When you are planning your camping trip, you have to consider the challenges that come with keeping your food fresh. At the campsite, you do not have modern conveniences like refrigerators. Because of this, you need to get crafty if you want your meals to taste close to the way that they would at home.
Lucky for us, we have the knowledge of how people preserved food before the modern conveniences they have today. Methods like dehydration, canning, and keeping food on ice have been around for centuries. Those coupled with a few modern solutions will put your mind at ease and have you packing everything else you need in no time!
So how do preserve food for camping? There are 5 ways to preserve your food and stop it from spoiling while camping.
- Vacuum Sealing
- Keeping food on ice or cold
- Buying prepackaged preseved foods
Be sure to keep reading to get all the details on how to do each one along with the pros & cons and a small list of foods each method can be used on.
Preserving by Dehydration
You can dehydrate many different foods at home! The benefits of doing this over buying prepackaged are considerable. It’s easy to rehydrate when it comes to prepping meals, too! All you have to do is soak them in water when you get to the campsite. Let’s talk about how you can dehydrate your food yourself; it is easier than you may think.
How to Dehydrate Food for Camping
When it comes to dehydrating your food, there are several different methods for you to try.
- Use your own oven. Of course, you can’t expect to do this with every food you want to take, but it is especially useful for fruits and vegetables. Make sure you plan for a dinner that does not require your oven because doing this takes quite a while. The general consensus is that you leave your food on the lowest setting in there for about 6-8 hours. Simply slice your fruits and veggies into the shape you want, put them on a baking sheet, and wait.
- If you have a toaster oven, you can use that instead or in addition to your other appliance. It depends on how you are planning your meals and how many batches of fruits/vegetables you intend to dehydrate. This also requires the lowest setting.
- Use a dehydrator. If you feel like you may use this method again in the future, go ahead and splurge on a dehydrator! The best of these don’t come cheap, so consider how much you are willing to spend before purchasing.
- Dry them in the sun. This works best for herbs. Laying out fruit may attract all kinds of insects and other small animals. You would end up having nothing left or having to throw out the contaminated food.
You can begin your search for a food dehydrator on Amazon. That way, you get to see what real buyers think about the model you are looking at; it’s a great way to sway your decision and give you the best option for your money.
Foods to Dehydrate for Your Camping Trip
When you go camping, you want to bring foods that are healthy, easy to eat, and quick to cook. Some things that you can dehydrate fit all of the criteria. These are:
- Lean beef
Be aware that meats do not last as long as other dehydrated foods. At best, they are preserved for a few weeks.
Just about any herb can be dehydrated and still pack a punch in your food later. You lose some of the flavors, but overall it’s a good method to use.
The above items are just the easiest and best foods to dehydrate. You can do it with just about anything, but people who frequently use this method recommend these above certain others. All are great sources of nutrition from all over the pyramid!
Pros and Cons of Dehydrating Food
- If stored properly, some dehydrated food can last for years. This is not true of meat, but your fruits and veggies will stick around for the trip home and then some if you have leftovers.
- No preservative chemicals need to be added. If you are skeptical about the safety of preservatives in processed foods, you can forget about it when you dehydrate at home.
- You reduce waste from the single-use plastics you would have thrown away if you bought prepackaged snacks. The added benefit to this is that you have less trash to pack out at the end of your camping trip.
- You have a wider range of ingredients to choose from than you would in prepackaged foods.
- In some items, you lose a lot of the nutrients you usually get when you eat them in their regular, hydrated state.
- Dehydrators can be expensive.
- If you are someone who frequently uses an oven to prepare meals, you have to plan around it when you are dehydrating your camp food.
- Some ingredients require extra preparation like soaking and blanching. This takes more time and more effort.
One of the oldest methods of preserving food is canning. You may remember your grandparents doing something like this; only recently have modern refrigerators become a convenience that makes canning less necessary.
How did the old-timers do it? The canning method has many processes you can choose, and you need a wide array of supplies to do it properly. Don’t let that scare you off; it is still relatively easy to do! Click here for an in-depth guide.
Foods to Can
The great thing about preserving food by canning it is that you still have so many options, and quite a few of them are condiments to add extra pizazz to your meals.
- Green beans
- Snap peas
- Fruit butter
- Any DIY sauce
These are just your more common options, and the ones it would be easiest to take camping.
Pros and Cons
- I’m sure you have noticed that you could just buy these ingredients already canned at the grocery store. The reason why doing it yourself is better is because you leave out all of those added sugars and the unhealthy corn syrup.
- As long as the foods are not too acidic, they can last for quite a while if canned properly. Remember, though, that once you open the can, the shelf life decreases significantly.
- Canning is a more affordable method than some others may be.
- You have plenty of food options for preserving.
- You are again reducing waste because your cans or jars are reusable.
- As time goes on, you lose some of the flavor of the ingredients that you initially had.
- The texture of canned food over a period of time becomes mushier and can be unappealing to some.
- Cans and jars are often made of glass, so they are easy to break if you are not careful.
- Your cans may take up more space because they are not as flexible or compact as sealed baggies would be.
When you stay active, you need a lot of protein. It is the foundation of your energy; without it, you feel sluggish. If you are a camper that needs meat for the protein, your best course of action would be to vacuum seal your food. The other methods severely limit your animal-based options, but you can vacuum seal almost any cut of meat you want and take it with you.
Foods to Vacuum Seal
As I said, you have a ton of options when it comes to vacuum sealing for preservation. It is not limited to meat, either. You can do this to really any of the more solid foods. If you want to bring soup or stew, you can do that, too! You have to freeze it first, though. Never do this to anything in a more liquid state.
Pros and Cons
- Vacuum sealed foods last for months when stored properly. Just remember that it does not apply to anything you open after the fact.
- By compressing the bags down, you have plenty of space for anything else you may need to put in your cooler.
- No extra preservatives are needed to keep your food fresh. It’s as natural as you make it!
- The foods you freeze in a vacuum sealed bag are super easy to reheat and serve come dinner time.
- Most of the bags you will put your food in are single-use. Therefore, you are creating more waste and ultimately, more harm to the environment. You may want to consider vacuum sealing foods only if there is not another option.
- The food you put in these bags will need to be kept cold, with many requiring staying frozen. You would absolutely have to bring a cooler and plenty of ice. Meats should never reach room temperature for extended periods of time without you cooking them. This can make you sick, leading to an early return from your trip.
- Vacuum sealers can be expensive. Unless you already have one or you plan to meal prep in the future both at home and for camping, you would be wasting your money.
Where to Find a Vacuum Sealer
Tip: Buying online may help you compare prices more efficiently and choose the best one for your budget.
Keeping Food on Ice
This is probably the simplest and most common way that campers preserve food while in the wilderness. It should not be your only method of preservation, but it certainly should be used in conjunction with another. As long as you can fit your meal ingredients inside, using a cooler with ice is a great way to keep food fresh.
Foods that Need to be Chilled
Some of the items you bring may not need to stay cool at all, but it is crucial that other things are. These include
- Any kind of meat unless it is dehydrated belongs in the cooler. The only exception is canned stews (because you already cooked the meat) and even they should be eaten within a reasonable time frame to avoid spoiling.
- If you prefer fresh, juicy fruit over their dried out versions, keep them on ice. Fruit rots faster when left in the sun or the heat.
- Only some need chilling. Spinach, for instance, will wither quickly if exposed to too much heat.
- Jams and jellies. After opening, these need to stay cooled off. Room temperature jellies and jams ferment at an accelerated rate, which actually produces alcohol. I don’t think anyone wants a peanut butter and alcohol sandwich, do you?
If you have anything that falls outside of these categories, look at the labels that came with them. If they say “refrigerate after opening,” you can be sure that the best course of action is to put them in the cooler with everything else.
Pros and Cons
- Most coolers are inexpensive while still being spacious. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for one is completely unnecessary.
- You will also have a way to keep your drinks chilled with your leftover space. While they do not likely need to be preserved as your food does, it still gives you a heightened sense of refreshment after a long day of hiking.
- Most are easily portable. There are plenty of models with wheels or long handles for you to use.
- You have to keep replacing the ice. This means several trips from your campsite and back if you are staying any longer than a day or two.
- Your food is not going to last as long as it would with methods like dehydration or canning. Again, long-term trips are best done with nonperishables unless you have multiple places nearby to replenish your ice stock.
- Coolers take up a lot of valuable packing space. If you are heading out with only a small vehicle, you may have to sacrifice some luggage and extra equipment in order to fit your meals in the little space available.
- The more you pack into it, the heavier it gets. For the disabled and the single campers, it may not be feasible to pack a lot of food. It is fine if you are staying in one spot and the site is close to your car; otherwise, you may have a tough time toting one, even with wheels.
Buying Prepackaged Preserved Foods
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of preserving food yourself, you can buy foods that have been preserved and packaged at just about any grocery store.
Prepackaged Preserved Foods to Buy
You have a few options if you want to go out and buy already preserved foods. The following are easy to find at your local supermarket or major retailers like Target or Costco:
- Jerky, both animal and fruit. The most common jerky on the shelves at the grocery store is beef; it comes in a variety of flavors, so you likely can find something you will enjoy.
- They are an excellent source of protein, and they last forever without having to be chilled.
- Partially dehydrated fruits like prunes or raisins. These are high in fiber and other vitamins that will keep you regular and in great health!
- Canned fruits, veggies, and soups. Most of these are low cost and have a shelf life that will definitely last through any camping trip.
Pros and Cons
Of course, there are upsides and downsides to buying these nonperishables before you go camping that you may want to be aware of. Making an informed decision based on your lifestyle is important.
- You have the privilege of convenience. All you have to do is pick something up off of a shelf, and you’re good to go! Now, you can even click a button and have these foods delivered to your door without ever having to leave the house.
- Canned goods are some of the most affordable options available to you. If you have a dollar store around, these foods may be even cheaper than at your usual store.
- Some prepackaged foods create a lot of waste from single-use plastics. As you may already know, so many of these plastics are not recyclable or biodegradable. They do irreversible harm to our environment and ultimately, our planet. If you want to be more eco-conscious, ditch this and opt for something reusable.
- Cans are not flexible. While easily portable, they take up space in whatever food container you bring on your camping trip.
- While you still have ample options, you may not have as many as you would like. If you want fewer limitations, it may be time to take matters into your own hands and preserve your foods at home.
There you have it! Preserving your food to last for the duration of your entire camping trip is easier than you thought. If these methods are used together, you should not have to worry about wasting anything, and you might not have to pack out much trash at the end, either.
We would love to hear from you. If you have some ideas on methods for preserving food or have tried any of these in the past, be sure to leave a comment and we might add your ideas to the list.