Whether you’re on an extended road trip across the country or camping out for more than a couple nights, a well-stocked camping pantry is essential to answering life’s eternal question: “What’s for dinner tonight?” Just like at home, the purpose of a camping pantry is to allow you to create complete meals using non-perishable food items as a base. These pantry foods serve as building blocks, from which your favorite meals can be created. As many of you know, we don’t often don’t travel or camp with a cooler or a refrigerator, so we have to make frequent trips to the store to pick up our perishables (fresh produce, proteins, etc). But even if we did have a cooler, chances are we’d still need to resupply every couple of days. (We just don’t have the foresight to plan out a week’s worth of meals.)
That’s why the pantry is so critical. Basically, all we need to do is pick up a few fresh items from the store and combine them with supplies from our pantry, and we’ve got a complete meal. We also have a couple of “break glass in case of emergency” meals that can be created entirely out of pantry items. Now, we’re going to give you a general overview of what we keep in our camp kitchen pantry, but ultimately your pantry should be customized to your particular eating habits. If you have a low carb diet, then you’ll probably want to skip our pasta suggestions. Or if you don’t like spicy food, then you probably won’t need to carry a full bottle of Sriracha with you. (Also, we probably can’t be friends, sorry.)
The point is this: your pantry should be filled with food you will use and eat, not just carry around with you indefinitely. We’ve dutifully carried a bag of quinoa from Los Angeles to Canada and then back to Los Angeles before we revealed to each other that we actually hate quinoa. So then why did we have it? Because we felt we “should” because we saw it on some definitive list of must-own pantry items!
If you have a food item in your pantry that you haven’t touched in a month, then chances are you are never going to use it. Lose it and make space for items you will use. The goal is to be using everything in your pantry on a routine basis, so can avoid having long-term items hanging around for “just in case.”
A good way to stock your camp kitchen pantry is to sit down and come up with a list of the meals you cook the most while camping. What is it that you find yourself craving more often than not? Come up with 5-10 meals that you know you love, that you’ve got memorized like the back of your hand, and then figure out which non-perishable items are needed to make them. That should give you a good base to work from. So again, here’s what we keep in our camp pantry and how we use all of it. Take a look and see if you get any ideas.
Before we even get to the food, we’ve got to talk a little about finding the right container to house the pantry. We have custom-made wooden crates that fit perfectly inside our Ford Focus and double as a platform for our bed. Chances are you won’t need custom wood boxes, so here are few other ideas.
Before we had our wooden crates, we used these heavy-duty plastic containers. They’re relatively cheap, yet surprisingly durable. We liked them because of the latching feature, top-down loading configuration, and rigid sides – which prevent items from getting crushed. Check price: Amazon
Soft Sided Trunk Organizer
While we haven’t used these personally, we have met some people on the road who keep their pantry items in one of these customizable organizers. They seem fairly durable and come with nice carrying handles. Check price: Amazon
Collapsible Storage Bin/Container
We haven’t used these for a pantry per se, but we have plenty of experience with them. Milk crates are great because they can be stacked on top of each other, you can see what’s on the bottom from the side, and they’re pretty cheap. Also, this particular model can be collapsed when not in use. Check price: Amazon
Nalgene Watertight Containers
Don’t want to bring the entire bottle of olive oil or just need a little bit of your favorite sauce? These Nalgene watertight containers are great for pre-portioning pantry items and come in a wide range of sizes. The screw top seal is the best we’ve used. So long as you close it tight, these things will not leak. Compare prices: Amazon // REI
This is our go-to cooking oil. It’s versatile and relatively healthy. We use it to cook, dip bread, and re-season our cast iron when we are on the go. ProTip: You don’t need extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Regular old olive is fine. Check price: Amazon
With a distinctive tropical flavor, coconut oil can be a nice alternative to olive oil in certain dishes, especially Indian and Thai dishes. Check price: Amazon
Without refrigeration, traveling with butter is out of the question. Ghee – or clarified butter – offers a similar flavor profile to butter, but is shelf-stable and comes in a self-contained jar. Check price: Amazon
Canned White/Black Beans
Great for Mexican style meals or for making the beloved dirtbag classic: Rice & Beans.
Canned Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans
Great for Middle Eastern and Indian style meals. Also can be a nice addition to pasta dishes to add a little protein.
Dried Red Lentils
Loaded with protein, red lentils are great for making curries and stews. Check price: Amazon
If we’re making a paella or curry dish, there just no substitute for white rice. But the brown rice is a healthier alternative. We didn’t know this until recently, but Minute rice is actually a pretty healthy form of rice, as it’s lowest on the Glycemic Index. The steaming process used to parboil the rice reduces the glycemic levels significantly. Plus it’s super fast to make. Check price: Amazon
This is our go-to breakfast. Combined with other pantry items like seeds, nut butter, maple syrup. And if you’ve got some fresh fruit throw that in there too! Check price: Amazon
This can be served as a sweet morning porridge or as a savory evening meal. Check price: Amazon
It can be hard to incorporate vegetables into your camping diet, but these dehydrated veggies can be easily added to rice, pasta, soups, and a variety of other meals. If we aren’t able to make it to a grocery store and we’ve used all our fresh produce, we are always grateful to have these on hand. They are also great for building backpacking meals! Compare prices: Amazon // REI
We usually carry canned tomatoes, green chiles, and sometimes artichoke hearts. With just a couple of canned vegetables on hand, you can dramatically increase the variety of meals you can create.
Powdered eggs have gotten a lot better than they used to be. These freeze dried egg crystals by OvaEasy make excellent scramble eggs and are great to have one hand for a quick and easy breakfast. Check price: Amazon
Heads and shoulders above canned tuna fish, not only are these tuna pouches from Wild Planet are shelf-stable by they taste great. Perfect for tuna sandwiches, tuna mac & cheese, or tuna salads. Check price: Amazon
Salmon offers a nice bit of variety if you’re feeling a little burnt out on tuna. This canned Wild Planet salmon is the ONLY one we can find that doesn’t use a BPA can liner. Check price: Amazon
Tinned sardines aren’t for everyone, but if you’re into them, they make excellent shelf-stable protein source. These Wild Plant sardines are the ONLY ones we can find that don’t use BPA in their can liner. They taste great on toast, mixed into pasta, or just on their own. Check price: Amazon
Shelf Stable Tofu
For Asian dishes and breakfast scrambles, this shelf stable tofu is perfect. Great non-meat protein source that can be incorporatd into a lot of different types of meals. Check price: Amazon
Shelf Stable Seitan
A great non-soy vegan protein. We’ve found this at natural foods stores and Whole Foods markets.
Since we run a camp cooking blog, we actually roll with a full spice rack. Chances are you don’t need saffron, but here are some essentials that will provide a good amount of variety.
Salt + Pepper
Mexican Fajita Blend
Indian Curry Blend
This is a great vegan alternative to cheese (also doesn’t need to be refrigerated). We use this to make mac n “cheese”, potato hash browns, and a variety of other dishes that we want to have a cheesy quality. Check price: Amazon
There are very few recipes we make that don’t call for a couple cloves of garlic.
Great for pancakes, oatmeal, and even making cocktails.
nother great sweetener that won’t go bad and can be used for just about anything.