The best foods to pack for a camping trip should be easy to transport, simple to prepare and versatile. The last thing you want when trying to relax in the great outdoors is to be worrying about every meal. But you also don’t want to be living on roasted marshmallows and hot dogs the whole time. Not that those shouldn’t have a place on your camping menu, but having variety and some healthier options is important. Eat like kings and queens (with ease) with our guide to camp cooking.

Menu planning

Before you even start shopping or packing the cooler it’s important to have a plan. You might think you can just make it up as you go along based on whatever you brought with you, but that can get stressful, especially if you’re camping with a group. Have a plan for every meal you’ll be eating for each day you’re camping, plus snacks. A detailed plan keeps you organized and acts as a packing checklist so nothing gets left behind. For each day of the trip, come up with a meal idea for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as two snacks. Then write out the ingredients you need for each. It might seem like a lot of extra work but it will make life much easier at camp.

Quick tip: One meal that can be a little more casual is lunch. Fend-for-yourself lunches are often the easiest option when camping and just means packing items that people can easily create quick wraps or sandwiches with. Think peanut butter and sliced bananas, cheese, cold cuts, dips, spreads, etc.

What to pack

The key to choosing the best camping foods is focusing on simplicity, portability and versatility. Plus, you’ll need to factor in cooking methods, which will also help determine which foods you bring. The options include cooking right over the coals, cooking on a grate or grill over the fire, using a camp stove or wrapping items in tinfoil to cook on the coals. In terms of specific foods, here are the basics that you can easily build upon.

  • Quick cooking grains like couscous, quinoa and minute rice for filling bases for meals
  • Tortillas, pita breads, burritos and quesadillas for quick lunches
  • Nut butters and spreads like Nutella for snacks or lunch
  • Pasta for an easy, quick and versatile meal
  • Tinned beans
  • Onion and garlic
  • Sundried tomatoes (they add a lot of flavour)
  • Hot sauce
  • Salt, pepper and other spices (don’t forget the salt, you will regret it)
  • Hard cheese and cured meat like chorizo – both of these things will keep well even if they can’t be kept very cold
  • Eggs are always a good breakfast option and can also be used in wraps and sandwiches
  • Instant oatmeal is a just-add-water breakfast
  • Instant ramen noodles with some veggies or beans makes a super-quick camp lunch
  • Hearty vegetables like squash, potatoes, beets, carrots, corn, yams, cabbage and cauliflower don’t even need to be kept cold
  • Apples and oranges
  • Citrus for flavour and to squeeze into water bottles
  • Oil for cooking
  • Tinned tuna for sandwiches or to mix into rice or pasta
  • Dried fruits and nuts for snacks

In terms of cooking supplies, don’t leave home without the following:

  • Camp stove, fuel and lighter or matches
  • Tongs (for getting things out of the fire)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pot grabber
  • Wooden spoon
  • One large pot, one smaller pot and a skillet
  • Plates, bowls, mugs/cups and utensils
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels
  • Biodegradable soap and a sponge or pot scrubber
  • Knife
  • Cutting surface
  • Can opener


Once you know what you’ll be eating, and compile everything you need, you’ll want to do some prep work. Save time and stay organized by measuring out things like rice or pasta for individual meals and packaging them with the other ingredients that will accompany them in a large resealable bag (freezer bags work well). That way you don’t need to dig around for ingredients – each meal is ready to go. Prep any vegetables you’ll need, marinate meats and measure out things like pancake mix and oatmeal rather than bringing the whole package or container.

You can also make and freeze meals like stew or chili that then just needs to be reheated over the fire or on a camp stove. It’s also a good idea to put spices and condiments in smaller containers.

Reminder: Everything in the cooler will likely get wet so it’s important to make sure what goes into to the cooler is packaged in leak-proof, resealable bags or containers.


Before you even think about packing the cooler, chill it. It’s meant to keep your food cold so it helps to start off with a cold cooler. Dump a bag of ice into it an hour or two before you start packing to cool it down (discard that ice before you pack). Maximize the chill by freezing as many other things as you can before packing them like bottled water, pasta sauce and meat, which you can even freeze right in their marinades in leak-proof bags.

Get bags of ice that are more solid rather than in smaller pieces since bigger ice chunks will melt more slowly. Once you’re ready to fill your cooler full of camp food, start with a layer of ice on the bottom. Next add foods that need to stay the coldest, like raw meat. Add more ice and then more food, ensuring that what you’re going to be eating first is near the top of the cooler. Things that don’t need to stay as cold can be on top. If you can, have a separate cooler for drinks. Coolers get opened for drinks more than for food so by having a separate drinks cooler you can minimize how often you open the other one. The more a cooler gets opened, the faster things start to melt.

Featured image: Paxson Woelber, Campsite above the clouds via Flickr CC BY 2.0

About the author

Jessica PadykulaJessica Padykula is a Toronto-based writer and editor who regularly covers travel and lifestyle trends. When she’s not writing or researching a story she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world.

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