Planning your food for outdoor adventures

Posted on: May 26, 2017 | Meghan Rodgers | Comments

Good meals are an essential part time spent outdoors.

When you’re heading out on an adventure, with days planned full of activities, you want food that will nourish and revitalize you.

Hiking, climbing, swimming, paddling, gathering fire wood, lugging equipment — you’re going to be burning more calories than you think.

An adventurer should plan for about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food — about 2,500 to 4,500 calories — per person per day, depending on the individual and their exertion level. Even if you’re car camping, you’ll still likely be exerting yourself more than on a typical day.

Extra food is essential for any overnight trip, but a common beginner mistake is to pack too much food, forcing you to haul extra weight everywhere you wander. Only experience will allow you to dial in your personal food requirements, but Bob Frye, outdoors editor for the Tribune-Review, and lifelong outdoorsman, offers expert advice.


Even if your weekend adventure won’t include any overnights, there are still important things to consider about your food supply.

“Sometimes people go out on a day trip and they think they’ll be okay with the 20 ounce water bottle they use everyday,” said Frye.

But you’ll go through water faster than you think.

“You should carry at least 2 liters of water in something like a Camelback backpack reservoir.”

Frye also suggests carrying some high-energy simple snacks like granola bars, apples, bananas or grapes because you won’t have much to worry about packing out. You could also end up staying out longer than anticipated for a variety of reasons, and carrying a few light snacks for fuel can help your brain and body stay safe and alert.

“If you’re going to be out for a solid day, you might even want to take a small stove stove and make a meal,” said Frye.


Of course if you’re planning to make your vehicle home base, you have a lot more room for error in overpacking and a lot more room for creativity. But don’t get too comfortable and forget the basics.

“Sometimes people think they can just throw ice in the cooler and it will stay cold for the whole weekend, but that’s not normally the case,” said Frye.

To avoid unwanted illnesses make sure food stays cold.

“We fill up old pop bottles or milk cartons with water, freeze them, and throw those in the cooler — a big chunk of ice stays frozen much longer.”

Car campers love taking advantage of the ease of packing cooking supplies, but with this freedom, campers should consider going beyond the burger.

“You can make stews or pizzas or even bake a cake,” said Frye. “We sometimes make pineapple upside-down cakes in the dutch oven. It’s not very hard. Put some coals under the oven and then some more coals on top, so you have heat coming both directions. Check after about 45 minutes.”

Other ideas:

Mountain berry cobbler: Berries topped with Pillsbury biscuits, cooked in a pan over the fire.

Potato skins: Bake potatoes in fire, then load up with toppings.

Beer cheese fondue: In a pot over fire, melt your favorite cheese, add beer. Dunk in any number of other items you brought with you.

Mountain pies: “If you don’t make them camping, you’d never get to make them.” Frye suggests making mountain pies, especially with kids. “Try pizza, fruit filled pies or s’mores. Kids feel like they’re making their own thing, and they love it.”


If you’re doing a multi-day outdoor adventure, weight is the main consideration.

“Everything that seems light in the kitchen gets a whole lot heavier when you’re lugging it up a mountain,” said Frye.

Food planning for these events takes a bit more thought.

Freeze-dried meals are convenient, but to save money, you can easily make your own.
Meghan Rodgers/Everybody Craves


“People immediately think of freeze-dried meals, but at $7 a meal, they start to add up. You can save money by bringing similar items and making your own.”

A small stove is key here, since you’ll want some solid sustenance after a taxing day. There are a variety of backpack stoves available that can heat water with just a small canister of fuel.

Think of things easy to cook on a stovetop with water like pasta, dried beans, rice or even the packages of dehydrated mashed potatoes.

“Adding things like the foil packaged tuna or chicken helps get some protein in, and also makes it easy to pack out.”

Bring easy to grab snacks like granola bars and dried fruit, nuts or trail mix to tide you over between meals.

Pack just a little more food than you think you might need — you never want to run fully out of food. But, this also isn’t the time to try new foods. Go with what you know here, and save experimenting for days when you have less riding on it.


Pack out all of your garbage, including things like banana and orange peels. They aren’t native to the natural environment and therefore aren’t suitable food for the wildlife who will inevitably investigate. Burning garbage in a campfire isn’t a good idea either. Items rarely burn completely and can produce harmful fumes.

It’s also considerate for the next guy.

“The next camper might pitch his tent near your food scraps without knowing they’re there and could have a problem with animals,” said Frye.


Frye suggests to all outdoor adventurers not to cook where they’ll pitch a tent.

“Cook about 50 or 100 feet away from where you’ll sleep. That way, if animals are attracted to the scent, they won’t be coming into your camp.

Car campers should lock all food items in the car, but those on their own should always hang a “bear bag.”

A bear bag should include every scrap of food garbage, extra food, unwashed food prep items, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen and even fruit scented lip balm. If you’ve cooked a lot of food, consider changing clothes before heading to bed and including your dirty clothes in the bag too, so animals won’t confuse you with the scent of your dinner.

Hang the bag at least 8 feet off of the ground, making sure it’s not snug against a tree limb either. Dry bags that paddlers use are great for this, but any securely closed bag is better than none.

For more tips on navigating the great outdoors, check out


Here’s an easy idea for the trail.

Melt dark chocolate in a pan and spoon onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Press your favorite trail mix goodies into the warm chocolate. Think: Almonds, dried cherries, cranberries or blueberries, raisins, banana chips, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut, chia seeds, flax, granola, butterscotch chips… anything you can think of! Kids love creating their own, so get them involved.

Keep them on hand or on the side of your pack for a quick pick-me-up.

For great deals on healthy, outdoors ready snacks, visit

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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