Are you hungry?
Camping is a blast. However, what really can make or break the average camping trip is the menu. Read that last line again and pay particular attention to the word ‘menu.’
We are not suggesting that you would, could or should eat gourmet meals huddled together next to a fire that won’t stay lit in a torrential downpour. What we are saying is that with some proper preparation, you won’t go hungry. It is going to require at least some minor organizational skills to survive your trip.
The Camping Food Check List
Okay, here’s where you really need to pay a great deal of attention. The actual type of food you pack to take on your camping trip is sort of what experts may refer to as ‘survival food,’ and there is a good reason what that is. The foods that will keep you alive – even if you just have a fun excursion to the nearby lake, woods or outdoor rock concert – will be the ones that won’t take a lot of prep and can easily be transported to where you have set up camp. In other words, if your typical dinner is a top cut piece of steak with all the fixings, you are going to have to lower your expectations somewhat. No, that does not mean you’ll be eating bark, either. Here is a list of the best lightweight and heavy on nutrition foods to cart into your campsite.
A – Snacks
We categorized these items as snack food because in our household, that is basically what they are. The bonus from taking these snacks along for a camping trip is that they can also double as something to eat on a hike, to fight the late night munchies and when you are on the lake and haven’t caught anything all day.
Bars (energy, granola, fig), Fruit/Vegetables (dehydrated, freeze-dried), fresh fruit (like, only on the first day while it is still edible), Nuts (seeds, trail mix), Jerky (beef, soybean), Crackers and Canned Foods (tuna, chicken, ham).
B – Other Foods
Okay, so we didn’t want to complicate this list too much, so we went with two main categories. In this one, the foods listed are what we would consider being something other than a snack food, but still worthy of being included on the average camping trip based on the heft of the nutritional value of the particular food item.
Peanut Butter, Cereal, Bagels, Bread, Instant Rice, Whole-Grain Tortillas, Pancake Mix
C – Drinks
We can’t forget the liquids that will keep you going even if your day hasn’t been noteworthy or happened to be the most awesome day of your life. Remember, liquids keep you hydrated so drink ‘em throughout your camping trip, and you’ll be in good shape by the time you get home.
Energy drinks, Water, Whole-Fat Powdered Milk, Coffee, Tea, Water, Hot Chocolate, and Water.
Stuff To Consider Before Loading The Car
There is nothing wrong with going on a fishing holiday and dining daily on the catch of the day – if you actually can fish and manage to pull something other than an old boot or tangled fishing line out of the lake you are camping at. But if fish is not in your meal plan, you really have to think about your trip long before you leave your zip code. In order to narrow down the amount of food you’ll need, you have to be able to answer some questions related to your camping plans.
How many days/nights is your camping trip going to be?
How many of you are going and how many are bringing food?
If you are going to cook stove and campfire cook the meals, do you have all the tools you need?
Will you have enough plates, forks, knives, mugs, etc.?
Are you camping during spring, summer, fall, or winter?
Essentially, these questions put out the basic requirements before you get too far into your camping trip. Ideally, you’ll know about how much food to pack to feed each person at least three main meals a day for each day you are at your campsite. You will also want to carry a lot of extra stuff for those on the trip who like to munch.
Let’s face it, if you happen to luck out with a pristine view campsite that does not have wifi access or you can’t figure out how to set up your satellite dish, you are going to resort to food to keep you occupied. Sure, campfire sing-along’s will help, but it probably won’t replace Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook no matter how hard you try.
We bet most of you are groaning at about this point but, as it turns out, math can be your best friend when you are camping. No, we are not talking about employing the Buddy System to your hiking, biking, and sleeping arrangements. Although it probably could be a good idea.
What we are getting at about the math is that you are never going to have the perfect amount of food packed. If you do happen to catch some fish or get invited over to the campsite next to you for some leftover pork and beans, you’ll be fine. However, the math you need to use revolves around calories.
But before we get to that part…
There is nothing wrong with being on a diet. Counting calories is one of the most effective ways to help you to understand better how much fuel you are stuffing into your body and what sort of energy it produces. The simple equation is that the more energy you burn off, the more calories you use. If you use more calories than you consume, you are going to lose some weight. The last place you want to be on a diet is in the campground. Trust us on that one.
Where were we?
Oh, right. The Food Math thing. So, here’s the scenario. Take an active male who weighs about 170-pounds. When we say ‘active’, we mean someone who spends some time outdoors hiking, biking, maybe even camping. This is not an elite athlete, but someone who is relatively fit. This guy is going to need about 4,000 calories a day to stay the same weight and remain in the same basic condition. If the same guy (170-pounder) is somewhat less active – and this means live a life that is somewhat down the scale from the Active Lifestyle Guy but not as far down as the Couch Potato Guy – the calorie requirements are going to be different. We’d say this fellow will only need about 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day to maintain his current state.
What does all of this mean?
Well, when doing some meal planning for longer than an overnight stay, you are going to want to implement Food Math. Feeding campers just coffee and a handful of nuts for each meal is not going to meet their daily calorie requirements. You could cheat a little and stash some high-calorie substitutes like candy and chocolate bars, but in reality, those are filled with empty calories. Mind you, the odd chocolate bar isn’t going to kill you and may help you to get over not having access to email or Skype out in the wilderness.
The Food Cheat Menu
Taking chocolate bars and tree bark out of the equation, there are a ton of what we like to call The Classics that can be whipped up in a jiffy (or two) on the campsite or over the campfire that will keep you moving and fill your belly at the same time. In no particular order, these happen to be some of our all-time campsite favorite meals.
1 – Hot Dogs/Hamburgers
Who hasn’t chomped into one of these at the picnic table and didn’t get a vision of Heaven or Wal-Mart? Not only are hot dogs and hamburgers easy to prepare – you just let them hover over a flame until they sizzle and start to turn a dark charcoal color – they are mighty tasty. They are also pretty easy to transport as they are packaged that way. Don’t forget that if you are going to grill some dogs and burgers to have buns and all the usual condiments to make that sizzling shape of meat and meat byproducts the most delicious thing you’ve had all day.
2 – Chili/Beans
There is some sort of unwritten rule in our campsite that dictates that at least one meal has to come out of a tin can. Our main reason for that is we are a bit lazy when it comes to using propane fuel. The other reasons include ease of storage, ease of preparation, and that there really isn’t anything in a tin these days that tastes bad after getting cooked over a campfire or on a camp stove. Chili is a good one because you can add stuff to it and it is quite filling and will warm you up from the inside. Come to think of it, beans will do the same.
3 – Pancakes
Hey, who said you couldn’t have a semi-normal breakfast when camping? Besides, packing instant pancake mix is easy to do. Just add water, stir, pour, burn, flip, burn some more, peel off of skillet onto plate, smother with syrup or jam or coffee (for those who are not really ‘morning people’ and you know who you are) and you are well on your way to some kind of food bliss. Don’t forget that if you load up the whole wheat pancake mix, you’ll be feeding those morning zombie bodies some great fuel to launch them into the rest of the day.
4 – Fish
We know, duh! But you are never guaranteed to actually catch your meal regardless of how good the information was that you were able to get out of the guys at the bait shop. There are days when the fishies are just not going to cooperate. But on those days when they do, you can pan fry, broil or cook your meal virtually a few feet away from where you caught it. Plus, when you have fresh fish ready to grill, you can prepare them in so many ways. Add some spices, lemon, you know, the stuff that turns those hours of trolling the lake into a celebration.
5 – S’mores
We included this on our list of The Classics only because there are very few campers in the world who have never experienced the wonders of graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate syrup, and fire. For some, it is a rite of passage, for others, it is a custom. Still, there are others who camp just so they can finish each night around a campfire singing songs, telling ghost stories and making s’mores. In some places on the Planet s’mores are a national food and treated with honor and respect. If you’ve never had one, you clearly are not a camper.
The Camping Food Meal Hack
Sooner or later you are going to have to MacGyver your way through a camp meal with partial ingredients and utensils to work with. Sure, you could rob neighboring campsites of the things you need, but why bother when you have a handy list of hacks to save the day? So fasten your seatbelt and sharpen your pencil, you won’t want to miss some of these borderline insane and equally genius shortcuts to good camping food solutions.
1 – The Little Bag O’ Coffee
You have coffee filters but no plugins. How the heck are you gonna get that morning kickstart and dose of the jitters without your normal cup of mud? Easy. With your coffee filter, pour in a serving of instant coffee and tie the filter to make a little bag. Okay, it’s more like a pouch, but you get the idea. Stick it into your preferred coffee drinking vessel, and once the water has boiled, pour some in and BOOM! Coffee!
2 – The Ole Muffin In An Orange Peel Trick
You start off with an orange. Cut it in half and scoop out the orange fruit stuff. You can eat that because it’s good for you and could be your only source of Vitamin C today. However, what you are actually after is the two empty halves of the orange peel. Now, assuming you have some muffin batter on site, pour some into each half of the empty orange peels. Bake over a fire or on the camp stove and in minutes you’ll have fresh muffins! Peel off the peel and enjoy.
3 – Breakfast In A Pot
For a great breakfast that doesn’t take long to make, all you need is a small pot, some food items, and a heat source. Just toss into the pot your sliced and diced vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, etc.) and follow that up with sliced bacon or sausage or wieners. Once all of this is almost fully cooked, add eggs. Here’s where it gets fun. You can cook the eggs as an omelet or scramble them. Either way, you’ve pretty much recreated Denny’s skillet menu.
4 – Things You Can Cook On A Stick
Hey, camp food normally lacks that outdoorsy flavor when you cook things without the use of a stick. Luckily, there are far too many things that can be cooked on a stick which can come in handy if someone in your camping party forgot to pack dishes and selected utensils. Aside from cooking up a wiener or s’mores on a stick, why not try one of these ideas? Crescent rolls and cinnamon buns are usually available in the cooler section of your grocery store. Roll ‘em on a stick, bake ‘em over the campfire them peel ‘em off and enjoy!
5 – Fired Up Quesadillas
Ole! This is so painfully easy to do that you may just kick yourself for not thinking about it until now. Take a tortilla shell, add the stuff you want to fill it with, put it inside of some tin foil and grill it until crunchy. You can also use a variation of this to create a campfire taco. Stuff the quesadilla shell with cheese, vegetables and whatever meat you have that’s already cooked and sitting in the leftover side of the cooler. Grill on tin foil until crisp. Yummy!
6 – This Banana Will Make You Go Bananas
In case you only have mini marshmallows and can’t work up the enthusiasm to make s’mores, this will up your camping food game instantly. Place a peeled and split a banana in tin foil. Add crumbled graham crackers, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows in the center of the split banana. Grill over a fire or camp stove until the innards are gooey. Take off the heat source and devour. You’ll skip s’mores from this day forward for a grilled banana.
7 – Toasted PB & J
This is nothing more than your standard camping variation of an old favorite. You start with slices of bread. Cover one side with peanut butter and jam. Then place the prepared slice of bread on a piece of tin foil and set it on a grill long enough to ‘toast’ the bread as it would if you were using a regular toaster. The main difference here as well, no toaster. The finished piece of toast will be crunchy and moist thanks to the top layer of PB & J that sat there while toasting.
A Few Final Thoughts On Camping Food
Remember, your local grocery store is your best friend prior to your camping trip. But if you choose food items that require time in a cooler, be sure to have a cooler. Otherwise, your best bet is to stick to those foods that are generally considered non-perishable. Naturally, if your camping vehicle happens to be a fully loaded RV decked out with state-of-the-art kitchen appliances, by all means, load up on all the goodies you can find in the meat and frozen food sections.
If you are more of the type of camper who prefers to rough it a bit, then you’ll find all the information contained here not only useful but probably practical. Maybe print this off before you head off on your next camping adventure. We haven’t provided you with all the answers simply because you’ll probably discover some for yourself. As long as you have packed enough food to get you through your camping trip, everything else should be easy.
The Utensil Check List
We’ve talked a lot about food and only hinted at the tools you’ll need to whip up something tasty hot off the grill. Creating something great to eat while camping is not all that difficult, as we have explained. But, if you don’t have a spoon or a fork, you may find eating chili or beans a bit of a challenge. For your average camping trip, be sure to pack the following:
Serving Dishes (plates/bowls), Utensils (knives, forks, spoons), Can Opener, Metal Pot, Coffee Mugs, Wooden Spoon, Garbage Bags, Disposable Wipes.
The Bottom Line
Camping is fun. It’s more fun when you have properly prepared for temporary living in the outdoors. Part of that preparation has to include meals. If you think about it, using fire to heat food is as about as old school as you can get. Just like the caveman and early pioneers, they came prepared with whatever it was they were going to cook up in camp.
This is your challenge, but it’s an easy one to master once you learn a few of the tricks that have been created by other campers. Worst case scenario, you could just pack up a bunch of MREs and ration them out throughout your camping trip. We hear that some of the new ones are not so bad after all!