Don't want to worry about refrigeration on your next outdoor getaway? This guide to non-perishable camping food offers ideas for camping without a cooler!
A big part of the lure of a camping trip is simplicity, right?
Getting away from the million and one things you have to keep track of. Relaxing in your own way.
Of course, we've still got to eat! But I like to try and hit the sweet spot between satisfying food and uncomplicated prep.
And that means on each trip, I have to grapple with the question: Do we bring a cooler – or not?
When we'll be in a good situation for meals like that, we take an Igloo BMX cooler. It's on the smaller side, as coolers go, so I recommend it if you're just trying to save space.
But it's also true that on some trips we simply can't (or don't want to) bring a cooler.
If you're hoping to go camping with entirely unrefrigerated food, here are some ideas for how to do it.
Bring Non-Refrigerated Substitutes
There are a few items where you can swap in a shelf-stable version. For example, sometimes it works to use nutritional yeast instead of cheese. You can also buy shelf-stable milk for your cereal.
If you want eggs, buy some from a farm. If they're fresh and haven't been washed, they should be fine outside of the refrigerator.
If you do want to use a refrigerated item without a cooler, try to time things so that you can pick up your item from the grocery store right before you'll need to use it. That way storage won't be a problem.
Let's start by brainstorming all the things you can bring that are more or less ready to eat.
Peanut butter, jerky, and dried fruit are a great starter list for snacks. And don't be afraid to bring along some fresh apples or other less-delicate fruit and veggies.
We also get small containers of things that are shelf-stable until opened, like mini salsa jars or shelf-stable milk. If you buy them small enough, you can use them up in one session and not have to worry about storage.
I've found mini salsa jars at a dollar store. Throw in a bag of chips, and you have everyone's favorite snack.
Quick Non-Perishable Meals
For a no-fuss meal, look for packets or cans of fish or chicken. Sometimes you can buy them already seasoned, or even packaged with crackers or condiments. There's virtually no prep with this kind of food.
All you'll need for meal packets like that is a heat source (which we'll discuss below).
What Gear Do I Need With Non-Perishable Camping Food?
Unless you're subsisting on snacks and tuna packets only, you're probably going to need at least a little bit of kitchen gear.
Planning to cook over the campfire? Great! You can always bring along an adjustable campfire grill to ensure maximum control over the heat level.
Prefer to bring your own heat source?
For more involved cooking, I recommend a Coleman 2-burner propane stove.
For other specific utensil and pot and pan recommendations, see my guide to the best camping kitchen gear. Also, each of my camping recipes will list what equipment you need to make it.
Now that we've covered the basics, what if you want to do more than heating up meal packets? It's time to get culinary, and you can still do it without a cooler!
Let's get into some recipe ideas.
Camping Food To Make Ahead of Time
I like to make my own cereals and bring them camping. It's easy to do ahead of time, so that breakfast and snacks are all taken care of once you're off in the woods!
The following recipes can be cooked over a campfire.
Some of them call for fresh ingredients that don't need refrigeration, like onions and peppers. These should be fine as long as they're not sitting in high heat and humidity for a long time.
The same is true of the chocolate in s'mores – just consider if the outside temperature is cool enough to keep it solid.
Some of these recipes even include optional meat or fish — canned, of course!
Non-Perishable Camping Food For a Camp Stove
Bringing along a camp stove? You can easily throw together some burritos or a delicious curry.
And for an easy side that requires no cooking at all, canned veggies and simple dressings are your friend, as with the green bean salad below.
Have you fine-tuned any of your own tips for camping without a cooler? Let us know in the comments below!