There are days when we all feel like running away from our responsibilities and stress and most of the people I know, have an easy go-to solution to calm their mind on such occasions –CAMPING FOOD !
But, wait! You are yet to find the best escape which is the perfect combination of adventure and pleasure.
Camping is exactly the type of exciting, adventurous and a healthy escape that I accidentally found when I was searching for options to clear my mind from the cacophony of city chaos and mundane schedules.
Camping is fun and involves strenuous activity in the woods and obviously, food – to gain energy and fuel the positive vibes. But, this is where we miss out and make the most terrible mistake. Most beginners take granted the importance of planning the food which is needed to be carefully thought about and most of the now proficient backpackers have learned it the hard way!
If you are a camper and an adventurer, you need to make sure that you don’t start your camping without enough planning, food supply and ingredients because you don’t want to go hungry in the woods without the right type of food, which is zero fun. And, if you are camping with kids and teenagers, this is important because they have voracious, and sometimes very fussy, appetites.
So, let me help you with this guide where you would learn some key tips and guidelines that will ensure you’re very well prepared for your camping trip.
PLANNING IS THE FOUNDATION
Remember, if you don’t plan your meals properly, then it can ruin your mood and the camping experience. So, plan beforehand for how many days you are planning the camp and research properly the weather and the place which will help you pack the exact amount and type of food.
Lack of planning will force you to consume random meals, which will directly and indirectly affect your best experience. But how to plan meals for camping? What is the right way? What are the tricks and hacks?
Before you dig into the depth of the things to remember for planning, you need to keep in mind some points that will actually affect your meal planning. From the size of your group to where you are going to stay, from whether you will be on the go or staying in one place to the cooking equipment you will carry and how much weight or space you have to spare – everything will affect your planning and packing for the camping.
NUMBER OF PEOPLE
It is obvious that if you are planning a camping trip for two people you will require less food than if you are planning a group camping. But it can be difficult to carry just enough and estimate how much you actually need to pack.
It is advisable to carry meals and snacks that everyone likes, in that way you can avoid buying or packing more than you need and it can also help you cut down the leftovers. Simplify the food and the way you carry them if you are camping with kids. Pre-packed foods, nuts, munchies and chips are some better options that can keep everyone happy and full with protein without creating mess to make them.
Planning for large groups may seem like a difficult option but if you start planning ahead of time there is nothing to worry about! Also, the best way to take some of the pressure off of the main meals, add healthy and junk snack options.
You can also prepare from home and carry foil packs which are also a great option as they are compact, easy to cook and leave little or no mess.
WHERE ARE YOU STAYING
Your amount and type of food also depends on where you plan to camp out. If you are canoeing to your campsite, it is best advised to carry lighter and compact meals but if you are planning to take your RV, you can plan according to how much you can keep in your car.
Similarly, if you are backcountry camping, your meal planning also depends on how much you carry and how you dispose of your trash. And, if you are hiking to a nearby campsite, it’s okay to carry more than just freeze dried meals and granola.
When you are hiking all day long in the woods and when your body is working hard all day, you need food that can refuel you. So, if you are camping in the wild, stock yourself with energy food but if you are camping at the nearby campsite, it’s okay if you carry that large cheese puff packet. Also, it is advisable to carry less of the perishable items when you have a long camping plan. You also need to plan how you are going to recycle your trash because if the site has trash disposal that there is nothing to worry about but if you are backpacking, it is better if you consider to cut down on packaged foods and rather opt for fresh home-made meals and fresh fruits.
AVAILABLE COOKING EQUIPMENT
Ignoring the availability of cooking equipment and not considering it while planning the meal is the most common mistake that we try to make while camping. Rather, let’s do it the right way. Make meals that suit the cooking equipment and save our time and efforts.
For example, if you are carrying a small stove, it’s better to take canned foods and dehydrated foods that will be easier to cook on them but if you are planning to use the fire pit at the campsite provided by them, also inquire if they provide fire grates or if you have to carry them. Being prepared is better than staying hungry!
When you start planning, you will want to add cheese puffs and fruits and juices and extra chocolate, just in case you would crave and many other things but space and weight are likely to be the two greatest obstacles and it’s important to practice how-to-cut-down on unnecessary things before you plan out your menu.
Moreover, if you are backpacking, you are more restricted with space and weight and have to consider before you stuff your bag with all canned food and heavier snacks. Plan out your way and if you stop at any town along the way, you can restock yourself with a quick lunch or pick up some food, so that you don’t have to carry lots of your food from the start.
Always keep in mind while packing that nutritious food is quintessential than that unhealthy munching that you are trying to stuff. So, always choose smaller, compact and more healthy food options that fuel you with energy time and again.
Well, meal planning for camping does not require a stepwise strict instruction book rather it needs you to keep in mind a few points which will guide you throughout your planning phase to pick the right things, the right way. Through my experiences and my research I have made myself a checklist of the things that I always keep in mind while planning camping meals. Here’s a sneak peak to the points, so that you never make the same mistakes that I did!
THINGS TO THINK BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Make a meal plan and a shopping list a few days before your trip
The first step of planning is plan ahead of time. End moment planning will have some or other loopholes and you would have to compromise a good meal with a can of baked beans, only! (Guilty, but I have done that and learned it the hard way!)
Plan ahead of your camping trip and make a shopping list of all the ingredients that you need. Packing just bread and cheese won’t help you get through more than one night. Make a simple list of every meal for your camping days which will also help you from over-buying and over-packing.
You don’t want to carry things that you won’t even need throughout your trip. Planning will also help you check your meals and weight. If you are car camping, packing things from your kitchen like knife, pot, pan, spoon, plates will be easier. But if you are camping on foot, it’s better to plan foods that you don’t have to cook at all. And if you get bored, you can add a or two proper cooked meals.
Avoid messiness and complexity
If you have not tried a recipe and you are planning to take it for your tip, make sure you don’t complicate it. Make it before and try it. It’s always better to take things and food that are easier to pack and cook because you don’t want to spend an hour cleaning the mess after cooking rather than enjoying the woods.
Before packing and going on the camp, try to simplify things and processes. Ask yourself if you can cook something in foil or dirtying a pan is necessary? Is there anything that can be pre-prepared at home? What are the ingredients that will make your camp meals simple and easier? Pre-chopped vegetables, maybe? Or hummus? What do you say?
Don’t forget to pack condiments
Yeah! You always forget the smallest of the things that look like they are not important but we all know that they can make or break your meal. Don’t forget to pack garlic powder, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard and other condiments.
We are already harming nature a lot, so it’s better to reduce our trash as much as we can. Buy yourself inexpensive and lightweight items such as spoons, forks, knives, chopsticks and plates to pack along your essential list.
Pack in, pack out
Be mindful of the nature and the site you are staying at. Always remember as packing in is your responsibility, packing out is also your task. Always carry a separate bag for trash, recycling and even compost. Keep in mind that you are in the woods. Respect the wild and the animals. Take proper precautions by tying your trash bag to trees or disposing of them in campsite dumpsters.
You don’t want to reuse the plates that are greasy and in bad condition. Keep in your list to carry a non-toxic, biodegradable and concentrated soap which can also be used as hand soap or shampoo. This way you can also cut down on your weight and simplify things.
Items we always forget
Things like lighter or matches and bottle opener are mostly not in the lists. Don’t forget to add these because you will want a fire, obviously! And, a drink!
Yeah, every home kitchen is fully supported with a refrigerator, pantry and plentiful cabinets. You also have easy access to nearby stores, in case of emergency which is laced with hundreds of food options.
But, wait! When you are out in the wild between the woods, your camping kitchen is a scaled down version of your home kitchen. For such amps, it doesn’t matter if you are a heavy traveller or if you are a foodie, you would have to learn to fit your kitchen and supplies into a storage bin, plastic container or a paper bag, maybe! But that doesn’t mean that you compromise on the food and stuff yourself to only boring meals. Rather you can learn and pack some key staples that can combine into many dishes and satisfy everyone’s taste buds. To help you cut-down your ingredients, the list below will give you an insight into the list of ingredients that you should pack when you are going camping.
Don’t just stuff whatever is in the list. Rather consider picking and choosing after you read the list according to your own needs and taste.
LIST OF MUST-PACK INGREDIENTS
When you carry eggs, you have different options at your door. For example you can scramble them, fry them or hard boil them and create a new dish every time. But that doesn’t mean you carry eggs and now are stressed about them breaking all throughout your trail. Rather what you can do is crack the number of eggs you are planning to carry into a bowl and add half-teaspoon of salt per cup of eggs. Mix everything properly and pour it into a sealable bag and freeze it flat. It will also help you transport easily and plus, thin layers of egg defrost faster.
What do you say? Great idea, isn’t it?
It’s a great option as well. You can pack some made with flour or corn or any other healthy option, for that matter, and wrap them with beans, meat, veggies and cheese and make a fulfilling burrito for lunch or dinner. Also, for breakfast you can roll them up with peanut butter and honey and make your own energy-boosting snack, like I do!
Obviously! How can we miss this. Well, I don’t know about you, but I am a big-time cheese lover and if I add this ingredient to my list of camping foods, trust me, my breakfast, lunch, dinner, midday munchies – everything is sorted.
If you are a non-vegetarian then after setting up a camp, what’s better than a steak or a hamburger to call for the celebration! Beef also adds protein to your salad and pastas and dinner and gives you energy to trail in the woods.
And! And! And!
Beef dried into jerky for munchies are no-brainers. Ask any backpacker!
Who doesn’t need sweets in their diet and consuming them at their raw phase is much better than consuming the refined ones! Peaches, bananas and apples or your favorite fruit can be a simple way to get a dose of moisture when you are struggling in the woods or tired from setting up the camp or when you are craving for dessert (Yeah, now is the time to gobble up all the strawberries dipped in the chocolate or roasted pears in the chocolate!)
Also, remember that fruits may have thin-skinned and can be easily bruisable, so take necessary steps before packing. And don’t forget to add dried fruits for your trail!
If you think it’s a luxury to add hot sauce in your list, well then you are wrong! Hot sauce is a staple ingredient that can be served up in some variety as it pairs well with anything such as tortillas, eggs, guacamole, noodles etc.
Maybe you are not a person who eats their greens, but adding chunks of vegetables in your list will sort you for days! Like add tomatoes (which BTW, will give you a healthy dose of Vitamin C!) and you can roast them or add in salads or make a sauce and smothered on pizza dough. Like, chop ahead at home and add onions to your list and the distinct flavor in your sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot soups. So, adding vegetables is not a bad option. Consider them well before you pack.
Who doesn’t like slurrpy hot soupy noodles or ramen! Well, I love them. So I make sure to add noodles after boiling them at home ahead of time and heat them when I want to cook. This will save my time, effort and energy before dinner.
When you exert yourself in the woods, carbohydrates are a good option. Add noodles and pesto/salsa topping to the ingredient list. You can also pan fry them or stir them into soup, or serve cool in pasta salad.
This is obvious and I am listing so that you don’t forget in all the chaos of packing. From adding them into soup to dipping into stew, from making a delicious sandwich to making hamburgers and hotdog buns, breads are practical and enjoyable.
Try unique recipes such as bannock bread and bread rolls and add them to the list for change!
In the mess of packing and excitement, we tend to forget quintessentials such as butter. Obviously if you have to toss your egg or while making pancake, you need butter. So, don’t forget this ingredient!
SALT AND PEPPER
This is one more essential which we tend to forget. Adding salt will take you a long way by enhancing the flavor of every meal. Also, pepper is the companion of salt and provides a bit of a kick and transforms the taste of the meals by adding just a pinch.
Also, consider adding other spices such as cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder and rosemary.
INSTANT TEA AND COFFEE
If you are addicted to caffeine, don’t forget to add them. These instant pouches come handy. Add it to a boiling cup and Voila! You have a drink of your own choice.
This ingredient deserves to be in the list because it serves many options. From adding it to your breakfast granola or serving them as sour cream with tacos and baked potatoes.
From fulfilling that late night dessert craving to adding texture and different taste to your ingredients adding chocolate proves to be the best option.
Except adding salt and pepper, there are few other condiments that need your attention while you are packing to stay in the woods. Things such as ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise are the few that I would recommend you to add to the list.
Yes, you are packing bread but adding pancake mix or dough packets can also solve your breakfast, dessert and everything in between menu. Roll out some dough and top it with sauce, cheese, and create your own pizza or add to the pan and top with honey and have it as dessert.
Consider carefully what you want to carry be it maple syrup for your pancake cravings or sugar for your coffees or honey for that dinner pudding. Also, carry natural sweeteners for energy boosts on the trail. It’s okay if you have your own menu for sweets to carry because in the end this enjoying your time in the woods is our motto but do consider their weight before packing.
Not just granola bars but also pack crunchy grains for breakfasts. You can get boxes of flakes or you can pack home-made granola for camping.
Nothing can beat hot baked potatoes on chilly nights in the woods. You can dice, slice, chop, grate, mash, fry, peel, and boil them and savour the tastes in many different ways.
Handful of peanuts or dry fruits gives you enough energy and taste to spend days in the woods. Include them as raw form or roast them and make a great topping for salads and desserts.
FOOD PACKING HACKS
With each camping trip, I learned a new technique to pack my food and save up more space so that I can add more food. But these hacks also helped me pack everything without forgetting any ingredients while packing. Consider them while planning and packing your meals for this summer camping trip because it will lay out an easier way to pack and you will be able to pack like a pro!
FREEZE ALL THINGS
Yes, whatever can be frozen – freeze them! Your soups, sauces, meats, nuts etc. are a good option to store but if you are thinking of storing high water-concentrated fruits, that’s a bad option. Research thoroughly what can and what cannot be frozen. Also, your frozen food items can also be doubled up as ice packs which means you will require fewer ice packs.
STORE SPICES IN STRAWS
It’s a smart move!
Less space, less weight and less trash.
Seal one side of the straw with lighter and fill the straw with spices and close the tops with elastic band or paper clip. Easy pizzy, isn’t it?
WASH, CHOP AND MARINATE BEFOREHAND
Prepare your meals beforehand and carry them in foil packets than carrying individual ingredients which will only take up more time, efforts, space and weight.
STORE YOUR EGGS
Instead of carrying eggs, it’s better to crack them and store them in a single container which will make perfect egg dishes on a camping site.
LAYER YOUR FOOD
Pack your food according to how you need them. So for example the food for your second day, store that at the bottom and then store your food for the first day. Though it will be heavier but this way it will create less mess on site and easier to carry it all.
MISTAKES AND BLUNDERS TO AVOID
Adventures such as camping need a lot of planning and processing. But too often we just throw it together in the morning and suffer in the trip due to poor food planning.
Well, I failed miserably when I packed for my first backpacking trip and I packed the heaviest pack on the trail but I learned it through one camping trip at a time. So, trust me on this.
Be smart and learn from my blunders and plan your meals like a pro!
PACKING TOO MUCH
This is the most common mistake that not only beginners but pro’s also make because we think that it’s better to pack more than too little. But, if you pack more you will have to carry more which will eventually eat more of your energy and waste more food at the end of your trip.
Don’t pack as if it is your last meal on earth. Rather plan out carefully and pack only how much you *actually* need to eat in a day. If you want to pack ‘just-in-case’ meals, carry the weightless and dried ones.
NOT PACKING ENOUGH
Striking a balance between packing too much and not packing enough is where you become a pro at packing and planning meals. There’s nothing worse than not having enough food on the last day of your trail when you have to sustain through the hardest miles of your trip. This will only make you more cranky, irritated, angry and tired!
Study your diet and plan accordingly!
PACKING BULKY FOODS
Planning the meals for camping is not just about striking the balance between too much and not enough food. It is also about balancing bulky foods and foods that take a lot of space. For example, a pack of bread is not bulky but it will surely take lots of space. Balance is the key!
TOO MUCH SUGAR
Yes, sugar is good for energy and keeps you high but it is just for a small period of time. You don’t want to be sucked into the trap of sugar high and then face energy lapse a few hours later. Rather pack food filled with natural sugar and good fats and carbs.
SOME TIPS TO PLAN YOUR MEALS
Below are some basic tips to keep in mind while packing so that you don’t miss out on important points.
- Always start planning with how many days you are going to camp and where.
- Focus more on dry and non-perishable food so that they last till the very end.
- Food that will spoil very easily, keep them for the early days.
- Pack food that isn’t too heavy and doesn’t take much space. Striking the balance is the key.
- Pack less canned foods that are full of liquid food as they will weigh you down.
- Freezed foods are advisable to pack with two layers of bags to prevent spills.
BALANCE IS THE KEY!
Remember, camping is all about going back to the basics. Waking up with the sun, living in nature and sleeping with the moon. It is the most beautiful and adventurous activity that you will enjoy if you respect the wild. So don’t stuff your bag with the fanciest of the ingredients. Rather enjoy your stay in the woods with the basicest food items. Simple and minimal is your answer to all queries regarding the meal planning.
It’s okay if you make some mistakes on your camping trip because you are going to but always research carefully before any camping trip. It will take you a few trails in the woods to understand the technique about packing the meals but you will learn eventually!