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Camping Food Ideas

Updated on December 16, 2014
Image via Creative Commons - jsnflo
Image via Creative Commons - jsnflo | Source

Suggestions To Make Camping Food Easy And Fun

In this lens you'll discover some great camping food ideas; with a little effort you can enjoy the best camping meals without sacrificing pack space, weight or your budget. In fact, you may be surprised at how tasty some packaged camping meals can be, and also at how easy, simple and affordable "make your own" meals are to prepare.

The trick to making the best camping food is being creative with how you prepare, pack and cook your meals, and being selective if you're taking packaged meals.

I have many years of being outdoors and on the trail (including a stint in the military) and I've tried virtually every type of food that you can imagine. Every year my family and I spend time on the trail, backpacking or car camping, and so I'm going to share some of my suggestions, tips and ideas to help you pack good camping food for camp or trail. It is my hope that you'll learn a new trick or two, or pick up an idea that helps you prepare meals that are both tasty and easy.

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Meals At Camp Can Be Easy... Or Not

Ideas To Make Camping Food Easier

The first item I want to discuss, before we delve into more traditional camping food, is how far freeze dried and dehydrated meals have come in recent years, in terms of quality and taste, but also as it relates to price. Purists scoff at the idea and insist on always preparing their meals from good individual ingredients that they've packed in. While most of us can certainly prepare a better meal from single ingredients we prepare ourselves, the case for freeze dried food is how easy they are to prepare, and more about maximizing your time than satisfying Gordon Ramsey. And this is the decision facing most people who are planning their next trip.

For every meal that you plan to "fix" yourself while camping or on the trail, you have to bring a variety of ingredients and in many (if not most) cases, extra utensils and supplies to cook and prepare them. That added weight, when backpacking, means that you may have to leave some items behind, carry less water than usual, or in a worst case scenario you may hurt yourself because your load is too heavy. It may also mean that you're unable to pack as much food as you would like, counting instead on resupply points that you hope will be open and that you hope you'll be able to reach on schedule.

Consider that good quality meals like those from are made from top notch ingredients like you would use yourself, and chefs carefully develop each meal with a focus on taste. Then, when they're dehydrated or freeze dried (see chart below for details on the difference) you are simply packing in the very light ingredients to which you simply add hot water. Even items as simple as celery stalks are comprised largely of water.... why would you pack in so much water when you can get water as needed on the trail? (See my article on Camp Water for very detailed information on getting and treating water)

Difference Between Freeze Dried And Dehydrated Meals - The Idea Behind These Foods Is Simplicity... and Taste

Image via Creative Commons - Michael Faes
Image via Creative Commons - Michael Faes | Source

I have tried and tested virtually every brand of freeze dried or dehydrated meal on the market, and for the money I just haven't found any that tastes better or is more nutritious than Mountain House. My wife, a picky eater and someone who almost always insists on the "healthy" food options, agrees that Mountain House brand is much more tasty and agreeable in terms of nutrition while on the trail; consider modern freeze dried foods. If good camping food is important to you, then you'll spend time planning before you get there.

Since I primarily rely on these meals, which serve as their own cooking and eating container, I merely have to pack in my really light weight Jetboil, heat up some water, pour it and wait. See my review of the Jetboil here... for me it's simply one of the MUST have items in my pack on every trip; from coffee to hot water for meals, I cannot imagine being out without it. As you can probably tell by now, my focus when I'm outdoors is to enjoy nature and soak it all in, not spend much of my time prepping, cooking and cleaning. When I wake up in the morning I spend about 5 minutes max preparing my coffee and breakfast... then I spend time absolutely loving wherever I'm at and planning my day. That's my idea of good camping food.

“Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.”

~ Eddie Murphy

When you're considering dried, packaged meals, you'll have a basic choice of two types- freeze dried and dehydrated. Both freeze drying and dehydration remove water from the food, but it is precisely the process, or rather the speed of it, that separates the two types of preservation. We've all seen the effects of food that was left out to air dry, like the fruit in my picture above. In freeze drying, the food is quickly frozen which preserves nearly all of the nutritional and taste qualities of the food. Dehydration, on the other hand, is typically much slower and in fact it is the slowness (and heat) of dehydration which allows nutritional value to be lost from the food and by which the texture is altered. Have you ever eaten fruit leather? Exactly, it's dehydrated and they call it leather for a reason. And that's not an entirely bad thing, I love fruit leather and I eat dehydrated foods quite often, especially fruits, but in the context of camping meals then freeze dried is the hands down winner. Check out Stretch Island Original Fruit Leather here at Amazon

Freeze dried meals are superior in almost every way to dehydrated foods. As you can see from the diagram below, freeze dried foods have a much longer stable shelf life, retain more nutritional value and, perhaps more importantly, are quicker to rehydrate and eat than are dehydrated meals. Of course freeze dried meals tend to cost a little more, but all of the advantages they have over dehydrated meals, including texture, is important enough for most people to choose freeze dried.

Camping Breakfast Recipes

And More Great Camping Food Ideas

When I wake up in the morning I tend to be in the "slow to rise" category; especially on cool mornings when dew is still laying everywhere. And I'm generally useless (I've been told) until I've got a cup of coffee in my hand. Because of that I tend to prefer a quick and easy breakfast, though we do go traditional on occasion, and fix real eggs, bacon and hashbrowns or pancakes. In most cases, however, I try find easy and creative ways to bring freshness and warmth to my camp meals. Let's start with breakfast.

Quick Oatmeal Breakfast

First, I love oatmeal and I think it's an essential, good camping food, so I always take it along. And not only is it one of my favorites, but it's also a space and weight friendly meal. Start with Instant Oatmeal (I know, I prefer the more robust slow cook Oatmeal myself, too, but the instant makes preparing in the field a snap). Using heavy duty Ziplock baggies (freezer bags are more robust and less likely to leak, and do better with the hot water), measure out your desired portion of Oatmeal into each bag. Then add powdered milk which you measure out to suit your portion of Oatmeal. I have been using Nestle Nido brand powdered milk from Amazon for quite a while and I like it, but since eating well in camp is a big deal you should try a variety of brands to see which you like best. There's also a good Soy Milk option in powdered form for those who are lactose intolerant, Vegan, or simply prefer Soy. "Better Than Milk Vegan Soy Powder" at Amazon has incredibly high reviews from users.

Finally, add your favorite ingredients for the perfect camp Oatmeal. I like to add things such as Pecans or Walnuts, a sprinkle of Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Cacao Nibs (add great texture and protein) and freeze dried fruits like Blueberries or Strawberries... even Bananas. For those who are new to this or are looking for good choices, let me point you to "Brothers All Natural Strawberry / Banana Crisps", which I get at Amazon as well (I love Amazon... their service, selection and prices, and they have brands I can't find near me). At your camp simply add some hot water into the bag, close, shake it up a bit to mix, and let it sit for 5 minutes or so while you prepare coffee. Easy to prepare and cook, and no mess in the field... simply close the bag when you're done and pack your used bags back out with you.

Breakfast Burritos

Once in a while I will make these when I'm backpacking and my trip allows for the weight of the Tortillas. Since I also always pack in Freeze Dried Scrambled Eggs (don't yuk until you try them... the Mountain House eggs are actually VERY good, other brands, not so much). When I'm car camping I always take these because they are so, so simple and make the routine scrambled eggs so much better. I start with my Mountain House Scrambled Eggs (add hot water, stir, close bag and wait a few minutes), then scoop some onto a Tortilla, sprinkle some hot sauce on (yep, I do pack a miniature bottle of "TABASCO Hot Sauce" on every trip), and enjoy.... so, so simple and quick. If you can afford the space, take along your favorite hard cheese and shave some on to the Tortilla as well. Good camping meals made easy!

Eggs In A Bottle

When you have access to a cooler it's easy to prepare your foods at home to make camp time more fun. For breakfast, when we're going to cook, we'll scramble our eggs at home, throw in some bacon bits, chopped onion and peppers, salt and pepper, and then pour the mixture into a Nalgene bottle for easy eggs at camp. Once they're cooked we just shave some cheese on top of them and enjoy.

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”

~ Dave Barry --American writer

Camp Food Ideas And Recipes For Lunch

Image via Creative Commons - Lukas Patkan
Image via Creative Commons - Lukas Patkan

Lunch, for me, is a meal that can resemble breakfast or dinner, or may amount to nothing more than a snack. But if we're hanging around the camp then we may want to make something more robust and substantive. Here are a couple recipe ideas for you to consider.

Homemade "Instant" Spuds

While I often take prepackaged instant mashed potatoes on backpacking trips (or while camping), I've found that I can make my own that taste much better. Find the brand of instant potatoes you like best (Idahoan is one of my favorites) and measure out your serving size in a bowl. Then add freeze dried ingredients like onion, bacon bits, salt and pepper, and even butter. That's right, you can get virtually anything in freeze dried form and you'll be surprised at the flavor. If you backpack much then you'll find it economical to buy freeze dried ingredients, too. Keep your bulk ingredients in the refrigerator or freezer when not in use and they'll last quit a while. Amazon has a good brand of dried butter, "Frontier Bulk Butter Powder", and your local grocer may have it as well. Place the portions into ziplock freezer bags and then in the field or at camp simply add hot water, seal and shake, then give it a 5 - 7 minutes to reconstitute (check the label on your ingredients for timing). I like to roll up the spuds in a whole wheat tortilla or flat bread and add some Tobasco and/or cheese.

Fish Sandwiches

Pack in some fish filets and in camp you simply lay the filets into your toast rack (see image) and place near the fire... cook the fish at relatively low temp (you can coat them in Olive Oil to help keep them moist) and cook until the filet is flaky throughout; the outside will become somewhat crispy and help the filets hold their shape. If you're camp menu includes fish filets then be sure to pack in some Mayo or other sauce, and some pita or flat bread. Once they're cooked, top with sauce and lettuce if you like, and you have awesome sandwiches with little fuss. You can fry them in a pan, too, but it's more hassle and more cleanup, and I don't much care for oily, soggy fish.

Weigh In On Weight

How important are your camp or trail food choices?

“Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.”

~ Experienced Backpacker

Camp Meals - Best Dinner Recipes

Ideas To Make Camp Food Easy And Delicious

Hearty Camp Stew

When time allows and we're camping with family this is a meal I make on the first or second day of the camp due to the fresh ingredients. First, as you already know, not all soup mixes are created equal... if you have not had the pleasure of tasting Mrs. Grass' soup mixes, or don't have them in your area, then you must go to Amazon and give it a try. I freeze my stew meat before we leave for camp, and that way in a cooler it'll last for two days (I'd even eat it on the third day but I have the immune system of a canine). I also take a few potatoes and a bag of fresh green beans which I've washed at home.

To cook it, start with "Mrs. Grass Homestyle Beef Vegetable Soup Mix" and water in your dutch oven or camp pot, add the stew meat and fresh green beans (or whatever veggies you like, such as celery, potatoes, carrots, fresh corn scrapped off a couple of ears, etc...), cook on low for a few hours (I usually set mine to start cooking at about 11:00 AM and then when it's time to eat dinner the stew is ready to go and the meat is tender.

Easy Chicken

This one is easy as well, most of the prep is done at home before we leave for the camp. Wash your chicken (or small turkey, duck, etc...), pat dry and then coat lightly with Olive Oil. Then simply place a variety of ingredients inside the empty cavity (potatoes, carrots, peppers, celery, whatever you like), On top of that add some liquid flavoring.... I typically will use a Vinaigrette but lately I've been using a Kraft Greek Salad Dressing for extra zest; you can add whatever you like, get creative with your meals. Then I wrap the entire bird up in heavy duty aluminum foil (spray the inside of the foil with cooking spray), and then place that into a gallon size freezer bag. Then simply freeze the entire package and when you leave for camp, this along with the frozen stew meat will keep quite well in a cooler full of ice chunks.

Image via Creative Commons - Luis Rock
Image via Creative Commons - Luis Rock | Source

At camp, when you're ready to cook your bird, simply add a little water to the bottom of your dutch oven or cooking pot and place the aluminum wrapped bird inside, place a lid or cover over it and cook it at a low temp. It's important that you cook this with indirect heat, creating an oven effect by placing it near, but not on, the fire, or if using a camp stove then use low flames. The cook time depends on the size of the bird and on whether or not the bird was still partially frozen. Ensure that there is enough water in the pot to keep steam and moisture moving. You can eat the chicken on sandwiches or with potatoes.

An alternative to this recipe is to take along some chicken soup and cook the chicken in the soup broth (remove from foil in this case). If you do this, then skip adding the Vinaigrette or other sauce inside the bird. Boil some dumplings and you have a great meal.

Davy Crockett Meatloaf

Like the others, this one is simple and the bulk of the work is done at home, before you get to camp. Lay out a section of heavy duty aluminum foil and spray the inside with cooking oil. In a bowl combine ground beef (or chicken, turkey, etc....) an egg or two, some veggies and seasoning. Place the mixture onto the sheet of foil and form into a loaf or ball that will fit into your dutch oven or cooking pot, and then close it up, folding the seams tightly. Wrap the entire package again in an additional layer of foil. Place in freezer. At camp, simply cook the same way you would the chicken above.

These make great sandwiches... simply slice the loaf and eat with bread, pita or other flat bread (pack some ketchup or sauce). If your family likes a more hearty meal at camp, then simply pack some noodles and spaghetti sauce, and make a full meal out of it by removing the loaf from the foil before cooking, and instead cook it in the spaghetti sauce over low heat for several hours. Boil noodles when it's time to eat and enjoy.

More Awesome Recipes For Camping Meals

Here are some great sites which have really good recipes. I'll keep adding more to this article as I go, and ask you to give me your ideas and recipes to include here as well.

Image via Creative Commons - Raja R
Image via Creative Commons - Raja R | Source

Camping Food Ideas and Tips

Stick Biscuits

Take a can or two of biscuits in your cooler, and then when you're ready to eat them simply open the can and wrap the biscuits onto the end of a stick or barbecue skewer and rotate near your fire until golden brown. Cook slowly to ensure the inside is cooked as well. Once finished, pull the biscuit off the stick and enjoy. You can butter them and add jelly, cinnamon and sugar, etc...

Chocolate Anything

I have a friend who uses chocolate or cacao in virtually anything you can imagine, from coffee to Oatmeal. He also prepares his trail Oatmeal at home, as I do, but he also adds either a chocolate milk powder or sometimes even a Chocolate Instant Breakfast power, to give it added flavor when he needs it most (I presume he eats Cocoa Pebbles at home). If you make the Stick Biscuits above, pack along some chocolate bars like Hershey's and after you've buttered the hot biscuits, poke some chocolate inside them and let it melt a little.... AWESOME camp delight!

Ice For Your Cooler

Large chunks of ice will last much longer than cubed or crushed ice, so when you go camping prepare by simply washing and cleaning 2 liter bottles, empty milk jugs, etc... and filling them with fresh water. Place in the freezer and use them to cool your ice chests when you leave, and enjoy fresh cool water as a bonus! You'll also prevent that nasty, mushy melted ice mess in your cooler.

Cook At Home

Instead of freezing and packing raw meats, you can cook them at home and then freeze them. This accomplishes two things... it shortens the cooking time in camp and also allows the meat to keep in a cooler a little longer than fresh meats.

An Ounce Of Planning Is Worth A Pound Of Extra Food

Plan your meals out, all of them, well in advance of your trip and be sure to account for snacks and possible delays or trip interruptions (i.e. pack more food than you think you'll need). This doesn't apply so much to backpackers as it does campers, but even on the trail most hikers have a little more food than they'll likely need. Also, even though it's obvious, make sure your meal plan includes cooking the freshest ingredients first (meat, veggies, etc...).

Soup Ice

I haven't used this tip myself, yet, but a friend told me to make some soup at home and them pour it into empty bottles and place in the freezer. This gives you the cooling effects of ice and makes preparing soup at camp as simple as heating it up.

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      4 years ago

      Will give that fish sandwich a try! Thanks.


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