What to Eat When Frontcountry and Backcountry Camping

From breakfast to dessert, we've got you covered

It’s that wonderful time of year when the snow is melting and Albertans are starting to prepare for summer camping trips. We’ve had some requests for food ideas — for both frontcountry trips and overnight, carry-everything-on-your-back trips — and we’re here to deliver.

For starters, be sure to pack depending on the type of camping trip you’re going on. If you’re driving into a frontcountry camping site, vehicles have a lot of space for coolers/camp stoves/bags of chips/food. Backpacks, not so much. That being said, food is one of my (Annalise’s) favourite parts of going outside, and as I said in February, I’ve been known to carry a little extra weight in my pack for a better meal or snack in the backcountry. From hauling cupcakes up a steep, long, winding trail to celebrate a milestone birthday, to attaching a large bag of chips to the outside of my backpack to be enjoyed as a reward after a rainy eight-hour hike in, little things can make a big difference outside.

Don’t overdo it though. Pack smart. Learn from the mistake of a dear friend of mine, who packed a can of beans, no can opener, and several cans of beer on his first backpacking trip, then proceeded to complain about how heavy his pack was and how hungry he was. A simple tip: don’t do this. When backcountry camping this summer, be prepared, pack foods that are light, nutritious, calorie-heaving (you need fuel for all that hiking), easy to open, and have a stable shelf-life.

Frontcountry camping is a whole different ballgame because, if you’re travelling to the site by vehicle, you have nothing but space for food. And, because you’re not spending hours hiking into your site, you also have a lot of time to prepare delicious meals. Be creative. Have fun. Eat well.

Poutine & Caesars were on the menu on a Canada Day car-camping trip several years ago.

As follows, organized by meal, are some of our favourite foods to make when spending the night in a tent. Please weigh in with your own tips, suggestions, mistakes, learnings, dos and don’ts. We always enjoy learning from others and adding to our camping food menu!

Breakfast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is especially good advice when you’re about to spend the day adventuring outside. Make sure you fuel up at breakfast time.

Instant Oatmeal

If you don’t have a lot of time in the morning, oatmeal is a quick, easy option. Just boil water and you’re done. We like to add dried fruit, nuts, or peanut butter to ours to beef it up a bit, especially on long hiking days.

Pancakes

This is a favourite on both front and backcountry trips. We like to use a mix that is ‘add water only’ to keep packing easy in the backcountry. Don’t forget the maple syrup! On car camping trips, pack that cooler with fruit, whipped cream, or other tasty toppings for pancakes.

Chia Seed Pudding

This is another easy option, great for mornings when you don’t have much time. For a thicker pudding, a ratio of 4 tablespoons of chia seeds to 1 cup of liquid works well. On backcountry trips, mix the chia with powdered coconut milk at home and pack it in a small ziplock. Then, add water and the chia/powdered coconut milk to a Nalgene, shake it and let it sit overnight (on a bear hang with the rest of your camp kitchen and food). Wake up and breakfast is ready. You can also sweeten with vanilla or maple syrup, and add dried fruit or coconut if desired.

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Eggs/bacon/hashbrowns/French toast, etc.

If you’re frontcountry camping, don’t be afraid to take some time to make a hearty breakfast. You won’t regret it.

Lunch

We find lunch to be the trickiest meal. When car camping, you often don’t feel like making something elaborate, doing dishes once again, etc. When backpacking, you’re often quite hungry by lunchtime and want something that’s quick and easy, satisfying, but not too heavy if you have a lot of hiking left. Also, if you’re on a days-long backpacking trip, you need food that will keep without a fridge and not get too squished by day 3 or 4.

Backcountry Charcuterie

This has become a go-to backcountry trip lunch for me (Annalise). Dehydrated cheese (or hard white cheddar, which keeps for a while without refrigeration), jerky (beef or vegan), cured sausage (or seitan ‘pepperoni’), nuts, figs, and apricots make for an easy but varied and filling lunch. I also started recently adding dehydrated hummus (you can buy it, but I just make my own) and crackers, to really round out my backcountry charcuterie experience. For frontcountry camping, you can do the same and take advantage of your cooler to really embrace the fresh cheese, meat, hummus, veggies and fruit that are harder to take into the backcountry.

Apple/Peanut Butter Wraps

Tortillas, apples and peanut butter are a simple, easy lunch.

Tuna + Crackers

This is another good protein-heavy option for backcountry trips, especially when you’re a few days in and freshness is a concern.

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Dinner

Dinner when camping, whether you’ve hiked hours into your site, or driven right into it, is wonderful. You typically have time to make something delicious and filling, and enjoy it while swapping stories about the wonderful day outside that was.

Burritos/tacos

A go-to camping favourite is burritos or tacos, especially if you have a site with a picnic table where you can lay all the toppings out.

Burgers/hotdogs/steak

An easy, delicious option for frontcountry camping. Don’t forget the condiments! If you’re vegetarian, fret not, there’s lots of great veggie burger and sausage options on the market nowadays.

Fresh veggies

From fresh corn on the cob, to green beans or tinfoil packets full of potatoes, onions and carrots, nothing tastes quite like summer like fresh veggies cooked on a campfire. Stopping at a Farmer’s Market before a trip is a must for us.

Backcountry meals

There’s plenty of just-add-water dehydrated meal options out there, but don’t feel like you have to spring for the $13.95/dinner option. We have friends who always bring just-add-water Sidekicks when backpacking, while we both have dehydrators and prefer to make our own meals. From African Peanut Stew to Lentil- Cauliflower Soup, I’m a big fan of making double batches of my favourite recipes, dehydrating the leftovers, portioning the dried food into ziplocks and having a range of options to choose from for weekend trips. When I don’t feel like cooking (but I do feel like eating well!), I’m fond of ordering from my favourite Indian restaurant and throwing the food straight into the dehydrator. Many Indian dishes dehydrate exceptionally well, especially vegetarian dishes. (The exception is paneer: the cheese does not rehydrate quickly.) If you’re looking to start dehydrating, we have friends who’ve found dehydrators at Value Village for extremely reasonable prices, and we hear some new ovens nowadays include a dehydrator setting.

Dessert

S’mores

Chocolate. Graham crackers. Marshmallows. Enough said!

Happy Eating! We’d love to hear your tried and true camping favourites.

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