Open main menu

Newbie here...Need ideas for camp meals

Hi, I am Don, and a first-time-poster here. I have been trolling it for a while, picking up ideas/reviews on tents, packs and the such. As a result of your guidance, I have assembled my gear and I am almost ready for my first backpacking trip...except for one part...what am I supposed to do for food?

I have my stove, a coleman backpacking stove, but have held off buying pots/pans/things to actually cook in, until I get an idea of what I will be cooking.

So, I was hoping that you would be gracious enough to help me out with ideas for recipes, your favorite camp foods, or any other tips, tricks, or words of wisdom that could be passed down to me.

Thank you in advance for the help!

Hi Don- Welcome to trailspace!

Glad you have been looking at reviews for your gear and basically getting advice on your new passion..For cooking generally most backpackers or backcountry packers cook one pot meals..This is a site that will help you get a general idea of recipes and how to plan a meal..

Also if you go to youtube you will find many way's to save on weight for your food as well.I have 2 cookbooks on backpacking food. But I make my own one pot meals and buy a few from retailers at times.You really could do alot more if pack weight weren;t the issue. But thats a factor with backpackers. Also look thru some of the threads on this section in the forum. I hope I gave you a place to start Don. My advice is look at the recipes and see what type of pots needed then research and come and ask questions.

I don't like to spend a lot of time cooking and since I'm not very fond of the freeze dried meals (although I think the Mountain House pasta dishes are OK), I package up my own meals in ziplock freezer bags.

For dinners I put 1/2 cup instant mashed potatos or 1/2 cup stuffing in a bag and add a single serving spam or pre-cooked foil pouch chicken breast with seasoning. Reconstitute with boiling water, finish with a liberal squirt of olive oil and eat from the bag. When you're finished, just put your trash in the ziplock, seal it up, and put it in your trash bag. This will help cut down on smells if you're in bear country. You can mix and match the four main ingredients to have a different meal every night.

A couple of packages of instant oatmeal is usually enough to get me going in the morning or sometimes I will eat granola with powdered milk. When my wife comes along, she insists on having pancakes (mixed up in a freezer bag) and pre-cooked bacon. Heat 3 - 4 pieces of bacon in the skillet to grease it up and then make one skillet sized pancake. Repeat until everyone has had enough. Again, clean up is made easy, just wipe out the non-stick skillet, put the trash in the ziplock and then into the trash bag.

Lunch is anything that doesn't require cooking; jerky, slim jims, crackers, cheese, tortillas, fruit chews, etc... I like the Honey Stinger packs for a sweet snack.

My kitchen setup consists of a coleman F1 ultralite stove, two quart aluminum pot, 450 ml titanium cup, spoon, and my wife gets to carry the non-stick skillet and MSR folding spatula (since she has to have the pancakes).

Some people like to cook multi-course meals and that is great if that is what you want. At the end of a day of backpacking, I want to get dinner over and done with so I can explore the area around camp or just relax. Hike your own hike.

What I take with me varies greatly from one trip to another, and also depending on the length and type of outing. For day hikes I take the usual trail snack foods:

>Dried Fruits (Favs are blueberries, pineapple, mango, figs, cranberries, rasins)


>Granola Bars or Mix, Musli, etc

>Chocolate, Chocolate and Yogurt covered nuts & Fruit, et

>Energy Bars: Cliff, Lara, and a hundred more are available at especially the health food type grocery stores. Here's a thread about trail Bars:

 >String Cheese


>Anything that is quick, no mess, no cook, and easy.

For longer trips it changes alot, but oatmeal is great in them morning. with a little more cooking pancakes mixed in a ziploc, a little fried sausage,  rehydrated and fried hash browns, etc are all great.

Lunch is usually trail food much like I would take on a day hike. I also like the vacuum sealed chicken and tuna packets, you can get at the supermarket, along with a bagel and some cheese. I love l=plain bagels because you can squeeze them down really thin but they hold together, and they are still just a s good.

Cooking up something hot for dinner is really important, as it really boost moral and satisfies the stomach at the end of a long day.  That doesn't mean you have to do a lot of work, it can be as simple as boiling water for a dehydrated instant meal. There are lots of freeze dried meals available specifically marketed to backpackers, as well as other options you can figure out as you go. From the supermarket, anything dried and nutritious is great. instant rice, pasta, potatoes, etc, are easy.

Here are some links to threads and resources:

I hope all that helps!

What would you suggest for cooking utensils? Is is a necessity to get an entire mess kit, or could I just stop by the local thrift store or salvation army and pick up an old pot to strap to the pack to eat out of bachelor style (eat straight out of the pot, no bowls needed)?

When I go down my mental checklist, all I think I would need is a pot, a cup, and spoon or spork.

You honestly could go to a thrift store and get a used pot for camping or backpacking or you could make your own..I know people that have made a cook pan out of a large Fosters beer can..I would get a cup to drink out of or use an old Gatoraid bottle that you may use for drinking out of anyway.. I have a spork. But you could use a fork and spoon from home..The best way is to try something once and if it isn't what you want to keep doing then you change it..thats the learning curve..I also eat straight out of my pan..Less clean up..


Dedicated cooksets made by reputable companies like MSR are great, and are designed to be lightweight and durable, and you'll probably like them if you get them sometime. But ant lightweight cookpot in the one to two liter range should work just fine to get you started, and maybe longer than that. I would just do some looking to find one that isn't heavy.

For a cup, I really like a dedicated cooking mug, with fold away metal handles. Those allow you to heat water in them directly, or just warm up your drink if it stats to get cold. Stainless ones are pretty inexpensive, though a tad heavy, while titanium ones are really pricey. On Day hikes, especially in winter, I will bring along a small lightweight soda can alcohol stove and heat up some instant cider or tea in my mug when I stop for lunch. It makes a nice addition to what is usually a somewhat inglorious meal, and you have a backup means of sanitizing water in an emergency.

I have a couple utensils. The simple and easiest are the LMF (Light My Fire) spork, that have a spoon on one end and a fork on the other end on the same shank. They cost a couple bucks. I also have a small folding spatula by MSR that I love, as well as a set of collapsible high-temp plastic flatware for when I want a bit more convenience. But any lightweight spoon, spork, or utensil set would work fine, regardless of whether it was "designed" for backpacking or not.

I purchased a few 1950's boy scout cook sets off ebay and at garage sales. Very inexpensive and they are built to last. I had to rivet one handle once. I paid .50 cents for it because the handle was loose.

I also found a great dehydrator at a garage sale to replace the the first one I purchased. Make sure you get a dehydrator with a working fan motor in it.

I dehydrate everything that can be dehydrated and make my own mixes to take out. If you like to garden like I do you will be eating like a king in no time.

I may be building a large solar dehydrator soon. I do need more space at times. We just brought in a bunch of snow peas and it takes awhile to cycle them through the dehydration. I also just started dehydrating lemons because a lady on Youtube said it was a good idea. I will see how that works out. It sounds good to me.




Don I also wanted to tell you that Instant pudding is a great desert after along day on a trail..add some fresh fruit..yumm.if you come up with any good recipes on your own. Please post them..I need idea's for about a weeks worth of supplies on a trip I am taking...

Thanks for the ideas everyone. I think I am going to start out by getting an inexpensive pot, and maybe a skillet, and using those for a bit, until I really have a NEED for something super light weight (like when I am going to be out for a week, instead of 3-4 days).

I am taking the advice about the cup with the retractable arms though. My local sports authority sells those for about $10. I have been eyeing them up and they're built really well, and should last a while, which justifys the price.

Don when you get back from your first outing lets us know how it went in the trip reports..Let us know what you thought worked for you and didn't. That and we like to see new place's to hike or backpack we may never had seen..

Here are a couple of quick ideas regarding trail food.

Like most posters here, I rarely cook for lunch.  Powerbars and granola bars are a common item.  You can make your own very easily.  Alton Brown on the food network has a good recipie for both on his website as well as a fruitcake that is much better than anything you can buy (and packed with calories).

This next part may sound a bit out of left field and my even draw a few laughs.  A buddy and I have developed a backpacking recipe for beef Manhattan that is assembled entirely from items found in every grocery store, costs much less than a freeze-dried meal, tastes better, feeds two fat guys and a dog with leftovers to spare.

The supplies:

1) Armour sliced dried beef

2) Packet of instant brown gravy mix

3) Instant mashed potatoes (a little Squeeze Parkay or butter helps alot)

4) Sliced bread of your choice (packed so as not to be squished--a disposable container like Glad works great)

The procedure:

1) Soak beef in water in a heavy freezer zip bag (just enough water to rehydrate).

2) Place potato mix in heavy freezer zip bag and add boiling water.

3) Add beef and any loose water to a cookpot and make the gravy in the pot according to directions (You may be able to find a gravy that you can make by adding boiling water to the bag that the beef was soaking in--even better).

4) Layer bread, beef, potatoes, and gravy.  Eat like pig directly off the plate without using utensils or your hands (optional).

Good luck,


What would you suggest for cooking utensils? Is is a necessity to get an entire mess kit, or could I just stop by the local thrift store or salvation army and pick up an old pot to strap to the pack to eat out of bachelor style (eat straight out of the pot, no bowls needed)?

When I go down my mental checklist, all I think I would need is a pot, a cup, and spoon or spork.

 for cooking utensils, I recommend the Guyot Designs The Utensil or MicroBites. read reviews here:

fellow Trailspacers have given you great suggestions on food, planning, prep. I have one additional food item to suggest if you like pasta but need something with extra protein and omega-3. It's Barila pasta. See my review (Penne, but available in all types). My number one favorite dish for backpacking/backcountry, and a huge hit with my friends that have eaten with me on trips.


Go with tortilla, mid-eastern flatbreads, indian naan, etc.

These easily wrap around the inside of bear-containers, or in a zip bag andslipped into food bag for pack.



My local Raley's market has instant refried beans n(low sodium & fat) in the Mexican section of the store.  Small packages of salmon & chicken in the canned meats section.



I use Trader Joe's instant broth (low sodium & fat), and freeze dried wasabi peas.  Stay away from the asian section of soups, as they have very high sodium levels.



Trader Joe's also have great "Fiber Pieces" and freeze-dried vegi's & fruits (blueberries, mango, etc.)



Don't read any of Sarah's or Laurie's recipes.  I've yet to put one together without eating it all "testing & experimenting" at home!

Start with taking food that is easy to prepare.  As easy as just adding water.

Preparation meals could be well prepared in advance, like at home.

Take food that has very little packaging and possibly remove or lesson the packaging before you depart.

Try and stir clear of food that can get crushed or needs refrigeration for best care.

Don I also wanted to tell you that Instant pudding is a great desert

 Mix the instant pudding in a zip loc bag with instant milk and cold water. Gently squeeze the bag to mix all contents until smooth.

Practice making some of your meals at home with the backpacking pots and stove you plan to take. You can make adjustments at home if needed.  If you forget salt or some important seasoning, you can go get it in the house and add it to your packing list.

Bagles and tortillas are much better than bread for packing.  I like plain bagles/ Then I can change the topping to go with the menu. I have even spread butter on the bagle at home so its all ready to eat. Peanut butter, flavored cream cheese, cheese spread, or even plain bagles are a nice touch with dehydrated meals. 

I always carry an extra one gallon zip loc and a couple plastic grocery bags for the unknown.  You will never know they are in the bottom of your pack until you need them.

Always take some kind of extra food. Trail mix, extra serving of soup or broth, or energy bars, for the unexpected.

Alot of my hiking is done in the deserts where water is not easily found, or cant be relied on. Therefore I have to carry what water Im gonna need, and use it wisely. To keep wieght down I eat mainly dry meals and keep trips to only two days.

Dry Kashi cereal for breakfast

Jacks Links nuggets and Tortillas for lunch

Couple single pack Spam or Chicken packs and tortillas for dinner

Im a coffee Junkie! So atleast 1 liter of water is always reserved for instant coffee fixes.

Along with a few energy bars this gets me by for a two day trip. But even sticking with dry meals, I still have to pack 5 liters of water. This wiil go up as temps go up, so deserts will be off limits untill next winter. Summer trips will be up north where temps are lower and water more available.


December 1, 2020
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply