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Published Apr 11, 2022 8:34 AM

The best camping food will do more than fuel your body during backcountry adventures. It’ll be food that you actually want to eat. If you’ve seen the film Meru about mountaineers Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk’s successful summit of the 21,000-foot mountain via the Shark’s Fin Route, you’d have noticed that their entire diet while on the wall seemed to consist of couscous, extra-large Snicker bars, parmesan cheese chunks, and cigarettes. While Anker and company made those decisions purely based on caloric intake and simplicity, you have more options — far more — to fuel your treks. 


If you are car camping, have a decent cooler, camping stove, and weight and space are no concern, you can pretty much bring what you like to eat at home. If you are going to be carrying it all on your back, it’s best to go with dehydrated backpacking meals that you can heat and rehydrate when you get to your next camp. There are a ton of tasty options on the market, and I’ve researched some of the best for you to try. You’ll find all of these in my pack from time to time. Bon appetit!

Methodology

I’ve been an outdoorsman for more than 35 years. I’m an avid long-distance backpacker, rock climber, and mountaineer, so I understand the value of well-designed gear. I don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. My editor leaves it to me to recommend and prints what I write. All of this enables me to provide you, our valued readers, with our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make.

All the foods in this review were selected based on personal consumption, interviewing other experts, and thoroughly reviewing manufacturers’ specifications. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each item and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything.

Of all the dehydrated backpacking meals I’ve tried, Good To-Go Thai Curry was my favorite. It’s super lightweight, packs 770 calories into a 6.6-ounce package, and tastes great.

Good To-Go was founded by Jennifer Scism, a trained chef and adventurer motivated to bring better food to the backcountry. Her offerings include some excellent options like Mushroom Risotto, Chicken Pho, Pad Thai, Indian Korma, and more. What I really like about her dehydrated pre-made meals is that they are lightweight, simple to prepare, and taste great.

Her Thai Curry is made from a yellow coconut base and is loaded with broccoli, cauliflower, peas, green beans, and jasmine rice and spiced with Thai chilies, lemongrass, and tamarind. All you have to do is boil water with your campstove, tear open the top of the zip lock bag, pour in boiling water, stir, reseal the bag and contemplate the universe for 20 minutes. On a cold day, you can even tuck the bag underneath your down layer for extra warmth while you wait. She also caters to carnivores, pescetarians, and vegetarians.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • Servings per container: 2
  • Total calories: 770
  • Total fat: 28 g (16g saturated, 0% trans)
  • Sodium: 1010 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 112 g
  • Sugar: 16 g
PROS

Very lightweight

Great calories: weight ratio

Easy to prepare

Great taste

CONS

Requires a stove to boil water

Takes about 20 minutes to fully rehydrate

While Maruchan Ramen Noodles aren’t my go-to meal, they are affordable and you get a mug of hot brothy noodles for a few bucks. They’ll also take a lot of abuse in a backpack and still cook up right.

Since they’re so light, I usually throw a pack or two in my backpack as “backup food” should we need an extra meal or two. And now that I think about it, I have enjoyed these piping hot noodles when backpacking in the winter.

Also, you can doctor them up to improve the taste and increase the calorie count. They also have a cool backstory about a young Japanese dude named Kazuo Mori who had a dream of creating a convenient and affordable noodle product for people all over the world. Did I also mention they’re cheap?

Product Specs
  • Weight: 3 ounces
  • Servings per container: 2
  • Total calories: 190
  • Total fat: 7 g (3.5 g saturated, 0% trans)
  • Sodium: 830 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 26 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Protein: 4 g
PROS

Very lightweight

OK calories: weight ratio

Fast and easy to prepare

CONS

Marginal taste, but improved with doctoring it up

Requires a stove to boil water

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles is a great end-of-day meal, especially on a cold day. It’s lightweight, cooks faster than most, tastes great, and the cook-in-the-bag functionality makes cleanup a snap.

Like Good To-Go, Mountain House also has a good selection of lightweight dehydrated meals, and their selections tend to cater to carnivores. Beef Stroganoff always reminds me of being a kid sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, and while Mountain House’s version isn’t mom’s, it’s pretty damn good for a backcountry meal.

In addition to the flavor, I appreciate that this meal is also a few ounces lighter than many of its competitors and also cooks in the bag in half the time of most other products. I also dig that I don’t have to dirty (and later clean) a pot to make this meal — just open the zip loc, add boiling water, wait 10 minutes, and eat.

Cleanup is a snap. Just push the air out of the bag, zip it closed, roll it up, and pack it out with your other trash. This meal is also free of artificial flavors and colors.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4.3 ounces
  • Servings per container: 2
  • Total calories: 560
  • Total fat: 23 g (7 g saturated, 0% trans)
  • Sodium: 1570 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 63 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Protein: 24 g
PROS

Very lightweight

Good calories: weight ratio

Fast and easy to prepare

Great taste

CONS

Requires a stove to boil water

Honorable Mention Dehydrated Meal

Like Good To-Go and Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry offers great dehydrated meals. The lasagna, in particular, is one of the highest rated among consumers (on REI) and just an overall great-tasting dish, especially after a 17-mile hike. To prepare the lasagna, all it takes is a little bit of boiling hot water — just drop the packet in, and after a few minutes, it’s ready to eat.

Each packet has two servings and is enough to share provided you have a few other things to eat for dinner as well. If you are a big eater, you’ll want this one all to yourself. Pasta and sauce versions seem to work particularly best in this arena and this one doesn’t disappoint — just expect smaller noodles, not a layered lasagna like you’d get in a restaurant. It’s a bit heavy on the oregano, which I like. If that’s not your spice, take it for what it’s worth.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 7 ounces
  • Servings per container: 2
  • Total calories: 760
  • Total fat: 9 g (5 g saturated, 0% trans)
  • Sodium: 690 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 55 g
  • Sugar: 11 g
  • Protein: 22 g
PROS

Very lightweight

Good calories: weight ratio

Fast and easy to prepare

Great taste

CONS

Requires a stove to boil water

Best Sports Hydration Tabs

A few years ago, I started to have an issue with leg muscle cramping — not while backpacking, but later at night when I was laying in my hammock or snuggled in my sleeping bag in my tent, my hamstrings would start to cramp. While not the worst pain, it did suck to have to get up and stretch and massage the cramp out. One day while in the checkout line at REI, I came across NUUN hydration tabs and decided to give them a try. The difference was remarkable. Not only did I feel better hydrated while on the move, but I never had another leg cramp.

Now, each day before setting out, I’d drop a NUUN tab into my 1L Nalgene bottles. They turned my water into a low-sugar somewhat effervescent sports drink that had all the electrolytes my body needed for the day. The sport hydration tabs come in nine flavors to include caffeinated options, and NUUN also sells tabs designed for boosting your immunity and also your energy.

NUUN Sport Hydration Tabs have transformed my post-hike experience and eliminated muscle cramping, reduced fatigue, and assisted in recovery.

Product Specs
  • Serving size: 1 tab per 16 ounces of water
  • Servings per container: 10 servings per pack
  • Calories: 15
  • Calories from fat: 0
  • Sodium: 300 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 2 g
  • Potassium: 150 mg
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Weight: 2.25 ounces
Ingredients:
  • Lemon Lime: Citric Acid, Dextrose, Sodium Carbonate, Potassium Bicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Natural Flavors, Beet Powder Color, Potassium Chloride, Rice Extract Blend, Magnesium Oxide, Calcium Carbonate, Stevia Leaf Extract, Avocado Oil, Malic Acid, Riboflavin (for color)
PROS

Replenishes minerals the body needs before, during, and after workouts

Taste great

Come in water-resistant plastic tube

Non-GMO Project verified

Certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher and Informed-Sport certified

Made in USA

CONS

A bit heavy, but totally worth the weight

My wife is a pescetarian. I am not. So I know when I pack beef jerky on a backpacking trip, I get it all to myself. There are a lot of options in the jerky world. Some taste great, while others taste like Ghandi’s dried-out flip flop. When it comes to jerky, I prefer Patagonia’s Spicy Buffalo.

The Spicy Buffalo Jerky is made from 100 percent grass-fed bison and is part of the effort to restore the American prairie (Note: Patagonia also does a lot of environmental work). It comes seasoned with Aj Molido chiles which delivers a toasty and smoky flavor with a bit of heat. I also like that it comes in 2.2-ounce packets, so whatever I don’t end up eating on a trip I can save for the next time.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: 2
  • Calories: 190
  • Calories from fat: 3.5 g (1.5 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 860 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7 g
  • Potassium: 595 mg
  • Sugars: 4 g
  • Protein: 31 g
  • Weight: 2.2 ounces
PROS

Tastes great

Lightweight

31 g of protein

CONS

31 g of protein

Best Shelf-Stable Cheese

I’m a big fan of taking shelf-stable cheese along on backpacking trips. It’s super calorie-dense and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and Hickory Farms does a pretty good job of providing a cheese that doesn’t taste like a lot of preservatives. The smoked cheddar is my favorite and. I usually eat things like this at lunch with some dried sausage or beef jerky. They come in 10-ounce packets. They’re supposed to be refrigerated after opening, so I pack this during cooler weather or share with friends.

Specs
  • Servings per container: 10
  • Calories: 90
  • Calories from fat: 63
  • Sodium: 250 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Weight: 10 ounces
PROS

Tastes great

Shelf-stable

Good calorie to weight ratio

CONS

Heavy

Best Coffee and Tea

I don’t know how anyone navigates mornings without coffee, and I always take some along while backpacking. I used to use Starbucks instant coffee packets, but those taste overly sugary or acidic to me, so I stopped using them. Recently, I tried Wildland Coffee and really liked it. In fact, it’s a big improvement over instant coffee and you don’t need to carry along an additional coffee maker. Wildland puts real coffee into a compostable tea bag and then nitro-flushes it for 12 months of freshness. Making it is simple: Add boiling water and wait five to eight minutes. They come in medium or dark roast. They’re also good for traveling.

Specs
  • Servings per container: 15, 45, or 90 per box
  • Calories: 0
  • Calories from fat: 0
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Weight: .1 ounce per packet
  • Caffeine: 160 mg per cup
PROS

Tastes good

Lightweight

Doesn’t need a coffee maker

CONS

None

Nut butter is another great calorie-dense backpacking food. There’s a lot out there to choose from, but my current favorite is Justin’s Classic Almond Butter in 1.15-ounce packets. They are super handy to keep in a pocket and deliver a shot of energy when you need it most. I find that nut butters also sustain me for longer periods of time than candy bars. These packets are shelf-stable and are fine stored at room temperature. They’re also free of added sugars and salt. Justin’s also makes almond butters with maple, honey, chocolate, cinnamon, and coconut flavors.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: 1
  • Calories: 220
  • Calories from fat: 19 g (3 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 10 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 5 g
  • Potassium: 190 mg
  • Sugars: 4 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Weight: 1.15 ounces
PROS

Tastes great

Lightweight

6 g of protein

CONS

Packets are not recyclable or biodegradable

Best Protein Bar

I’m not a huge fan of energy bars — most taste like dirt to me. I did, however, find a brand that I like and that is also good for you. What initially grabbed me was the clear packaging of the ingredients: three egg whites, six almonds, four cashews, two dates, and no B.S. I also like that they come in a ton of flavors so I won’t get easily bored. They’re also gluten-free, Kosher, non-GMO, and made with real ingredients you can pronounce.

Go ahead and argue with me, but I think RXBAR Protein Bars are better for you than candy bars. I find myself getting a much slower, longer burn out of these than Snickers — which I also love — without all the saturated and trans fats.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: 1
  • Calories: 200
  • Calories from fat: 7 g (1 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 310 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 25 g
  • Sugars: 15 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Weight: 52 g
PROS

Tastes great

Lightweight

Calorie-dense

CONS

Wrappers are not recyclable or biodegradable

Best Fish in Foil Packet

It’s important to get enough protein while backpacking to help restore your body. It’s also too easy to fuel your way down the trail with a bunch of sugary carbs. These tuna packs come to the rescue by providing 90 calories and 14 grams of protein per shot. They’re also lightweight at 2.8 ounces and taste great – if you like tuna and Thai spices. I also like to add two of these to a Ramen noodle packet when I want a low-cost meal that’s also pretty tasty.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: 1
  • Calories: 90
  • Calories from fat: 1 g (0 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 430 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7 g
  • Sugars: 4 g
  • Protein: 14 g
  • Weight: 2.6 ounces
PROS

Tastes great

Lightweight

Calorie-dense

CONS

Wrappers are not recyclable or biodegradable

Best Guilty Pleasure

I typically won’t carry canned food in my pack. It tends to be heavy and doesn’t pack down when you’re done, but I’ll take a can of Easy Cheese from time to time. There’s just something about the fat and salt after a day where you went hard and smoked yourself. Heck, I don’t even eat this stuff at home, but on the trail it is pretty awesome on a flour tortilla with some jalapeno slices (both hold up pretty well in a backpack). Sure, it’s gas station cuisine, but give it a try before you tell me I’m crazy.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: Seven 2-tablespoon servings
  • Calories: 560 total
  • Calories from fat: 6 g (1.5 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 440 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3 g
  • Sugars: 2 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Weight: 8 ounces
PROS

Guilty pleasure

Not as high in fat as I thought

Almost 600 calories per can

CONS

Heavy

Doesn’t pack down well

One of the best trail meals I’ve ever made was a combination of flour tortillas, Easy Cheese, jalapeno pepper slices, and Mexicali Rose’s Instant Homestyle Refried Beans. This bean mix hit the quadfecta of tasting great, being lightweight, shelf-stable, and being super easy to prepare. To make it, just boil water and mix it in a camping cup with the bean mix. It’s pretty fortifying and a solid meal at the end of the day. These refried beans are also 100 percent natural, high in protein, and contain no trans fats. They come in pinto, fat-free pinto, black, and spicy chorizo. This combo has become a staple of our backpacking trips. One pouch makes 26 ounces of beans. Highly recommended.

Product Specs
  • Servings per container: 3
  • Calories: 381 total
  • Calories from fat: 0 g (0 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 280 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 21 g
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Weight: 7 ounces
PROS

Makes great trail burritos

Super lightweight

Cooks fast

Rehydrates fully

CONS

Requires boiling water to make

Between sweet and savory trail snacks, I’m a savory dude all the way, and when that’s combined with some heat, it’s on! The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg has been a long-time favorite of my family. They produce some big, high-quality peanuts and the hot habanero nuts are a classic. There’s just something wonderful about having your mouth on fire as you are sitting on a mountaintop wondering why you just ate so many of them.

If you like heat, try them. The Williamsburg Hot Habanero Nuts are not insanely hot like ghost chilis. You’ll be fine. Of course, if you have a peanut allergy, avoid them. If you are into sweet, their honey-roasted peanuts are the bomb. In fact, their hot wasabi peanuts are awesome too, and their chili lime. There are loads of versions, so everyone who likes peanuts should be able to find one that suits their tastes.

Product Specs
  • Calories: 170 per 2-tablespoon serving
  • Calories from fat: 14 g (2 g saturated)
  • Sodium: 290 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7 g
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Weight: 10.5 ounces
PROS

Calorie-dense

Tastes great

Super packable

CONS

Bulky if kept in tin (put them in a Ziploc so they pack better)

Pricey

Features of the best camping food 

When you’re on an outdoor adventure, you’re going to rely heavily on your body — you’re carrying everything with you, and you’ll need to responsibly manage your limited resources. Therefore, camping food should be lightweight, calorie-dense, shelf-stable, and require a short preparation time. There are three main qualities to look for in camping food.

  • Lightweight and calorie-dense – When you have to carry everything you have on your back, look for foods with very high calorie to weight ratios. 
  • Shelf-stable – Unless you plan on carrying a refrigerator, camping food should be OK at room temperature. A good rule is if it’s not from the refrigerated section of the grocery store, it will probably survive in your pack on a hot day.
  • Taste – You can have the lightest, calorie-dense, and shelf-stable food, but if you hate the way it tastes, you’ll be miserable. Take foods you’ll actually want to eat and experiment with others you haven’t tried in limited quantities. Good food is a real morale boost after a long day on the trail.

Types of camping food

  • Meals made ahead of time – Meals you can cook and store in a cooler are better for car camping because weight isn’t an issue and you have access to cooking equipment like a camp stove and pots and pans to reheat them. 
  • Dehydrated meals – These are shelf-stable meals and many will last more than a few years if stored properly. Their advantage is that they contribute to lower pack carry weight, but they do require you to also take a stove, fuel, and pot to boil water in to rehydrate. 
  • Ready-to-eat foods – These are foods you can eat on the go like chicken or tuna packets, energy and meal bars, nuts, etc. There are a bajillion options, but what they all have in common is that they’re high in carbs and protein, so they’ll keep your body fueled and moving. My favorites are almond butter packets and Honey Stinger Waffles.

Benefits 

  • Fuels your body – When you work hard, you burn calories that need to be replaced. Food does that. N’uff said.
  • Convenient – Backpacking foods should be simple to prepare using only a camp stove and limited utensils. Most of the time you’ll be cooking when you’re tired and often in the dark, so keep it simple.
  • Morale – Comforting snacks or meals can be a superb morale booster at the end of the day, especially when it’s cold, wet, or both. Don’t neglect your planning on food. You’ll only make yourself miserable.

Pricing considerations for camping food

This is a tough one given all the different types of products. A simple rule to pay attention to: The more work done to the food by someone else in advance, the more it will cost.

Budget

You can find decent camping foods to assemble into a meal for under five dollars. They might require additional doctoring with other ingredients to be tasty, but it can be done.

Mid-range

I consider anything in the $4 to $7 range to be mid-range for a prepared meal.

Premium

Top-end backpacking meals often cost about $10 to $12 each, but they also tend to be simple to prepare and better tasting without needing to doctor them up.

FAQs on camping food

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What food should I bring camping?

A: Bring food that you’ll want to eat that’s also lightweight, shelf-stable, calorie-dense, and simple to prepare.

Q: How do I keep food cold while camping?

A: If you are car camping, bring a cooler with ice. You can use dry ice if you can find it, but be careful when handling it. 

Q: How do I pack food for camping?

A: Whether car camping or backpacking, it’s important to have a system of organization so that you aren’t a walking yard sale. For car camping, this usually involves coolers and boxes. When backpacking, I organize my food by meal in Ziploc bags and label them with a sharpie marker. I then put all of my food into a dry bag that has a few external loops which enables it to double as my bear bag (when I hang it in a tree overnight).

Q: How do I prepare food for camping?

A: My favorite way is to boil water, pour it into a dehydrated meal bag, and chill. Simple and tasty. 

Q: How do I keep food away from bears while camping?

A: If you have trees available, hang your food in a bear bag. If not, take along a bear canister.

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