5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking

By Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN
Family Cooking while Camping - 5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking


March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.

Do you have hiking or camping on your agenda? Mapping out your wilderness nutrition needs is important: There's plenty to consider besides simply grabbing an energy bar or a bottle of water. Follow these tips to ensure you have a nourishing and safe food experience on your next outdoor adventure.

Have a Plan

Your food and water needs are generally higher than usual on activity-based excursions. Pay extra special attention to packing plenty of fluids for hot weather adventures. Some other key considerations before your hiking or camping trip include:

  • length of the trip
  • what foods and beverages you'll carry
  • how you'll eat and drink
  • if bringing a cooler is an option
  • what food-related tools you'll need

It's Essential to Stay Hydrated

Pre-hydrate by drinking at least 4 cups of water before a hike so you have less to carry. Then, a good rule of thumb is to plan for about 2 cups of fluid for every hour of hiking.

For a Hike or Day Trip...

You actually can pack perishable foods, such as sandwiches, just be sure you have a cold source (such as an ice pack) to keep foods properly chilled to below 40°F. The more you stash in a backpack, the harder it is to hike, so opt mainly for non-perishable foods that are relatively lightweight and nutrient dense, including:

  • trail mix
  • nuts, seeds, nut-based bars or nut butter packs
  • dried or freeze-dried fruits and veggies
  • energy bars, chews or gels
  • granola or granola bars
  • ready-made tuna salad pouches
  • whole-grain tortillas
  • poultry, salmon or meat jerky

For Camping or Multi-Day Trips...

It's a little more challenging to pack food for days at a time. The first day you'll be able to eat perishable foods; but after that, map out your meals so you'll have what you enjoy and need. If you have a cooler, you'll have numerous options. Otherwise, include any of these shelf-stable, easily-packed basics to sustain you:

  • easy-to-carry foods mentioned above
  • ready-to-eat cereal
  • fruit or vegetable puree in squeezable pouches (yes, like baby food)
  • poultry or fish pouches, or canned fish, poultry or meat in individual or regular servings
  • individual packets of mayo, mustard, taco sauce and/or soy sauce
  • whole-grain pasta, couscous, rice mix, pancake mix, hot cereal, dried soups and dehydrated foods (if you have the ability to boil water)
  • marshmallows — for a campfire dessert, of course
  • bottled water, plus powdered beverage mixes

Don't Forget Proper Food Safety Practices

Always follow good food safety practices — from packing to plating. Remember that perishable food cannot be kept out in hot weather (90°F or higher) for more than one hour; in mild weather for more than two hours. Bring these food safety essentials:

  • disposable wipes, moist towelettes or biodegradable soap
  • bowls and plates
  • kettle or cooking pot
  • eating and cooking utensils
  • can opener, if applicable
  • ice packs
  • compostable trash bags
  • portable water filters or water purification tablets
  • thermometers for cooler and cooked meat, if applicable

And follow these food safety rules:

  • Wash hands often. This includes before and after eating. Moist towelettes work fine.
  • Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate. Use extra plates that you've packed — one for raw and one for prepared foods.
  • Cook to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer to be sure cooked food has reached a safe internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate promptly below 40°F. Of course, if you don't have a fridge, pack perishable food, including meat or poultry, with plenty of ice or ice packs in a well-insulated cooler to keep the temperature below 40°F. Store leftovers in the cooler only if it still has ice. And keep the cooler in as cool a place as possible.

Now, take a hike!

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