What food to take that won't spoil when you're out camping
The food you take with you plays a large role in shaping your camping trip. If you're determined to eat steaks every night, you need at least one large cooler, and that means a boat or car to haul it. If you want to travel light and still enjoy good meals, that means planning your meals carefully so you take only what you need. It's all about trade-offs: Foods vary pretty widely in size, weight and the enjoyment you'll get from them. Freeze-dried meals are convenient, for example, but not a gastronomic delight. With those principles in mind, here are five non-perishable foods to get you through your next trip in style.
1. Canned goods
Canned goods are the ultimate in non-perishability, but they don't score so well on the size and weight front. Unless you're driving or boating to your campsite, you'll want to keep them to a real minimum: They're heavy, and you'll have to tote the empty cans out with you as well. It's best to think of them as a treat when you've eaten up most of your other food. Choose items with a lot of flavor that you can build a meal around, like canned fish or meats. If you have kids along, making space for one full-sized can of a special favorite might help fend off those "I'm tired of eating this" blues.
2. High-energy, healthy snacks
Being outdoors all day burns a surprising amount of energy, especially if you're hiking, cycling, paddling or just keeping kids entertained. Snacks will make up an important part of your outdoor diet, even if you don't normally indulge at home. Keep your focus on high-value foods such as nuts, seeds and dried fruits, which deliver plenty of healthy calories without additives or processed sugars. Energy bars and snack bars work well in this role as well, and so does a good ol' PB&J in either its traditional form or as a sturdy wrap. If you opt to pack a few pieces of chocolate or other sweets as special treats, that's fine too.
3. Shelf-stable meats and other proteins
Protein-packed foods such as milk, fish, eggs, poultry and fresh meats are all highly perishable, which makes them unsuitable for camping without some form of cooling or refrigeration. Canned goods are safe but inconveniently heavy, so shelf-stable proteins are a hungry camper's best friend. These include traditional staples such as jerky or dry-cured sausages, but those are only the tip of the iceberg. Nut butters hold up well in a backpack, and you can save the weight of the jar by spooning portions into zip-seal bags. Firm and hard cheeses will "sweat" on warm days, just like you, but remain safe to eat. If you have a dehydrator, you can even dry yogurt or bean pastes, such as hummus, for hearty meals that reconstitute quickly with water.
4. Bulk staples
Bulk staples normally found in the pantry, such as rice, oatmeal, quinoa or pasta, are also perfectly suitable for camping. They're already dry so they're relatively light, and they're mostly space-efficient. The exception is pasta, where hollow shapes such as penne can be bulky. Stick with narrow noodles such as spaghetti or vermicelli for the best results. Depending how much you want to carry, you can base a meal around your favorite grain or pasta, or add it to quick campsite soups to make them heartier.
5. Selected fresh foods
Fresh foods aren't all highly perishable, especially if you're hiking in spring or fall when temperatures are moderate. You'll really appreciate something fresh after a day or two on the trail, so despite their weight – fresh foods are higher in water – it's worth planning to bring a few things. Sturdy fruits such as oranges and apples are pack-ready, and with apples you don't have peels to pack out afterwards. Grapes hold well for days, if they're in a rigid container to keep them from getting squashed. Sturdy, versatile vegetables such as carrots, peppers and radishes are a good choice, because they can be eaten raw, shredded for salads, or cooked in side dishes or soups. Even sturdy greens such as kale or collards can hold up for days if you pack them in a bag with a damp paper towel to keep them from wilting.