Cooking while camping doesn’t have to be a chore! Cooking in the wilderness requires some creativity and improvising, which can be super fun or terribly intimidating. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy cooking, there are some easy ways in which you can feed yourself on your next camping trip with little effort. In this post, we’ll discuss how to plan your meals, cook in the wild and share some camping hacks that will make cooking and cleanup much easier.
Cooking While Backpacking
Cooking looks a lot different if you are car camping or backpacking. First, let’s talk about backpacking. Dehydrated meals are the way to go, trust us on this one. They are super lightweight and take up almost no room in your pack. There are a ton of variety and flavors out there, and most of them are delicious and nutritious. They are also incredibly easy to prepare, meaning you won’t have to worry about making an elaborate meal after a long day of hiking. The one key ingredient you’ll need is hot water, which means you’ll also need to bring a portable stove. JetBoil stoves are super lightweight, reliable, quick and easy to use.
Bringing along a portable water filter will also make your life easier - this means you will have to carry less water in your pack, but it also means that you will need to choose a hike with access to a water source. MSR makes a small and reliable water filter that’s perfect for a backpacking trip!
Lastly, you’ll need a mess kit, or a lightweight bowl and spork. In addition to dehydrated meals, you should bring some of your favorite snacks. Choose snacks that can be put in baggies and won’t break, this will free up a lot of room in your pack. Having your favorite treat after a long day of hiking is a very important requirement in our minds.
Cooking While Car Camping
Cooking while car camping allows much more room for creativity since you don’t have to worry about packing all of your belongings inside a backpack. The bare essentials for cooking while car camping are:
- Pot and frying pan
- Spatula, tongs, wooden spoon, etc.
- Knife and cutting board
- Mess Kit (plate, bowl, spork)
- French press (or percolator)
- Bottle/can opener
- Cooler (with ice)
- Dish soap (biodegradable) & sponge
- Trash bags
- A few kitchen towels for cleaning up
- Wash bin (for washing dirty dishes)
- Ziplock bags (for storing leftovers)
- Enough water for your entire trip
We put together a complete car camping packing list, which has a list of all kitchen essentials you should bring with you. Make sure to download and print off the PDF, this will make packing for your trip a breeze! Remember, the best part about car camping is that you are only limited to what can fit in your car, so feel free to add to this list.
If you are camping at an established site, you will likely have access to a picnic table. If you are dispersed camping, we suggest bringing a folding table. You could go without a table, but cooking on the ground can be tricky and uncomfortable.
Bringing a reliable cooler makes a huge difference, especially in the middle of the summer heat. Yeti makes the most reliable coolers out there that can keep your food cold for almost a week! If you don’t want to shell out a ton of money on a cooler, we rent them for a very reasonable rate.
Planning Your Meals
Regardless of what type of camping you are doing, it’s important to plan out your meals a few days in advance. You don’t want to just throw a bunch of food in a bag and hope it lasts. If you are camping with a group, planning your meals together is a great idea and also helps split the burden of cooking. There are hundreds of recipes out there specifically geared towards camping, so it’s worth checking out a few blogs out there to get some inspiration for what meals you will want to eat. Check out our 3 Easy Camping Breakfasts blog post for some inspiration.
Storing Your Food
Storing your food properly while camping is very important both for your safety and the wellbeing of wildlife. If you leave your food out all day, it will attract unwanted animals to your campsite, some of which can be pretty dangerous. When you aren’t preparing food, it should be kept inside your car or in a bear proof container, far away from your tent. This helps keep the scent of the food mostly contained meaning critters will be less likely to come through your campsite. Don’t bring food in your tent at night - the small piece of nylon that separates you from the outdoors means nothing to a hungry animal. If an animal does smell your food, it will be far away from your tent. When disposing of food, put it in the trash and always put your garbage in a dumpster or inside your car each evening to deter unwanted visitors.
Tips and Tricks for Easy Cooking and Cleanup
Make your grocery list in advance. Take the time to plan out what you want to eat for each meal and list out all of the ingredients you will need, no matter how small they may seem. We can tell you from experience that “winging it” in the grocery store almost guarantees you will forget something important. Nobody wants a hamburger without a bun!
Do some meal prep at home. We usually prepare a few quick meals at home that we can just reheat while camping, which are easy to prepare after an exhausting day. This also allows you to prepare something you really enjoy eating.
Wipe dishes clean when you can. Part of camping entails roughing it, so if your plate isn’t that dirty after a meal just wipe it clean with a kitchen towel. This saves time, effort and water.
Save the dirtiest dishes for last. The easiest way to wash dirty dishes is by having two dish tubs: one with hot soapy water for scrubbing and another filled with clean water for rinsing. If you take that greasy pan you just used to fry bacon and wash it first, your clean soapy water will instantly turn gross and greasy. Start with plates and utensils that just need a quick rinse, and save the dirtiest for last. Make sure to dispose of your dirty water properly, read our post about leaving no trace for more information.
Keep the cooler in the shade. This will help your ice last just a little bit longer. Once a day, make sure to drain the water from the cooler. This will help keep your food a bit cooler. Instead of simply tossing the water out, use it to wash your dishes!
Save leftovers for when you have the munchies. Bring along a few Tupperware containers and/or ziplock baggies to store leftovers. Cold pasta on a hot afternoon is more delicious than you think!
Cook food over the campfire when you can. Unless there’s a fire ban in place, you’ll probably be making a campfire anyways so why not kill two birds with one stone and cook some food over it! Pop some hot dogs on a stick and roast them over the fire, make some jiffy pop, boil water, roast veggies in a foil packet… the list goes on and on!
Finally, be patient and resourceful. You won’t be preparing meals in a complete kitchen, so think creatively when you come across a problem. You will find that preparing a meal will take a little longer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious meal. If you set up your cooking area in a spot with an awesome view, making meals will be just a little more enjoyable.
What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for easy cooking and cleanup? Share them with us in a comment below! Happy camping!