Camping is one of the best family vacation options out there. Getting out into nature to explore and reset is a great bonding activity, and will create memories lasting for years to come. But sometimes all the camping equipment you have to carry around with you can make your trip a hassle, and distract you from properly enjoying it. When the time of your camping trip is getting closer, nobody is looking forward to dragging around a heavy camping cooler.
There are a few scenarios where it would be much less bothersome to just pack food that doesn’t require refrigeration. For example, long-term camping trips where carrying a cooler just wouldn’t work, you would have to take two or more to carry enough food, and it’s not a good idea to rely on them for that long to keep your food fresh. On much shorter camping trips, its also a great idea to take non-refrigerated foods, to decrease your pack size exponentially. Although it’s completely normal to see a camper dragging around a camping cooler all day, it’s easier than you think to go without.
For those of you who enjoy staying on the move, visiting multiple camping sites per trip and hiking throughout the wilderness, carrying along some type of camping cooler is also a huge hindrance, it’s so much easier to just take food inside your backpack. It might seem like an impossible task to camp without a fridge, coming from your home where almost every meal comes out of there, but there are plenty of options for food to take camping without a fridge. We’ve compiled a list of some camping foods and meal ideas for your next trip into the wild, none of which require any refrigeration.
18 Camping food ideas
We have compiled a list of 18 basic food options that you can bring from home without a fridge. There are many different filling and nutritious meals you could make out of these ingredients, and later we’ve included some meal ideas as well.
1. Tea and Coffee
The most popular way to start the day for almost everyone in the world, your morning tea or coffee requires no refrigeration. Simply bring along your coffee grounds or tea bags and heat your water over a stove or campfire. Even easier, you could try some instant coffee packets, it doesn’t get more convenient than that. If you like milk in your hot drinks, use powdered milk or creamer, and of course, sugar can be brought along in a small sealed container.
Another fast and easy breakfast idea, and perfect for some slow-release carbohydrates, oatmeal starts the day of millions of people around the world, and it’s so easy to take on a camping trip, no fridge required at all. Just cook it up with water over your camping stove, and add in some dried fruits or nuts for flavor.
3. Granola or energy bars
Whether you make them yourself at home or take them store-bought, most granola bars and energy bars don’t require a fridge. They make a great snack or quick breakfast, and you can take them anywhere without worrying if they’ll last. They’re also ideal for packing into your day bag for any hike or perhaps kayak trip.
Uncooked potatoes don’t require any refrigeration at all, and they work for all meals in the day. Dice them up and fry in oil with a little seasoning and some onions for breakfast, or throw them in your curry at dinnertime.
5. Peanut Butter
All types of nut butter, be it peanut, almond, or even cashew, will be fine in any temperature. They’re delicious, loved by kids and adults alike, and pack a great protein punch. You can eat peanut butter on toast, in a PB&J sandwich, or just out of the jar with a spoon!
Pick a few seasonal fruits to bring along, they make a great snack and will do just fine out of the fridge. Bananas go along great with peanut butter and are full of energy, and some berries like strawberries or raspberries will keep fine out of the sun for about two days.
7. Canned fruit
Another option for taking along some healthy snacks, canned fruit is a great idea if you don’t have room for fresh fruit. Just make sure to get fruit canned with water, as the ones in syrup contain a lot of added sugar, not so much of a healthy option. You can bring along a few choices, like peaches and pears, or a fruit cocktail.
8. Beef jerky and turkey jerky
Dried meat jerky has always been a camping staple, because of its ability to keep for long periods without any refrigeration. It also can give you great protein boosts throughout the day as a snack or can be served as a meal with crackers and veggies.
Packs of bagels, bread buns, any bread that’s already made into individual portions are ideal for camping. You can bring along whole loaves too, but these will start to go stale after the first day, which is why bagels make a better option. You can use them for all different types of sandwiches, or grill them up over the fire and serve with a little oil, hummus, or garlic salt for a quick meal.
10. Pasta and grains
All types of pasta can be brought camping without a fridge easily, and cooked up with water. The same goes for noodles, rice, quinoa, and couscous, there are plenty of choices for your carbohydrates.
11. Chopped veggies
Carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes will all last a few days without refrigeration. Just cut them up to add to sandwiches or make salads. For salad dressing, individual packets will help save on packing space, and also mean you won’t have to worry about leaky bottles. All you need to do to make these ingredients last is to leave them in a cool spot, out of the sun.
12. Homemade cookies and brownies
Both of these would last up to a week on your trip, but they probably won’t make it that long before being eaten up. Chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, there are so many classics to choose from. Just whip up a batch of your family’s favorite recipe and wrap them up well. For extra freshness we recommend you transport them in a sealed container. For a healthy option, why not try some homemade energy balls, with such ingredients as dates, almonds, nut butters, and coconut.
13. Store-bought cookies and snacks
No time to bake? Just run to the grocery store before your trip and pick up a package of your favorites. Grab some Oreos or a pack of muffins, none of these delicious snacks need to be kept in the fridge, and they make an excellent treat after a long days hike.
14. Grilled vegetables
Grilling some veggies over the campfire is a delicious and easy meal for the end of your day. While you’re at home, pre-package some veggies and seasonings in foil packets, and just sprinkle with salt and pepper and olive oil before grilling them over the fire. Some good vegetable choices are carrots and potatoes, corn, onions, and even butternut squash. Add in some canned tomato and you’ve got a delicious sauce for with pasta or rice.
15. Instant potatoes
Instant potatoes don’t need to be kept in a fridge, and you can add in pretty much anything for some flavor. They make a great accompaniment to other foods, and all you need to do to cook them is add water and bring to a boil.
16. Hard cheeses
As long as the weather isn’t too hot, a block of hard cheese such as cheddar or parmesan will last a few days out of the fridge. Keep it wrapped up in a tea towel and in the shade, and as well sealed as possible. Grated parmesan in a sealed container will also last around three or four days.
17. Baked beans
A staple of student life, cans of baked beans are also a camping classic. Everyone in their childhoods has eaten a can of beans heated up over the campfire. Add some nachos or toast on the side for a tastier and more filling meal.
18. Herbs and spices
Just because you’re camping, doesn’t mean you should miss out on properly seasoned food. All your herbs and spices at home are options to bring camping, and none of them need to be kept in the fridge. For some basic seasonings, we recommend bringing along some paprika and chili flakes for a bit of heat. If you’re planning to cook pasta, basil and oregano never go amiss, whereas if you’re leaning towards curries, cumin and ground coriander are your best bet. You can make your own mixes at home and sprinkle them into all sorts of camping meals, and never forget the all-important salt and pepper.
Camping meal and snack ideas
If you’re short on inspiration, here’s a few meal ideas made entirely from ingredients that don’t require a fridge. There are options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as some healthy snacks to keep you going, and some not-so-healthy s’mores to look forward to at the end of the day. After all, even the most health-conscious of us can agree, it’s not camping without s’mores.
- Breakfast cereal: This one’s a favorite with the kids, breakfast cereals will last through pretty much anything as long as you keep them sealed. Just use a little milk powder with water, the same as you do with your coffee. There’s also granola and muesli for the grown-ups, a great high energy breakfast if you’re planning a hike later on.
- Oatmeal: Another fast and easy breakfast idea, and perfect for some slow-release carbohydrates, oatmeal starts the day of millions of people around the world, and it’s so easy to take on a camping trip, no fridge required at all. Just cook it up with water over your camping stove, and add in some dried fruits or nuts for flavor.
- Pancake mix: Pre-packaged pancake mixes are an excellent choice for a no-fridge breakfast. A hot and delicious breakfast like that will make you forget you’re away from home at all. Fry them up with a little oil, and top with maple syrup or jam for a decedent early meal, without having to worry about camping coolers at all.
- Tuna sandwiches: Cans of tuna don’t require a fridge to transport, so make a great lunch option on sandwiches, served with a little salad. You can mix with individual mayo packets to save on packing space, and use chickpeas for a vegetarian or vegan option. There are lots more vegan camping recipes on our website, so if you’re interested, take a look.
- Canned soups: A hearty canned soup makes a great option for your dinner, choose a thick one with lots of vegetables inside to fill you up. Just heat over your camping stove or fire, and serve with some toasted bread or a sandwich.
- Homemade campfire soup: If you’d rather make your own soup over the campfire, its a much healthier option, and can be rewarding and fun to eat something you cooked and prepared yourself. Just add all your ingredients to a pot and let it simmer for an hour- we recommend using vegetable stock, with plenty of onions and garlic, and some carrots, potatoes and dried lentils. None of these ingredients require a fridge, and you get a fresh meal that could have been cooked in your kitchen. As an optional extra, you can add in some pre-packaged dried meat.
- Pasta with tomato sauce: A really quick and easy dinner, just boil some pasta in water and add canned tomato sauce. If you have it, sprinkle some cheese on top, and liberally add as much seasoning as you’d like. You can also add in the grilled veggies from before, and some pre-packaged dried meats, for a really hearty meal.
- Mac n cheese: A box or two of macaroni and cheese is always good to have in reserve on a camping trip. It’s not exactly a gourmet meal, but if you need to quickly whip something up for hungry kids, its quick and easy and will fill them up.
- Mexican instant rice: An easy dish to cook up, just add your rice mix to boiling water, then add in your extras. Canned beans and salsa, and also canned corn goes a long way with instant rice. A small sachet of taco seasoning (available on Amazon) would also really bring the flavor, and you can serve up with some tortilla shells for a proper Mexican night around the campfire.
- Popcorn: Popcorn can be made from scratch or store-bought, and easily heated on the campfire. It’s a snack that’s delicious, filling, and easy, eating popcorn and telling stories around the campfire is a great way to spend your summer evenings.
- S’mores: It wouldn’t be camping without s’mores, they’re possibly even more important than remembering your sleeping bag. Marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers are all easy to keep without a fridge, so you can cook them up over the campfire without worry.
- Dried fruit and nuts: We recommend making your own trail mix, a snack that is filling, sweet, and full of protein and energy. You can bring as much as you want without ever having to worry about storage, as a good trail mix will last you through almost anything.
You may not have thought it was possible to camp without the hindrance of a camping cooler. Gone are the days you were jealous of the RVers with their fridge on board, now you can put together a gourmet camping meal and dine in style on your next adventure vacation. With some delicious pancakes for breakfast, a filling pasta dish for dinner, and plenty of trail mix in between, you should be full of energy and ready for some family fun.
Not included in our list are some other options you could try, for example, pasta salad and campfire burritos, which you can make easily with a mix of canned beans and veggies. One thing to remember is campfire safety; doing your cooking over a campfire is a really fun way to make your meals, and make your trip feel like a genuine wilderness experience. However, campfires are one of the biggest causes of wildfires in the US, and the last thing any camper wants to do is endanger the environment we love to explore. Just make sure you follow proper safety protocols and you won’t have anything to worry about, and you can concentrate on making wonderful memories with your family.
If you want to take it one step further, we have an article available on dehydrated backpacking recipes. These are meals optimized to be as light as possible for you to take on the trail, and all you need to do to cook them is just add water. It doesn’t get more convenient than that!
Bonus tip: If you’re interested in some extra meals that don’t need refrigeration, you can check out this video below!