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When you are planning your camping trip, especially if you are bringing along the entire family, planning out your meals may seem like a daunting task. All that food, all those coolers full of ice, and all the prep work are an overwhelming force for many who do not camp often. Although, it does not have to be that complicated or difficult. In fact, it can be a fun task that you can get everyone involved in early on.
You can have older children plan a lunch and explain to them the constraints of not having a way to keep things cold for long periods. Also, let them know they will be in charge of dishes and just see how creative they can be!
For all your other meals, here are some ideas for the best non-perishable food for camping, some of which you may not have thought of yet. We made sure to cover all the food groups, so you can plan a healthy diet for multiple days out in the woods. Fending for yourself is easy, and anyone can do it.
What food should I bring for camping or hiking?
Now, once you start thinking of ways around refrigeration and maybe even are thinking lightweight, if it’s a hike-in only campground, for example, then you may already be thinking canned food is the way to go. This is not the only route, and there are plenty of other forms of food that are lighter and just as nutritious.
Here is a great starter list for your camping grocery list. If you are looking for some fresh ideas, then we try to cover each food group as thoroughly as possible. You will have plenty of excellent meal ideas after taking a peek at our list.
Camping and Hiking Foods Without Refrigeration
There are many types of food that can last for at least a few days without refrigeration, but few can beat the simplicity and elegance of dehydrated foods. There are entire meals made by companies like Mountain House that are specialized for an outdoorsman to use as a food replacement for many days while out on an excursion.
These are some of our favorite types of non-perishable food items, and they last for years without needing any sort of refrigeration. Just keep an eye out, because many of the pre-made meals require extra water to reconstitute and that can be a precious commodity in some scenarios.
Besides these, there are your typical MREs and also the aforementioned canned food options. Here are some other ideas for covering you and your family’s basic nutrition for a few days away from civilization.
The Best Non-Perishable Foods to Bring on any Outdoor Activities
As we mentioned, here is a list of foods you can use to pick from when trying to cover a full and nutritious diet for you and your family without the need for a cooler, ice, or any of those other headache-inducing type objects.
Fruits and vegetables
For your fruits and veggies, you can go fresh and use a few options if the trip is only going to be a couple of days. Options like apples, oranges, mangos, carrots, and even melons like cantaloupe or watermelon are all excellent choices that keep on their own for at least a few days with no need to cool them and you can serve them at room temperature without batting an eye.
It is classic options like this that many people overlook because they overthink things too much. Keep it simple and stick as close to your normal diet as you can to avoid any sort of issues. This ensures a consistent intake of nutrients and vital fibers, fats, and carbs. All of which are critical for your survival as you are expending energy.
Now, if the trip is going to be longer, or maybe you will backpack for long hikes during your trip, then you simply pack some dehydrated fruit. There are some phenomenal options in this department and you can even make your own for really cheap. All you need is a dehydrator, and they run relatively inexpensive, then you can create all sorts of this type of food at home on your own.
There are banana chips, dried mango slices, and many others that you can pick from to fulfill your family’s fruit and veggie intake during your camping trip. Then, for those big around the fire meals where everyone eats together, you can use options like canned veggies for your side dish. These can be corn, peas, green beans, or many other veggie options and last for extended periods with no need to cool them off.
Now, for meat options, your menu is wider than you may think. Of course, you have the regulars like Spam, Vienna Sausages, and even tuna or salmon that have been canned and can be kept with no refrigeration. So, you can make sandwiches, have them with crackers, eat out of the can in a pinch, or with Spam, you can slice some off and fry it up for a breakfast treat. The sausages are versatile as well and can be used in a variety of dishes or on their own equally well.
Then, you have other options like summer sausage, beef jerky, or turkey jerky. All of which make a meal on their own and are something you can easily access and distribute while on out on the trail. Plus, it’s nice to have something to chew on as you hike along for long distances and you get the added benefit of having the extra salt intake into your system as you sweat out precious electrolytes.
Also, there are smoked meats and other preserved meats you can capitalize on because they will last for long periods without needing to be cooled beyond room temperature. These are perfect for the outdoors, but just make sure you know their limitations. Some smoked fish will only last a handful of days with no refrigeration in some climates, so just be informed and stay safe.
Finally, there are those outdoorsman proficient enough in their skills that they can catch fish or small game legally while out in the woods and eat off of that as a substitute for fresh meat. This can be an enormous morale boost as well during long trips or extended camping trips, but do not count on it if you’re not a regular at that sport or craft.
You can use any combination of these ingredients in a wide array of menu options, some of which we will touch on when we get to the other ingredients, since meats are in pretty much everything and every meal from breakfast to dinner.
Grains are an important source of all the important nutrients you need to survive, and there are some staples that all hikers and outdoorsmen know well. These start with oats of differing varieties, and they are in everything from oatmeal and grits to energy bars. They are a lightweight and easy to pack option for many meal choices. This makes them a great trail treat, just a little water, and your tin coffee cup is all you need to have a great, hot breakfast in the morning during a strenuous journey or just a regular camping trip.
Next, you have your rice. This is such a versatile meal option that we gave it an independent mention. You can make a stir-fry or have as a side with nearly any meat option or heat them up together for a great camp stove bake dish. Rice is such a staple of outdoorsman that I know many woodsmen who buy it in 50 lb. bags or larger quantities just to have around all the time and ready in case of emergency.
Then there is bread. A staple of many of our dietary needs that most of us eat daily, and that does not have to change. Bread keeps for many days as long as it’s sealed up in a bag or container of some sort, so there is no refrigeration required to pack a loaf or two of bread for your trip. They can be used to make sandwiches as a side with dinner, or toasted up for a great breakfast addition. So, bread can be used for any meal and is a substantial source of carbs, and will help you maintain energy levels consistently over long periods outdoors.
Pasta is another excellent source of grains in your diet when you are looking for the best non-perishable foods for camping. You just need a little extra water and something to boil it in, and you are all set to make a huge range of meals. Some classics include campfire mac’n’cheese and goulash, but there is an endless number of others.
Finally, you can get your grain intake taken care of out in the woods simply by packing some whole wheat crackers of some sort. Many hikers and backpackers carry a bag of Triscuit crackers with them on their expeditions, but there are many options in this department and what crackers you carry may depend on what else you plan on eating with them. Maybe you have some smoked salmon or tuna, in which case you would want a thin dense cracker instead of the light airy cracker you might want with some cheese complimenting it.
When it comes to dairy products out in the woods, sometimes it pays to be a bit creative. If it’s only a day or two outings, then you can have all kinds of cheeses and yogurts in your food stock that will carry just fine. If it is going to be a longer trip, you got to start thinking outside the box.
For example, there are evaporated, powdered, and condensed milk options that come in either a can or in a powder form. Most of which can be used in combination with some clean water to substitute for regular milk in any recipe you can think of. You can even use them with cereal in this way, and some dry cereal is always a significant addition to any camp grocery list.
There are even ways to bake using these alternative substitutes or others like powdered eggs. In a pinch, you can even make scrambled eggs for breakfast using powdered eggs and water or condensed milk, and if you know how to do it, then you are a true camp chef.
Being creative is key here, and you would be surprised how well some recipes turn out if you just have the courage to try them out. You can even try things out at home and see how well you can perfect your favorite camp meals using only materials that you would have available in the woods.
Also, nut butter makes a great alternative to regular butter in many dishes, you just have to find the right one for that meal. Everyone thinks only of peanut butter, but there are many others out there with a vast range of textures and flavors to fulfill the needs of a lot of different foods.
Finally, you have the very versatile and robust food of cheese. Softer cheeses like cream cheese or brie will spoil the quickest and harder cheeses like cheddar will last the longest without any need to cool it off. Cheese can be used on nearly any dish to add on and make it better or you can eat it as a snack all by itself in raw form. That is a handy feature about cheese, plus the fact that it can last for many days without refrigeration and still be perfectly edible. So you can eat it on the go while out on the trail, or add it to your next campfire chili dish, and either way it is a marvelous addition to your dietary needs. Cheese is full of good fats that keep you full of energy over long periods of time.
Altogether, you have some wonderful options for your dairy intake while out in the woods camping with your family or by yourself. If you are resourceful and creative, then you can come up with all kinds of amazing meal choices for you and your family to feast on during your next excursion.
If you have a garden at home, maybe you should try your hand at canning some of your harvest for later consumption. It preserves foods for a long time and gives them extended stability for their shelf life. It extends the reach of your fresh fruits, veggies, berries, and other goodies and makes them viable options for your next camping trip or outing.
However, those are not the only type of canned food. Let’s face it, there are a ton of mass-produced canned food factories around the nation that turn millions of tons of food into long term stored produce and other plant foods.
That is not even the end of the reach of canned goods, though, because you also have all your canned meats. Everything from tuna and anchovies to chicken and pork products is put into cans to be kept for long periods of time or make it long distances from its source in the world. All of which make great camp foods for you and your family’s protein and fat intake to ensure a balanced diet that is wholesome and nutritious.
Cans are easy to pack and always top choices for food when out camping or just in the woods in general. They last through thick and thin because their shell is so robust and can take a serious beating but still stay standing strong. This is a marvelous feature of this type of camp food that everyone should take full advantage of in their meal planning.
There are even complete meals wrapped up nicely inside one can that all you need to do is heat it up to the desired temperature and then feast away. There are the typical pork and beans or chili in a can options, but then there are the lesser-known or thought of options like canned spaghetti or ravioli. These canned meals are ones that your kids will love and will fill all your stomachs up well for a couple of hours with little to no fuss in preparation.
Just toss the can on, in, or near the coals, and your good to go. Let is sit there heating with a mall hole poked in it to let the pressure out in most cases, and once it is heated nice and thoroughly, you simply pop out the can opener and pour out the yummy goodness that that can contained.
All of these are stupendous canned good ideas for your next camping trip’s grocery list. Just keep in mind your family’s taste preferences and stick to foods they know and love if possible. Introduce new foods here and there, but do not make every single meal a “try it and see” kind of meal because your family may not eat much of multiple meals, and then they are hungry. Hungry people get grumpy and complain a lot, so just plan your meals wisely and you will do just fine.
There are many outdoor enthusiasts who have perfected their own flavor of trail mix. It is probably the quintessential outdoor snack for campers, hikers, and all others who enjoy some time in the great outdoors. However, it is not the only snack option you have to choose from.
There are other choices as well. For example, you can bring with you some energy bites. These are just small, balled up, dough-like, bite-sized snacks that contain mostly a nut butter holding together some oats and maybe a little honey to sweeten it up a little bit. These are exceptional, and kids will love preparing them with you leading up to your trip. Then they will have the added enjoyment when they go to eat them of having had a hand in making them. Everything just seems to taste a little bit better when you have some skin in the game and had a hand in the food being cooked or prepared.
You also have your typical energy bars like those made by PowerBar, Luna, Cliff, and others as well. These all make phenomenal snack options, either on the trail or in the campsite. These companies have capitalized on the outdoor market and they have made some excellent products that are packed with all the essential nutrients a body needs to maintain energy levels.
How to Pack Non-Perishable Food Camping and Hiking Foods
When you go to pack your foods, just keep in mind the packaging that they are in. For example, you wouldn’t place a bag of oranges in the same place as you would a stack of big heavy cans, now would you?
Just use some common sense and do not worry about the cooler with any of these foods. They all keep well for many days, but some last longer than others. So, make sure you are also well informed about the foods you will take with you and know the signs of an issue with the food before anyone consumes it. That is the biggie. Knowing when food is good or not is an exceptional skill to have and hone, but doing so while on a week-long trip to the backwoods is not a great idea.
Stick to your gut and just pack food away from where it will not get poked, torn, or otherwise damaged or squished and you will do just fine in your packing of these food items. Also, many of these can be packaged up for individual meals and used while hiking or backpacking to some hike-in-only lake or campground.
With a little creativity, planning, and knowledge, you can easily plan your camping trip meals without needing to pack along a heavy cooler full of food that needs to be eaten right away, or it goes bad. That is not a way to start a camping trip off, so planning and packing these kinds of foods will always help you out.
It will keep you packing lighter and getting the kids involved in the entire process is great. IT builds up the suspense of the trip for them and also gets them invested in many aspects of the outing. That is great for your kiddo’s confidence and self-esteem with the added bonus of the time you get to spend with them making memories to last you both forever. That is the actual point of it all, after all, so why not make the most of it all and milk it for all its worth? This is especially effective when kids are younger and more impressionable because they will place as much importance on your trip as you instill the excitement within them about it.
When it’s all said and done, you will have spent many wonderful hours with your family or just by yourself out in the woods. You get to reconnect with nature and center yourself a bit. It all comes into perspective a bit while sitting around a campfire. So, get out there and enjoy some superb meals without your heavy cooler in the mix.
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