The Ultimate Camping Food List: What to Bring and Why

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What foods should you bring camping? This seems to be a common question among campers, so I figured that I’d write an article about it. The truth is, there’s no universal camping food list to follow. I will, however, give you my thoughts on the matter. That way, you’ll know exactly what foods and beverages to buy for your camping trip. Not only will we talk about camping food ideas, but we’ll also cover the various ways to transport, pack, and protect your food from the elements. Let’s get started.

Best Camping Food – Top 3 Qualities

As you can imagine, certain foods are better than others for camping. For example, when choosing between a granola bar and a Snickers bar, I’d much rather go with the granola bar. Why? Because it will withstand the elements better. In general, you want to focus on three qualities when shopping for the best camping food:Non-Perishable

Preferably, items on your camping food list should be non-perishable. By that, I mean that they shouldn’t rely on refrigeration to stay safe for consumption. This is especially important if you’re going on a multi-day camping trip. Foods like granola bars, peanut butter, and trail mix are all good options. Does this mean you can’t bring things like yogurt, milk, or bread? Of course not. Just know that these food items will require constant refrigeration to stay edible.Filling

Focus on camping food ideas that fill you up. Ever wonder why potato chips never cause you to feel full? It’s because they offer no nutritional value. You can eat an entire bag of chips and still feel hungry. Buy foods that will help you feel fuller, longer. Foods with protein are perfect for this- tuna, almonds, avocados, etc. Junk food has its place, but it definitely shouldn’t make up the bulk of your camping food list. Below we’ll talk about other foods that are good at filling you up.Portability

Finally, you want to think about portability. Even if a food is non-perishable and filling, it still won’t be worth bringing if it’s big and bulky. Focus on foods that take up minimal space. Make it your goal to pack a ton of calories into a relatively small space (I talked about this principle in an earlier article). This is why you often see hikers bringing trail mix and granola bars with them- because they’re full of energy and don’t take up a lot of space.   

Don’t Know What to Bring? Then Make a Plan!

When putting together your camping food list, it helps to have a solid plan in mind. This will help prevent you from bringing too much or too little food. It will also help you bring the right food. Here are some questions to ask yourself when coming up with camping food ideas:

  • How long is your trip?
  • What is the temperature going to be like?
  • How many people are going? Are they bringing their own food?
  • Does the food come pre-cooked? If not, do you have the tools to cook it?
  • Do you know how to properly dispose of food waste?
  • Did you think about things like utensils, plates, or cooking ware?

The length of your trip will play a big role in helping you determine how much food you bring. Obviously, you’ll need a heck of a lot more food for a 7-day camping trip versus a 2-day camping trip. Also, think about weather. If it’s exceptionally hot (like in the desert), then the quality of certain foods can become compromised.

Camping Food List – What to Bring

Below we’ve put together a list of 25 foods that you can bring with you on your camping trip. The reason these items made the list is because they’re lightweight, nutritionally dense (a.k.a. filling), and non-perishable. With that being said, let’s take a look at what they are:

  • Trail Mix
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dehydrated Fruits/Vegetables
  • Granola Bars
  • Freeze-Dried Fruits/Vegetables
  • Whole-Grain Tortillas
  • Beef Jerky
  • Ready-Made Tuna Salad Pouches
  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned Tuna (Pretty Much Any Canned Food)
  • Cereal
  • Soybean Jerky (Veggie Protein)
  • Whole Fat Powdered Milk
  • Crackers
  • Coffee
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Spices (Garlic Powder, Salt, etc.)
  • Pancake Mix
  • Bagels or Bread (Best For Shorter Trips)
  • Fig Bars
  • Energy Bars
  • Instant Rice
  • Tea
  • Fresh Fruit (Short Lifespan; Eat Quickly)

By no means is this a “complete” list. I simply wanted to give you an idea as to what can be in your camping food list. As you can see, most of these foods don’t rely on refrigeration to stay fresh. This is very important, especially if you’re going on a multi-day camping trip. Finally, for hydration, don’t forget to bring bottled water or sports drinks!

Breakfast Camping Food Ideas

One of my favorite breakfast camping food ideas is whole fat powdered milk. Specifically, I recommend Nestle Nido. This particular canister offers 140 calories/ounce, and tastes amazing. You can usually find it in Hispanic markets, but I usually order mine from Amazon. You can even mix in your own chocolate for added taste.

Another great option is whole grain cereal. Mixed with the whole fat powdered milk, it’s a great way to start your morning in the wilderness. I like to bring a box of Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs Cereal on all my longer camping trips. Not only does it contain 0 grams of sugar, but it also tastes great. You can probably find this cereal at your local Whole Foods. Finally, don’t forget to put coffee on your camping food list. It’s great for when you need an energy boost in the morning.

Lunch Camping Food Ideas

One of the more popular lunch camping food ideas, especially among kids, is peanut butter and jelly. It’s not recommended for longer camping trips, but for shorter ones, it’s perfect. Just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain a whopping 188 calories. That’s a lot of energy, and will help keep you going in whatever you’re doing on your camping adventure.

Another good lunch option is crackers and tuna. Tuna contains a lot of protein, so it’s a great way to get energy. Just make sure you bring a can opener! You’d be surprised by the number of people who bring canned food with them camping, but forget the can opener. Finally, bring some beef jerky. Most people consider it a snack, but there’s no reason why you can’t have it for lunch. Note, to save money, you can dehydrate your own beef at home.

Dinner Camping Food Ideas

As far as dinner camping food ideas are concerned, a good option is rice and beans. Beans offer a lot of protein, while rice offers a lot of carbohydrates. Also, don’t forget your eating utensils and plates/bowls. This is the perfect food combination in my opinion. Not only does it taste great, but it’s also nutritionally dense and easy to make.

You can also have freeze dried foods. Unfortunately, unless you’re very familiar with them, it can be a gamble (some freeze dried foods are tasty, while others are not). Mountain House Freeze Dried Food is probably the best option in this category. They offer some of the tastiest freeze dried foods around, and they’re also affordable (a single freeze-dried meal will cost you around $6).Warning About Canned Food

When putting together your camping food list, be careful about stocking up on too many canned foods. First of all, canned foods don’t offer that much caloric density per unit. Secondly, once you’re finished, you’ll be left with an empty can, which you’ll have to carry back out. I’m not against canned food, but I am against bringing too much of it.

Don’t Forget Utensils and Cooking Ware!

Aside from food, there are various other things you’ll want to bring with you on your camping trip. Think about how bad it would be to have canned food with no can opener or cereal with no spoon. These things happen more often than you think, so pay attention. Here’s what to bring:

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Utensils
  • Disposable Wipes (For Cleaning Your Hands)
  • Can Opener (if Applicable)
  • Trash Bags
  • Thermometers (For Checking Cooked Meat)
  • Cooler
  • Metal Pot
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Ziploc Baggies

When putting together your camping food list, know that the metal pot actually serves a dual survival purpose. In the event that you get lost, you can use a metal pot to collect and boil water. This is just something to think about when planning your camping trip. Also, if you think that you’re going to have leftovers, bring Tupperware.

How Much Food Should You Take? Here’s a Math-Based Answer

When putting together a camping food list, there’s no “exact” amount of food you should bring. It depends on a lot of factors- the length of your trip, how much you’ll be exerting yourself, etc. In general, the more physical activity you do, the more food you’ll need. So if you’re planning on doing a ton of hiking/climbing while on your camping trip, then you’ll need a lot more food.

But exactly how much is “a lot more”? Let’s take a math-based approach (bear with me): in order to maintain the same weight, a 165-pound male hiking 8 miles per day would need about 4,000 calories per day. This is a rough estimate, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, you know your body better than anyone else. If you’re not planning on doing too much physical activity, then you you’ll probably need only 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Planning on Cooking? Then Bring a Camping Stove

The Coleman Butane Instastart Stove is my recommended option as far as camping stoves are concerned. The reason why is because of how affordable it is. At just $20, it won’t break the bank. If you have things on your camping food list that require heating, then a portable camping stove might be a good investment. To use it, simply insert the butane cylinder, turn on, and cook like you normally would on a regular stove. Note, if your camping trip is going to be longer than a few days, you’ll want to stock up on several butane cylinders.

5 Classic Camping Recipes

Before ending this article, I want to show you some recipes that many people consider “classic” within the camping/hiking community. Most of these are pretty cheap, as well as easy to make. They include:

  • Chili: For some people, there’s nothing more delicious than a big pot of chili. Here’s a video on how to make it. Chili is so easy to make that anyone can do it (plus, kids to love it).
  • Hot Dogs: Of all the foods on this list, hot dogs are arguably the easiest to make. The best part? You can buy a lot of them for cheap. Here’s a video on how to cook them.
  • Pancakes: Just because you’re in the wild, doesn’t mean you can’t chow down on delicious breakfast food. Check out this video of a fellow camper cooking some delicious-looking cast iron pancakes.
  • S’mores: No camping food list would be complete without mentioning S’mores. You’re going to need graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. Here’s a video on how to make them.
  • Broiled Fish: For all you fish lovers, consider cooking some broiled fish. Fish is super-healthy and is an excellent camping food. Here’s a video that will teach you how to do it the right way.

There you have it- five easy recipes to try when you’re camping. Many of these are popular among kids, so if you’re bringing your children along, they’re going to love it.

The Ultimate Camping Food List – Bottom Line

In summary, you want to buy foods that aren’t going to go bad. Things like peanut butter, protein bars, and crackers are all great examples. Beef jerky and trail mix are also great options. You also want something that has a high calorie-to-weight ratio. For example, a single cup of almonds contains about 530 calories, whereas a cup of potato chips contains about a third of that. We hope that this camping food list gave you a better idea of what foods to bring on your next camping trip. Thanks for reading.

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