Eating and Cooking While Outdoors

There are 3 approaches to eating and food on a camping trip, whether you are hiking or hanging out at one location.  You can mix and match these approaches, or stick with one – whatever strikes your fancy or whatever suits your usual (at- home) eating style.  

  • Eat all raw or no-cook foods
  • Eat all prepared foods (freeze-dried)
  • Cook every meal over the flame

Eating All Raw (No-Cook) Meals

Depending on the adventure you are hoping to have out in Mother Nature, you may add to the adventure and eat only “raw” and no-cook types of foods as Nonna Box suggests. You won’t starve. Many guided itinerary groups serve an all “raw or no-cook” lunch and you get plenty of variety and plenty of calories.

These are ordinary, recognizable foods. Here are some examples:

  • Hard sausage (cut at the time of your meal)
  • Beef (and other meat) Jerky
  • Hard cheeses
  • Dried fruit like raisins, apricots, mango or pineapple chunks, dates, figs, prunes
  • Hard fresh fruit like apples and pears, oranges and citrus (You choose hard fruit just so that it doesn’t crush and make your backpack “juicy”)
  • Celery and carrots
  • Home-made loaf bread — not the soft grocery-store types as they crush and are not satisfying — with firmer crusts (cut at the time of your meal)


Eating All Prepared Foods

The second approach is to buy all premade commercially prepared foods from a camping supplier. Over the long haul, this may be boring and you may not digest as well as with raw foods, which is why most people reserve this as a supplementary or emergency option. This said, some of you who are not going to out camping for a long period of time might find this the best option for your calories.

It is a more expensive option as you pay for a food manufacturer to process and package foods — some of which are designed to last for up to 25 years! However, buying them is popular if you are in the market for quick meals, easy to carry foods, and prefer to eat on the go rather than make a 2-hour production out of each meal (which you may prefer if you are on a quiet, one-site camping trip).

This kind of prepared and packaged food is often freeze-dried (dehydrated then packed in airtight or vacuum- packaging). This makes them lighter-weight than raw foods and smaller in bulk, so that more food takes less room in your backpack.

These same manufacturers sometimes offer “kit” or “combo” food packs including meat, vegetable or starch and fruit in a one-meal package. You can get high-quality food bars with higher calorie counts from outdoor meal manufacturers, too. We see them in grocer’s and organic food stores offering 200 calories per bar, but we are speaking here of bars that have double that calorie count. Also, if you buy in bulk from the manufacturer, they can be less than half the grocer’s price — so, half the price for twice the calories. There are even bars that provide a whole day’s calories (2400 or 3200 calories) — these would be considered emergency food supplies (for natural disaster scenarios, wherever you are located at the time) but they do exist.

Commercial Foods for Camping

You don’t need to buy survivalist foods to have ready-made foods for your camping trip. You can buy cans or vacuum-sealed soft packs of this or that meat or fish. You can buy dried fruit in soft packs. Lazy campers I know have brought only canned foods — like prepared beans or noodle concoctions, soups of all kinds — and not even heated them up! The unschooled camper might also bring only snack foods, but that gets old and unsatisfying by day two, so we don’t recommend it.

Cooking All Meals

The third approach to cooking and eating on your campout is to cook real food at home and package it for your trip. Alternatively, you can come up with some foil- packed combo meals that are raw and ready to throw on the campfire or grill.

Cooking at home means you plan ahead (as you must for all campouts — you don’t want to have to come home early because you ran out of food!) and know exactly how many meals you are serving and how many people need to eat. Many mothers who camp love to make a huge pot of stew or soup at home, and pack the cooled food into individual zip-locking plastic bags (get the thick, freezer-appropriate type!) They then freeze the individual portions, grab them for the cooler or backpack just before leaving. You need to make sure your packaging is leak-proof — if you only eat these meals on day 3, it will have probably thawed and be juicy.

Foil-Packed Recipes

A slightly quicker way to prepare at home for the pleasure of cooking outdoors is the raw way. Pack raw fish or meats (beware that the fish can get smelly VERY fast!) with raw vegetables and create an aluminum foil package of one serving of meat plus vegetables. There are loads of recipes you can put into foil-packed meals you bring from home. Why foil-packed? So that you can just pop the foil package on the coals or on the grill and let it either heat back up or fully cook through. Foil does NOT degrade in nature — so be an eco-friendly camper and pack up your foil (and other trash) and take it out of the campsite with you.

Here are a couple of recipes to inspire you:

Chicken Foil-Pack

Ingredients for each portion:

  • One thin-sliced raw and bone-free portion of chicken
  • Clove or 2 of garlic
  • Slices of raw onion
  • Diced raw potatoes
  • Diced raw carrots

You will prefer your vegetables to be small enough to cook at the same speed

as the meat. This is easily accomplished with thin slices or small cubes of vegetables. Place all the ingredients in one-person portions on a sheet of THICK aluminum foil. Drizzle the food with olive oil. Salt and pepper it lightly. Sprinkle dried herbs like basil or thyme on the food. Close it carefully by folding (not crushing) the edges of the foil over and around the food with a goal of an airtight and leak-proof packaging.


  • Instead of chicken, use bratwurst or beef frankfurters of good quality in a

large size. Before packing them with the vegetables in foil, pierce the sausage in 2 places. The juices will help flavor and cook the vegetables.

  • Bring the roll of foil with you, and the vegetables in a big plastic Ziploc bag.

Make individual foil packs with fresh-caught fish of that day!

Starch Vegetable Foil-Pack

Ingredients for each portion:

  • Whole potato — not the baking potato, but white or red, thin-sliced, skin on
  • Whole yam — thin-sliced, skin on
  • Onion, any kind, thin-sliced
  • Dried herbs of your choice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil

Place all the ingredients in one-person portions on a sheet of THICK aluminum foil. Drizzle the food with olive oil. Salt and pepper it lightly. Sprinkle dried herbs on the food. Close it carefully by folding (not crushing) the edges of the foil over and around the food with a goal of an airtight and leak-proof packaging.

Remember — thinner slices or smaller chunks of food cook more quickly! Variation: You know better than anyone what your family’s vegetable preferences are. Use them in customised foil packs — maybe one child gets his favourite garlic potatoes for 3 camp-out meals; you get your preferred zucchini a couple of times.


Every Girl Scout’s nostalgic must-have on a campout? S’mores! Once you have tasted this campfire dessert, you will ask for Some More! Ingredients:

  • Graham crackers (pack them so they stay intact!)
  • Dark or milk chocolate bars (thin tablets melt better)
  • Large marshmallows

Put a marshmallow on a stick and grill it gently over open flame. Make a sandwich with the crackers replacing the bread and put a square of chocolate and the melted marshmallow between the crackers. Crunch into the sweetness — but don’t burn your mouth. Make sure the marshmallow has cooled enough first!

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!

As a necessary part of your food packing, you must know about water supplies where you are camping. If there are none — you must bring sufficient drinking and cooking water for the trip. Count one gallon of drinking water per person per day. Count 2 gallons for cooking per day for every 4 people with you.

You may have to pass on water for washing … but, remember — this is roughing it! Two of the most important items of equipment for all campers are backpacks and footwear. Let’s look at the importance of choosing correctly right now.

By Guido Pedrelli
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