Setting out on the trail usually means hauling everything you plan to eat along with you. And while coolers can work for car camping, what can you take when hiking or paddling to ensure your food still tastes delicious and meets your nutritional needs?

With a mix of sweet, spicy, salty, and nutritious, we’ve compiled our favorite camping food recipes (and a little bit of advice) to make your next outdoor menu the best it can be. The following tips will help lighten your load and keep you coming back for seconds.

Get to love granola.

Packed with protein and nutrition, granola is also virtually indestructible on the trail. Crunch it, smash it: it still tastes amazing! One of the tastiest granolas comes from the book, Feast by Firelight, by Emma Frisch. It features toasted quinoa, along with other healthy ingredients.

camping granola with quinoa

Firelight Quinoa Granola Clusters. Photograph copyright © 2018 by Christina Holmes.

Firelight Quinoa Granola Clusters
½ cup quinoa, toasted
4 cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups unsweetened coconut chips
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup olive oil
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)

  1. Position two racks in the center and lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the quinoa, oats, coconut chips, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, cinnamon, and cardamom. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, honey, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until combined.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheets, flattening it with the back of a spatula.
  4. Place the baking sheets on the prepared oven racks and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven and toss and redistribute the granola with a spatula to help it brown evenly. Flatten it again—hard! Return the granola to the oven, switching the sheets to ensure both are cooked evenly, and continue to bake until toasted brown, 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the cranberries (if using) over the top of the warm granola. Let the granola cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes. Do not break it up earlier or you’ll lose those precious clusters! Once cooled, break the granola into smaller clusters and transfer to an airtight container or ziplock bag.
  6. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 month. Recipe yields 8 cups.

Embrace oatmeal bars.

After marrying a man who spent his childhood portaging canoes and wannigans (that’s a food box to canoe enthusiasts), I quickly learned that camp food needed to be worth its weight. One family favorite is the Hudson’s Bay bar. These energy-packed treats originate from the Boundary Waters-Quetico area near the Ontario Minnesota border. Over the years we’ve adapted the recipe to be chewier, with fewer ingredients. Make with gluten-free oats for an inclusive treat.

Hudson Bay bar recipe

Hudson’s Bay Bars are an energy-packed treat for the trail.

Hudson’s Bay Bars
9 cups rolled oats
1 cup almonds
¾ pound of butter or 1 ½ cups coconut oil
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2/3 cups honey

  1. Using a food processor, process rolled oats in batches until coarsely ground. Repeat process for almonds and add to oat mixture.
  2. In another bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and honey. Add oatmeal mixture and blend thoroughly.
  3. Spread onto greased baking sheet and press down firmly with spatula or rolling pin. Cook for 15 minutes at 350 F, then remove from oven and press down again. Return to oven for another 2-3 minutes or until lightly golden. Press down a third time while cooling to ensure the bars are firm enough for packing.

Go for dense, dark breads.

Like the oatmeal bars above, this recipe packs a lot of weight into a small space, but that same super dense texture will give you energy when you need it. Modeled after the black breads of Eastern Europe and Russia, this non-yeasted bread recipe contains iron for those who need it. It’s also a meal in itself. Store in a firm container to prevent squishing.

camp bread recipe

Black pumpernickel-style camp bread is a meal in itself.

Black Pumpernickel Style Camp Bread
2 cups whole grain flour
1 ½ cups 7-grain cereal
1 ½ cups bran
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup molasses

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Add 2 ½ cup boiling water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Spoon into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Wrap it up.

If you can’t digest gluten, consider making your own wraps to take along. This fiber-rich, gluten-free recipe tastes delicious and frees up space in the pack by removing bulky breads and bagels. It also provides a chewy outer layer that remains pliable for 2-3 days, so everyone can enjoy a sandwich on the trail.

gluten-free yam wraps

Gluten-free yam wraps are a simple make-ahead camp food.

Yam Wraps
2 cups roasted and cooled yam (or sweet potato), mashed
2 cups psyllium husk powder

Combine ingredients and let sit for 15 minutes. Roll resulting dough into 4 equal-sized balls. Press flat with hands or using a tortilla press. Cook on an oiled griddle until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Cool and store between sheets of waxed paper or cloth. Use within a 2-3 days.

Perfect your pancakes.

For our first breakfast in camp, we usually dare to bring a few eggs along to hold our pancake batter together. Buy a camping egg tray that’s meant for transporting eggs safely or use dehydrated eggs, sold at most grocery stores. For vegan pancakes, substitute flax “eggs”: that’s 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed meal mixed with 2-3 tablespoons of water. Let sit for 5 minutes until it thickens.

At home: combine the dry ingredients of your favorite pancake recipe and place in a bag.

In camp: Blend eggs or egg substitute, water, and oil. Add to dry ingredients. Cook on medium heat in a frying pan set on camp stove. We like to use a diffuser plate to make sure our pancakes don’t burn on the outside and stay doughy in the middle. If you don’t have a favorite pancake mix, try this one over at From My Bowl.

Vegan camping pancakes. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Shoemaker.

DIY instant oatmeal packets

Yes, those little individual serving pouches of instant oatmeal are handy on the trail, but you can create your own package-free version for less than half the price. All you need is bulk instant oats and your favorite toppings. Try this on for size.

At home: Include ½ cup instant oatmeal for every person you expect to feed. Next, add the following ingredients—per person—to the bowl and mix well: 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 2 tablespoons raisins or dried cranberries, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, pinch of nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon of toasted coconut flakes. Transfer to a reusable bag and store until packing time.

In camp: Measure out ½ heaping cup of mixture into each person’s bowl. Add ¾ cup boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes until softened. Top with rehydrated coconut milk or whole milk powder and serve. Delicious!

Rustle up some bannock.

There’s something about camping and bannock that just goes together. Whether roasted on a stick or in a pan, bannock is about as essential to sleeping out as tents and sleeping bags. One of our favorite bannock recipes is just right for campfire cooking. You can also add slightly less water and wrap it around a smooth stick, spiral-fashion, for baking.

camping bannock

Campfire bannock is a mainstay of trail food.

Add something sweet and salty.

There are few things that fuel you better in the outdoors than nuts and seeds. One of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to spice up your trail mix is to add toasted, seasoned pumpkin seeds. Brown 2 cups of seeds in a cast iron pan until golden. Add 1 tablespoon maple syrup and a pinch of sea salt. Let cool and pack into silicone bags or add to your favorite trail mix.

roasted pumpkin seed recipe

Toasted pumpkin seeds add flavor to any trail mix.

Try out some treats.

Another way to add zing to your snacks is to take along some pre-made treats like Trail Truffles. Sweetened without refined sugars, and free from gluten, dairy, soy, and preservatives, these tasty truffles are also non-GMO and an excellent protein source. When you’re pressed for prep time, they can add something special to your camp food menu.

Trail Truffles for camping

Trail Truffles are a sweet treat for your day’s end.

Don’t wait, dehydrate.

The easiest way to lighten your load is to remove the moisture from your food by dehydrating. Dehydrating is economical and isn’t just for the trail. A home food dehydrator can help you preserve the best of the season all year long.

Dehydrating jarred items like salsa and sauces is easy when you have a home dehydrator to do the heavy lifting. You can also pre-cook and dehydrate whole grains to make cooking time in camp quick and easy. I like to bring along pre-cooked and dehydrated brown rice to fill out our camp dinners. This reduces cooking time and adds fiber.

Related: Tips for Dehydrating Backpacking Meals

One of our new favorite ways to bring protein on a trip is to dehydrate this recipe for vegan taco meat. After following the author’s instructions, spread mixture on dehydrator trays and dry until nearly crisp. The “meat” rehydrates so well, it tastes like fresh taco filling. We top with rehydrated salsa and wrap in a corn tortilla.

Cauliflower walnut taco meat. Photo courtesy of Pinch of Yum.

Take along some healthy, dehydrated mixes.

Purchasing pre-packaged, dehydrated foods is another option for those days when you’re in a hurry. Nomad Nutrition makes an excellent line of dehydrated camping foods that are free from soy, gluten, dairy, and palm oil. They’re also non-GMO and vegan.

Nomad Nutrition instant vegan meals

Nomad Nutrition offers a convenient line of allergen-free, vegan food for campers.

Go for lean, dry proteins.

If you don’t have a home dehydrator, look for dense proteins with a longer shelf life. Waxed and old cheeses will usually last up to two weeks on the trail, providing you manage the sweating by wrapping in beeswax cloth or wax paper, then tuck into a food bag. Be sure to keep hard cheeses in blocks, and only grate if you plan to use within a day or two.

For meats, freeze-dried varieties can work if added to cooked meals.

Bagged dry sausage is an option for quick, uncooked lunches, since this type of meat can last for months without refrigeration if unopened. Once opened, use within a week.

Nut butters and nut mixes are another high-protein option for camp proteins, and go well on breads, wraps, and crackers.

Legumes like slow-roasted, seasoned chick peas are another great, high protein snack that lasts.

Consider one-pot meals.

Cooking your whole meal in a single pot reduces the number of dishes to wash and avoids the temptation to use disposable items like tin foil. There are a plethora of one-pot meals that work for camping. One of our favorites is spicy dahl, which you can pre-cook and then dehydrate on Teflon sheets. Adding less water when cooking the lentils makes it dehydrate more quickly.

spicy one-pot dahl

Spicy dahl is a welcome meal after a day’s hike or paddle.

Don’t forget the java.

If the thought of camping without your morning coffee sends you into a panic, don’t worry. Gear has come a long way, and lightweight coffee makers are available to help you enjoy your morning to the fullest. The Cafflano Kompact is our favorite, since it’s made from food grade silicone, weighs only 8 ounces, and compacts down to 1.2 inches in height.

The Cafflano Kompact lets you brew coffee on the trail without adding weight to your pack.

Use small fires or camp stoves to cook your food.

Today’s camp stoves can boil water in under four minutes using a few sticks that you find on the ground. The Ultralight Nano is one example. Using less fuel means you carry less weight and spend less time sourcing firewood.

Ultralight Nano camp stove

The Ultralight Nano camp stove can boil water in under four minutes.

Eating out. Literally.

The wonderful thing about eating a meal outdoors is that everything tastes better. Take some time to prepare your food in the days before you leave and you’ll not only reduce waste, you’ll also benefit from the added nutritional value.

Do you have a favorite camping food? Share with us in the comments below.

Firelight Quinoa Granola Clusters reprinted with permission from Feast by Firelight, text and illustrations copyright © 2018 by Emma Frisch. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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