There are so many great meals that you can make while camping while not using a lot of different pots and pans or complicated ingredients. Before we get into specific meals, let’s go over a few campfire meal basics that will make your life easier when out in the bush.
Car Camping Versus Backpack Camping Meals
If you can just drive to a campsite you don’t have to worry about the weight of ingredients or pots and pans. You can also have ingredients that require refrigeration because you can haul in coolers.
For short backpacking camping trips, you can take frozen meat with you to use that night. While you need to be careful and make sure meat juices don’t leak on other items, frozen meat placed carefully and safely can help you keep some drinks or other items cool. This is a great way to plan and eat well on those one night out trips that a lot of people do on the weekends!
One pot simplicity can make life easier.
A lot of great camping meals are achieved in a single pot. You may have to be careful about the order in which you add ingredients but you can do a lot of great meals in a single pot.
Mess kits vary in size but you can always leave part of it at home. This is one reason why you might want to get a larger kit designed for family use even if it is just you or you and your partner or spouse. There are times that you will want the larger pots and pans to cook with.
Have the right size mess kit.
Sometimes Matt and I go pretty light with the cookware and mess kit gear when camping. With it just being the two of us we don’t need much. We also pack a lot of items that you can just open and eat and we keep our meals simple enough to use just a single pot a lot of the time.
If you are cooking for a lot of people at a base camp, you may be able to have some great cast iron cookware but if you are actually backpacking somewhere you will want a lightweight yet large enough mess kit to handle your group size. Matt and I have found some excellent family sized mess kits at Wal-Mart for under $30 with tax that have larger pots with handles. I think I could cook for 8 people no problem with these styles of kits. The thickness of your pots matters because it affects cooking time and if food sticks a lot.
Cooking with a mess kit is far different than cooking with nice pots and pans in your kitchen. The thin metal in a mess kit doesn’t cook evenly a lot of the time. If you just need one or two big pots to cook in most, and you have a group with room for a little extra weight, you may consider taking a few heavier bottom stainless steel pots to cook in. If you have any lightweight yet quality cookware suggestions, please share in the comments section.
The type of stove or fire you can achieve matters more than you might think.
There is a big difference between just boiling some mix and water for a specified time and actually scratch cooking out in the bush. A two-burner Coleman stove allows you to cook two different foods quickly. A good fire for cooking can take some time to get right and achieving a good cooking temperature without scorching food takes paying attention and practice.
Powdered or real eggs depending on your situation combined with a pack of tortillas and some cheese sauce or cheese and you have a great breakfast burrito.
These can be made a ton of different ways. They even sell jugs of pancake mix that you just add water to and then pour onto a griddle or frying pan to cook. While that may seem a bit wasteful for everyday use, it sure makes it easy to fix a pancake breakfast when camping. The jug can just be thrown away or rinsed out and recycled when you pack it out.
Matt does this recipe when we want a good meal in the vineyard or out camping. Paella sounds fancy but it is important that you realize that paella is just common food using whatever you have on hand. Normally paella includes several types of meat. While I realize keeping things cold may be hard, we usually plan this meal as a first meal and have all the ingredients cut up and in a cooler. You can also use canned meats or fish you catch!
We call our version Mountain Paella because we use trout and crayfish instead of seafood. This is a local version of the Spanish classic. We often add in some local sausage as well.
- Yellow Rice
- Bay Leaf
- Smoked Paprika
What would camping be without chili? Dried beans, dried tomato sauce, chili powder, and a few other choice ingredients allow you to create a customized pot of chili that will fill bellies and stick with you on a long day in the bush.
Chili is a good recipe because it is very versatile. You an make vegetarian or vegan chili just as easily as meat-based chili for example so if you have a group with many different dietary needs or restrictions then chili may be the answer to the question of what to feed everyone. If you are not really roughing it that much, you can make sure to put out some add-in items for people to customize their meal and level of spice.
Rice, a creamy sauce base, and dried mushrooms will make for a hearty and filling risotto that can feel like a main course. Team it up with a slice of ham or similar for a full meal that satisfies various cravings.
Buy base Mixes and add things
There are a lot of different pasta and soup mixes at the grocery store that you can add things to if you want to make them tastier and filling. These mixes tend to be a bit salty so adding other things can be a good way to reduce the overall sodium content per serving.
I find that the soup mixes are also good for inspiring me to cook some other soups rather than the same old soup recipes repeated all the time.
Create your own mixes and keep in a Zip Loc or jar.
Before your camping trip, you can use Zip locs or vacuum seal bags to create your own dried soup, stew, or other meal bases. Cream of mushroom soup could be achieved by mixing together dried mushrooms, dried milk products, dried mashed potatoes, herbs, and spices. All you would really need to do is add water to a pot along with your dry mix and simmer until everything is tender and the flavor is blended.
It may take a few tries to get your recipe exactly how you want it and you may want to have some extra spices on hand no matter what but you can see the potential for a lot of good quick recipes with little to no prep when camping out.
Brands For Those On Specialized Diets
Valley Food Storage is great for those that are on specialized diets because you can get different foods and create your own combinations. I have to avoid uncultured dairy products and wheat which makes it difficult sometimes when it comes to prepackaged emergency foods.
For those on specialized diets, you are probably going to save money by purchasing a variety of basic easy to fix foods that can be easily combined to make a ton of different dishes. This allows you a lot of versatility and it is really not that inconvenient. Consider that you can make low sodium chili using a few cans of chili beans and some canned tomatoes and chilis. I do this at home when we want a fast meal. It sure beats cooking beans all day or paying the cost of using 4 cans of premade canned chili that is probably going to taste too salty for me anyway.
Stews and Soups
I am going to list some ingredients that can be mixed and matched to make a variety of soups and stews for camping and feeding a crowd.
- Canned ham, chicken, or beef
- Dried Vegetables
- Dry Broth
- Dry Sauce Mixes
- Powdered milk
- Dried Cheese
- Dried Tomato Powder
If you are out on a trip where you might be able to catch something to supplement your meal. When Matt and I are out camping we really like to catch our own fish and fry that up and have with whatever we have packed in. It is hard to beat fresh trout and it is not something we get to eat all the time,
Premade Freeze Dried Meals or MRE’s (Meals Ready To Eat)
I know that it is expensive sometimes to buy the freeze-dried meals and mixes but if you are just getting out in the bush once in a while and want to keep it simple, freeze-dried is the way to go. You can prepare a really good meal with just a single pot in many cases and just a little bit of water.
The problem with a lot of premixed and put together meals is that they are not okay for a lot of those that are on special diets or have food allergies.
MREs are something we have experimented with here lately. My first impression is that they are too processed for me to want to eat them with any regularity. On the other hand, they at least have enough calories to keep you on your feet and not feeling weak or shaky. Over time you probably get used to eating them and there is a huge difference in the quality and calorie count in the civilian market MRE and the Warfighter military use ones. Check out the review Matt and I did for more information on the major differences so you can make a better choice on how to spend your emergency food dollars.
Dried Quick Fix Beans
I like to buy the dried refried pinto beans and black beans from Frontier Coop. They are inexpensive and very high quality. You can take tortillas with you and some dried beans and beef and have very good burritos. Cheese and other accompaniments will make it even better if you have space in your pack or are camping where weight is not an issue.
Heat and Serve Pouch Options
Matt and I have recently discovered the variety of foods available in pouches. You can combine them to make all kinds of dishes. While this may not be the most practical for a large group, if it is just two people or even a family of 4 that is camping for a night or two, you might consider seeing what is available at your local grocery store. In my experience, a lot of these options are more reasonably priced via Wal-Mart or Amazon
I am including conventional options as well as a few brands you may not have heard of. Like any preprepared meal options, a lot of these are fairly high in salt. One way to reduce overall salt in your meal is to combine pouches of rice with some entrees. That will not go with everything but it is one option. If you are walking and sweating a lot then some extra salt might not make as much of a difference as it normally would.
While these meal pouches are labeled for microwave use, you can throw them in hot water for a minute and then eat them right from the pouch rather than dirtying extra bowls and cookware. On a sunny day you could just lay them in the direct sun for a few and then eat. Consider how fast a bottle of water heats up when left in the sun!
Campbell’s Ready Meals, Pace Ready Meals, Prego Ready Meals, and Tasty Bites are all brands of meal pouches that can be fixed in a microwave in 60 seconds. If I was eating these on the trail, I would either eat them cold or throw the pouches in some recently boiled water for a few minutes to warm them up. On a sunny day, you could probably just throw these on a rock and let them warm up for 10-20 minutes.
Pace is a good option for those that need to avoid gluten and uncultured dairy products. All of these meals are Tex-Mex style. For additional heartiness, you could get some tortillas and a few extras like salsa or a bit of cheese and make these into a taco meal with ease.
For those that want a vegetarian option, the Tasty Bites Indian food inspired entrees are worth looking at. You have a lot of options to choose from and they can be paired with rice for an even more complete meal.
Here is a link with more info and where to buy Ready Meals. You can find them on Amazon, Wal-Mart.com, and a lot of grocery stores. The best price I found was Wal-Mart online.
There are a lot of sweet things you can take on camping trips or prepare with ease. Smores are a classic camping dessert since all you need are graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.
When Matt was a teenager he worked at a summer camp. One of the recipes for something sweet to snack on was to take creamy peanut butter, honey, and powdered milk and blend it all together into a delicious goo that could be consumed by cutting a slit in the Zip Loc bag that it was mixed in. After you are done eating you can toss the bag and have no mess. You can use yogurt or buttermilk powder too and get a good result. I want to try it with cream cheese powder too.
There are also some peanut butters that have chocolate in them such as Peanut Butter and Co White Chocolate Wonderful or Dark Chocolate. That is some of my favorite peanut butter to buy for a treat!
You want to make sure to plan out beverages for your meals too. While you can survive with just water, it is a lot more pleasant to have something to add some flavor, caffeine, etc.
Plan for your water needs now!
Always take a water filter with you even if you have a bunch of water containers already filled. It is better to be safe than sorry. Also, consider where the water points are in the area you are camping or hiking.
If you have to haul water very far then it is better to know that sooner so you can take the right containers. For a group, I would advise bringing a water filter that is fast and gravity fed so no one is stuck pumping water for a lot of the trip.
Instant tea, coffee, or sports drinks
I have never been a big fan of instant coffee or tea but it can be okay when camping. Sports drink powders or Emergen-C make a lot more sense than bottled drinks do.
Regular coffee and tea
For when you are sitting around a fire, it is good to have some coffee and a french press or percolator. Tea bags don’t take up a lot of space and you can even use them to make sun tea if desired.
Liquor or even boxed wine is best if you want something with alcohol and not a lot of weight.
While fishing and beer are great, beer weighs a lot. If you are car camping then this might not be a big deal but if you have to hike in or if you are going to be out for many days on a trip, you are better off packing liquor. I am not much of a liquor drinker now but when Matt and I were in college and backpacking and camping often we would buy bourbon in a plastic bottle for the trail.
I can still taste that Ancient Ancient Age. Back then it was the best bourbon in a plastic 1.5 L bottle. We bought it when we were going to be on the Art Loeb trail for a week. Boxed wine or a few cans of wine are other options that are lightweight and concentrated.
Don’t ever do the whole “we only eat what we catch or forage” routine.
I know that most of you probably already know this but for those that are new to camping, bushcraft, etc. I want to say that it is always a terrible idea to go on a trip with not enough food. It is not just a great way to make sure you have a bad time, it is actually dangerous. If you want to fish, hunt, and forage, and eat what you get, that is admirable but plan out what you are going to eat if you find or catch nothing. Even skilled hunters, gatherers, and fishermen have days where they get little or nothing.
When Matt and I go out camping or hiking we always take enough food for an extra day or two depending on the trip and terrain. If you ever get stuck somewhere due to weather or a moderate injury you will be glad to have something to eat and drink.
If you do forage, fish, or hunt, use caution, and prepare food properly.
A lot of people get great joy out of foraging. It is a fun and useful survival skill. The problem is that you need to be careful because eating the wrong thing when out in the woods can be very serious.
When it comes to hunting and fishing, it is important to make sure meat is cooked sufficiently to prevent foodborne illness and parasites.
Don’t be afraid to try out different combinations.
There are definitely times when I eat combinations of things when camping that I would normally never do. There is nothing wrong with exploring different combinations of foods. What matters is how it agrees with you.
You may have a granola bar one moment and be eating a hot dog the next when you are camping. Part of the fun of camping is to do what you want and that includes snacking and eating when you get the urge to do so. There is no perfect camp food or meals so let your imagination wander and see what you are eating as a result.
My diet goes out the door when I camp.
Trying to watch calories and every little thing you eat is really difficult when camping. It is hard enough to plan out easy to prepare and filling meals without worrying about calories and every single ingredient. While I can understand that many are on restricted diets, give yourself a little break when it comes time to camp. You may very well be burning more calories too if you are doing many outdoor activities or if you are on the trail a lot of the day.
What recipes do you like to cook when camping? I know there are far more out there than I can fit in a post.