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5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking

Contributors: Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN

Published: July 05, 2022

Reviewed: August 03, 2023

Family Cooking while Camping - 5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking

Do you have hiking or camping on your agenda? Then 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.

1. 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

2. 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. Make sure you can bring or access clean drinking water during your hike.

3. For a Hike or Day Trip...

You 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, such as:

  • Trail mix
  • Nuts, seeds, nut-based bars or nut butter packs
  • Fresh, whole fruit that doesn’t require refrigeration such as apples, bananas and oranges
  • Dried or freeze-dried fruits and veggies
  • Energy bars, chews or gels
  • Granola or granola bars
  • Ready-made tuna salad pouches
  • Whole-grain tortillas or bagels
  • Shelf-stable, dried jerky, such as poultry, salmon or meat jerky

4. 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 if you have a cooler; but after that, map out your meals so you'll have what you enjoy and need. 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 (such as applesauce)
  • 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 drinkable water)
  • Marshmallows — for a campfire dessert, of course
  • Safe drinking water, and possibly powdered beverage mixes

5. Don't Forget Proper Food Safety Practices.

Always follow good food safety practices — from packing to plating. Remember that perishable food cannot be safely kept out in hot weather (90°F or higher) for more than one hour; in mild weather for more than two hours. Otherwise, these foods become unsafe to eat and should be thrown out. Whether you’re hiking for a day or camping for a week, consider the following food safety essentials where applicable when packing for your next outdoor trip:

  • Disposable wipes, hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap
  • Bowls and plates
  • Kettle or cooking pot
  • Eating and cooking utensils
  • Can opener
  • Ice packs
  • Trash bags
  • Portable water filters or water purification tablets
  • Thermometers for cooler and cooked meat

And follow these food safety rules:

  • Wash hands often. This includes before and after eating. If you’re unable to wash your hands, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may help reduce bacteria and germs.
  • 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.
  • When possible, 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 small, clean covered containers in the cooler only if it still has ice. And keep the cooler in as cool a place as possible.

Now, go take a hike!

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