5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking

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

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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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