Healthy Camping & Hiking Tips

— By Alex Bosse, Nutrition Education Professional, Expanded Food Nutrition and Education Program (EFNEP) Youth Curriculum Coordinator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties

As a relatively new resident of Maine, I’m always finding ways to get outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty the state has to offer. Whether it is camping, backpacking, or hiking, it can be challenging to figure out what foods and drinks to prepare and pack for your next outdoor getaway. While there are so many physical and mental health benefits to spending time outdoors, it can be even more difficult choosing healthier options to pack or prepare on the campfire or on the trail, and it is always important to consider food safety to help prevent foodborne illness.  Below are a few tips to consider to have a healthy, delicious, and safe food experience on your next adventure outdoors.

Stay Hydrated

One of the most important considerations when planning for a trip outdoors is to stay hydrated. You want to make sure you pack plenty of water for your trip. Whether it is hydration packs for your hiking backpack, refillable water jugs, water bottles, or water filtration systems to use on the trail or at the campsite, there are plenty of options to make sure you have a consistent supply of water. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men get at least 15.5 cups of water a day and women at least 11.5 cups a day, but be sure to keep in mind that being outside in the sun and engaging in physical activity for longer periods of time increases your daily needs for water. So before going on your hike, it is a good rule of thumb to drink at least 4 cups of water to stay hydrated and carry less for the hike. It is also a good rule of thumb to drink at least 2 cups of water for every hour you plan to hike.

Food Safety

One of the most important things to consider when planning for an outdoor trip is food safety. Below are important things to remember when preparing and packing foods and beverages for your next outdoor adventure.

Pack Food Safely:

It is always important to keep perishable foods outside of the “temperature danger zone” (between 40°F and 140°F), as bacteria will grow when foods are in this zone for over two hours (or over 1 hour if 90 °F or above). To keep perishable foods safe, make sure to use a cooler with plenty of ice packs, and make sure that any poultry or meat is well wrapped, thoroughly sealed, and cooled at the proper temperature. Remember that ice packs can take up a lot of space in your cooler, so try freezing as much food as possible in advance to also serve as ice packs for your cooler.

Keep Everything Clean:

Remember that when cooking outdoors, food safety rules still apply, so it’s important to properly wash your hands before and after handling food. Bacteria present on raw meat and poultry can easily spread to other foods by dripping onto packages, cross-contamination from utensils or other kitchen equipment, or your hands.  To avoid this, when you transport or handle raw meat or poultry, double wrap or place the packages in plastic bags to prevent juices from the raw product from dripping onto other foods. Use separate utensils and plates when handling raw meat or poultry as well. Lastly, make sure to bring items like hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), disposable alcohol wipes, and biodegradable soap for hand and dish-washing.

Use a Food Thermometer:

Another great addition to your camping equipment should be a food thermometer. This will ensure that any meat, poultry, or fish you cook at the campsite is cooked to safe internal cooking temperatures. Color and appearance are not reliable indicators of doneness, especially at a campsite where food is typically cooked over a fire or cooked at night in an area with low visibility.

Below is a useful table from the Food Safety While Hiking, Camping & Boating page (USDA) going over guidelines for safe internal cooking temperatures.

USDA temperature guidelines for properly cooked meat

Food Internal Temperature
Beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts 145°F
Fish 145°F
Pork (cuts) 145°F
Ground Meat (beef, veal, pork, sausages, and lamb) 160°F
Egg dishes 160°F
Chicken, turkey, duck (whole, pieces, and ground) 165°F

Pack Non-Perishable Foods: 

It is also a good idea to pack plenty of non-perishable food items, as they are shelf stable and can withstand extreme temperatures. Examples of non-perishable food items are listed at the end of the post.

Foods and Meals to Pack and Prepare

Quick Campsite Recipes:

Camping or hiking food doesn’t have to include just energy bars or pre-packaged dehydrated meals. In fact, cooking over the fire or a small propane burner on the go while out on the trail can be just as exciting and delicious as cooking at home. Below are recipes to consider when planning for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on your next outdoor journey.

  • Breakfast:
    • Overnight Oats are a quick and easy breakfast staple to prepare ahead of time for a fiber and protein-rich energy boost to start the day. They are also very versatile because you can add a variety of ingredients based on what you like. Try the many different combinations of EFNEP’s  Oatmeal Packets!
    • Breakfast Burritos Whether they’re made ahead of time or over the campfire in the morning, breakfast burritos are a great way to have a balanced breakfast that includes many of the food groups. For protein, try incorporating beans, and scrambled eggs or swap out eggs for tofu. Try whole wheat tortillas to incorporate more whole grains into your diet. There are endless options when it comes to vegetables as well (peppers, onions, potatoes, etc.) Lastly, incorporate low-fat cheeses for dairy. For a quick and easy breakfast burrito recipe, try out EFNEP’s recipe for Brunching Burritos!
  • Lunch:
    • Sandwiches are the perfect lunch for camping or hiking. Whether it’s a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a basic sandwich with low-fat deli meats and cheeses, there are plenty of sandwich combinations to make your adventure even more tasty. For a quick, healthy, and fun recipe to make at the campsite, check out EFNEP’s recipe for Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwich!
    • Wraps are another simple, quick, and healthy lunch idea to prepare in advance or assemble in a flash. There are endless combinations of foods to put in wraps, and you can easily customize wraps to your liking. Try EFNEP’s  Wraps Your Way recipe!
  • Dinner:
    • Soups, Stews, and Chili are all great options for dinner at the campsite. Don’t want to make an entire soup in advance? Try bringing your favorite canned soup along with you on your trip. This can be a great option, as cans of soup are non-perishable. Are you dying to have some of your family’s favorite chili on your trip? Prepare a pot of soup, stew, or chili in advance to bring along camping. Make sure to follow food safety shared previously when storing pre-prepared dishes.
    • Stir-fries are a super easy and fun recipe to make on the skillet over an open fire as well. You can include whatever vegetables, grains, or protein options you prefer, and it can be a great energy-packed meal after a long day on the trail. Try EFNEP’s recipe for Stir Fry Vegetables with Chicken, Beef, or Tofu!

Non-Perishable Food Items

When planning for a multi-day trip, it is important to bring an adequate amount of non-perishable food items, as you might not have access to ice or ice packs to regularly keep your cooler cool. Below is a list of shelf-stable staples to consider when hiking or camping for multiple days:

  • Canned or boxed soups
  • Freeze-dried or dehydrated meals
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Trail mixes
  • Whole or dried fruit
  • Nut butters
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned fish, poultry, or meat
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned beans
  • Powdered milk
  • Pasta
  • Oatmeal
  • Concentrated juice boxes
  • Dried noodles
  • Energy bars or granola bars
  • Condiment packets

Whether you’re on the trail or at the campsite, there are plenty of ways to stay safe and eat healthily! Feel free to visit some of the resources below for more information to enhance your next outdoor journey.