Just because you’re on a camping trip, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all the flavor and taste in your food. Even deep in the woods, cooking up delicious recipes can still be quick and easy. When it comes to camping food, the key is to plan ahead.
There are a few essential items that you should consider for preparing, cooking, and eating camping food. You’re going to need a camping stove, camping cookware, and utensils. We’re going to take a look at the different types of each and all of their available features.
In addition, we’ll also help you figure out what food to bring, and how to keep your food fresh while camping. We’ll even give you a few recipes, tips, and tricks for creating some great camping food dishes.
In this first guide, we’ll cover all of the basics of camping stoves, camping cookware, and camping food. Use the table of contents below to navigate, or simply keep scrolling.
Table of Contents
Camping stoves are stoves designed specifically for camping. They are lightweight, portable, and easy to transport to camping areas. Camp stoves are the best way to cook food while camping. Typically, they are easy to use and efficient enough to cook a wide variety of meals. There are two main categories of camping stoves: propane camping stoves and backpacking stoves.
Propane Camping Stoves
Propane camping stoves usually resemble a portable version of household stove tops. Most models typically have two burners, although there are many single burner models as well. These stoves use propane, which is affordable and available almost everywhere. In addition, you don’t have to use large propane tanks like you do with your grill at home. Instead, you have the option to use much smaller propane fuel cylinders.
Coleman’s Classic Propane Stove is the most famous example of a propane camping stove. The Classic Propane Stove is fueled by a 16.4 ounce propane cylinder. It has two large burners and is capable of 20,000 total BTU of cooking power.
While propane camping stoves are larger and less portable than backpacking stoves, they pack a lot more power. With that power and size, they are capable of cooking a much larger quantity of food in significantly less time.
This type of stove is ideal for “car camping,” where your vehicle and supplies are close to your campsite. While they are portable, they are still too large and heavy for backpacking, hiking, or carrying a long distance.
In recent years, a few well known companies like Coleman have also begun manufacturing camping stove grill combos. These combine elements of camping stoves with some of the more familiar features of traditional backyard grills.
Tabletop vs. Freestanding Stoves
There are two main types of propane camping stoves: tabletop stoves and freestanding stoves.
As the name suggests, tabletop stoves are placed on top of a table or other flat surface. They don’t have legs, so the table supports the stove while you are cooking. While finding a suitable table or surface outdoors can sometimes be difficult, tabletop stoves are much more portable.
Freestanding stoves, on the other hand, have legs to support them. When it comes time to cook, freestanding stoves are definitely more convenient. However, they are heavier, bulkier, and more difficult to pack and carry.
Compared to classic camping stoves, backpacking stoves are significantly more portable. They are smaller, lighter, and easier to carry and pack. As the name suggests, most backpacking stoves are so portable that they can fit right inside your backpack.
While they have the advantage of portability, backpacking stoves aren’t quite as powerful as the larger propane stoves. Backpacking stoves have a smaller cooking surface and produce less BTUs, so what you are capable of cooking is limited and will also take longer to cook.
There are five main types of backpacking stoves: canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves, wood burning stoves, integrated canister stoves, and alcohol stoves. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons, features, and ideal uses of each type.
These days, canister stoves are by far the most popular type of backpacking stoves. Canister stoves are small, convenient, lightweight, and easy to carry. Usually, they have a single burner that screws directly onto the top of a small fuel canister. The top of the fuel canisters are threaded, which creates a sealed connection.
In the past, canister stoves used butane fuel. Today, modern canister stoves use a fuel mixture that combines propane and butane. Compared to butane, this combination fuel is easier to light, burns hotter, and performs better in cold temperatures.
Most canister stoves have controllable heat, which makes them pretty versatile. They are capable of frying, baking, and simmering.
Liquid Fuel Camp Stoves
Liquid fuel camp stoves have a single burner that connects to refillable fuel bottles via a hose.
These are the most versatile of stoves and can use almost any type of fuel. They burn white gas most efficiently, but will work with kerosene, canister fuel, diesel fuel, and most other types of fuel as well.
In addition to being the most versatile, liquid fuel stoves are the best backpacking stoves for cold weather and high elevation.
Liquid fuel camp stoves are particularly ideal for long camping trips with multiple people. The use of large fuel bottles makes it possible to cook a lot of food over a long period of time, especially if you bring multiple bottles with you. Additionally, the burner is very stable and supports large cooking pots.
Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to liquid fuel stoves. They require maintenance in order to work properly, and must be primed before you can use them. In order to use them, you’ll need to know how to take them apart and put them back together. Additionally, they are heavier and not as portable as other backpacking stoves.
Wood Burning Camp Stoves
Wood burning camp stoves are fueled by burning small bits of wood. For fuel, burning dry hard woods will give you the most power and best performance. However, you can also use sticks, twigs, pine cones, or leaves as a fuel source. That means that you can actually find fuel laying on the ground at your campsite. Since you don’t have to worry about purchasing gas, wood burning stoves are extremely cost effective.
Generally, wood burning stoves are very lightweight, small, and portable. However, compared to other stove types they don’t provide as much control over the temperature.
Integrated Canister Stoves
Integrated Canister Stoves are fairly new to the camping and backpacking scene, but are quickly growing in popularity. What sets this type of stove apart is that it is a complete “integrated” system. Essentially, this means that it’s a burner, canister, and pot that are all created to work together. It’s an all-in-one stove and cooking system that’s portable and lightweight.
Although integrated canister stoves are extremely fuel efficient, they aren’t the best for cooking solid food. They will, however, boil water and cook soup faster than any other type of backpacking stove.
Alcohol stoves are very lightweight and are a great option for backpacking. Unlike most other camping and backpacking stoves, alcohol stoves do not use gas or liquid fuel. Instead, they burn denatured alcohol, which is cheap and easy to find. Denatured alcohol readily-available and most hardware stores carry it, so you won’t have to search too far.
Compared to other backpacking stoves, alcohol stoves are small and do not produce a lot of heating power, so they are not ideal for cooking entire meals. There’s also no temperature control, which makes cooking even more difficult. The best uses for alcohol stoves are boiling water or cooking freeze dried camping food.
When it comes to cooking camping food, it’s essential to have the appropriate cookware. Minimally, you must have a camping stove, a cooking pot, and utensils.
Camping Cooking Pots
Cooking pots designed for camping are family similar to kitchen cooking pots, with a few exceptions. They’re more lightweight than kitchen pots, which not only make them more portable and easy to pack, but make them easier to hang above campfires while cooking. If you purchase camping pots in a set, they will usually fit inside of each other to make packing as compact as possible.
Additionally, high-end camping pots are designed to heat up and cook quickly, since you are likely to have less heating power and limited fuel. You will often see water boil times listed as a specification or feature.
Camping cooking pots come in many different sizes. The best way to determine which size you need is to consider how many people you will be cooking for. If you are only cooking for yourself, then a 24 ounce (0.75 quart) or 1 quart pot may be ideal for you. If you are cooking for yourself and a few others, you will probably want to opt for a 5 quart pot.
Cooking pots should also be coated with a safe, non-stick coating to make cleaning up easier. While camping, you have limited access to cleaning supplies, so having a non-stick pot is essential. Otherwise you will be scraping the bottom of the pot for hours to get it clean.
Another feature to look for is heat-resistant handles. With cheaper camping pots, the heat travels right into the handles and you will absolutely burn your hands if you touch them. You probably aren’t going to bring oven mitts on your camping trip, so heat-resistant handles are an important safety feature.
Camp-style Dutch ovens are cooking pots that are usually made of cast iron. Dutch ovens are loved by many camping enthusiasts and are used extensively by the boy scouts. They are known for being extremely versatile and capable of cooking almost anything. You can use a Dutch oven to fry, roast, bake, stew, slow cook, and more.
How a Dutch Oven Works
A Dutch oven has legs on the bottom that provide a space for hot coals to sit underneath of it. On top of the Dutch oven is a cast iron lid. The lid is closed and additional hot coals are placed on top of it. Since cast iron is great at heating up and dispersing heat evenly, the food in the oven bakes. The temperature is then adjusted by adding or removing coals.
In fact, Dutch ovens are so dependable and effective that there are conversions for creating specific temperatures. For instance, to reach an oven temperature of 375ºF in a Dutch oven with a diameter of 12”, you must place 9 coals beneath the oven and 18 coals on the lid. If you add one more coal to both the top and bottom, the temperature will increase to 400°F.
Usually, camping cooking utensils come in sets. Utensil sets typically with a fork, spoon, cooking knife, and tongs. Additionally, many sets will include a spatula, rice paddle, bottle opener, a pair of scissors, and a small cutting board. In most cases, the set will also have a carrying case for easy transport.
Camping Cook Sets
Instead of purchasing cooking pots, utensils and plates separately, you could opt for a camping cook set. These sets generally include everything a small family needs to cook and eat while camping.
For instance, the Stanley Base Camp Cook Set is a 19 piece stainless steel cooking set that’s intended for a family of four. It includes a 3.7 quart pot with lid, a frying pan, cutting board, spatula, serving spoon, four plates, four bowls, four sporks, dish drying rack, and a trivet. At less than $70, it’s often cheaper to buy a full set like this than it is to pick out a few cookware items individually.
When you’ve got a group of people camping, there’s probably going to be a lot of food prepping, cooking, and eating. A camping table offers a convenient solution to make all aspects of cooking and eating easier. Camping tables are lightweight, portable, and usually fold in half. If the table doesn’t fold, the legs will almost certainly fold up towards the table for easier transport and storage.
It’s important to remember that camping tables are not dining room tables and aren’t meant for eating on. They aren’t the sturdiest, and a few sudden movements from your children could send the table tipping and your food to the ground. This is especially true when camping because the ground tends to be rocky and uneven.
Easy Camping Food
When it comes to cooking camping food, our advice is to keep things as easy and simple as possible. If you are a backpacker, this sentiment rings even more true. Ease and simplicity are key. Here are a few of our favorite easy camping food items that you should be sure to bring on your next camping trip.
Scrambled eggs are a great go-to for a filling breakfast. You can fry up scrambled eggs in any small pan, either over a camping stove or a campfire. Everyone has their own preference for scrambled eggs, but I recommend adding in a little water and butter to make them fluffy. You can also add in some potatoes and cheese for a delicious omelette.
Honestly, breakfast burritos are possibly an even better camping breakfast than scrambled eggs. They are delicious, easy to make, and easy to hold. Bring along a few tortilla wraps, cheese, and potatoes. Mix the cheese and potatoes into your scrambled egg. Place the tortilla wraps near the fire to warm them up, then wrap the eggs into the burrito.
Quesadillas are my absolute favorite camping food. You’ll need tortillas, a jar of salsa, canned beans, and some shredded cheese. They’re very easy to make and they cook in just a few short minutes. Just put the tortilla in the pan, then cover half of the tortilla with cheese, salsa, and beans. Now fold the other half over, creating the quesadilla shape. Flip it and let both sides brown. So simple and so good.
Another quick and easy camping option is a grilled cheese. The only ingredients that you need are bread and cheese.
Granola bars are the perfect camping snack. They are easy, quick, and filling. If you purchase the correct brand, they can also be fairly nutritious. Granola bars are also great for energy if you are backpacking, hiking, or climbing throughout the day.
Vegan Camping Food
Camping food can really be difficult and frustrating for vegans. However, if you think outside of the box, there are plenty of great vegan camp food options. In fact, if you do a lot of the food prepping at home, most of your favorite vegan dishes can be cooked on a camping stove.
Remember, it’s essential to plan out all of your meals before you leave for your camping trip, so you can be sure to bring all of the required ingredients and cookware. Here are a few very simple vegan camping food ideas to get you started:
Vegan or not, oatmeal is the perfect camping breakfast. All you need is to boil some water on the camping stove, and you’re good to go. Mornings can often be chilly while camping, and hot oatmeal is great at warming you up. It’s a quick, easy, and filling meal.
If everyone else on the trip is grilling up burgers and hotdogs, you should definitely bring along some veggie burgers. First of all, they’re delicious. But also, this is a great way to join the group in a fun dinner activity while still eating vegan.
Chips & Salsa
Chips and salsa are a great vegan snack food. When camping, it’s a great idea to have something quick and easy to snack on. Chips & salsa are simple, delicious, and not too bad for you.
Personally, when I go camping granola and chewy bars are my go-to snacks. I bring them every single time and love it. They’re also great for a quick and easy breakfast. Most granola bars are vegan, so enjoy!
Canned soup is a great camping meal and an easy vegan option. It’s simple to make as long as you have a camping stove or a cooking pot hanging over the campfire. Soup is also hot, which is great for warming you up on those chilly mornings and nights out in the woods. Grab a few cans of your favorite vegan soups and bring them on your next camping trip.
Name a better duo than beans and camping — you can’t, it’s impossible! Canned beans might be the most traditional camping and backpacking food that there is. They’re extremely easy to make and also very versatile. You can use beans as an ingredient in many other dishes, or as a side to any entree.
Freeze Dried Camping Food
Freeze dried food is a great solution for camping. Over the last decade, it’s become one of the most popular meal options among campers, hikers, and backpackers.
What is freeze dried food?
When food is freeze dried, it is rapidly frozen and then put into a vacuum. Inside, the ice turns to vapor, which dries the food out. However, that food can easily be rehydrated later on.
Why is freeze dried food good for camping?
Freeze dried foods are great for camping because they are lightweight and convenient. Believe it or not, they’re also pretty nutritious. They’re ideal for backpacking because they are packaged well, but don’t have the added weight that canned food has. Freeze dried foods can be re-hydrated in just a few minutes by simply adding boiling water to the pouch and letting it sit.
In terms of taste and nutrition, freeze dried food has come a long way. There are a ton of diverse dishes available, including pesto pasta, salmon, high-protein pancakes, and more. Interestingly, freeze dried meals do not lose any nutritional or caloric content when frozen or re-hydrated.
Camping Food Recipes
Without a good camping recipe, it’s pretty hard to make tasty food out there. You’ve got limited ingredients, limited cooking gear, and a very small stove. Recipes can make all the difference. While we do love delicious dishes, we think it’s important to keep recipes simple for camping. That means we love a good backpacking recipe! Here are a couple of our favorites.
Beans and Rice with Fritos and Cheese
This is a delicious dish that’s easy to make and requires just a few ingredients. The recipe is a great twist on the classic “beans and rice” camping dinner, and is fantastic for backpackers. As the title suggests, beans and rice are combined with crushed fritos and melted cheese. To prepare the dish, the only equipment you need is a camping stove.
The Pasta Carbonara with Prosciutto is one of my favorite camping recipes. This dish takes fine Italian dining, puts it in your backpack, and lets you enjoy it in the great outdoors. With a bit of preparation, it’s possible to eat good while camping. The recipe combines pasta, Parmesan cheese, and Prosciutto for a delicious take on Pasta Carbonara.
Campsite cooking should be fun, not stressful or frustrating. Below are a few of our favorite tips to help you have a pleasant cooking experience on your next camping trip.
1. Test your camping stove before every trip.
Before every camping trip, it’s a great practice to test your camping stove. Make sure that everything is functioning properly, and that you have sufficient fuel to bring. When you are ready to cook at the campsite, there is nothing more frustrating than discovering that your camp stove doesn’t work. Testing the stove prior to leaving will help you avoid a big headache.
2. Plan all of your meals ahead of time.
Planning your meals ahead of time is essential. This will make sure you pack all of the required ingredients, as well as necessary cookware and utensils. It’s best to map out every meal so that you know exactly how much of each ingredient you are going to need. If you fail to plan effectively, you may find yourself unable to cook a proper meal, so this is important and should be part of your camping preparation.
3. Only bring the pots that you need.
If you planned all of your meals ahead of time, you now know exactly which cooking pots, cookware, and utensils you need to bring with you. This will help you avoid bringing large pots that you won’t end up using. You’ll save a lot of space and have less to pack and carry.
4. Prep your food as much as possible before you go.
When you’re outside without kitchen counters or tables, prepping food can be difficult. Before you leave for your camping trip, you should prep your food as much as possible. Chop any vegetables and cut up your meats. Cutting and chopping prior to leaving means you won’t have to pack kitchen knives, cutting boards, or other bulky kitchen items. Additionally, it’s much easier to clean up the mess at home than while camping.
5. If you are bringing meat, freeze it first.
If you are spending more than one night camping outdoors, it’s a good idea to freeze the meat you’re bringing. A great strategy is to pack fresh meat for the first night, along with frozen meat for consecutive nights. Freezing the meat for future nights will ensure that it stays delicious and safe to eat.
6. Bring aluminum foil.
Any time you go camping, you should bring aluminum foil with you. Aluminum foil is super versatile and convenient. It’s great for cooking over the campfire and for storing leftovers. Wrapping or covering your food with aluminum foil will also keep it warm for a while. It makes packing food easy and the cleanup is a breeze.
For cooking, aluminum bags are also really convenient for cooking. You can use them to cook meals directly over the campfire flames, with your camping stove, or with your camping grill.
7. Put all of your food away.
Food attracts animals. Animals can smell much better than we can, and if they catch the scent of food laying around, they are going to come. While food can attract any number of different animals, bears present real danger. The last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night to a bear chowing down on your leftover dinner. To avoid this, it’s important to put all of your food and leftovers away while you aren’t cooking or eating. The best idea is to put the food inside of your car or a chuck box.