November 05 2019
With perishable foods, there’s only so much space in a cooler and so much time before all the ice melts. When you’re car camping, you probably want to use that limited space for meats, dairies, and a few beers for a hot dinner and a refreshing cold one. But when you’re planning around your melting ice, you can fill the rest of the car with non-perishable camping meals.
In juxtaposition, when on the trail, you can’t bring an ice box into the mountains. Even the littlest coolers can weigh you down with another 10-15 pounds, so stocking up on food that will travel well without refrigeration is very important.
Things To Consider When Packing Meals for Camping or Backpacking
- Carbohydrates: Carbo-loading is essential for the next day. Like the night before sports games, a solid base of carbohydrates can help you get through the next day’s adventure.
- Protein: While carbs are important for the future, protein is necessary for the past, helping your body catch up on muscle recuperation.
- Salt: It’s easy to over-do this in the city, but if you’re hiking, swimming, canoeing, and doing general outdoor activities, salt holds water in your body to keep you hydrated.
- Balance: We all know this from the food pyramid, but with non-refrigerated meals, it’s easy to go salty or bready. Working fruit, various protein sources, and different kinds of carbs is very important for how you feel.
Breakfast Meals That Require No Refrigeration
Probably the most essential building block before your long day of backpacking or outdoors activity, breakfast is best simple and full of carbs to give you energy for the day.
One of the camping classics is one of the simplest. Just add hot water to your oats to get them nice and ready. You can buy pre-flavored packets, or just bring along an apple and some brown sugar, both which don’t take up much space and do just fine in the away from the cold source.
2. Instant Coffee
I’ve said this before: nothing like instant coffee in the mountains. You’d never catch me with this stuff in the city, but for packing prudence, it comes in small, prepped packets that are serving size. Add hot water. I hope you take it black (or have dairy in your cooler).
This really only works for car camping unless you love dry cereal. It’s also hard to bring a whole box backpacking, unless you feel like grabbing handfuls for snacks.
Bisquick makes small pitchers of mix where you only have to add water and shake to make the batter. You can bring this guy up to the trail or your car camping site with syrup, which also is refrigerator-free. Pro tip: cut up strawberries to add into the batter while you’re shaking for strawberry pancakes!
5. Pre-made Breads and Pastries
This might sound gross, but those gas station pastries, like powdered donuts and Twinkies have enough preservatives to last your trip (and maybe outlive us all).
Also, opting for a pre-made banana bread for a week is not a bad idea. It’s also a little healthier than Twinkies.
Lunch Meals that Require No Refrigeration
Lunch while camping is usually on the go, away from the site. It happens mid-hike or in the middle of your day-venture from car camping. It’s smart to pack light, with a few ingredients.
6. Loaves of Bread
Much like the banana bread, regular loaves last a long time. It’s a good idea to embrace the sandwich for your midday meals.
7. Jellies and Jams
Jellies and Jams last a long time with preservatives and travel well in small jars. However, we recommend transferring the jelly into a plastic container if possible, to avoid any glass accidents.
8. Peanut Butter or Nutella
Your probably figured out where this is going: the tried and true PBJ. With good carbs on the outside and protein on the inside, the PBJ is your friend. At the campsite, my dad would take the bread loaf out of the plastic sleeve, make a ream of PBJ’s, and fill the plastic sleeve back up with sandwiches, ready for consumption.
Peanut butter is great due to its protein, but also because it comes in a plastic jar. You can opt for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, or get crazy with some Nutella.
9. Hard Cheese
Unlike it’s softer counterpart, a lot of hard cheeses don’t need refrigeration to stay fresh. Babybel’s come pre-wrapped into miniature cheese wheels ready for snacking in the outdoors. Don't be like this guy and forget to take off the wax cover though.
10. Cured Meats
Salami, bologna, chorizo, prosciutto, and summer sausage are fantastic ways to get meat without refrigeration. While the level of salt can be a little high, it holds water in your body in the best way possible for hiking and being outside. Bring a few of these and a few hard cheeses for a fancy lunch, or just a classic, delicious sandwich.
The can of tuna is one of the smartest things you can bring camping. It comes pre-canned in small serving sizes, which optimizes space. Furthermore, it has salt to hold water in your body and is very, very rich in protein if you’re backpacking. This is something I always bring for lunches due to its ability to help restore muscles after a long day.
Camping Snacks That Require No Refrigeration
This is where it gets fun, where you can be a little unhealthy because your body needs all the carbs from your backpacking or day-ventures away from the site.
12. Trail Mix
Every camping food list ever has had trail mix on it. Peanuts, other nuts (i.e. cashews and almonds), raisins, M&M’s, sunflower seeds, etc. are all non-refrigerated and have different benefits for your body. You can buy the premade stuff or make your own; the latter we highly recommend.
13. Bars, Bars, Bars
Protein bars, granola bars, Clif bars, and all of their friends are great ways to fuel up on your next outing. They never really melt entirely too if things get hot. Just remember to pack out the wrappers and leave no trace.
When you’re out and about all day, your body needs all the calories it can get. Even empty calories burn just fine, with a little balance. Try to stay away from things that might melt and towards things like M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, which are shelled.
Another camp classic. Like cured meats (but less healthy), jerky is good for protein and salt for your day-venture. It also comes in a variety of flavors for you to choose.
16. (Certain) Fresh Fruit
This one comes with a big asterisk, which is an expiration date. While most berries need refrigeration, apples, bananas, and oranges (to name a few) can last outside the fridge. If you’re going backpacking for a few weeks, try to get the greener bananas so that they ripen as you hike.
Pro tip: apples release ethylene, a gas which causes other nearby fruits to ripen. Beware of this or use to your advantage!
17. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is a great option to get some balance while outdoors and without concern to expiration date. The go-to dried fruit for my friends and I is dried mangoes, which are sweet and very chewy. We go through the bag in two days, though dried fruits can last up to a year.
18. Canned Fruit
This is another great canned food for camping, an even more long-term way to eat fruit. You can get a slew of fruits this way, in little serving-sized containers that last up to two years, beating out the dried fruit method.
Dinner Meals That Require No Refrigeration
Dinner might be the most important meal in the mountains. You want to have enough protein to have your body catch up and recuperate, but you also want to have enough carbs to get you through the next day.
19. Canned Chili
If you’re not feeling like prepping a large dinner, just pop the chili can and dig in. High on protein and salts, you can eat this one hot or cold. It also comes in vegetarian options!
Most components don’t need refrigeration for pasta anyways, unless you’re trying to get fancy. Here you can use that meat you’ve stored away and some fresh greens. Or just go simple with sauce and noodles, and maybe some herbs, like garlic, for flavor.
Don’t think just red either: pesto holds well and usually comes in a smaller container for your pack or car.
21.Dried Lentils, Beans, Rice
For a simple meal, just bring water to a boil and add your lentils, beans, or rice. While largely devoid of flavor, you can bring some herbs to spice it up, or just mix all three together to get a good boost of protein and carbs.
22. Mac N Cheese
Mac N Cheese is another simple, great crowd-pleaser. If you’re cooking for yourself, it already comes in small pods. Pro tip: add hot sauce and chili for extra kick and protein.
23. Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals
This is a staple in the backpacker’s diet. With a lot protein, carbs, and a ton of sodium, you can’t go wrong with these in the woods. Your nearest outdoor store most likely carries a variety of companies and flavors for you to shake things up and eat some very diverse meals, from curries to chili mac to Jamaican jerked chicken.
Dessert Meals That Don't Require Refrigeration
24. Hot Chocolate
On colder camping trips, hot cocoa is a great night cap. Needing only hot water and packets to calm you before a good night’s rest after a long day.
All the parts of this camping desert (graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows) last well outside of the fridge. Be sure to keep your chocolate out of the sun and try not to eat it until after dinner.
Bonus: 26. Liquor
While beer needs to be served cold, whiskey and other liquors are fine at room/outdoor temp. There is nothing like a nice nightcap with a little fire in the belly.
Bonus: 27. Hot Sauce
Need a little flavor? Bring a small bottle of your favorite hot sauce for an additional kick to your mountain meal.
There are many more camping food ideas that require no refrigeration beyond our list of 25 items. Remember to stay balanced and drink tons of water throughout the day. If there’s something we left off the list that you can’t go without, let us know in the comments!