Building Your Camping Food List: 6 Tips and Tricks for a Tasty Trip

There’s a lot that rides on a successful camping trip. One of the greatest factors is what you eat. Even if you found the most majestic place in the world and marveled at its aesthetic glory with every breath from morning to night, if you’re stomach isn’t happy, neither will you be.

In fact, eating the proper food can amplify your experience, especially in the wild. When you eat a delicious meal it releases certain “feel-good” chemicals in the brain that in turn make you happy. No wonder they call it a good food mood!

Camping food list

So why not set yourself up for a great time? Instead of winging it, or bringing stuff to “just get by”, choose scrumptious items for your camping food list that’ll shoot your outdoor adventure from ok, to AWESOME!

Now I don’t have to convince you that food is amazing and you should eat it, but I want to remind you how important it is to pick the best foods/meals possible when you’re away from home. Isn’t the whole point to enjoy yourself and the experience? Let’s make sure that happens!

In this article, I’ll go over how to plan, what to bring, how to cook, meal ideas, and more! Here’s a quick rundown –

  • Understanding your needs
  • Food categories
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Equipment and utensils
  • Packing and storing
  • Respect for nature and sustainability

By the end of the article, you’ll be fully prepared to bust out your grill, cook some epic grub, and prepare the best camp feast you can imagine! I’ll also provide a one-stop checklist that you can download for easy reference.

Ok, enough of the intro, time for info. Hold onto your shorts (or whatever you’re wearing) because here we go!


1. Understanding Your Needs

Before you head out to your favorite grocery store and buy everything that makes your mouth water, take a step back and assess what you actually need vs. what you want. The idea is to balance the two so you don’t spend too much money and/or waste food. It’s easy to go overboard and bring either too much or the wrong things that don’t mesh well.

Camping food list - wants vs needs

Length of Trip

This is the first thing to consider when planning your food list. Most of us eat about 2,000-2,500 calories per day. Kids less, but you get the idea. To be safe, you can estimate 2,000 calories to weigh around a pound (.4 kg). So for a family of 4, bring at least 4 pounds of food per day. Seeing how the average camping trip is 2-3 days, that same family should bring somewhere between 8-12 pounds of food.

Now this is just a generality, but it’s a great starting point in case you are completely new to sleeping outdoors.

Type of Trip

Here’s where the variables pop up for food consumption. Ask yourself how active you plan to be. Are you going to hike every day or frequently swim in a nearby lake? If you’re setting up an activity-filled itinerary, you’ll want a lot more food with you since your calories burned are going to shoot through the roof.

Camping food list - type of trip

Also, the weather plays a little bit into this as well. Colder climates seem to require a bit more food since 1, eating is a great way to warm up, 2, you’re burning more calories, and 3, you usually have more downtime which most of us choose snacking over doing nothing, myself included!

So for these situations, it might be a great idea to bring an extra pound of food per person. The last thing you want to be is hungry after scaling mountains, surfing massive waves, or biking rugged terrain all day! X’s 2 in the cold!

Dietary Restrictions

If you’re traveling with a group of friends or multiple families and you’d like to chip in on the grocery list, first take a step back before spending your hard-earned cash. Reach out to everyone and grab a consensus on their possible restrictions. Even if nobody speaks up, it shows you care! Ask if anybody has/is –

  1. Food allergies
  2. Vegan/vegetarian
  3. Lactose intolerant
  4. Diabetic
  5. Sensitive to Gluten
  6. Limitations due to religious beliefs

Pro Tip – To make it fun for everybody, ask each member of your party for a food wish list! Each person gets to add 3 things. This way everybody wins!

2. Food Categories

Since you can’t bring your entire kitchen, pantry, or refrigerator with you, breaking up your foods into different categories might help you since storing and transporting them require specific needs. For instance, you’re not going to put a box of macaroni inside a cooler, unless you’re into snacking on frozen pasta. I won’t judge.

Dry Goods

These will be all of the cupboard items that last for quite a while on their own and don’t need refrigeration. I highly recommend bringing some, if not most of the following –

  • Bread
  • Tortillas
  • Pancake Mix
  • English Muffins
  • Oats
  • Canned veggies
  • Peanut butter
  • Bagels
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Canned soups
  • Hot dog/burger buns
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal
  • Ramen
  • Couscous

You’re also going to want to bring some condiments, seasonings, oils, etc. to enhance all of the flavors! (Some of these might need to be thrown into a cooler after opening) –

Dry Extras

  • Salt/Pepper
  • Taco seasoning
  • Cooking oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Italian seasoning
  • Ketchup/Mustard
  • Mayo
  • BBQ sauce
  • Hot Sauce
  • Syrup
  • Salsa
  • Relish
  • Sauerkraut
  • Dry rub
  • Pesto
  • Pasta sauce
  • Salad dressing
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Cayenne (for a kick!)
  • Cajun seasoning

Protein Sources

What’s a night out under the stars without roasting something over an open flame? Even if you’re not a meat eater, you have to appreciate the time spent around a campfire with something sizzling on the grill. Here are my top picks for the best camp proteins –

  • Hot Dogs
  • Burgers
  • Brats/sausages
  • Bacon
  • Chicken (thighs or breasts)
  • Cheese (shredded and hard varieties)
  • Tofu
  • Steaks
  • Sliced deli meats
  • Salami/pepperoni
  • Tuna (canned or packets)
  • Ground beef
  • Frozen shrimp
  • Fresh fish (salmon, swordfish, halibut, etc.)
  • Breakfast sausages
  • Eggs (liquid or pre-boiled)
  • Plant-based substitutes

Some additional items don’t quite fall under the category as a main protein source but need to be chilled like the above items so I feel they deserve their own section.

Chilled Extras

  • Hummus
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Cream cheese
  • Jams/jellies
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese

Fresh Produce

Next come the fruit and veggies that’ll add some color and flavor to your meals. Don’t forgo these, the added tastes and textures go a long way in the backcountry. Nothing tastes better after a day or two running around under the hot sun like a crisp apple or fresh cucumber dipped in ranch –

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Lemons/limes
  • Mangoes
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Onion
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce or spinach

Snacks

Can’t forget about all that grazing you’ll be doing in between meals, especially on more active trips. From stuffing your pockets while exploring to swapping treats with you camping neighbors, it’s always a good idea to come loaded with goodies!

  • Chocolate
  • Graham crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Candy
  • Beef jerky
  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Popcorn
  • Trail mix
  • Cheez-it crackers
  • Granola (bars)
  • Cookies
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Crackers

Pro Tip – Look up the countless s’mores recipes found on Pinterest that’ll put the finishing touch on your awesome time in the wild.

Camping food list - s'mores

Pre-packed Meals

Some additional food items come in handy if you fall more on the lazy side of cooking. They either come dehydrated and only need hot water added or are ready to eat out right out of the box or package after heating. I love them, but some out there might scoff at their prices or options. Here’s a quick list –

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Mac n’ cheese
  • Meal kits
  • Instant potatoes
  • Canned chili
  • Canned stews
  • Pop-tarts
  • Powdered eggs

Drinks/Beverages

Got to stay hydrated right?! A large part of your edible inventory will be the liquid refreshments you bring along. The amount can vary wildly, depending on what you prefer. Coffee/tea drinkers might not worry about it as much as say heavy soda drinkers, but if you’re like me, it’s nice to have a range of thirst quenchers at your disposal.

Camping food list - drinks/beverages

Check the amenities at campsite beforehand for available clean drinking water, because if they don’t have it, you’ll need to bring a few 5 gallon jugs to last the trip. A few camping favorites –

  • Water
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Hot chocolate
  • Beer/Wine
  • Sports drinks
  • Sodas
  • Fizzy water
  • Energy drinks
  • Cider
  • Coconut water
  • Bottled juices

Coffee drinkers should invest in a travel coffee press if they need their morning fix. Don’t forget the rest; coffee filters, pre-ground beans, and a method to heat water like a Jetboil or Fire-Maple. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Pro Tip – A great weight and space saving option is powdered drink mix packets. The perfect option for limited cooler space!

3. Meal Planning and Preparation

If you can, try and do as much work up front before heading out the door. It’ll save you a lot of time and aggravation, particularly away from a resourceful kitchen. Once you’re out on your own, the little things become the big things.

Plan Your Meals

Once you’ve decided on the ingredients/foods you want to bring, create a list of meal ideas you can make from them. Break them up between breakfast/lunch/dinner and account for any doubling of items. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or highly detailed, but make sure your bases are covered.

Camping food list - meal planning

Don’t forget the snacks in between or the drinks either. I like to go a bit heavy on these, just in case. Meal ideas below –

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

  • Pancakes with berries
  • Breakfast burritos/tacos
  • Skillet scramble with bacon and veggies
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Hot oatmeal with apples and cinnamon
  • Chilaquiles
  • French toast
  • Italian sandwich
  • Chicken salad with fresh veggies
  • Tuna or turkey lunch wrap
  • Mac n cheese with cut up hot dogs
  • Sausage and peppers
  • Tamales
  • B.L.T.’s
  • Cheeseburgers with side salad
  • Tin foil meals
  • Chili with added veggies and bread on the side
  • Kabobs
  • One pot meals
  • Tortas
  • Chicken pesto pasta

There are so many recipes online that you can easily find something for everybody. Think about your favorite cuisines and choose something that sounds appetizing then look for a campfire/stove way to make it. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you’ll find something that works!

Pro Tip – Plan your meals around your activities, not the other way around. A complicated dinner after a 7 hour hike is not something you’ll look forward to!

Prep

Here’s when you do all the time consuming steps that you usually leave till dinner time. I’m talking about cutting up all the veggies, constructing your kabobs, mixing any special sauces, etc, now’s the time to do it.

You’ll have more space, more supplies to assist you and no weather elements to contend with. I’m telling you now, nothing’s more frustrating spreading out your camp kitchen and trying to work on a windy day. Lots of sad faces have been made this way.

Pre-measure

For any mixes you plan to do, measure out all of the ingredients and store them in separate bags/containers. This way when you’re ready to eat, you just grab and empty the bags into your mixing bowl, pot or on your griddle and you’re good to go!

Camping food list - pre-measure

Pre-freeze

Freeze any meats or other frozen friendly items, you plan to eat on the backend of your trip and use them as additional ice blocks inside your cooler. For example, if you know you’ll be eating steaks on night 2 or 3, freeze them overnight before your trip (in a freezer bag or other water tight container) and let them thaw naturally over the first few days. Once defrosted, throw ’em on the fire, fresh as ever!

Camping food list - pre-freeze

Pre-cook

There are some food items that are better cooked ahead of time like bacon or boiled eggs. When you want to make a B.L.T. or egg salad, busting out a frying pan or boiling water for one ingredient is usually not worth it.

Camping food list - pre-cook

Think about which things will be a pain in the butt out in the wild that you can bake, boil or fry now and do it. Store them in the proper containers so they travel well and everything will be right with the world!

Only Take What You Need

No need to take a life-sized bottle of pepper with you if are only going to be gone for a week-end. A great space saver is scaling down bulk ingredients into smaller, more easily managed containers. This goes for everything like sauces, condiments, seasons, etc. If you can find individually wrapped ingredients, even better!

4. Equipment and Utensils

Using your fingers to flip that burger is going to suck, so don’t forget all of the useful kitchen tools you’re going to need to get the job done. Start with these –

  • Camp stove with accessories (griddle/grill)
  • Pots and pans
  • Cutting knife
  • Cutting board
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Tongs
  • Can opener (if needed)
  • Bottle opener (same)
  • Pot holders
  • Coffee maker
  • Cups/plates/bowls
  • Knives/forks/spoons
Camping food list - equipment and utensils

Additional items

A few more things you might want to bring along –

  • Biodegrable soap
  • Paper towels
  • Sanitary wipes
  • Aluminum foil
  • Napkins
  • Table cloth
  • Dish rags
  • Trash bags

After you’ve done with each meal, use your biodegradable soap to clean all of your dishes and bag up any trash. Take note of any nearby dumpsters for disposal.

5. Packing and Storing

Even though you’re most likely using a vehicle for hauling all of your gear and supplies, space seems to fill up quickly. You’ll need to be strategic on how you port everything to the campgrounds.

Packing Your Cooler

When it comes time to filling your cooler, the more ice the better. A good ratio to use is 2:1, ice to everything else. Yep, twice as much ice. That might seem like overkill but keeping. your food from spoiling is worth it.

Camping food list - packing your cooler

Start with a layer of ice (frozen meats included) at the bottom. Then a layer of regular refrigerated foods, layer of ice and all your pre-cut stuff on top. Don’t put un-cut veggies or fruits directly on your ice if you can help it. Store them in food containers so the ice doesn’t ruin them.

Packing The Rest

I always suggest clear plastic storage bins that are at least 35 quarts in size. You can go bigger if you like, but lugging around a 40 or 50 pound box is hard on the back and knees, plus you don’t know how far your car is going to be from your camp kitchen.

Camping food list - plastic bins

Pack all of your dry food ingredients into 1 or 2 bins, separating them as you see fit, and pack the rest of your equipment/utensils in the other 1 or 2 bins. You can label them if you’d like, but I usually don’t because I can see what’s inside of them ahead of time.

Storing Your Food

The wilderness is full of sneaky animals just waiting for you to slip up and leave delicious grub out for them to find, so try to do your best to fend them off while you’re not looking. Some general tips –

  • Never leave food, trash or any other smelly things inside or near your tent
  • Never leave your food unattended. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks will quickly snatch up your food in broad daylight, while other larger animals like raccoons come hunting at night

During the Day

I know it’s a pain sometimes but if you can secure all of your food in your cooler or car when you’re not cooking or eating. Turning your back or walking away even for a minute will disappear your food fast. Even if you’re sitting nearby or visiting a bathroom or shower, keep everything covered or locked away at all times.

Camping food list - food storage

During the Night

Look for a nearby bear box or food locker to store your cooler and dry food bins inside while you rest your weary bones at night. Believe it or not, some crazy smart bears out there have figured ways to break into cars to get at the yummy goodness, so check with the park rangers/land managers and see what they recommend/allow.

Camping food list - food lockers

6. Respect for Nature and Sustainability

last, but not least, is to treat the backcountry like you treat your own backyard. Not only should you respect nature and everything within, but you should also keep your fellow campers in mind as well. They are spending their valuable time and money, just like you, so do what you can to keep the good times rollin’!

Leave No Trace

There are 7 main LNT principles that every camper should know about. I won’t list them all, but bottom line, leave your space how you found it. This means packing up all of your trash, respecting the local wildlife, campfire awareness, and maintaining the integrity of the beautiful landscape around you. In doing so, you ensure future guests will have as great of a time as you did! Don’t be a jerk!

Camping food list - leave no trace

Environmentally Conscious

I know it’s not possible for every single camper, but as best you can, avoid single-use plastics, disposable paper products like plates, cups or bowls, or any one-offs that are bad for the environment. Aim for recycled materials, metal or wooden utensils, cloth napkins and reusable dish ware. Every little bit helps!

Camping food list - environmentally conscious

Final Thoughts

Camping is freakin’ rad and a wonderful way to reconnect with friends, family, and nature. Eating is equally amazing so when you mash the two together, what do you get? A good time, that’s what.

As long as you understand your needs, bring the right foods and equipment, store everything properly, and leave everything the way you found it, you’re going to set yourself up for a memorable and enjoyable experience. Remember, preparation is key! Do everything you can at home so you can spend the maximum amount of time soaking it all in.

Good luck on your next adventure and happy camping!

P.S. – Don’t forget your downloadable checklist!

Author

  • James Ryan

    A seasoned hiker and adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. An extrovert and creative at heart, James is most definitely a "People Person". He started this blog in the hopes of making somebody's day just a bit brighter!

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