Feeding Yourself in the Forest: Cooking Gear and Food for Camping

Most campers and hikers probably lose a pound or three during adventures, thanks to the abundance of calories burned while on the trail. And the substandard food most campers and hikers learn to stomach doesn’t hurt matters, either.

But this is a shame. After all, you’re on vacation — if you don’t gain a few pounds, you’re doing something wrong.

Don’t worry, fixing this problem is pretty easy. You just need to prepare properly and bring along some delicious food during your next trip. We’ll help you do so below!

Food for Camping: Nom, Nom, Nom

If you’re car camping and don’t mind filling a couple of coolers with ice, you can pretty much bring whatever food you like, but once you venture into the world of backpacking, things get more complicated. For starters, you can’t bring anything that’ll spoil, so things like fresh meat and dairy will be tricky to impossible.

Additionally, most fresh foods are full of water, which is one of the heaviest things you can conceivably carry. So, you’ll usually want to leave the fresh tomatoes and oranges at home.

In terms of conventional foods, this pretty much leaves you with things like rice, nuts, seeds, and canned meats. Throw in some spices and a bit of olive oil and you can slap together some halfway decent dinners.

But an easier option is to purchase ready-to-make, dehydrated meals specifically designed for outdoor cooking. And because they’re dehydrated, you don’t have to worry about things like spoilage and water weight. And don’t worry, the good ones are actually pretty tasty. They’re not going to be confused with Michelin-star restaurant food, but they’re not bad. 

  • 1 to 2 dehydrated meals per day
  • 1 to 2 large snack bags per day (trail mix, nuts, chocolate, etc.)
  • Small container cooking oil
  • Salt, pepper, and any other spices want
  • Coffee, tea or hot chocolate
  • Sugar, creamer, honey or other warm-drink additives
  • Drink mixes
  • Condiments

Cooking Equipment: Tools & Gear for Whipping Up Dinner

cooking equipment for camping
Image from Pixabay.

If you really want to rough it, you can consider almost all cooking equipment optional. You could just build a fire and use cleverly carved sticks to heat up a can of beans or boil water for some soup. But most campers will want to bring at least a minimal collection of kitchen gear to make things easier.

Typically, this means bringing the following:

  • Matches, lighter or fire starter
  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove
  • Bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew
  • Knife
  • Pot scrubber
  • 1 mug or cup per person
  • Eating utensils
  • Cooking utensils
  • 1 large pot
  • 1 medium pot
  • Cooking oil/Pam spray
  • 1 bowl per camper
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Dish towel
camping cookwear
Image from Pixabay.

The abovementioned items will keep you covered in most circumstances and allow you to make a nutritious and delicious dinner at camp.

However, if you want to enjoy the cooking process and make things easier, you may also want to bring a few of the following items:

  • Grill rack
  • Portable coffee maker
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Mixing bowl
  • Paper towels or napkins
  • Dishwashing basin  
  • Potholders/oven mitts

Water Purification & Storage

camping water purifier
Image from Unsplash.

A quick note for camping novices: Never drink any untreated water while camping. We’ve discussed the litany of reasons it’s important to avoid drinking untreated water before, so we won’t rehash it all here. Suffice to say, you will likely find cooties in even the most pristine mountain stream that will ruin your trip (and potentially cause even more serious problems). And this means all water needs to be treated before you drink it.

Obviously, in a survival situation, you may be willing to exchange potential parasite exposure for some life-sustaining water. But you are on vacation, so act like it.

Now, you can treat water in several different ways, but your three primary options are to boil it, to treat it with purification tablets, or to pass it through a purifying filter. They all present different pros and cons (which we’ve also discussed elsewhere), but most campers will choose to bring a water purifier.

  • Water bottle or canteen
  • Collapsible 5-gallon water container
  • Water purifier
  • Emergency water tablets

Storing Your Cookware and Food for Camping

food for camping
Image from Unsplash.

Now that you’ve assembled all the cookware and food you need for your trip, you’ll need to figure out how to store it. Typically, you’ll want to keep your cooking gear in one small stuff sack, while sticking your food in another bag. This will help keep everything organized, and it’ll also make it easier to hang your food up at night to protect it from local critters.

You can find purpose-built bags to store your cooking stuff in, but a regular ‘ol stuff sack will work just fine. Just be sure to select a size large enough to contain your gear. You may also want to pick up a small mesh bag, which will make it easy to hang up your gear and let it dry after washing all the dishes.

As far as placement within your backpack, we tend to think that you should keep your food in the top portion of your backpack, so you can easily access it when you need a trailside snack. You usually won’t need your cooking gear until you get to camp, so these items are better stored in the bottom portion of your pack.


You certainly don’t have to bring along all of this cooking gear and make food the central focus of your camping trip. You can subsist on peanut butter and canned beans if you like.

But again, camping trips are vacations! So, we think that it just makes sense to think carefully about the food you’ll be bringing and take the time to cook up some delicious dinners while on the trail.

Have you found any great camping recipes you’d like to share? Are there any nifty tips or tricks you think others would benefit from? Let us know in the comments below!

A lifelong environmental educator and the former executive director of a 501(c)3 nature preserve, Ben has led more than 10,000 miles of guided nature hikes, authored more than 40 animal care books, and been profiled in a variety of media outlets, including local public television, Countyline Magazine, and Disney Radio. When not on the trail or in front of his computer, Ben can be found cooking for his lady or playing with his dogs.

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