Camper’s Fare Still Fun Without Campfire

Memorial Day and camping go hand-in-hand, but fire bans this summer in state and national parks rule out some traditional camping fare such as roasted marshmallows and freshly-hooked and grilled fish.

But, there are simple, healthy alternatives for campers who may not be prepared with propane stove, which is still allowed in many parks during a fire ban. With a little planning, meals on camping trips during a dry summer can be just as fun.

"When planning food for a trip into the backcountry, keep three key things in mind: food safety, weight and nutrition," said Pat Kendall, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension nutritionist.

The first and most important rule of thumb is to leave perishable food such as milk and cheese behind if it can’t be kept at a proper, safe temperature.

Canned food that doesn’t need to be heated, such as fruit, might be convenient only if campers don’t plan to hike to their camping spot. Hiking food in makes most canned goods impractical because of their weight. One exception that Kendall notes is small tins of meat; they’re often a good enough nutritional value trade for the weight of the can.

Dried food — fruit, jerky, juices, cereals — are the mainstay when making treks into the forest. They are lightweight and take up very little space. Campers should put thought into what dried food will need to be prepared with hot water, such as rice or oatmeal, and whether or not they’ll have access to a portable stove that is appropriate to use in areas with a fire-ban.

"People who spend a lot of time backpacking may want to dry their own food to reduce their expenses," said Kendall.

Regardless, Kendall says that outdoor enthusiasts should be sure to include food from all major food groups to keep campers healthy and energetic. She suggests that campers bring along:

  • Dried milk, which can be mixed with water as a good source of protein;
  • Jerky and canned or dried meat are a good source of protein, iron and minerals.
  • Dried Beans, nuts, peanut butter and seeds provide protein and nutrients;
  • Granolas, dry cereal, and dried fruits and vegetables provide needed carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
  • Water, which bodies need more at higher elevations than at lower elevations.
  • Dried instant soups, rice, macaroni and cheese, or hot cereal if a stove is available.

Kendall adds that if campers aren’t hiking in food, fresh fruit, canned goods and salads that can be kept cool in a cooler are a great option.