Food and Cooking at Campsite
Camping is a joy, and eating almost anything around a fire tastes better than at my dining room table. Also, while I am a healthy-food advocate, when exerting on a hike or climb, all bets are off – I’ll even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a lunch or snack. Peanuts are protein, jelly gives a jolt of energy and the bread is filling.
At Campsite – Low Prep
For dinners at campsite there are basically two choices: low prep and real food. For the “low-prep” folks, there are some excellent choices of freeze-dried packs, some of which are surprisingly tasty. There are several good makers, including Mountain House. Taste is an opinion, but if you want mine, I like the Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce; I’m not fond of the ones with rice. The package says two servings, but for me it’s one full serving. These are very easy to make: all they need is a small stove to heat water, pour, let sit for a bit while massaging the pack to make sure it is mixed and heated evenly and then they are ready to eat. Make sure you have a long-handle spoon to reach deep into the pouch.
At Campsite – “Real” Food
The other alternative is to bring real food. I’ve done that many times and it’s great, BUT one or more hikers have to carry the food to campsite and many real foods are heavy. If you have a few strong backpackers who don’t mind a 40- or 50-pound pack, go for it! That is a lot of weight especially if you’re headed uphill.
The other issue with real food is cooking it. That will mean some extra equipment, including a long-handle spatula, a portable grate, probably some aluminum foil, a medium to large pot and a pan of similar size. This is pretty much all you need for just about anything from bacon and eggs to beans and pasta.
Of course, don’t forget the matches or a lighter and some lighter fluid or some newspaper for starting your fire; see my post on building a campfire for more tips. The most basic form of campfire cooking with real food is to use direct heat. There are essentially two ways to accomplish this. One way is to wrap food items individually in aluminum foil and place them in hot coals. It is effective for foods that require high heat. The second, method is simply to place a grate over an open fire and grill your food in the classic way. You can also use a combination of the two – steaks on the grate, corn in the tin foil or their husks.
When you’re all done with dinner, ALL things with food smells must go in a bag and strung up at least 20 feet off the ground and 10 – 15 feet from each of the two supporting trees. See more about protecting your campsite from bears in my post here.
Car Camping: The Five Course Dinner
Another form of camping works great if you can get there by car. If you intend driving off-road to get to a great campsite, make sure you research how bad it will get and that you have the right kind of 4WD vehicle and that you know how to use it in rough conditions. See my blog post for more details on this kind of outdoor adventure.
Car camping usually doesn’t mean “camping in your car,” since you’ll still be setting up and sleeping in tents and building a fire, but it does mean your car is your mule as far as carrying in things that you normally wouldn’t want in your backpack. This could include some awesome food items, which is especially rewarding if you have someone along like my friend and gourmet, Laura Welch.
- Arugula and basil salad, heirloom tomatoes, virgin olive oil, crème de balsamic vinegar & black Hawaiian sea salt
- Poblano stuffed chicken breasts, sliced with fontina cheese, roasted summer vegetables.
- St. Andre cheese and triple-cream blue cheese with grapes and honey-roasted walnuts
- Smoked salmon with lemon
- Open faced peach pie with oats, coconuts and streusel on top.
- Louis Martini Cabernet
Water Jug for Campsite
This is one of my best tips for how to make a campsite more livable, even for one evening out. You will surely be filtering water from a nearby lake, stream, creek or whatever. You’ll need water for filling your pack bladder or water bottles, for cooking, cleaning and just drinking at camp. All of that becomes much easier if you bring along a collapsible water jug around one gallon of capacity. The one I’ve come across works well, and while you may only get one or two seasons out of it, the cost is nil. One such Collapsible Water Jug is available here.
You will save trips to the water source and it is easier to fill from a pump-style water filter than filling individual bladders and bottles.
A Few Other Useful Tips
- If you’re big into spices, measure what you want and pack in Ziplock bags. Labelling each bag will avoid confusion at camp.
- Pre-chop things that need chopping.
- If you’re bringing meat, it is probably best to freeze the meat before starting the trek.
- For most cooking over an open fire, it is best to build the fire, get it raging and then let it die down to hot, glowing coals. That is much more effective than cooking over flames.
- Cans of frozen juice keep other foods cold.
- When it comes to sandwiches, I have found that sandwich “Thins” hold up much better than normal loaf bread.
- Nuts and seeds are light and compact.
- Unlike fresh fruits, which are perishable and heavy, dried fruits are heat-stable and have a long life in your pack
- My preference for protein bars can be found in my post on nutrition here.