Pre-Packaged Camp & Trail Food: Should You Buy It or Make Your Own?

camping and trail food

If you’re into gourmet outdoor cooking when you camp, don’t bother reading this post! This is for folks who want easy, fuss-free meals using as few utensils and dishes as possible.

When I’m camping I don’t want to spend any more time than absolutely necessary preparing for meals and cleaning up after them.

Our rule is simple: preferably one-pot meals that taste decent and are filling. The fact that our family has no food allergies or dietary restrictions is a huge plus when it comes to choosing camp food. It opens the doors pretty wide.

But if you have to stay away from things like gluten, or peanuts, or meat—there are a growing number of options for pre-packaged camp and trail food for you, too.

We’ll talk about three categories of food here:

  • Pre-packaged food designed for camp and trail
  • Pre-packaged food you make yourself for camp and trail
  • Pre-packaged food found at any grocery store that work for camp and trail

For our purposes here, we’ll assume:

  • There’s no electricity, refrigeration or water spigot.
  • We have to carry it, so we want lightweight.
  • We have a heat source to cook—either a camp stove or campfire.

NOTE: Pretty much all these meal options need a fair amount of water for cooking. I highly recommend investing in a good water filter so you don’t have to boil water to purify it. You’ll save so much time. We use filters by Sawyer.

ONE MORE NOTE: If you’re the type that always prepares food enough for an army no matter how many are eating…you need to learn to cook in moderation when you’re in the wilderness!

There’s no refrigeration for leftovers, and you don’t want to burn them, bury them or throw them in the bushes either—nothing that’ll attract wildlife (whether you’re in bear country or not…but especially if you’re in bear country). Besides, why carry more than you need to?

There’s sort of a delicate balance between planning for the hearty outdoors appetite, having a little extra in case of unexpected delays, and having too much. Just something to think about.

cooking over a fire
Cooking over a fire in the Boundary Waters

Pre-Packaged food designed for camp & trail

There’s a ton of stuff out there these days and most of it is delicious. The trade-off? It’s pricey. For example, Packit Gourmet’s Big ‘un Burrito with Fajita Chicken is $7.49 a package, which serves just one person.

If cost is a factor (for example, if your family of 7 is packing for a 5-day canoe trip and you’re on a budget), these won’t be your best option. But if money is no object or you’re just buying for yourself, you’ll eat well.

Here are a few brands to check out:

  • Mountain House—freeze-dried food with a 30-year lifespan! They specialize in emergency preparedness besides camp food.
  • Camp Chow—I know about this brand because it’s made and sold up in northern Minnesota by Sarah, the owner of our favorite eating place up there, Trail Center. It sells very well to the canoe trip crowd since it’s in the middle of Boundary Waters territory. Many gluten-free options.
  • Mary Janes Farm—Made by Mary Jane herself, also designed for a long shelf-life (15 years+). All organic.
  • Packit Gourmet is a family-owned business near Austin, Texas. They use all-natural, organic ingredients. Good for those on dietary restrictions.
  • Backpacker’s Pantry is a family business operating out of Boulder, Colorado. They also sell food for both adventuring and emergency preparedness. They can accommodate a lot of dietary restrictions, too.

(Do you have a favorite brand I didn’t list here? Let me know about it!)

Pre-packaged food you can make yourself

If you love preparing food, or you want the best, healthiest camp and trail meals for a lower cost, you can pre-package your own meals. It’s a lot of work up-front so you have to have the time, though.

If this is you, I recommend spending some time on this website: TrailCooking.com. I can’t find the site owner’s name anywhere, but it’s a woman who loves backpacking and got tired of eating food she didn’t like!

So she developed recipes and methods for trail food you can pre-package in a zip-lock bag. Just add boiling water. It’s essentially what you get from the brands above, only you do it yourself. Less money, more time.

Trail Recipes is another online source that looks very thorough. This blog is based in Europe and run by Tanya and Roman, hiking and nature lovers.

If you Google “make your own camp and trail food” you’ll find dozens more articles and sites to help you out.

backcountry cooking
Wilderness cooking over a fire

Pre-packaged food found at any grocery store

If you have neither a limitless budget or lots of time, eating processed food for a few days isn’t the end of the world. Especially if you can eat anything.

You’ll get meals for 4-6 for half the cost of a meal for 1-or-2 of the meals in Category 1, even after buying protein sources to go with them. Here are a couple brands we’ve used:

  • Bear Creek—we’ve used several of their soup and pasta mixes with good results. Everyone likes them.
  • Hamburger Helper—this iconic packaged meal now comes in flavors like Cheesy Enchilada, Chicken Fried Rice, Tomato Basil Penne and good ol’ Bacon Cheeseburger.

Just head over to the aisle with the packaged meals and you’ll find all kinds of options.

For protein—freeze-dried or vacuum-packed pre-cooked hamburger, chicken or tuna is one option. Summer sausage and jerky are others. Or do what we’ve done many times: cook and freeze meat ahead of time, and use it your first day or two out. So far we’ve not had any trouble with it (but don’t take this as medical advice, please! No guarantees).

What’s your favorite?

I’d love to hear about your favorite brands or recipes for camp and trail food! I’m going to open comments on this post for that. If you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share, please send it to: info@activeoutdoorwomen.com.

Bon appetit!

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