When done right, camping meals can deliver some of the most amazing food you've ever eaten. In this article, I take a close look at the best food to take camping, outlining everything you need to know about creating the perfect fast, nutritious meal.
Now, I love camping, and I've lived more or less on the road for the last decade. I've had plenty of chances to fine-tune my camping pantry, and nowadays you will find it stocked with a variety of long-life and non-perishable items.
Below are 12 of my must-have camping food essentials, followed by some tips for snacks, meal planning, and camping food prep.
12 Must-Have Staples For Your Camp Kitchen
Although it's basic, bread is a staple that I nearly always carry with me. It's super versatile, and you can dip it in soups and stews, slather it with your favourite spread or sauce for a quick snack, or make sandwiches or toast for a light meal.
If I'm a little low on space - like when I'm hiking or backpacking - I like to substitute bread for flatbreads or naan.
Potatoes would have to be the most versatile vegetable out there. They are nutritious, full of carbs to fuel your day of activities, and can be cooked in numerous ways. For example, I love to throw a few slices of taties on the BBQ in the morning with bacon, eggs, and whatever else I have handy for a tasty brekky.
They are also great grated and turned into fried potato cakes, boiled and mashed as a side to your lunch or dinner, or added to stews and soups to make them heartier. You can even wrap them in foil and cook them in the coals for a nice smokey baked potato!
Just remember, keep your potatoes out of direct sunlight so they don't turn green.
Although I'm not a rice lover, I've found that it's always useful to have a bag of rice handy. It takes next to no time to cook a pot of rice on a camp cooker or you can throw a handful into a soup or stew to add some bulk.
When I do go with rice, I like to mix it with some simple fried veggies or a jar of sauce or stew, depending on what I have handy.
Like rice, pasta is a versatile food that you can eat with almost anything. Combine spaghetti, ground beef, and a jar of sauce to make a quick spaghetti bolognese, or mix your favourite pasta with pesto and cheese for a super tasty, quick meal - this is one of my all-time favourite camping foods!
Having a few bags of muesli and other cereal on hand provides you with a simple breakfast option that requires little effort. You don't have to eat cereal every morning, but it's a great choice if you're too tired to cook, want to get on the road fast, or are experiencing bad weather and just want to stay inside.
Pro tip: Pack a little zip-lock bag or jar of raw or white sugar to sprinkle on your cereal.
Powdered milk is lightweight and nutrient-dense, and it's a great option for hiking and backpacking. Mix it with water as required and use it on your cereal, in your hot drinks, and to make things like white sauce for your meals.
If you have a bit of space, you might like to use long-life milk instead.
Eggs are fragile - as I'm sure you're well aware - so you do have to be careful of them if you take them camping. But they're a versatile, nutritious food that can be turned into a healthy omelette, scrambled eggs, or even just a fried egg on toast for a healthy brekky.
I often use eggs when I'm cooking a cake or other dessert in my camp oven.
Tinned meals are a godsend when you're camping. Things like canned tuna, canned chicken, baked beans, and tinned fruit provide ready-made meals that you can eat whenever needed. And if you're feeling a little fancier, you can go for something like chicken soup or beef stew.
Sauces may become a bit of a luxury when you're hiking or backpacking, but they're extremely useful on your average camping trip.
I never leave home without my basket of sauces, which includes everything from simple barbeque sauce and tomato sauce to things like Worcestershire sauce and black bean sauce. I also like to carry pre-made pasta sauces and other sauce mixes for convenience.
Okay, peanut butter isn't the most versatile food on my list, but you'll never starve if you have it. I enjoy a little PB and honey with butter on toast in the morning, and it makes a great snack with crackers or rice cakes.
Dry crackers are one non-perishable that I always carry. They are super versatile, and you can combine them with everything from dip and cheese to simple spreads for a quick snack. And I have to admit, I regularly find myself eating crackers with saucy meals when I run out of bread.
I've tried to focus on keeping things healthy here, but I never head off on a camping trip without at least a few packs of 2-minute noodles. Like most dry foods, they last for ages, and they provide a filling - if a little unhealthy - meal within minutes.
Choosing The Right Camping Snacks
One of the keys to a fun, successful camping adventure is choosing the right snacks. If you have a camping fridge handy, you will be able to have things like fresh fruit, yogurt, and cheese on hand for when you're feeling peckish. But if you don't, snacks can become a little more difficult.
If you've kept up with my other articles, you'll know that I'm a major foodie! That said, I reckon I've pretty much mastered camping snacks.
For starters, I always go for light, energy-dense snacks that are going to fill me up. I like things that don't take too much time to prepare, as I usually like to keep moving during the day - unless I’m stopping for an actual meal.
Things like jerky, dried fruit, and muesli bars are excellent. Peanut butter on crackers is a favourite of mine, and I'm also a big fan of healthy tortilla chips dipped in hummus.
I'd suggest avoiding unhealthy snacks like potato chips or lollies. While they may give you a quick sugar rush and a burst of energy, they will leave you feeling drained and tired in no time - not great if you want to get the most out of your camping trip!
Now, if you're camping with kids, things get a little bit more complicated. For one, kids always seem to want a snack. I'd suggest keeping a snack basket or esky handy and keeping it stocked with plenty of variety to ensure your children remain satisfied.
Meal Planning For Your Next Camping Adventure
One thing I've always found difficult when I head off on a camping trip is meal planning. Should you just take a load of versatile staples and make up meals on the go? Or should you put together a more comprehensive meal plan before you leave?
The answer is - surprise surprise - it depends!
The first thing you need to think about is your cooking method.
- Do you have a camp oven?
- Are you cooking over a fire, or on a small camping stove?
- Will you have access to a BBQ?
- Or perhaps, do you want meals that don't require any cooking?
The latter probably requires the most planning, as you will have to purchase quite specific foods. You may also like to plan one or two meals per day to ensure you have what you need for, say, dinner, and leave the other meals a little more flexible.
Personally, I like to plan any special meals I'm going to eat and then throw in some staples that I know I can turn into a few different things.
One thing I want to highlight here is that it's not a big deal if you take too much food, especially if it's non-perishable.
My Top 5 Tips For Camping Food Prep
Here's a little advice to help you get the most out of your camping adventure.
1. Keep Your Food Safe!
If you're camping anywhere with possums, birds, or even kangaroos, I'd suggest spending some time ensuring your food is secure. Possums are notorious for getting into bags or containers of food and spreading it everywhere, so make sure you use airtight containers so they can't smell it.
2. Don't Get Too Fancy
I shouldn't really say this, as I'm a sucker for cooking fancy meals on the road, but I'd suggest staying away from anything too difficult unless you're an accomplished camp chef. It's pretty easy for things to go wrong, and there's nothing worse than having a load of hungry campers on your back while you're trying to figure out what to feed them.
3. Prep At Home For Short Trips
If you're only going camping for a day or two, I'd highly recommend doing your food prep at home. Slice any veggies or meat that you're going to cook with, and pre-measure ingredients so that everything's ready to go.
Trust me, it's a pretty good feeling to set up camp and know that dinner is going to be a breeze!
4. Use A Camp Kitchen
Camp kitchens are excellent. It took me a while to get one, but I haven't looked back since I did. Most come with things like a built-in sink and utensil hooks that help keep your workspace clean and hygienic.
5. Be Careful With Perishable Food
If you don't have a camping fridge or freezer, you will need to be careful what perishable foods you take. Things like fresh veggies and fruit will last for a few days in average conditions, but any meat should be eaten the same day unless you can keep it cold.
Using an esky with ice is an okay option to keep things cold on shorter trips, but I find that the ice always melts quicker than I expect and leaves my food soggy and floating in cold water.
I've listed 12 of my favourite camping staples, but don't let my list confine you. Think carefully about which staples are best suited to your style of cooking, and pack your camping pantry accordingly.
Don't forget the salt & pepper, and above all, enjoy the cooking experience!
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.