This wild camping food guide offers some guidelines and ideas for what to eat on a backpacking trip. Specifically, what to eat if you want to eat well. This guide avoids processed prepackaged foods and focuses on real food high in both flavour and nutrition. I wrote this for people like me who want to go on wild camping adventures while enjoying great food along the way!
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What to eat on a wild camping trip will depend on a few things:
- How many days you’ll be out
- How much food you physically need
- Cooking tools available
- Your unique food preferences
- How ambitious you are – do you want to buy premade food or cook something from scratch?
- How much weight you’re willing to carry
This guide assumes that if you’re going wild camping, you’re also doing a substantial amount of walking (how else do you get to those wild places?). Backpacking requires a lot more energy than normal hillwalking, which is why we start here:
Get to know your backpacking energy needs
If you’re going out with a friend or partner, bear in mind that your energy needs may be totally different to theirs. To illustrate, my needs as a 5ft tall female weighing 55kg will be totally different from a dude who’s 6ft tall and weights 85kg! (This has caught me out before when trying to pack food for two for a multi-day trip, only to realise I didn’t bring enough!). This goes for taste preferences as well – I tend to prefer eating pulse-based vegetarian food, whereas I know many people who love their beef jerky and spaghetti bolognese.
I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to get to know your own food and energy needs. What do you like? What gives you sustained energy? What will you fancy when you know you need calories but you have no appetite for whatever reason because bodies are weird? (I often end up getting so sick of sweet snacks like granola bars and trail mix and crave something savoury). It takes trial and error but it’s worth the effort.
Remember that on a wild camping trip you’ll be burning more calories than a usual day, so it’s advisable to bring more food than you think you might need. Go for energy dense food that pack a lot of calories relative to their size / weight.
If you want too really geek out on calorie need, here’s a couple online tools you can use to try to estimate your daily calorie need:
Wild camping kitchen: essential gear
You don’t have to eat hot food on a wild camp – there are people who go backpacking and wild camping without a stove and rely only on no-cook food. But that’s not my style. Hot food expands your options and, perhaps more importantly, is hugely important for morale. If poor weather comes in, you’ve put your tent up in the wind and rain, feel exhausted and hungry from a trying day, the best thing in the world is to curl up in the tent with something hot to eat. Even a hot beverage at the beginning of the day or mid-afternoon can provide a welcome boost that can turn a potentially arduous day into something you can even look forward to. Yes, backpacking stoves add weight and bulk to your pack, but I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s the way forward (if you weren’t convinced already).
The bare essentials:
Stove: There are loads of ultralight compact backpacking stoves on the market of different weights, sizes, and fuel types (see below). I’ve become a big fan of the Jetboil Flash Cooking System which has an integrated cooking pot and small bowl. It’s about £120 but you can save money on other cookware if you’re happy to eat out of the integrated pot (which is also insulated, keeping food hotter for longer). A less expensive option that I’ve enjoyed is the MSR Pocket Rocket which is light and tiny.
Fuel: If you’re using a camping stove then you’re going to need fuel. The stoves mentioned above are canister stoves which use screw-on threaded canisters that contain two pre-pressurized gases: isobutane and propane. Liquid-fuel stoves are another option which run on white gas and can be messier but easier to restock on international trips. See this article on how to choose a backpacking stove. Whatever type of stove you have, the message is the same: remember to bring fuel for it!
Pot / bowl: If you’re using a Jetboil then this is optional. Otherwise you’ll need a pot to cook with and eat from. The MSR Titan Kettle is a nice all arounder holding 0.85 liters and weighing just 118g. The downside is that it costs over £50. The MSR Stowaway Pot is another great pot but quite heavy.
Mug: For your coffee, tea, wine, beer, or other beverage of choice! I have a collection of enamel mugs including this Wild and Wolf Enamel Mug. The ultralight among you might consider this 53g Lifeventure Titanium Mug.
Spork: Need I say more? I have this Titanium Spork but really anything will do.
Knife or Multi-Tool: Useful for all manner of things, not just food. I have a Buck Knife with a partially serrated blade that comes in handy for slicing bread.
Hydration: In addition to a 3 litre hydration bladder I always carry a Sigg Bottle. Both are useful for transporting and storing water, and you can use the Sigg Bottle as a hot water bottle if the weather is cold!
- Thermos. I often take this Thermos King Food Flask on cold weather adventures which is awesome for soups and stews.
- Portable egg storage box. We have a couple of these two-egg containers which has enabled us to enjoy eggs on our trip.
- Mini cheese grater. Yes, it’s a thing. Well how else are you going to grate cheese over your veggie chilli??
- Extra pots, bowls, and/or plates. The 1.5L Jetboil Group Pot or other large-gish cooking pot is handy if you’re travelling with others and you want to cook up food to feed a crowd. It also has a lid and bottom cover that double as plates.
- Coffee making kit. I take a 1-cup plastic V60 coffee dripper which is lightweight and makes delicious coffee!
- Ultralight cutting board. Yes, this also is a thing. I have this one which cost just £3.50 and weighs next to nothing (OK, 23g). Great little extra!
Where can you get all this gear? You can see that the cost of a wild camping kitchen can add up, nevermind the cost of the rest of your backpacking kit! You can sometimes find good deals on pre-owned kit on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and even charity shops. For new stuff I usually look to Cotswold Outdoor, REI (when visiting the USA), Ultralight Outdoor Gear, and sometimes Amazon.
Wild Camping Breakfasts
Granola / muesli: the no-cook option
This is my go-to wild camping breakfast especially in the summer when I feel less reliant on a hot breakfast. Bring along some powdered milk and fresh fruit if you’d like and you’re good to go.
- Supercharged granola – high protein, low sugar
- Dehydrated sprouted buckwheat granola
- Everyday granola
- Bircher muesli
Porridge with extras.
You can make porridge with those little sachets or pack some porridge oats in a baggie. Amp it up with any of the following:
- Fresh berries
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit
- Jam, compote, or honey
- Chocolate chips
- Protein powder
- Powdered milk
Top tip: mix up your porridge, powdered milk, dried fruit, and nuts in a baggie to save you some steps at camp.
This is a treat if you have a skillet and can fry up some eggs. Bring along some bread and a tin of baked beans (or make your own dehydrated baked beans). As a bonus, add some chorizo, smoked salmon, asparagus, or other accoutrements.
A few more wild camping breakfast ideas:
Lunch on the Trail
I always find lunch a little tricky. It’s easy enough to pack a sandwich or other packed lunch on day one, but on multi-day trips it can be harder to rustle together something exciting. Also, if the weather is poor, or your in the zone of just walking, it can be hard to stop for any length of time.
I tend to prefer eating small substantial snacks throughout the day rather than one big lunch (see my snack ideas below) which can bog me down. That said, a longer lunch break can provide a good mental and physical break in the day. I’m a massive fan of soup which even on hot days feels like a welcome treat. If I’m on the ball I’ll bring my own soup that I’ve dehydrated, otherwise I will eat something shop bought.
Cook up the soup as and when you fancy it or make it in the morning and take with you in a thermos (I highly recommend the Thermos King Food Flask for this). I usually have soup along some kind of crackers or bread, and maybe a granola bar or brownie to finish and then I’m ready to go.
My favourite lunch soups:
- Carrot, red lentil and cumin soup. A dehydrated soup recipe that is quick to prep with boiling water.
- Tarka dal. Another dehydrated lentil-based recipe with an Indian twist. Enjoy this one with naan bread which travels well.
- Heinz tomato soup. This is a bit of a childhood favourite and a real mood booster. Not a lot of calories so I like to mix in some grated cheese and top with crumbled crackers or oat cakes.
- Clearspring Miso Ramen
Another favourite option is a sort of lunch mezze of breads, olives, cured meat, cheeses, and dips (dehydrated hummus is a favourite). All of these options travel well, are high in calories and good fats, and are super tasty!
Breads that travel well
- Crackers and crisp-bread
Finally, I’m going to make a shoutout to that classic American lunch: peanut butter and jelly. Or in my case, a bagel or oat cake with peanut butter (or other nut butter) and sliced banana. Maybe some trail mix sprinkled on top. Delicious!
Wild Camping Dinners
This is where things get fun. Getting a dehydrator was a game changer for me as it meant I could turn many of my favourite stews, soups and chillies into lightweight wild camping food. It also freed up space and weight to carry a few extras. To illustrate, dehydrated veggie chilli is a favourite wild camping meal. But I need to have my accoutrements, and will usually carry along some avocado, strong cheddar cheese, a lime, and some kind of carbohydrate like rice or corn bread. Dehydrated meals simplify the main event, make clean-up easier, and make all those bonus extras possible.
My go-to dehydrated meals are:
- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chilli
- Lentil Ragu with Kale and Parmesan
- Campstove Shrimp and Grits
- Tent Tacos
Do not despair if you don’t have a dehydrator – I backpacked for years without owning one. It typically means carrying more weight and having to do more work at camp but the pay off is often more interesting meals and a lot more fun!
Quick cooking grains for wild camping dinners:
- Pasta (wholemeal or not)
- Bulgar wheat
- Packets of pre-cooked rice or other grain
Easy protein for wild camping dinners:
- Tinned mackerel, tuna, or other fish
- Cured meat
- Tinned chickpeas, lentils, and other pulses
Extras to make your wild camping dinners more interesting:
- Olive oil or coconut oil
- Dried herbs and spices
- Fresh herbs that travel well, particularly parsley, rosemary, thyme, and oregano
- Hard cheese like parmesan or grana padano – use a knife to shave off shards over any savoury meal
Wild camping dinner hacks:
- Couscous is probably the easiest to prep grain and there are some tasty flavoured couscous mixes out there that require you to just add boiled water and wait 5 minutes. No simmering (thus saving fuel) or potential mess draining excess liquid.
- Chorizo will keep for days and the oil rendered for frying onion or other delights.
- Put an egg on it. A boiled or fried egg is a good option for adding protein and interest to almost any savoury dish. Use a lightweight egg container to transport your eggs with minimal risk of breakage.
- Tinned fish like mackerel or tuna are another great add in to pasta, couscous, or stuffed in a pita or flatbread for an easy sandwich.
- Carry foods that double as a snack and a dinner accoutrement such as cured meat, cheese, and olives, all of which can be added to couscous or pasta.
- Make a quick Japanese noodle pot with instant miso broth, rice noodles or soba noodles, plus vegetables, fresh or dried.
- Use your freezer for more day one options: frozen meat or fish can be removed from the freezer just before take off and will thaw throughout the day. Cook it that evening with your wild camping supper.
- Use mini baggies or upcycled film canisters to transport herbs, spices, salt and pepper.
- Use dinner leftovers as part of your lunch the next day
More wild camping dinner recipes to try:
- Portobello mushroom fajitas
- Chickpea and kale one pot stew
- Beef tagine
- Mushroom stroganoff
- Trail tacos
- Haggis and tatties
Backpacking snacks are possibly the most important food of the trip! I always bring more than I think I’ll need for those unexpected moments when energy is flagging or you just need a mood booster. Try to have sweet and savoury options and include a few items that are super convenient to eat like beef jerky or snack bars.
- Beef jerky, store bought or make your own (this is a good starter recipe and has instructions for an oven)
- Energy bars.All of these recipes are high energy and contain now processed ingredients or refined sugars: homemade energy bars, raw snack bars, no bake protein bars
- Hummus and oatcakes.
- Dehydrated hummus
- Trail mix.
- Spiced nuts. These are seriously addictive
- Peanut butter (or other nut better) with oatcakes (bonus hack: extra peanut butter can be added to porridge for breakfast!)
- Dried fruit.
- Dehydrated fruit leather
- Dark chocolate
Wild Camping Desserts
I often enjoy the simplicity of some good dark chocolate, possibly with a dram, but when I want to make an effort, I really love those sachets of Birds Instant Custard. Divide one sachet between two mugs, add hot water, stir and wait for it to thicken. Then add a couple sponge fingers, a splash of whisky or sloe gin, and some fresh or dried fruit for a yummy backcountry trifle!
More wild camping dessert ideas:
Pre-made freeze-dried meal options
I pretty much always make my own camping food but if you’re a beginner or looking for something lightweight and convenient, you could purchase some pre-made meals. There are loads of options out there, many expensive, uninspiring, and environmentally questionable in terms of packaging. I’m obviously biased towards my own Eat Sleep Wild range of dehydrated camping food, all veggie / vegan, hand-made in small batches, and packed in recyclable packaging. In my research of other brands, I’ve found Real Turmat to be pretty exceptional as far as freeze dried convenience meals go. I haven’t tried Firepot or Tentmeals but both of those look like interesting options with more credible flavours and standards than other brands I’ve seen.
What are your favourite wild camping recipes?
I’d love to hear about what you cook on a wild camping trip. Let me know in the comments and feel free to share your links – any great suggestions for amazing wild camping food would be a welcome addition to this write-up. As for me, I’ll try to keep this post updated with more wild camping recipes as I write them. Bon appetit!
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