The Best & Easiest Dinner Ideas For Backpacking & Camping

The Best & Easiest Dinner Ideas For Backpacking & Camping

Elevate your wilderness dining experience with our curated guide to the best backpacking and camping dinners. We’ve designed these meals and recipes specifically for folks seeking to indulge in delicious, easy-to-prepare meals under the stars. This guide focuses on selecting the perfect dinner options that not only satisfy your hunger, but also fit seamlessly into your adventure, ensuring you can enjoy hearty meals without the fuss, regardless of your location in the great outdoors.

Dine and Dash - Easy Backpacking Dinner Ideas

When you go backpacking, the only food you have is the food you carry with you. Plan to make good use of your pack space and minimize pack weight as much as possible. Balance nutrition with mood-boosting flavors to make your scenic meals as memorable as the views.

  • Perishable Smorgasbord: Fresh food spoils quickly, but fruits and vegetables can be a great morale boost after a long day. These will be some of your heaviest and largest food items since they are full of water, unlike freeze-dried meals. For snackable fresh items, think pre-sliced carrots, vegetables, and bell peppers with hummus and pita. Live large with your backcountry charcuterie. With this meal, think: tidy, dippable, minimal cleanup.
  • Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai: Available with chicken or meat-free, our Pad Thai is a spicy flavor-packed trail luxury and fan-favorite. With 23g of protein per package, you can enjoy authentic Thai food for dinner wherever the trail takes you. At only 6.2 oz in your pack, that’s an epic meal even ultralight backpackers can appreciate.

The best backpacking dinners

  • Lentils and Rice: A Himalayan classic. Eat like you would on treks through Nepal with our Kathmandu Curry, or pack your own. It cooks quickly, saving you time in the backcountry, and is rich with our favorite spices. Pair it with bread or eat it hot right out of the bag with a long spoon.
  • Tortillas and Everything: For when cooking sounds like another false summit to climb. Premake a burrito at home if you know you will be eating it quickly, or pack our Wild West Chili & Beans for a satisfying meal, cowboy style. The beauty of tortillas is that you can turn anything you brought into a burrito if you get creative with it.
  • Mashed Potatoes and Anything: A legendarily simple hiker meal that stands the test of time. Serve our Mashed Potatoes & Gravy with Beef, or their instant counterpart,  with another savory food like ramen, beef jerky, or a side of tuna. Mashed potatoes are a great way to restore energy and have yourself a mini feast on the go.

The best backpacking dinners

Car Camping Cuisine - The Best Camping Dinners

There’s nothing like pulling up to the campsite knowing dinner is just minutes away. Make dinnertime easy and use the extra time to embrace precious moments in the wilderness. Or, take the opposite approach, and enjoy the slow life camping affords and dive into the culinary deep end. Take inspiration from these ideas and don’t travel hungry.

  • Gourmet Sausages: Bring a cast iron skillet, diced onions, mustard, and all the vegetables or toppings you crave for a sizzling campfire classic. Roast your food on a spit or grill sausages over an open fire for the picture-perfect char. Don’t forget buns and condiments if you prefer hotdog-style. This is an easy camping dinner to dress up with elevated accouterments or keep it simple for kids and adults alike.
  • Mediterranean Bowls: Keep prep and cleanup time to a minimum with simple combinations like couscous, pita, hummus, carrots, and a hot main addition like grilled chicken. You can even let us do the fancy work for you and serve your fresh veggies and sauces alongside our comforting Risotto with Chicken. Go crazy with sauces like tzatziki and more to make this a tasty and easy camping dinner.

fancy camping dinners

  • Breakfast for Dinner: There are no rules around dinner when you are camping. From PBJ to Breakfast Scramble, breakfast foods are sometimes exactly what you want no matter the time of day. Go ahead and make yourself that cereal at 6PM if you want and enjoy a sweet treat.
  • Skillet Ratatouille: Enjoy the bounty of fresh vegetables in a single cast-iron skillet to create a comforting, nutritious meal that is packed with flavor. Begin with a base of onions, and garlic, then layer in sliced zucchini, eggplant, and a jar of tomato sauce. Let it simmer over the campfire, allowing the flavors to meld beautifully. Serve this vegetable medley with a side of crusty bread or over quinoa for a hearty, plant-based dinner that feels both rustic and refined. Add some marinated and grilled meat, like skewers, to make this vegetarian main even more hearty.
  • Elevated Mac & Cheese: Great as a main course or as a side, take your standard mac and bring it to the next level. Take inspiration from our hatch green chile mac & cheese with spicy chiles, or bring a variety of add-ons like bacon, more cheese, and even kimchi to serve up a DIY mac & cheese bar.
  • Deluxe Ramen: Transform a simple noodle packet into a culinary delight that's perfect for the campsite. Begin with your choice of premium ramen noodles, adding depth to the broth with a touch of miso paste, a splash of soy sauce, and a drizzle of sesame oil for that rich, umami flavor. Toss in thinly sliced vegetables like mushrooms, scallions, or bok choy for a fresh crunch, and elevate the protein with slices of pre-cooked chicken, beef, or a soft-boiled egg. For a final gourmet touch, garnish with nori strips, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, or a few chili flakes for some heat. This dish proves that even in the wilderness, dining can be a sophisticated affair.

The best camping dinners

Eat Smart - Best Camping and Backpacking Dinner Tips

It’s easy for something as simple as food to become a complicated hassle once you leave your familiar kitchen. These tips can help you prevent a dinnertime catastrophe by thinking ahead so you don’t have to waste energy thinking about food after pounding trails. A little strategy goes a long way.

  • Don’t underestimate your calorie needs: You could burn as many as 500 calories per hour hiking uphill. Many people find it challenging to replenish enough calories on a long trip. While pack weight is something to keep track of, make sure to bring food that you will actually want to eat to help keep your energy up and spirits high. If pack weight is a concern for you, just eat your heaviest food first and leave canned items at home.
  • Prepare ahead to save time: Slice vegetables before you go on your trip to move food from storage to the fire or your mouth more quickly. Marinade meats at home and double-check your quantities to know for sure you have enough to eat. Have a plan for washing dishes and storing trash away from where you sleep and out of reach of animals. The last thing you want is unwanted critters looking for crumbs and chewing through your tent while you are trying to sleep. 

  • Repackage snacks into reusable containers: Whether in your pack, your car, or on the campground table, extra packaging is clutter and unnecessary weight. Repacking chips, crackers, almonds, and non-resealable items into smaller containers can help you reduce your pack volume and stay organized. Campground garbage bins have a tendency to overflow during peak season, so it’s best not to rely on them for waste like cracker boxes that could have been easily disposed of at home. 

  • Hot food is worth it: While diehard gram counters and naturalists might leave stoves behind and forgo hot food altogether, we don’t recommend it. A hot meal can go a long way towards joy in rainy weather, as a celebration of finally taking that holiday, or after pushing big miles to make it to the next campsite. Think carefully about bringing foods with you that keep your spirits high and let you have fun out in nature. 

  • Wash your hands: Not washing your hands before preparing a meal is a common - and entirely avoidable - way that people get sick. Bring plenty of soap and hand sanitizer with you and use them often. Keep your trips outdoors memorable for all the right reasons.  

Crafting the perfect dinner while backpacking or camping doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a little preparation and creativity, you can enjoy a variety of delicious, nutritious meals that enhance your outdoor experience without weighing you down. From the simplicity of mashed potatoes to the sophistication of a skillet ratatouille, our guide offers options for every taste and situation. Remember, the key to a successful outdoor dining experience lies in planning ahead, packing smart, and embracing the joys of cooking in the great outdoors. Whether you're seeking the convenience of a freeze-dried meal or the pleasure of a gourmet campfire dinner, the right meal can turn a day in the wilderness into an unforgettable adventure.