What To Bring and How To Prepare Food on the Trail

Planning a camping trip into the wilderness? Before you set off, it’s crucial to consider your camping food. Proper meal planning can transform your outdoor dining experience, ensuring it’s as enjoyable as the breathtaking views. 

A well-thought-out camp menu is vital for maintaining energy and enthusiasm during your adventures. Aim for a balance of protein, carbs, and fats to keep you fueled. Pre-prepared meals can save you time and hassle, while careful planning helps minimize waste. In this guide, our camping experts share their top tips for creating delicious, convenient, and eco-friendly meals in the great outdoors.

Importance of Meal Planning

Why should you plan your meals before hitting the trail? Simple: Meal planning ensures you’ll have healthy, hearty meals. Your camp menu is just as important as your camping agenda and should receive the care it is due. Consider these things as you design your menu:

  • Balance & Variety: Having a healthy mix of protein, carbs, and fat will ensure you are well fed and ready to explore.
  • Convenience: Pre-planned, and perhaps even pre-prepared, meals translate to less hassle at the campsite.
  • Waste Management: By bringing exactly what you need, you’ll reduce food waste and trash.

Meet Our Experts

This guide will provide you with some insights and meal plans from expert campers who have done everything from short day trips to long backpacking marathons. We’ve enlisted Claire Ramsdell, author and owner of The Detour Effect blog, Jess Rodley from Andorra Escapes, and Michael Murphy, owner of Boonies, to help you have the best camping experience!

Below, we’ll examine their camping dining plans. As you create your menu, mix and match items to suit your tastes!

Example Camping Meal Plans

Claire’s Dining Plan

DayBreakfastLunchDinnerSnacks and/or Dessert
Day 1Protein barPeanut butter on whole wheat tortillasStir FryPoptarts, coffee
Day 2Pancakes (from a mix)Fresh bread from a local store, if availableProtein barGummy bears, coffee
Day 3Instant oatmealProtein barFresh bread and deli meat or cheese, if available that dayCoffee

Jess’ Dining Plan

DayBreakfastLunchDinnerSnacks and/or Dessert
Day 1A hearty breakfast of your favorite foods at home before leaving for your adventureA sourdough sandwich with smashed chickpeas, avocado and fresh salad ingredients such as sprouts, cucumber and lettuce (prepared at home)Campfire Chili. A pre-prepared chili mix of diced tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, canned sweet corn, diced red pepper, textured vegetable protein and spices, that would be transferred from a storage container to be reheated and then served on a bed of couscousTrail mix, apples or mandarins, tea and coffee
Day 2Porridge with dried fruit, nuts and seeds (from trail mix)A crusty baguette topped with avocado and vegan cheddar cheese (prepared on the trail)Satay stir fry: A tin of mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, green beans) cooked in a homemade satay sauce along with textured vegetable protein, served on a bed of couscousTrail mix, apples or mandarins, tea and coffee
Day 3Porridge with dried fruit, nuts and seeds (from trail mix)A crusty baguette topped with avocado and vegan cheddar cheese (prepared on the trail)Ready-made camping mealTrail mix, apples or mandarins, tea and coffee

Michael’s Dining Plan

DayBreakfastLunchDinnerSnacks and/or Dessert
Day 1Freeze-dried strawberry granola with dehydrated milk powderSalami and hard cheese in a pitaMountain House Chicken TeriyakiBeef jerky and Smores
Day 2Scrambled egg powder hydrated and cooked with a side of oatmealStarkist flavored tuna pouch sandwichesMountain House Beef LasagnaFreeze-dried peaches and sugary cookies like snickerdoodles
Day 3Good2Go protein barFresh-caught fish and potatoes (if possible, have a backup of ramen)Mountain House Chicken and DumplingsHoney-coated dehydrated banana slices and dehydrated pudding

As you can see, there is a lot of variation in menus. Claire values keeping her bag light and fast-metabolizing carbs, with storage and preparation time kept to a minimum. Hearty meals may not sit as well with you as they will with others, especially before a long hike. 

Jess, on the other hand, prefers to prepare food beforehand and bring heartier vegan meals. If you’re on a shorter camping trip or have access to a fridge and cooking source, larger meals may be more up your alley. 

For Michael, maximizing variety and minimizing weight matter most, and ready-made camping meals provide him with easy and flavorful lunches and dinners.

Decide what works best for you, taking your schedule, equipment, personal tastes, the size of your party, and budget into consideration. Look at your path and the area surrounding your destination; the availability of a local deli and bakery, or easy access to a garbage receptacle to throw away your waste, will determine what is better to bring, what is better to leave at home, and what you can buy along the way if you so desire.

On top of the menu above, we’ve provided some extra meal and snack ideas. Some of these include perishable food items, or a high quantity of food items, so they are better suited to RV camping or require a cooler and ice.

Breakfast Ideas

Camping Meal Plan

Whether you want variety or desire to treat your children on a family camping trip, you might want to add some extra flavor and nutrition to the first meal of your day. With options ranging from hearty to quick yet tasty, you’ll be sure to find a breakfast you’ll enjoy.

Quick and Easy Breakfasts

  • Overnight Oats: Start your day with a no-cook classic. Combine oats, yogurt, and your favorite toppings in a jar the night before, put it into your cooler, and by morning, you’ll have a creamy, flavorful breakfast waiting for you.
  • Banana Bread Pancakes: Mix up the batter infused with ripe bananas and a hint of maple for a twist on a camp breakfast favorite.
  • Yogurt Parfaits: Layer yogurt with granola and fresh fruit in a cup for a refreshing start to your day. It’s as delightful as it is simple!

Looking for something hot and speedy?

  • Campfire French Toast: Soak your bread in a mixture of eggs and milk, then cook it over the campfire until it’s crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. A dash of cinnamon makes it irresistible!

Hearty Breakfasts to Start the Day

  • Camping Breakfast Sandwiches: Stack a freshly cooked egg, sausage or bacon, and cheese between biscuits or English muffins for a satisfying meal.
  • Chorizo and Egg Quesadillas: Spice up your morning with chorizo mingled with scrambled eggs, wrapped in a warm tortilla–simple yet hearty.
  • Sweet Potato Peanut Stew: For a unique twist, this hearty stew merges sweet potatoes and peanuts for a warming, energizing breakfast.

Ever tried a breakfast bowl at the campsite?

  • Breakfast Camping Burrito Bowls: Combine eggs, bacon, tomato, onions, and cheese for a flavor-packed start that will keep you going.

Lunch Selections

Oatmeal Camping

After spending a few hours hiking, swimming, or exploring the forest, you’ll probably be a bit hungry. As such, planning your lunches is crucial to ensure you can head out into nature with a full stomach once more.

Sandwiches and Wraps

A good sandwich may be the heart of your picnic table. Packed with protein, it’s designed to replenish the energy you’ve spent on morning activities.

  • Chickpea Salad Sandwich: A vegan twist on the classic tuna salad, mash up chickpeas and mix them with mayo, salt, and pepper. Grab some bread, spread on some pesto, and add your chickpea mix with tomato slices.
  • Pastrami Reuben Sandwich: If you’re able to cook, sizzle up this sandwich in a cast-iron skillet. Load it with pastrami, sauerkraut, cheese, and dress in Thousand Island dressing, then grill to perfection.
  • Sloppy Joes: Savory, filling, and easy to make, these can be prepped before your trip and reheated over a campfire.

Salads and Light Meals

Maybe you’re in the mood for something that won’t weigh you down as you explore. Salads and other light meals can be the refreshing choice you need.

  • Late Summer Tomato Salad: Toss ripe tomatoes with lemon juice and herbs for a zesty, light option. Perfect for when tomatoes are at their peak!
  • Pesto Ricotta Pasta Bake: Prepare this dish ahead and enjoy a creamy, herby pasta delight that can easily be served cold.
  • Campfire Pizza: Who says you can’t have pizza outdoors? A simple dough topped with your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings, cooked over the campfire, gives you that melty, gooey goodness.

With any of these lunch options, balance is key! Add a side of fruit or veggies to ensure you get your vitamins in, as well. Happy eating!

Dinner Delights

After a day full of adventure, you’ll want a filling meal. For a hearty end to a day in the great outdoors, nothing beats a wonderful camping dinner cooked over a fire or in a trusty Dutch oven. From convenient one-pot dishes that minimize cleanup to sizzling recipes that elevate your campfire cuisine, there’s a delightful range of options to keep your stomach full.

One-Pot Wonders

Did you say “easy cleanup”? One-pot meals are your camping go-to! Imagine the aroma of Dutch oven pork chops and rice enticing you as veggies and seasoned pork chops mingle in a single pot. Or think about Dutch oven chili mac, a cheesy, meaty concoction that’s as straightforward as it is tasty. If you want something simpler, you could simply put a can of beef and vegetable stew into your bag and toss it in the pot!

  • Simple Recipe Ideas:
    • Dutch Oven Pork Chops and Rice
    • Dutch Oven Chili Mac
    • One Pot Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Grill and Campfire Favorites

If you’d rather grill some food over the campfire, there are many options. Dutch oven beef sandwiches and an accompanying cowboy stew are robust options. If you’d rather have chicken, you could go for cast iron Dutch oven chicken enchiladas – a south-of-the-border treat. And remember, it’s not a campout without the classic campfire nachos, layered with cheese and toppings.

  • Must-Try Campfire Dishes:
    • Dutch Oven Cowboy Stew
    • Dutch Oven Beef Sandwiches
    • Campfire Nachos

Snacks and Side Dishes

Camping Food

Hungry for some tasty treats to enhance your next camping trip? Let’s dive right into some easy-to-pack snacks and nutritious side dishes that will keep your energy up from dawn until dusk.

Easy-to-Pack Snacks

  • Energy bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Crackers and peanut butter
  • Trail mix with dark chocolate

Nutritious Sides

  • Dehydrated or Frozen Vegetables: Adding these to a side of meat and carbs will ensure you get your vitamins in!
  • Grilled Baked Potatoes: Want a side that’s filling and easy? Stick some potatoes wrapped in foil in the coals and let them bake to perfection.

Sweet Endings: Desserts

There’s nothing like concluding the day with a dessert by the campfire, or even a treat that requires no heat at all. Whether you’re craving the warming scent of cinnamon or the indulgent taste of chocolate, these camp-approved sweet endings will turn your outdoor experience up a notch.

Campfire Sweets

Who says gourmet can’t be synonymous with the great outdoors? If you’re up for a little baking adventure, can you imagine anything more comforting than Dutch oven cinnamon rolls?

Picture this: Dough spirals unfurling and expanding in the heat, becoming pillow-like swirls topped with a velvety glaze. It’s not just food; it’s a moment to behold.

Classic S’mores are also a go-to choice, with the chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker being a family favorite.

No-Cook Desserts

Even if you’ve retired the flames for the night, you can still have dessert. Grab some skewers and alternate between chocolate donut holes and fresh strawberries for some chocolate strawberry dessert kabobs. They are as fun to make as they are to eat, and they’ll have you filled and back to stargazing in minutes.

Camp Meals

Are you familiar with the concept of microwave meals and meals ready to eat? Michael highly recommends camp meals for their simplicity, their light weight, and their variety. Michael says, “they are great because they require no refrigeration. All you need to do is open the pouch, remove the oxygen absorber, add boiling water, stir, close the pouch and wait 10-15 minutes. Many of the backpacking meals require the food to be boiled for 20-30 minutes.” If you want your meals to be as simple as just adding water, ready-made frozen or dehydrated camp meals are for you.

Special Diet Considerations

It’s important to consider your dietary needs. Whether you are celiac and require gluten-free camping food, vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, or require other considerations, don’t feel shy to look up recipes, bring simple ingredients like vegetables, or browse the vast array of ready-to-eat meals or camp meals available on the market.

Cooking Techniques and Equipment

There are all sorts of equipment you can bring to ensure your camp cooking goes smoothly. Many forms of cooking happen over the campfire, and much of this equipment is suited for that task. Some recommended items will be listed below, though you should always do your own research to see what best suits your needs.

  • Dutch Oven: You can put your meal into a Dutch oven and then lay it in the fire, lifting it out with gloves or a tool when it’s time to eat. Remember to manage the heat by placing hot coals both under and on top of the oven for an even cook.
  • Skewers: Having skewers allows you to cook marshmallows, vegetables, meat, or other food over the fire.
  • Grill: If you need to cook more food, a grill can hold multiple skewers, foil packets, or larger chunks of food at the same time.
  • Foil: If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can wrap your food in foil and place it over the fire, keeping all the juices inside. A bonus is you don’t have to wash a pot!
  • Camp Stove: The camp stove you decide on bringing will depend on how long you will be out, what you plan to cook, and how much weight you can carry. Claire keeps an MSR Pocket Rocket stove to boil water for coffee and oatmeal, but at base camp, she uses a Coleman 2-burner stove, which allows her to cook a stir fry and make pancakes.

Choosing the Right Camping Stove

The right camp stove will be a game-changer in your camping adventures. Consider how much you will be cooking and determine which stove you’ll need based on these factors.

  • Solo or Group Camping: If you’re alone, a single-burner might suffice. In larger groups or in circumstances where you are resting at one camp for a long period of time, you may want a two-burner stove.
  • Fuel Type: Common fuels are propane, butane, and white gas; choose based on availability and temperature conditions.
  • Cook Time: Pick a stove with good heat output to ensure quick and efficient cooking.

A good stove is the heart of your outdoor kitchen, so choose wisely! Along with the stove, be sure to bring along enough gas, and look at the efficiency of the models you come across.

To give a sense of comfort, many stoves come with adjustable flame controls. This means you can simmer your sauces to perfection, even if the winds are howling. And of course, always consider the space in your pack and the type of camping trip you’re embarking on. Compact and lightweight stoves work wonders for backpackers.

Food Safety and Storage

Keeping your meals safe and properly stored will ensure your camping trip remains a great one. Let’s make sure your food is as fresh for mealtime as it is at home!

Preventing Foodborne Illness

When you’re packing for your adventure, remember to keep raw meats separate from your other food. If you only have one cooler, pop the meat on the bottom, so there’s no cross-contamination with ready-to-eat foods like your fruits and sandwiches.

Keep that cooler cold! Ice packs are your best friends in the wilderness. You want to keep perishables cool, so aim for temperatures below 40°F or 4°C.

  • Rule of thumb:
    • Raw meats at the bottom
    • Keep perishables cool (<40°F or 4°C)

You can avoid a lot of fear of foodborne illness by avoiding perishable foods. While it is nice to have meat or dairy, the risk of spoilage is always present, and you can rest a little easier if you don’t have to worry about the temperature of your cooler.

One additional tip to stay healthy is to bring your own water supply. While you can boil water taken from a stream in a pinch, it’s much better to have a good water supply on hand, or access to a drinking fountain.

Effective Food Storage Solutions

Now, let’s talk about keeping your food out of the paws of wildlife.

Ideally, you’ll hoist your meals 10 to 15 feet off the ground and 4 feet from any trees or poles. This isn’t just a suggestion—it’s a necessity, especially in bear country.

 Tips for hanging food:

  • Use a durable bag
  • Attach rope to bag, hoist 10-15 feet high, ensure it’s 4 feet from trees or poles
  • Secure the other end to something sturdy

If you don’t have any trees around that meet those qualifications, bear-proof containers are another great way to store your food. Claire has a Bear Vault canister in her truck to store nonperishables and scented products, keeping her, her food, and the wildlife safe. Failing all else, a strong, sturdy vehicle, camper, or shed can store your food, at the risk of damage by bear if the scent somehow escapes.

Additional Food Storage and Freshness Tips

There are a handful of ways you can keep your food fresh and light. The first is by freezing your food. Michael keeps meat, like chicken and beef, safe to eat by cooking it, freezing it and then putting it in his cooler. It can last up to two weeks by following that method. He also freeze-dries fruit to ensure its longevity.

Jess times her purchase fruit purchases to match when she’ll eat the food. She recommends buying an avocado that is pre-ripe, and then letting it ripen as you enjoy your camping trip. This allows you to enjoy your nutrient dense fruit at your own pace. She carries fruits at the top of her bag or in special side pockets to ensure they don’t get squished.

When it comes to perishables, Claire tries to eat through them within 48 hours of packing or purchasing them. By eating them quickly, you don’t have to worry about them growing old or unpalatable during a hot day or hike.

Final Advice from the Experts

Our experts gave us a few more pointers to ensure that you avoid some common pitfalls, hear a little more on good foods, and know which brands they recommend purchasing.

Additional Food Information

Jess highly recommends whole wheat couscous. It doesn’t require heat, it has a good amount of carbohydrates and fibre, 20g of protein per cup, it is filling, and it has selenium, which boosts the immune system and minimizes inflammation, perfect for a long hike!

As you saw earlier, Michael eats fresh caught fish as part of his lunch when he can have it. Fresh caught fish can be a great addition to your meal. Just make sure the fish is healthy, and ensure you clean the fish and dispose of the waste in a safe manner, as you don’t want bears near your camp. Be sure to make sure you can legally fish, as well. Certain areas may be protected, and certain jurisdictions may require you to have a license to fish.

Finally, all three experts agree that nutrition is important, with carbs and protein, as well as fat, all being necessary. You should make sure your meals are balanced to meet your needs. Having all three macronutrients in the right balance will ensure you are healthy and energized, ready to enjoy your adventure.

Recommended Brands

Alongside some of the brands mentioned above, our experts mentioned a few other brands that make high quality products and make their hikes and camping experiences enjoyable. Here is a brief list:

  • Mountain House: Mountain House sells camp meals, and they are Michael’s favorite camp meal source. His family loves their lasagna meal most, and the presence of real meat and vegetables in them is a major selling point.
  • ReadyWise: This is another brand Michael recommends, similar to the Mountain House brand. They also sell camp meals.
  • Backpacker’s Pantry: Jess recommends this brand for her freeze-dried and dehydrated meals. They have a wide variety, from Thai curry to Italian risottos.
  • Firepot: Jess recommends this brand as well. They also make freeze-dried and dehydrated meals.

With this list, you should be able to begin to find camp meals and compare them, seeing which best fit your needs. Be sure to look at the ingredients and macronutrient distribution to see what works best for you!

Common Mistakes

Camping is a learning experience, and the food side of things is no different. Claire, Jess, and Michael all shared mistakes they either made or saw, and offer their expertise so you can avoid the same issues.

Claire’s biggest insight is trusting your gut when it comes to bringing perishables. Her biggest mistake was bringing sliced cheese and deli meat on long hikes, and then finding it to be very unappetizing after. By thinking ahead and either eating your perishables quickly, or not bringing them at all, you can avoid the regret of wasted food.

Jess’ insight is thinking ahead when it comes to matters of waste management. On a five day hiking and camping trip, one member of her party brought vacuum-sealed raw meat, thinking he had a wonderful meal. While it may have tasted savory at the moment, the bloodied vacuum bag he had to carry until the end of the trip undercut the joy of having a nice slab of meat. To avoid carrying around waste, especially dairy or meat waste, for extended periods of time, it’s best to either choose a site near a safe garbage disposal, or avoid bringing food that creates waste you wouldn’t want to carry around. Think ahead and be pragmatic with your packing choices.

Michael’s biggest insight is that food variety is important for morale. He attempted to eat the same thing every day on a week-long camping trip, and found that each repetitive meal became more tedious and less enjoyable than the last. Learning from this, he keeps a wide variety of foods in his camping menu, enjoying diverse flavors and textures. He also adds spices and condiments to his meals to give it a little extra flair. 

Over time, mistakes become less common, and with enough knowledge and experience, you can avoid making critical mistakes yourself.


That about wraps it up! With the help of this article and the experts who contributed to it, you should be able to make a camp menu that fits your needs, no matter your adventure. Hit the trail, follow your menu, and let us know your favorite camping meals!

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