Camping Food Ideas: Packing It In

Tips for packing, cooking, and preparing food while hiking and backpacking, including meal ideas.

| July/August 1989

Let's face it: gourmet backpacking is an oxymoron. When you're bereft of running water, four-burner stove, refrigerator and Cuisinart, when everything you eat and everything you cook with must be carried on your back for miles, you make some compromises with taste and nutrition. Fresh tomatoes may taste better than sun-dried, but they weigh a ton and turn to pulp in a backpack. Rolled oats may provide more fiber than instant ones, but the latter require only that you add boiling water to your Sierra cup—no stirring over a stove that gulps the fuel you've packed in, no pot to clean. On a cold dawn with 10 miles of trail in front of you, these things matter.

Of course, you don't have to subsist on hardtack and jerky, either.

Redefining "Camping Food": New Ideas and Basic Guidelines

It's partly a matter of definition. If you shop for "camping food," you're limited to an outdoor store's collection of freeze-dried dinners. You'll eat better if you fill your pack with food that meets a few basic criteria, however it's labeled and wherever you find it: outdoor store, supermarket, deli, natural foods store, ethnic market or your own pantry and garden.

1. Lightweight. Weight is one reason backpackers obsess about dehydrated food; water is heavy. Compare a cup of dry milk powder to an equivalent quart of milk.

The standard goal is to carry two pounds of food per person per day. Clearly, the longer the trip, the more critical the weight of the food—and the containers—becomes. Short treks allow a few fresh vegetables and small cans.

2. Nutritious. Even moderate backpacking is strenuous work, raising your daily nutritional needs by a good 1,000 calories. Really tough going requires more. Although many hikers eat more than usual and still return home minus a few pounds, the wilderness is a good place to have your wits about you and a bad place to diet. Feeling weak and dragged out will dull your judgment and your enjoyment.

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