Part of the fun of road trips is finding new places to eat and discovering local delicacies. However, the cost can quickly add up: $10 a meal for three meals a day can eat away at your food budget (see what I did there?). If you are camping, the closest restaurant may be nowhere near your site and if you’re backcountry camping, it’s not even an option. I have found that by just keeping a few staples in the car, I can whip up a quick meal and coffee while stopped to let the dogs out to stretch their legs. I think of it as my “Road Trip Pantry”. Before we get to my road trip essentials, here are a few things to keep in mind when packing food for road trips:
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Tips for Car Camping Food
- A rigid plastic tub will keep your food contained and prevent the packaging from getting punctured.
- Be careful with squishable foods like bread and fruit.
- When travelling during the summer, the inside of the car will be cooler than the trunk.
- A plug-in cooler can keep your foods cool without having to worry about melting ice.
- If temperatures drop at night, consider leaving the lid of the cooler open to let the air cool overnight.
- A widemouth bottle can be filled with ice at gas stations or convenience stores and put in the cooler. This will give you cold water to drink but also help to keep things inside cooler overnight.
- Breweries are also an excellent place to stop to buy some cold cans to help keep items in the cooler cold. Want to know where some great dog-friendly breweries and wineries are? Check our list here.
Tips for Backpacking Food
- When carrying your food, it has to be small, light, and cook quickly so you don’t use up all your fuel.
- Take time before you leave to pre-mix all your meals as much as possible so that it’s just dump and cook.
- Pack as much food as you think you need and add more.
- Focus on calorie-dense foods to compensate for the energy spent hiking.
- You will have to hang your food out of reach of wildlife so make sure to bring a dry sack and rope. If you’re going to be in an area without trees, a bear canister will work well.
- If you’re going to be doing a lot of backpacking, it may be worth investing in a food dehydrator.
Take time before you leave to practice some recipes with the gear you’re going to actually use. This will make mealtime that much easier and when you’re exhausted after a day of hiking, the last thing you want to do is fiddle with your stove or discover that you don’t like cherry pancakes. It also helps to know how much fuel you will need to bring. Curious what kind of stove I use? Read my Trangia stove review here. I did recently buy a propane stove so stay tuned for the comparison.
Must-Have Foods for Camping
- Dried fruit
- Instant pancake mix (the kind you just have to add water)
- Instant oatmeal
- Ramen noodles
- Converted rice
- Dehydrated vegetables (mixed vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.)
- Dehydrated meats (chicken, jerky, bacon, etc.)
- Pouched fish
- Eggs (either whole or powdered)
- Cheese (whole or powdered)
- Skim milk powder
- Vegan protein options: dehydrated tempeh and tofu
Spices and Seasonings
- Bouillon (low-sodium so you don’t make up a salt lick)
- Chilli powder
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Ketchup (I like to save packets from purchased meals)
- Jam (saved from breakfasts)
- Peanut butter (also pilfered)
- Cooking oil (I like coconut oil for a high smoke point, mild flavour, and it stays solid at cooler temperatures which minimizes leaks)
- Coffee (click here to read more about different coffee makers I’ve used)
- Hot chocolate mix
- Powdered juice
- Road Trip Bottle (of course)
Don’t think of these so much as recipes, but ideas for cooking food while you’re camping. These are a few of my down and dirty, tried and true camping meals. There are no measurements because when you’e cooking outdoors, it seems that nothing measures the same way that it does in your kitchen. I don’t usually cook a lunch but here are some of my favourite breakfast and dinner meals.
Pour some dried fruit or a mix of fruits into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit (preferably while you use the rest of the water to make coffee). Once the fruit is soft, add whatever spices would go nice with the fruit and enough pancake mix to form a thin batter. Be careful not to overmix or your pancakes will be tough. Pour dollops of batter into a greased pre-heated pan set over medium heat (you’ll know the pan is ready when water drops skittle across). Cook until browned and the edges appear dry then flip and cook until the other side is cooked. I never feel the need to add syrup or butter because the fruit adds it’s own sweetness but if you want to up the flavour a bit more, a packet of jam works well.
These start the same way as the pancakes but with more mix to create a stiffer dough. Mix until just combined. Pre-heat a pan until water drops skittle across then pour a layer of oil into the pan and wait until hot. Drop spoonfuls of dough into hot oil and cover with a lid or heavy-duty foil. You want to trap the heat so that the top of the biscuits start to cook. Once the bottom is browned, flip the biscuits and cook uncovered until the bottom is browned.
Kitchen Sink Ramen:
Put water to boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, add whatever dried vegetables and/or meats you feel like and let that come back up to the boil. Add a package of ramen with the flavour pouch and cook for the time indicated on the package. Eat right out of the pot.
I know this isn’t technically a risotto but it sounds better than mushroom rice. You can measure out the rice and water per the brand instructions before you begin but if you don’t have a tight-fitting lid, you will need more water than you think. Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms to cover and let sit 20 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. Heat pan over medium heat and add cooking oil. Once heated, add converted rice and stir until it smells nutty. Slowly add the soaking liquid from the mushrooms and cover until the rice is cooked to your liking then add the mushrooms and stir until well-combined. If there are any spices you like to add, pour them into the oil before you add the rice so that the flavours can bloom. You can do the same procedure with sun-dried tomatoes replacing the mushrooms. Or use both. You can also add dehydrated protein but you’ll want to experiment with soaking and prep times beforehand. If you want a deeper flavour, you can add some bouillon when you add the water.
I like cooking this over an open fire. Place a heavy cast iron skillet over a medium hot fire. Once the pan is hot, add your cooking oil and when it starts to shimmer, add chopped onion and garlic. Stir frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn until the onions are soft, then add chopped potatoes, a good splash of water, seasonings, and cover with foil. Shake the skillet every few minutes (using something to protect your hand of course) and every so often lift the foil the give everything a good stir and check the potatoes for doneness. When the potatoes are almost done, form them into shallow bowls and crack an egg into each little potato nest. Crumble dried bacon or some lunch meats or thinly sliced cheese over top of the eggs and cover with the foil again. Cook until the eggs are done to your liking. Make sure you let the skillet sit off the heat for a few minutes before you dig in. A towel underneath will keep the surface beneath the skillet, and you, protected.
Camping Food For Your Dog
If your dog eats a brand of food that is common in major chains, you may be able to get away with bringing less with you so you can buy as you travel. This can be tricky if, like me, you have travelling companions with sensitive tummies. I like to play it safe and bring food with me. Yes it takes up space in the trunk but I don’t have to worry about finding food. If I am travelling across the border, I make sure that I have the food in an unopened bag with a copy of the receipt. Once the bag is opened, I keep some in a container so that I can pour it into the dog’s bowls without having to unpack the trunk.
If weight is an issue, like when backpacking, consider dehydrated raw food. It is calorie dense and can be rehydrated with some water to be more filling and prevent bloat.
If you plan on using a different food while travelling, make sure you take plenty of time to acclimate your dog before you leave. You don’t want to be three days into a hike to find out that really expensive dehydrated raw food makes your pup sick or has them up every hour to go outside.
Packing Dog Food
- If your dog is going to be carrying their food, make sure they are physically strong enough to carry their pack with supplies.
- Weigh meals in individual packages. This helps to keep the weight evenly distributed.
- While single-use plastic is bad and needs to be packed out, if you use thicker freezer bags, they will last longer without punctures and can be washed and reused.
- Make sure to consider other items like poop bags, bowls, and water bottles when loading your dog’s backpack.
- Watch for rub marks as your dog moves and adjust their pack as needed.
- A very rough guide to determine how much your dog can carry is 25% of their body weight. This obviously has to take their age, health, condition, and the terrain into account.
- Begin preparing your dog well in advance of any difficult trips. Even a day-long hike can let you see how your dog handles a day under weight and how they adjust the longer they are out.
- You will have to carry your dog’s pack if they are unable to so make sure you factor that weight into your load.
Remember to follow all Leave no Trace principles: whatever you pack in, you will have to pack out. This also means cleaning up any spilled food immediately to prevent attracting animals to an easy meal. When I go backpacking, I bring the footprint for my tent and put the food bowls on the floor of the vestibule. It makes cleaning up much easier instead of picking through dirt and pine needles for soggy kibble. When we are car camping, a large outdoor blanket does the same job and also provides a nice dry base for a soft blanket. King is a messy eater and he seems to collect kibble in his jowls which go everywhere so cleaning up is very important.
No matter what food you bring, it will also have to be protected from wildlife which means storing it safely in the trunk of your car when your dog is not eating or hanging it with your food in a tree.
I’d love to hear what your essential foods to bring camping are. What do you think of the recipes?