Cooking While Traveling Doesn’t Need to be Difficult: Check Out This Easy Camp Kitchen Setup for all Your Off-Road & Overland Needs
The most important rule for your camp kitchen and your food is K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid.
Whether you are going on a short day trip or a week-long trip, food and the items you need for prepping can take up a ton of valuable space. If you keep it simple and cover your bases, you can have a great time, every time.
When thinking about food and needs for camping, I have adapted to a simple and effective strategy when off-road and beyond. I have too much experience being stuck out of cell service, hungry, cold, and tired. Having a few essential items in your truck can make you feel like a superhero when others feel defeated.
Something as simple as hot chocolate can make people push through those last few miles in anticipation of the comfort that will bring. I took a wilderness EMT class and the teacher said “Make someone comfortable to see greatness.” Another example might be giving someone a shot of tequila to put them at ease when you put a dislocated shoulder back into place. Having something like a candy bar can make your day when you are starving and running into problems with blood sugar or exhaustion. These simple items can turn an awful situation into something more bearable to help you keep you going.
This post will break down my simple, practical, and functional camp kitchen setup and discuss how to prepare for cooking on the road. Let’s get started.
Testing Your Recipes & Setup at Home
Try new meals when you are at home, not in a situation where it is your only food source for the night. By testing new meals where you are comfortable, where you can simply walk to the fridge or go to your favorite pizza place, giving you peace of mind if something goes really wrong.
I prefer to do this on the deck at my house. Remember to take notes of what you changed, and what does and doesn’t work. I usually try spices or other ingredients that can elevate my meal to new levels of tasty. By the time you are ready to take this meal camping, you have had a chance to work out any kinks that may happen. This will help reduce stress so you can focus your mind on other important things while you are on the trail, like having fun.
I would definitely recommend trying all of these meals with the same tools you bring to camp too. If you end up needing something from your kitchen, get a duplicate and add it to your kitchen box before your trip. It is also a good idea to get used to the gear you will be using. Another important factor to consider—wind. That can be a real challenge as well. Practice making a good windscreen and knowing how your gear reacts when used outdoors.
Camp Cooking Essentials
There are some items that I bring that take up a considerable amount of space, but they have proven to be worth their weight in gold. These items include soup, canned meals, ramen, hot chocolate, tea, and freeze-dried meals – just to name a few. These items are always in my truck with my jet boil stove.
These items can really boost morale, and keep you alive and happy. Having a hot chocolate after you set up camp or had to work on your truck in the rain or snow can improve your mood super quickly, right after a less-than-ideal situation. These items can also be used to supplement a meal that did not work out.
I usually use these as a backup, but they are all good enough to eat as a planned meal too. The food items all have precious calories, carbs, and protein to help you keep going. Keep in mind, depending on how many people are on the trip, you will need to size up the stove and pans.
The Little Things
Condiments can make or break a meal. Just having a seasoning that you are fond of will make you feel at home. Ask someone who was deployed and ate MRE’s (meals ready to eat) for their whole trip, about the necessity of hot sauce. Simply having some ketchup for the hotdog can make your night too. Speaking of seasoning, if someone gets a wound on the trail, you can use the sugar for your coffee to help close the wound. The sugar pulls all of the moisture to it, away from the wound, and helps fight bacteria spread due to low moisture in the wound. It is not ideal, but if that’s all you have it will be better than nothing!
Growing up in a ski town, I learned that with a few lemon juice packets and sugar packets, you can make a free lemonade, which sure beats paying $5 for a fountain soda with no refills. Another option to try is those electrolyte packs that you can mix in your water bottle. Again, try it at home first to find one you like so you are not wasting your limited water while on the trail. Honey is a great thing to bring to make anything sweeter. It has a very long shelf life and works in just about any food that you would like to put it in.
Then when it comes to spice, some companies sell little multi-compartment spice organizers. I took out the spices I don’t use and put the ones I prefer in those compartments. The 6 spices that are always in my truck are salt, pepper, sugar, french fry seasoning, taco seasoning, and garlic powder. Then as far as liquid condiments go, I usually like ketchup, mayo, mustard, and hot sauce. Do you know how fast food places will give you what feels like 100 ketchup packs when you just ask for a handful? I use these leftover packets when camping. It makes a little more trash that you have to deal with, but it is all very easy to pack, plus it doesn’t take up very much space.
No One Likes Dishes
One of the reasons that I like to keep camp food easy is because I want to avoid doing dishes. Most people don’t like doing dishes while they are at home. Then once you’re on the trail, and you do not have hot running water or a dishwasher, it gets even worse. Using my Jetboil and a single sandwich size cast-iron makes the usually challenging dishes easy to clean.
As far as my non-cooking dishes go, I usually bring one bowl, plate, spork, and coffee cup. You can serve any meal that you can imagine on these items. This will help keep your dishes at a minimum. If I’m serving a hard-to-clean meal, I will bring paper plates. You are supposed to enjoy the outdoors while camping, not doing dishes all night.
Kitchen Organization is Key
To organize everything that I bring, I use small plastic bins. These help keep dust and water off everything. If you ever get caught off guard by a rainstorm while at camp, you can simply put the lid back onto the bin and keep it all dry. Using bins will also help you stay more organized, saving time that could be spent around the fire while enjoying stories and a cold one with your friends or family.
Simple time before your trip organizing will help you enjoy more of your time outdoors. This is something that people have laughed at me for a long time. Taking extended time to organize your trip can make it so you actually enjoy your trip to relax, not as a treasure hunt for the skewers.
My Basic Setup
The following is a list of what I bring on most trips.
- Jetboil Flash Cooking System
- Multiple Spice Container
- Kitchen Utensil Kit
- Cast Iron Skillet
- Plastic Storage Bins
Learning From Mistakes
I remember being stuck in the mountains about nine miles from cell phone service and any people. Walking the nine miles while eating some candy was excruciating. Just plain sugar doesn’t help. It might have been more tolerable if I could have taken my stove and one or two items from above.
I had water and that was it for my never-ending walk. It soothes my soul now, knowing that I can eat something warm and nourishing for the next time I have a bad breakdown. Learn from my mistakes.
Figure out your setup at home, while you have the items at the house to dial in any meal. I know it may sound like I am telling you to bring a lot. I have watched the number of friends go out camping with twice as many things, if not more.
The best is watching someone have to deal with exploded ingredients that are now leaking down all of their kitchen stuff. Figure out what is essential for you, and adjust as needed for extra people or extra time on the road. Keep it simple, and have fun out there!