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What should I eat while camping?

Let’s face it, food is an essential part of everyday life, and a good camping meal can make or break your camping experience. These simple camp meals are commonplace at a campsite: macaroni and cheese, rice and beans, instant noodles, and oatmeal.  Depending on your budget, you can also splurge for dehydrated meals where you just need to add warm water. But with proper preparation and a little planning, you can easily master a gourmet camping meal

Many campers tend to overpack food when going on a camping trip. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, make a list of what you will need for each meal. For example, for a weekend trip, you need a meal for Friday night arrival, Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Sunday breakfast if you are leaving in the morning. Be as specific as possible and get everyone in on the planning process. 

Further Reading: Camping Menu: Easy Meal Ideas for Every Camping Trip

Here is what to consider when planning your camp meals:

  • Nutrition: It’s important to keep your meals on the healthy side, ensuring that you’re getting the proper nutrition for vigorous activities like hiking. Adding dried fruits and nuts to your meal plan will help get proteins and complex carbohydrates into your system.
  • Taste: If it doesn’t taste good, then you aren’t going to enjoy it. Bring spices and sauces to add some flavor to your meals.
  • Weight and size: This is especially important if you are hiking to your campsite, as you will be carrying your food in your backpack. Even if you are car camping, bulky packages take up space.  Divide up food into plastic baggies and portion out your meals beforehand. Don’t forget to remove extra packaging to save weight and space, such as removing the box from your granola bars before packing them.
  • Preparation: Consider how much time goes into your meal. After an active day, you may just want a quick and easy meal. If you have a time-consuming meal, you may not have the energy to make it worthwhile. Be sure to pack some meals that simply require “add-boiled-water” like rice or pasta.
  • Fuel/propane: If cooking time is long, then you’ll burn lots of fuel. You want to check cooking times on meals and check that it corresponds with the amount of fuel you bring along with you.

What kinds of food should you bring camping? 

You will want to take along food that keeps well without refrigeration. Powdered milk is a common staple at the campsite, so are pasta, grains, and bread. Other common non-perishable foods are:

  • Granola, cereal, oatmeal
  • Canned meats (tuna, salmon, chicken)
  • Nuts and seeds (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamias)
  • Pancake mix
  • Eggs
  • Instant rice

Certain perishable foods are also a good source for creating a healthy and nutritious camp meal. If you are car camping, you will be able to bring along a cooler to keep these items fresh, whether you have ice or not. A few common perishable foods are:

  • Fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges
  • Grapes (store in a sturdy container to prevent from being squashed)
  • Vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, and peppers
  • Avocados
  • Fresh meats or quick cook meats like bacon or hot dogs (only if you have access to ice)

One of the easiest ways to battle hunger while hiking, camping, and backpacking is to pack freeze-dried foods.  These packages are lightweight and taste great, provide plenty of nutrition, are typically easy to prepare, and best of all, come in a variety of flavors. Yes, they are more expensive than other options, but the convenience is worth the extra price.  Mountainhouse, Campers Pantry, and Backcountry Cuisine are a few of the top-rated brands specializing in pre-made camping meals. However, if you find you really love camping, you might decide to invest in a food dehydrator and prepare your own dehydrated meals for cheaper options.

When you’re hanging around the campsite, you will most likely be snacking throughout the day. If you are car camping, you can easily stock up on any normal snacks that can be purchased at a local grocery store. However, these are not always the best in terms of health and nutrition. Some favorite hiking and camping snacks are:

  • GORP (granola, oats, raisins, peanuts); aka “trail mix”
  • Celery sticks dipped in peanut butter
  • Dried fruit or fruit leather (store-bought or make your own at home)
  • Popcorn (which can be made fresh at the campsite as a cool activity)
  • Pre-made salsa (stored in a sturdy container)
  • SMORES! 

Water while camping

Perhaps the most important resource you will need while camping is water. Water is the number one liquid to be consuming when camping. Also, remember that you will be using water to cook and clean with. Be sure to pack enough for the entirety of your trip and perhaps a little extra. 

Wondering how much water to bring camping? A common rule of thumb is one gallon of water per person for each day of camping.

If fresh drinking water is not available at your campsite, there are ways for you to make most water safe to drink. Here are a few methods that you can choose:

  • Boiling water (make sure it boils for a complete minute)
  • Use water purification tablets such as iodine and chlorine (not recommended for those with thyroid issues and pregnant women)
  • Use water filtration systems such as the Katadyn Hiker Microfilter

Clothes for camping

The clothes you will need for camping will depend on multiple factors, such as whether you are car camping or hiking into the backcountry, the weather in the region you are camping, what season it is, and of course, your personal preference for comfort.  

Proper camping clothing keeps you protected from the elements of nature, such as weather conditions and insect bites, maintains body temperature, and helps keep you dry. Quick-drying materials like nylon and polyester are preferred over cotton. Cotton gets cold when wet, where wool and fleece will keep you warm.  Wool that is sustainably harvested is the most eco-friendly option because it does not contain plastic.  Mesh provides ventilation in hats and jackets, and leggings are more breathable than denim. If you are concerned with the discomfort of polyester, then opt for a cotton-polyester blend that combines all the useful qualities of durability, comfort, quick-drying and allows air to flow.

Layering your clothing is the best way to be prepared for the elements. The layer closest to your skin should be made of breathable material and wicks water away from your skin. The next layer should be of a material that is lightweight and allows air to circulate. If camping in cooler temperatures wear a water-resistant vented jacket as the topmost layer. You may not need to layer on the bottom, but if you are in cooler weather consider wearing long underwear made from wool. A great option is to wear hiking pants that can zip off the lower portion of the legs, thus creating shorts. It’s important to remember that pants do serve as protection from insect bites or thorny bushes around the campsite.

When it comes to footwear, a decent pair of hiking boots or sneakers is necessary for daily activities. But, you will want to bring along more comfortable footwear to wear around the campsite when you are relaxing. You won’t want to be miserable in uncomfortable footwear when sitting around a campfire. It is recommended that your footwear protects your toes.  Always be mindful of how much skin is exposed, since you may be cooking with boiling water and stoking hot coals around the campfire. Crocs or Keens are two common styles of popular campsite footwear.

A few common camp clothing accessories to include in your packing are:

  • Bandanas
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Beanie or sleeping cap (helps keep you warm at night)
  • Gloves (for warmth or work-related tasks around the campsite)

Insider clothing tip: always keep a clean, comfortable set of clothes and socks for sleeping in your tent. Try not to wear these around the campsite or as cooking smells may attach to the clothing. You don’t want to attract wildlife to your sleeping area.

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