Cooking and Food Storage When Camping – A Complete Guide

camping food storage cooking

There’s something special about joining together with friends and family around a campfire or even having a solo meal under a sky full of stars.

No matter where or when you’re camping, the food you’ll cook on your camping trip is probably one of the first things on your mind. But even though having a meal around the campfire is a wonderful experience, cooking and storing food while camping can seem fairly intimidating. 

Not only do you have to think about what supplies you may need to cook food properly, but you also have to determine how to store and dispose of leftover meals. Even beginner campers know that keeping animals and insects out of your campsite can be tricky when food is involved.

The good news is, with the right preparation and tools, planning your meals for your camping trip doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, if you know what to bring and are able to plan ahead, mealtime can be a breeze.

Much like any adventure you may go on, your first plan of action should be figuring out what to pack for your trip.

We hope this post gives you some insight on what to expect for your next camping excursion. Planning ahead will allow you to simply sit back and enjoy your time outdoors, instead of worrying about whether you brought the right utensils.

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Packing for the trip

When it comes to packing for the campsite, it’s important to be intentional about what you bring with you. Packing supplies with multiple uses or supplies that are compact can save a lot of room in your camping gear.

Nothing can put a damper on your trip like having too many bulky items that you don’t really need. Determining what is essential to bring allows you to organize your gear to make it efficient and easily accessible. This method of packing only the essentials applies to both cooking and food storage as well.

Cooking supplies for the campsite

Although it may seem like a daunting task, cooking at the campsite can and should be an enjoyable experience. Once you have the right tools and get the hang of it, it’s the best kind of cooking there is. Since half the battle of outdoor cooking is knowing what to bring, here are some of the essential cooking supplies you might need for efficient and effective cooking at your campsite:

  • Tent stove: Trying to figure out the best method for cooking at the campsite can be overwhelming and if you’re looking into a tent stove, you may have realized just how many options there are to choose from. Tent stoves have multiple uses and are not only great for cooking, but they also have simple uses such as boiling water and even keeping your tent at a comfortable temperature. If you’re looking to use a tent stove on your camping trip, it’s crucial to make sure your tent has a stove jack, which is where the chimney for your tent stove goes. Nowadays, most canvas tents come with stove jacks already built-in. At White Duck, we look to ensure almost all camping tents have a pre-installed stove jack. 
  • Fuel/Camping lighter: If the stove you’re using at the campsite needs fuel, you don’t want to be caught without it. The type of fuel you’ll need depends on what type of stove you’re using, but you will need quite a bit of it to last your entire trip. It’s also best practice to pack more than one camping lighter in case you misplace one during your nature expedition. Although matches are always beneficial to have with you, there are also many brands of camping lighters that hold up better in various weather conditions.
  • Pots and pans: Much like you would need while cooking at home, cooking while camping often requires pots, pans, lids, and other basic cooking supplies. When looking for camping cooking supplies, there are lots of different materials to choose from, but it’s best to avoid just bringing your cookware from home. There are plenty of pots and pans designed specifically for camping that allow for more efficient packing and storage. You also need to consider what types of pots and pans you want to use for your trip. Every material from stainless steel to aluminum has its pros and cons, but it really comes down to what your specific needs are for your trip. 
  • Cooking utensils: Just because you’re enjoying your meal outdoors doesn’t mean you have to go without utensils. Basic utensils such as forks, knives, and spoons are certainly essential, but you also may need a spatula, whisk, or tongs, depending on what you plan on cooking. Utensils such as a can opener or scissors may not be first on your packing list, but you may find yourself in a pinch if you’re camping without them.
  • Water purifier: We all know how much we rely on water, but when you’re staying outdoors, finding a way to purify dirty water is something you now have to think about. One of the simplest ways to make water safe is by boiling it. However, boiling the water can be pretty time-consuming. Many frequent campers use methods such as iodine tablets or drops instead, which kill the bacteria found in unfiltered water. As you’re preparing for your camping trip, think about what meals you may need water for and make sure you have enough supplies to last the whole trip. 

Man Covering Himself With Blanket During Camping

Tupperware, canisters, and bears, oh my!

Before you decide what kind of food you’ll cook on your trip, prepare to be creative while storing your food. Being a part of nature is what makes camping so appealing to many but it also means you’re not alone out there. When thinking about food storage at your campsite, one of the things you need to plan for (depending on your camp location) is bears.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is estimated to have around 1500 black bears just within the park borders. Even though the chances of you running into a bear are still fairly low, there are many reasons to be prepared for an encounter with one. 

There is certainly the aspect that you don’t want to come face to face with any type of bear since that puts you in an extremely uncomfortable situation. But interestingly enough, part of storing your food properly has to do with also protecting the bears.

According to the National Park Service, bears have a shorter life expectancy when they lose their fear of people. So how can you store food to avoid a poor situation for both you and the bears around you? 

Food storage

Certain National Parks actually have food storage guidelines and some require certain types of equipment or bear-resistant food storage. To make your trip easy and as uncomplicated as possible, check the local guidelines while you’re planning for your trip. You can find out which types of bears are present in which parks by checking out this map

Here are some tips for storing food while in a campground or similar area:

  • While you’re out and about during the day, keep all the food packed away in either the car or a food storage container such as a cooler. Avoid keeping any food in your tent since the food will attract bears and other animals. Even though you would like to avoid bears being anywhere in your campsite, your tent is probably the last place you want to find a bear. 
  • At nighttime, it’s best to store food inside of a bear canister or a bear box. Some do choose to store food in their car even at night, but certain campsites prohibit this since certain types of bears are known for breaking into cars to get access to human food.
  • Keeping your food out of sight is another way to keep bears from snooping around your campsite. Many animals have seen enough campers that they recognize the way human food is normally stored. If you’re able to put your food out of sight or cover it up, animals are less likely to go searching through your belongings. 
  • If there aren’t specific regulations at the place you’re camping and you want to avoid buying any fancy equipment, hanging your food can be a great option. Hanging your food from a high tree branch suspended in the air is one way to keep animals and other wildlife out of your food. Some camping places even have bear poles, which are specifically designed for you to hang food and other items to keep animals out.

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Preparing for other wildlife

Bears may be the biggest concern when it comes to wildlife encounters, but it’s important to keep your campsite free of other creatures as well. Some animals or insects may just be a nuisance, while others can be a danger to you and those camping with you.

The number one way you’re going to attract wildlife to your site will be through food. However, there are other scents that also might attract unwanted visitors such as lotion, bug spray, or other toiletry items.

One of the best ways to keep wildlife out of your campsite is to eliminate any odors that may be associated with food or other strong scents. To keep your campsite safe from unexpected wildlife, follow these tips:

  • Eliminate odors whenever possible: Odors from the food in your campsite can attract all kinds of wildlife, which is why eliminating odors is the best way to keep animals away. Wrapping leftover food up as soon as you’re done with it or making sure your storage containers are tightly sealed is a simple way to keep the scent of your food from traveling to any creatures nearby. When you’re cooking at the campsite, the odors can also linger in your clothing so another way to eliminate odors is to change clothes after making a meal. The clothes you cooked in can be stored in a sealed container much like the leftover food. 
  • Keep the area clean: Leaving dirty dishes or trash around the campsite is a sure way to get the attention of any wildlife in the area. Many National Parks have trash cans that are specifically designed to keep odors contained. If you’re camping somewhere that doesn’t have this option, storing trash away from your campsite can help reduce the chances of bears or other wildlife coming near your tent. When you’re finished cooking a meal, be sure to thoroughly scrub all pots, pans, and other utensils to avoid leaving residue that might attract animals.
  • Use designated coolers and containers for food and other items: There are many coolers out there that are specifically designed for camping and keeping critters out. This is especially important if you’re camping out of your car and don’t have anywhere else to store the food. Keeping everything sealed and put away in airtight containers will work as well, but if you’re buying new camping gear or looking to upgrade, getting designated camping coolers and other containers is worth the investment.

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Whether you’re a traditional camper or a glamping enthusiast, there are always going to be ways to make your outdoor experience more enjoyable. The key to a great camping experience often comes down to having the right supplies. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your gear simple and packing minimally if that’s your style. But there are also so many useful supplies and tools out there today that can make your entire outdoor adventure more fulfilling.

From cooking supplies to beer coolers, being prepared for every scenario will make for a much more effective and efficient dining experience on your next camping trip. While you’re dining in the great outdoors, supplies such as an awning are also a great way to create a comfortable and memorable atmosphere for yourself and anyone you choose to share this journey with.

No matter where you plan on camping next, spending more time planning for your trip allows you to spend more time enjoying the view once you get there.