friend would bring a bag of sweet apples. Apples for breakfast, potatoes boiled up for dinner and that was their food for the weekend.
While it is certainly a simple way to head out on a weekend trip, most of us would prefer a bit more variety and substance in our daily diets, especially when camping. Food is a major part of hiking, camping, and backpacking. It is both a social activity and a way to keep your body fueled.
But what you bring all depends on the size of your group, whether you will be on the go or staying in one place, the type of cooking equipment you have available, and how much weight you can carry or space you have to spare. That’s why it is always helpful to have a well-organized camping food list as a guide when you are planning and packing.
What To Consider For Your Food List
Camping Food Ideas
Considerations When Deciding What Food to Bring Camping
The Size of Your Group
It seems obvious that when camping with two people you would bring less food than when you are camping with twenty. But sometimes it is difficult to estimate how much you will really need. It is best to take a different approach when planning a trip with a small group versus a larger one.
If the trip is just with you and your spouse or partner, simply lay out how many days you will be gone, and decide together what food you will bring for each meal. Try to bring meals and snacks that both you and your partner enjoy so you can avoid buying or packing more than you need. Foil packs are a great option for camping couples because they are compact, easy to cook and leave little or no mess. Try some of these easy camping recipes.
If you are packing food for your whole family (kids included) you will want to take into consideration what each member of the family will eat. You should still try and bring meals and snacks that everyone will enjoy to cut down on leftovers or extras. You might want easier and more hassle free options when you are keeping up with kids. Try some of these make ahead camping meals so you can avoid the mess and clean-up at the campsite.
You may also want to explore some pre-packaged meal options like Gerber Graduates squeezable pouches for toddlers. Nut butter is an excellent option when you have kids along on a trip. You don’t need to store it in the cooler and it packs a big protein punch. You can put it on crackers, apples, celery or carrots.
When you start getting into much larger groups and multiple families, planning becomes a bit more difficult. The best way to organize meals is to make each family responsible for a meal or two during the trip. Depending on the size of the group going, you may need to double or triple certain recipes to make sure there will be enough for everyone.
To take some of the pressure off of the main meals, try adding in snacks. Even if you just bring a few bunches of bananas or a bag of unshelled peanuts, it will be enough to hold folks over to the next meal time and also potentially cut down on how much food you will need for dinner time. When you are at the campsite, leave some healthy snack options out on the picnic table so everyone can graze during the day rather than being starving at night.
Get a snack or cereal dispenser that you can leave out on the picnic bench during the day so your kids can help themselves.
Where You Will Be Staying
The amount and type of food you bring on your next camping trip will depend on where you plan to camp out. Are you canoeing to your campsite or taking your RV?
If you are backcountry camping, a lot will depend on how much you can carry with you, where you can dispose of trash and how you will be cooking your food. If you are only hiking a few miles to a nearby campsite you can bring more than just freeze dried meals and granola bars. But if you are planning a long distance hike over days you will want to bring the lightest foods you can carry.
Equally important is bringing foods that don’t require refrigeration, won’t melt, are self-contained, durable and provide plenty of calories and protein. When you’re body is working hard all day you need to give it plenty of nourishment if you expect it to perform well.
If you’re looking for something filling, easy to prepare, super light and delicious, you can’t beat the Mountain House freeze dried meals. They have everything from rice and beans to mac and cheese in convenient packages. Just add hot water and wait. You can eat them right out of the package so you have no mess to clean up. You can even use Amazon’s subscribe and save feature to get a discount and get enough to last you the whole backpacking season.
On the flip side, if you are staying at a family campground, the location, amenities available and size of your vehicle will impact the camping food you bring. If you’re trying to squeeze a family of four into a hatchback with all your camping gear, you may decide to skip the jumbo sized cheese puffs container. But if you’re taking your RV or trailer and space is not an issue, you make opt for all the delicious comforts of home. Try some of these tips for meal planning while RV camping.
It’s helpful if your campsite is relatively close to civilization and you can make a run to the grocery store from time to time. This way you can plan meals with more perishable items like milk or cold cuts. If you are tent camping and only have your small family vehicle, be wise about the foods you plan to keep in your cooler. Instead of buying a gallon of milk, choose to only bring a half gallon and pick another up at the camp store halfway through your trip if needed. Avoid bringing a whole bottle of juice or ice tea and instead bring small bottles or juice boxes that can be kept outside of the cooler.
If the campground has plenty of recycling and trash disposal receptacles you don’t need to worry as much about wrappers and containers. But if you are backpacking or car camping off the beaten path, you may want to consider trying to cut down on packaged foods. Opt instead for make-at-home meals, fresh fruit and vegetables and bulk foods like rice.
Cooking Equipment Available
You wouldn’t try to cook a lasagna on the stove top, or a hamburger in the oven at home, so why try and do it camping. Making meals that suit the cooking equipment you have available will be easier, less time consuming and the food will taste better.
If you plan to go rustic and utilize the fire pit that is available at your campsite make sure that the campground also provides fire grates. If they do not, you need to bring your own, like this grate that fits right over the fire.
It’s easy to remove with proper gloves when you want to the build the fire up at the end of the evening. These heavy duty heat gloves are great for working with food or adding wood to an open fire.
Foil packs are a great option when cooking over an open fire because you can lay them on top of the fire grate or nestle them into the coals. You can also make them ahead and store them in your cooler. There are tons of recipes for main meals and you can even make snacks like popcorn and desserts like campfire banana boats.
Open fire cooking is always fun with an old-fashioned pie iron. If you don’t already have one, try this dual pie iron or this set of two pie irons that comes with a storage bag and recipe book. Also, you need to check out Beyond The Tent’s own Pie Iron Calzones and Pie Iron Philly Cheesteak recipes, they are amazing!!
You can even get a waffle iron if you want to get really creative while camping!
Another great open fire option is grilling. Keep in mind that the size of your fire and level of the flames can have a big impact on how your meat or vegetables turn out. Keep your coals low if you would like to slow cook your food, and let the flames grow a bit if you want the food a bit more charred. For meats, it is always a good idea to flip them on a regular basis. Meats that are best at a certain temperature, like steak, may not be the best option for an open fire grill. Instead try thin-cut marinated chicken, link sausages, hot dogs or kebobs if you are craving red meat. Kebobs also work well for grilled vegetables and makes them easy to turn.
Grilling is even more fun if the campground offers charcoal grills or you are bringing your own from home. This gives you a bit more control over the heat and you have the option of shutting the lid for more even cooking. Some great grilling options are hamburgers, pizza, fish and bone-in chicken wings or quarters.
If you want even more control over the heat, another option is a portable gas grill.
We can’t forget the tried and true camp stove. You can easily raise and lower the heat, choose to use one burner or two, and it is compact enough to store basically anywhere. While it may not be great for heavy-duty cooking like making a soup from scratch, it is perfect for meals that require pots and pans. French toast, scrambled eggs, rice, and quesadillas are some of the many things that cook up great on a camp stove. They are also perfect for reheat soups or for cooking a small amount of food instead of heating up the whole grill. They are also the perfect option when it is raining since you can still use them underneath a canopy.
If you are backpacking, cooking equipment is a bit more limited. Backcountry stoves need to be portable, light and durable. They also need to produce enough heat to boil water. Check out this article on GSI backpacking stove kits for some good info on which ones perform well. The best things to bring along when all you have is a small stove are dehydrated meals. You can find plenty of recipes online for a variety of homemade dehydrated meals or you can purchase some from Amazon or REI. If weight is not an issue you can bring canned food or make-ahead meals like soup or chili to reheat.
Space and Weight Restrictions
Space and weight are likely the two greatest obstacles when you are planning what camping food to bring with you. It’s important to nail down these issues before you plan out your menu.
Backpacking comes with many more space and weight restrictions than any other type of camping. Consider some of these questions:
- Are you bringing a canoe or kayak? If so, while you may still be restricted by space, you don’t have to worry quite as much about bringing canned foods or heavier snacks like trail mix.
- Do you plan to stop in towns along the way? If you are planning on a stop or two in a town along the way, you can stop for a quick lunch or pick up some groceries while you are there. This way you don’t have to carry all of your food with you from the start.
- How much space do you have in your pack? Food is very important when backpacking. Nutritious food is what will help keep your energy levels up through your trip. But water, clothes and shelter are equally as important as they keep you hydrated and protect you from the elements. You may not be able to reduce the size of your tent or make your rain gear smaller, but you can choose to bring smaller and more compact food options.
Even when tent or RV camping, space can be limited in your pack, your cooler or your vehicle. First, decide which vehicle you plan to take. You will have much more room in a pickup truck than you will in a sedan with limited trunk space. If your car has limited space, consider more compact food options.
Bring toaster pastries instead of cereal and milk, trail mix instead of bags of chips and sandwich fixings rather than hamburgers and hot dogs with buns and condiments.
If space is limited in your cooler, you have two options: bring multiple coolers or bring fewer items that require refrigeration. When a large group is tent camping, you can usually bring one cooler per family and spread the chilled food among them. To keep the coolers cold and avoid needing to purchase more ice:
- Keep them closed as much as possible
- Separate the types of items (drinks, breakfast foods, dinner foods, etc.) so each one is opened less often
- Use frozen foods to keep other items cool
- Drape a wet towel over the cooler during the day
- Bury the cooler in the ground
There are also plenty of options to avoid bringing so many cold food products. Did you know eggs do not need to be refrigerated? Try milk powder in your coffee, jerky instead of fresh meat and stick to water instead of bringing drinks that need to be refrigerated.
Best Camping Food Ideas for Your Trip
Now you have an idea about where you will be going, the vehicle you’ll bring (if any), the cooking equipment that will be available and the size of your group. It’s time to start narrowing down exactly which foods you should bring on your trip. Check out these 3-day camping trip meal plans and printable camping food lists.
Camping Food Ideas for Couples
You’re looking forward to romantic nights under the stars, curling up in front of the campfire and sleeping in. But what are you going to bring to munch on? Try these delicious meals for two:
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Camping Food Ideas for Families
When you’re camping with the whole family, you need plenty of yummy options that kids will love. Here are some great meals and snack ideas to keep your family fed.
Camping Food Ideas for Large Groups
Some of the best camping food options for large groups include soups like chili, grilled food like hotdogs and hamburgers, and sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly that don’t require refrigeration and cooler space. Pop tarts, Entenmann’s pastries, and coffee cakes or breads are all great breakfast options for large groups as well. Here are some meal-by-meal options for your next big group camping excursion.
Camping Food Ideas for Grill Lovers
Campers flock to the smell of a smoky grill. Whether you are into the all-American BBQ of hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken and coleslaw, or you want to try something more gourmet, grilling in the great outdoors is second to none. Heat up the charcoal and try some of these lip-licking ideas on your next camping trip.
Camping Food Ideas for Healthy Eaters
Just because you are going on a camping trip doesn’t mean you have to pig out on junk. You can stick to your diet and still enjoy some delicious camping food. Try these light options that will make your camping taste buds sing.
Sharing meals around a campfire is one of the best parts of camping. Whether you’re hiking through the backcountry or tenting at your local campground, having the right food for your trip is essential. Now it’s time to start making your own camping food list!