Pack These 8 Essentials for Eating Well in the Great Outdoors

Going backpacking or camping? Consider these must-haves for cooking outdoors.

Published Sept. 17, 2021.

Cooking dinner during a backpacking trip can be a trying experience: lions and tigers and bears, oh my! (Well, more like aching feet and hunger and mosquitos . . . and maybe some bears. But hopefully not.)

But it doesn’t have to be. If you plan on cooking in the great outdoors, be sure to pack these essentials—some expected, some not—to make rustling up a meal easy.

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1. Salt

After eating our way through 32 freeze-dried backpacking meals, we agreed that most of them needed salt. We recommend making room in your backpack for a small baggie of the stuff. Aside from maybe some hungry bears, nobody wants to dig into a bowl of bland food after a long day of hiking.

2. A Measuring Cup

A lightweight measuring cup is multifunctional. It's great for measuring water to make freeze-dried backpacking food as well as your morning cuppa. Plus, it can double as a serving scoop, bowl, or mug.

3. Reusable Utensils

Part of being one with nature is taking care of nature. Your instinct may be to pick up disposable plastic forks and spoons, but consider buying a cheap set of reusable utensils to stir your chili and stews. It makes eating dinner outdoors a less rustic experience, too.

4. Sponge, Microfiber Towel, and Biodegradable Camp Soap

Technically, these are three things to pack instead of one, but they work together. And while you might roll your eyes and say, “Yes, mom,” hear us out: A dirty pot or skillet attracts bugs, and since you might already be battling insects, quickly cleaning your pans is the best way to avoid further interaction. Biodegradable camp soap is environmentally friendly (plus, you can use it to wash yourself), microfiber towels are lightweight, and our winning sponge is good for scrubbing.

5. A Nonstick Cookware Set

We cooked more than 3 pounds of linguine Alfredo during our backpacking cookware set testing and discovered that nonstick pots were the only ones that didn’t end up with strands of linguine stuck to the bottom.

6. Bug Repellent and a Mosquito Head Net

Unless you’re backpacking across the Arctic tundra, there will most likely be bugs on your backpacking adventure. It’s best to be prepared with bug repellent and a mosquito head net. Trust us: When you’re squatting in the woods stirring a pot of oatmeal at 6 a.m., the last thing you want is a swarm of mosquitos biting your face.

The Best Portable Gas Grills

There are plenty of reasons to consider a portable gas grill, whether you’re staying home or heading out on the road. They’re perfect for households of one or two people, those with limited outdoor space, or for camping. See which portable gas grills won our test.  

7. Olive Oil Packets

When we started researching backpacking food, we quickly discovered a whole new world we didn’t know existed. Not only can you buy freeze-dried chicken and dumplings (!!), but you can stock up on packets of olive oil. Check out our backpacker Alfredo recipe for one way to use them. 

8. A Water Purification Device

Water is the basis for a lot of quick-cooking backpacking food. During our backpacking stove testing, we lugged around a 3-liter water bag and quickly realized it was the heaviest item in our backpack. Save your back (and neck, and shoulders) and invest in a water purification device; the only work you’ll have to do is find a clean-ish water source.

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