6 Tips for Camping Food

Whether you’re planning a camping trip for a night or a month, you’re going to need food. Here’s a story of what not to do.

Sally is planning to go on a camping trip with her best friends Sue and Jeff. They buy a tent, sleeping bags and book a site and are off to go, planning to buy some food when they get there. All goes well on the ride and they arrive at their site and begin to attempt tent set up. However, unlike the 30 minute setup the salesman promised Sally, it instead takes the three friends 4 hours to get the tent operational. By this point Sally and her friends are starving. Sally looks up a camping meal on her phone and heads to the store to buy some canned tuna, bread, mayonnaise and celery.

Sally returns 1 hour later to the site and both Jeff and Sue are even hungrier. Sally quickly pulls out her groceries and goes to open her can of tuna only to realize she has no can opener. Sally however is not worried, she finds a sharp rock in the campsite and then attempts to cut open the can using it. While the rock does the trick in opening the tuna though, it also gets the tuna all over the ground.  As everyone is too hangry to deal with it, they leave the tuna on the ground. Sally starts to cut the celery up to share with her friends, but it is too late. Jeff has gone completely ‘hangry’ and as a result turns into a bear and eats both Sue and Sally. Then an actual bear smells the tuna that Sally spilled earlier in the site, comes to check out the delicious smell and ends up eating Jeff up in a single bite. To say the least, the camping trip ends in disaster. 

While this story is fictional and may be a bit exaggerated, the food you bring and how you store it can have a huge impact on your camping trip.

Here are 6 tips that promise to make the often confusing process of packing camping appropriate food simpler.

Tip #1: Prepare your supplies in advance. For any non backcountry camping, a large cooler and a dry storage container that can be tightly sealed are a good start. For ice in the cooler use 1 solid block (since it melts more slowly) and then scatter ice cubes throughout the cooler to really keep it cold. Put any food items that are made with cardboard/water absorbent packaging into tightly sealed plastic bags. and bring extra plastic bags in case you need to seal any other food. Other supplies that I are good to have are a can opener, sharp knife, cutting board, large bowl, spare plastic container (to wash dishes in), a kitchen towel and dish soap (make sure to use camping dish soap if you don’t have a place to drain the water). Also make sure to have a cup, plate, spoon, knife and fork for every member of the camping party. A small propane stove and a pot to boil water or a pan to cook in may also be useful. As a last note on supply preparation, make sure that if you are planning on cooking using fire that you check for any fire bans which could completely derail your meal plans.

Tip #2: Prepare at least one meal before you leave. Even if you don’t have a long drive to where you are staying, setting up camp can take quite a bit of energy and may take longer than expected. Have some food readily and easily available for either before or after you finish setting up. I like to use the Quinoa Salad recipe or some granola bars. Make sure that if you need cups and spoons they are packed in an easily accessible area in your vehicle if you need them for the first meal 

Farmer’s market find in Canmore

Tip #3: If you plan to buy groceries when you arrive, try and take advantage of the local farmers market.  It’s a great place to pick up a ready made meal if you’re on the road for awhile and you can also check out some of the local businesses and farmers. Not only is it fun to look at the different items these kind of markets have to offer, but with the Canadian climate, there’s a very short window to get a lot of fresh and local fruits and vegetables. Information about most farmers markets can be easily searched online, or acquired at the information/tourist centers in the area. No matter where you end up buying your groceries for camping make sure that you have the necessary space to store those items and that you can eat them before they go bad.

Tip #4: Be aware of your local wildlife both large and small.  When I camp in areas that have any bear sightings or warnings. I usually avoid cooking with foods that have a strong smell (such as bacon, canned tuna, peanut butter etc.). Also, even if there are not bears in the area I store all my food in my vehicle overnight or in bear lockers or hanging areas that are on site. At all costs keep food out of the area you are sleeping in and make sure to seal all foods and clean up any food remnants as soon as you can. If there isn’t any animal proof trash cans nearby, place things like wrappers in the car. 

When I was younger I was tent camping with my family in Saskatchewan (in a bear free area) and we left out a cooler with meat inside and a blanket on top out overnight. In the morning when we woke up the meat was fine, but the blanket was completely shredded. We always attributed it to some squirrels, but were never sure.  Either way, in order to best protect yourself and the wildlife around you make sure all food is completely inaccessible to animals big and small when you are not using it.

Tip #5: Make sure each meal you make has lots of good nutritional value so that you have lots of energy to enjoy what you are doing. Fresh and dried fruit is great, it is also important to make sure that your meals have complex carbohydrates (which can be found in quinoa, brown rice and lentils) and protein (which can be found in Greek yogurt, peanut butter, tofu, eggs and chicken). Also, make sure that you drink lots of water when you are camping. Even if you are eating healthy, you are not going to feel great if you are dehydrated from being out in the sun.

Tip #6: Keep it simple. Camping is supposed to be fun. It is your chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Don’t miss out by spending all your time cooking and cleaning up.  Almonds and dried apricots make for a great hiking or a quick anytime snack. Wraps, banana and peanut butter can make a great breakfast and while not the healthiest, it’s hard not to associate camping with cooking hotdogs over the fire with some sticks found in the woods.

Check out the next article for some camping food recipes.

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