Setting Up A Camping Pantry

Meal planning and prep for camping trips can feel intimidating to even the most organized of people. Along with a pre-organized camp kitchen, setting up a camping pantry can reduce the time and effort you need to make to get food together for each trip, and let you rest assured that you’ll never forget your coffee, extra snacks for the kids, and extra easy meals in case you decide to extend a trip.

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to put together non-perishable food bases and staples to use in recipes and how to organize and use your camping pantry, as well as give you some recipe ideas to get started. Whether you are a seasoned camper or still getting the hang of it, making your food systems more streamlined will give you more time for both adventure and relaxation on your family camping trips.

While we’ll give you lots of information here to get your camping pantry set up and stocked, remember that you can start with as much or as little as works for you. If this feels like a huge task to stock and organize, start with just a few basic camping food essentials that stay put with your camping gear, and build from there.

Don't forget to add the coffee to your camping pantry set up!

Camping Food Essentials

Before we get into the details of setting up a camping pantry, let’s get an idea of what we are going to put in this pantry. While there are so many amazing dehydrated meals available that you can buy pre-assembled, this post will focus mostly on base ingredients that you can use for a variety of recipes. My family loves this system for keeping easy camping food affordable, while still streamlining our food packing and getting to be a bit creative with our camping meals.

These lists will give you a good start for your camping pantry, and you can add to them by peeking through your own spice cabinet and pantry at home, thinking about what your family uses the most, and adding those into your camping pantry.

After you decide which items from this list and your own that you’d like to use, make a big grocery list just for camping pantry setup and buy these items to keep there. You don’t want to be taking your stock from home, or moving things back and forth. You’ll stock up your camping pantry, and then keep an inventory as you use things up so you know when you need to replenish certain items. Here are some basics to get you started.

Spices for Camping

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Chili Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry Powder
  • Taco Seasoning
  • Soy Sauce Packets
  • Broth Granules or Cubes
  • Brown Sugar
  • Oils in small bottles: Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil

Non-Perishable Bases

We’ve divided these bases up into meals and snacks, but lots of these items crossover and can be used in a wide variety of ways. After we get through your starter list for a camping pantry, and some tips to organize and use it, we’ll share some recipes to put your non-perishables to good use.

For Breakfast

  • Instant oats
  • Powdered milk or coconut milk
  • Dry cereal or muesli
  • Pancake mix
  • Dehydrated hash browns

For Lunch

  • Nut butters
  • Summer sausages
  • No-refrigerate mini-cheese wheels
  • Crackers
  • Tuna Creations packets

For Dinner

  • Instant rice
  • 2-3 cans of beans
  • Ramen
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Dry pasta sauce packets
  • Can or jar of pasta sauce
  • Dry noodles-short and long
  • Canned or pouch chicken and fish
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Soup cans or pouches
  • Crushed tomatoes

For Snacks

  • Fruit leathers and/or fruit snacks
  • Individual nut butter packets
  • Trail mix- individual and/or big bag
  • Crackers, pretzels, Goldfish
  • Protein bars
  • S’mores fixings
  • Dried fruit
  • Rice cakes

Non-Perishable Extras

  • Coffee and/or instant coffee
  • Teabags
  • Dry milk or coconut milk
  • Hot Chocolate packets
  • Powdered gatorade or rehydration tablets
  • Bar of chocolate or easy dessert treats
  • Honey
  • Dehydrated meals
A mix of dehydrated meals and other non-perishable foods as we are setting up a camping pantry.
A camping pantry setup with spices and teas organized in a 6 quart container, and other meal and snack ingredients free in the main tub.

Assembling Your Camping Pantry

Choosing Your Pantry Bin

When choosing your camping pantry bin, it’s important to determine how much space you have in the back of the car or in the roof rack if you have one, how many items will rotate through your camping pantry, if you’d like a clear bin to see your stock, and if your main bin needs to be able to fit smaller bins of organized pantry stock.

Also consider if your camping pantry will need space to add your perishable dry food, like bread and apples, or if your pantry and your “per trip” dry food will be in two separate bins.

Consider these options as you choose your bins:

Main camping pantry tub, with spices and ingredients organized in 6 quart bins.

Staying Organized

Now that you’ve chosen your pantry bin, it’s time to think about how to keep your camping food essentials organized and accessible. Keeping spices together, extras together, snacks together, and meal bases toegether will allow you to easily pull out what you need when you need it with minimal digging.

Depending on your personal preference, and the size of your main pantry bin you can consider organizing these items into separate gallon-size zip-top baggies, or into shoe box size (6 quart) plastic containers that can stack in your bin.

If your meal bases are too big to organize in either of these ways, they may end up free floating in your pantry. You can always organize small meal bases, like sauce packets and dehydrated meals, into the system you decide on for your spices, extras, and snacks. And if you really want to avoid free floating pantry stock, you can break your meal bases down and add to smaller bins (16 quart) or zip-top bags.

Using Your Camping Pantry

Divide Your Food

Some families keep one bin as their camping pantry and another as their dry food bin that is packed before each trip. Some keep one bin for all dry food and divide it, with the camping pantry split up into separate shoe box size containers and stacked, and the dry food that is bought before each trip free in the other portion of the bin, or organized in the other portion of the bin in a way that works for you.

You can experiment with these two systems to figure out which works best for your family. Things to consider when finding your food packing system are:

  • Which size bin works better for your overall packing system and car space
  • Where you’ll store your camping pantry bin and if it is easy to pull out and fill with the dry food you buy before each trip, or if it is easier to pull out an empty bin and fill it with your per trip dry food.
  • Your personal organizational style! Do you like to throw stuff in and go, or compartmentalize?

Keep an Inventory of Your Camping Food Essentials

Once you have your camping pantry stocked up you can type up a list of which ingredients you have in each category (spices, snacks, extras, and meal bases), laminate it or slide it into a sheet protector with a dry erase marker, and tape it on to the underside of your main tub lid. When something is getting low or used up, mark it with your dry erase marker and add it to your grocery list to re-stock once you get home.

Make A Meal and Snack Plan Before Each Trip

You can get a jump on your meal planning by using the TMM 3-day Camping Meal Plan for your next trip, or all of your trips. If you are ready to build your own meal plan, you can try this system that I use for breaking it down for my family.

  1. Come up with an idea for each meal for each day, plus snacks, and write these down in order.
  2. Write each meal idea, with all of the ingredients needed listed below it.
  3. Cross-reference your camping pantry inventory list, or take a peek in your camping pantry, to see which ingredients and snacks on your master list are in your camping pantry.
  4. Cross these off your ingredients list.
  5. Make a grocery list for your remaining ingredients and snacks.
  6. Keep your initial meal plan list with you if you’re like me and likely to forget what you even planned in the first place!

Recipe Ideas

Over the years the Tales of a Mountain Mama team has put together many posts about camping meal planning and recipes, and TMM founder Amelia even wrote The Easy Camp Cookbook and Camping with Kids Cookbook to give you lots of ideas for keeping your family fed on adventures, and keeping your camp food simple and fun. Check out these awesome TMM resources, plus a few of my family’s favorites here, to get you started.

Camping Breakfast

Each family is so different when it comes to camping rhythms. Some families hang out in camp and wake up slowly before starting out on the day’s adventures. And some are up with the sun ready for their hike or bike ride for the day. Whether you are getting up for an early adventure, or lingering in camp and playing all morning here are a few recipes that utilize your non-perishable bases, plus some possible add-ins. And don’t forget the coffee!

  • Instant oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon, and add-ins like nut butter, trail mix, or fresh or dried fruit
  • Rice cakes or pita bread topped with nut butter, banana chips, craisins, and shaved coconut
  • Pancakes with toppings like trail mix, nut butter, or fresh fruit and honey
  • Eggs and rehydrated hash browns as is, or in burritos with veggies and cheese

Camping Lunch

I’ll be honest here that lunch is not typically my family’s time to get creative with camp cooking. PB&J, lunch meat, string cheese, and fresh fruit and veggies, or prepped pasta salad, tend to make up our no-cook camp lunches. Check out TMM Camping Lunch Ideas to add to your meal plan for both cook and no-cook recipes, and these easy ideas to pull some ingredients from your camping pantry.

  • Macaroni and Cheese plain or with add-ins like pouch chicken or fresh veggies
  • Rice cakes topped with peanut butter and dried fruit or trail mix
  • Picnic bags with fruit leather, trail mix, no-refrigerate mini cheese wheels, mini summer sausages, and crackers
Kids enjoying an easy mac and cheese lunch at camp.

Camping Dinner

For my family dinner tends to be a time to start slowing down and hanging out in camp. Even so, we keep our meals super simple so one of us can keep an eye on our two young kids and maybe get a few minutes of sitting still and relaxing. Here are a few of our dinner go-tos.

  • Rice and beans plain or in burritos with add-ins like veggies and cheese
  • Quesadillas with beans or pouch chicken
  • Simple pasta with sauce
  • Canned lentil soup as is or with rice or quesadillas
  • Fajitas using pouch chicken spiced with taco seasoning, and fresh veggies
  • Thanksgiving Dinner: Instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, pouch chicken, and craisins all mixed
  • Curry with pouch chicken cooked in curry powder, over rice with fresh veggies.
An easy camping dinner using rice and beans as a meal base, plus fresh fruit and veggies.

Camping Pantry Organization

If you can put a bit of time into setting up a camping pantry, you’ll save time and mental energy when you are planning and packing food for each camping trip. Keep basics like oats, coffee, spices, and snacks stocked so you aren’t without necessities. Keep extra snacks on hand so your kiddos have all the energy they need for your camping adventure. And add in some easy meals as a backup plan or cooking break after big days.

Even if you start basic and build up, and even if your organization system is not perfectly dialed in right away, a well-maintained camping pantry can take some of the headache out of your meal planning and prep process so you can spend more time enjoying your adventure and your family, and be well-fed doing it!

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Setting Up a Camping Pantry

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  • Cece Romanyshyn is a Colorado native currently living in Baker City, Oregon with her husband and two sons. She grew up camping and skiing with her family, and kept adventuring through adulthood. She has enjoyed camping, hiking, skiing, and boating in the western United States, hiking in Ecuador, DIY safaris in East Africa, boating on the rivers of Southeast Asia, and exploring nature and culture during Peace Corps service in Mozambique. She loves connecting with her little family on all sorts of adventures from daily walks and river play to ski days to camping road trips, boating, and hut trips. With the confidence, joy, and well-being brought about in these spaces, time outside together has become a parenting power tool for her.

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