Refrigeration isn’t practical for some campers. Coolers are an alternative, but eventually, the ice will melt. Thus, for fridge-free camping, knowing what ingredients and meals can withstand the lack of chill is essential. What works best for you will depend on packing space, budget, and cooking accessories.
No Refrigeration meals for camping often utilizes shelf-stable versions of everyday food items, including chicken, cheese, fruit, and vegetables. Using these long-life ingredients, you can still make pancakes, jambalaya, curry, quesadilla, falafel, and brownies.
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Non-Refrigerated Camping Meal Ideas
Camping without a refrigerator doesn’t mean food has to taste like cardboard. No, you’re probably not going to be preparing an entire roast chicken for dinner, but you can still have chicken pasta if you desire.
How you eat while camping is all about your equipment, ingenuity, packing space, and budget. Don’t want to cook? Spread peanut butter or caviar over crackers and have dried peaches or figs for dessert. But if you want to fire up the camping stove or light a fire, the world is your oyster (yes, those really do come canned).
Non-Refrigerated Camping Breakfasts
Some people love a large, hot breakfast, while others wash a protein bar with coffee. Regardless of your style, there are plenty of options while camping without a fridge.
- Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts
- Breakfast bars
- Eggs and bacon (yes, really, see the ingredient list for how)
- Summer sausage and cheese grits
- Bagels and cream cheese
- French toast
- Breakfast burritos
- Corn beef and hashbrowns
- Single-serving “adult” cereal
- Single-serving “kid” cereal
- Single-serving grain-free cereal
Non-Refrigerated Camping Lunches
Lunches while camping can be as simple or as complicated as you make them. But hauling out the sandwich toaster and lighting a fire can be a blast.
- Toasted cheese sandwiches (cheddar or American processed)
- Toasted peanut butter and jelly
- Pita pizza
- Charcuterie board with cheese, meats, and crackers
- Vegetable platter with hummus and bean dip
- Falafel (made from mix) and pitas
- Canned soup and crackers
- Mashed potatoes and gravy
- Jacket potatoes (baked potatoes with fixings: canned chili, chicken and mayo, cheese and crab)
Non-Refrigerated Camping Dinners
You can make many tasty camp dinners by using packaged and canned foods in addition to dried and shelf-friendly staples. Admittedly, it is very different from cooking on one jet boil rather than a campfire with pots, skillets, a griddle, and a Dutch oven. Thus, plan accordingly.
- Canned chili (it’s that simple)
- Freeze-dried meals (backpacking luxury)
- Vegan precooked meals
- Quesadilla with refried beans, salsa, and hard cheese
- Lentil and vegetable curry over rice
- Mac and cheese (box, or make it with noodles and hard cheese, shelf-stable milk)
- One-pot gnocchi and pumpkin
- Fish tacos
- Grilled eggplant burgers
- Fish cakes (mix canned fish with mashed potatoes, roll in oats, and fry)
- Black bean quinoa burrito bowl
- Summer sausage and couscous bowl
- Spaghetti with corn beef
- Mushroom risotto
- Roasted stuffed squash
- Chicken stir-fry with noodles
- Ham stew with beer bread made in a Dutch oven
- Sweet potato and peanut stew
Non-Refrigerated Camping Desserts
You can buy plenty of desserts to eat straight out of the pack, including cookies, muffins, doughnuts, and enough candy to throw a Halloween party. But if you want to get cooking over the open fire, here are some ideas beyond the classic s’mores (not that we’re knocking s’mores).
- Skillet brownies (use a mix)
- Dessert quesadilla (i.e., peanut butter, banana, chocolate, or Nutella with marshmallows)
- Peach crumble (canned peaches, cinnamon, sugar, butter, and oatmeal to toss on top)
- Apple pie toasties (butter the bread, fill it with canned apple pie filling, and put over the fire)
- Chocolate fondu
- Astronaut Ice Cream
- Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich
- Roasted apples stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon
- Campfire cones (stuff a waffle cone like a dessert quesadilla or s’more, wrap it in tinfoil, and place it near the fire)
Non-Refrigerated Camping Meal Ingredients
When rustling up fish tacos, jambalaya, or even a deli platter, you might find you need to alter the ingredient list when you are living without refrigeration. Thus, we’ve rounded up some foods that can last for days or weeks in storage without being chilled.
Before you buy, check if your camping area has any regulations on the packaging. Many have no restrictions and will even have recycling stations in addition to dumpsters. However, there are some sensitive areas where glass will be banned or rules that all packaging must be burnable.
Fridge-Free Meat & Fish Proteins
There are plenty of non-fridge meat and protein options for camping beyond SPAM (although SPAM still exists).
- Pepperoni sticks
- Canned fish (tuna, salmon, crab, sardines, anchovies, mussels, caviar, shrimp, trout, etc.)
- Packets of fish (tuna, salmon, etc.)
- Canned meat, such as chicken, ham, and corn beef
- Packets of chicken
- Preserved salamis and summer sausages
- Precooked bacon
- Canned snails
- Powdered eggs
- Eggs (depending, see below)
Fridge-Free Vegetarian And Vegan Proteins
If canned meat isn’t your thing (fair), there are plenty of ways to still get your protein. After all, vegetarians and vegans do it all the time, even when they have refrigeration.
- Refried beans (sometimes not vegetarian, so check the label if you eat meatless)
- Canned beans, lentils, and pulses
- Dried beans, lentils, and pulses (check soaking and cooking times)
- Peanut butter
- Nut butter (almond, cashew, macadamia, pecan, etc.)
- Canned or dried tofu
- Dehydrated tempeh
- Vegan jerky
- Dried mushrooms
- Hummus cups
Fridge-Free Dairy And Vegan Alternatives
Dairy and dairy-free alternatives typically live in the fridge, but some can do surprisingly well on the shelf, provided you keep them out of the direct sun.
However, read labels carefully. For example, real grated parmesan will last beautifully while camping. But many imitation parmesans will spoil in days after opening without being chilled.
In addition, many vegan kinds of milk can be kept on the shelf until opening. However, even the almond, rice, soya, and oat milk will need to be refrigerated a few hours after you’ve broken the seal. Thus, try to buy these products in small containers.
- Salted butter (yes, really)
- Condensed milk
- Evaporated milk
- Powdered milk
- Instant oat milk
- Coconut milk powder
- Shelf-stable or long-life milk (must be consumed a few hours after opening)
- Cheddar (harder versions)
- Grated parmesan
- Processed American cheese
- Gouda (harder versions)
- Freeze-dried shredded cheese
- Cheddar cheese powder (good for mac and cheese)
- Cream cheese powder
- Vegan cheese powder
- Sour cream powder
- Creamer (powdered or individual packets)
Fruits don’t technically need refrigeration, but they can go soft and mush in a matter of hours in hot and humid conditions. Apples and pears will last longer than berries or grapes. Bananas and oranges also do pretty well for a number of days if kept in a cool, shady spot.
However, when looking for fruit that will last a week or many, consider the following:
- Dried fruit
- Canned fruit
- Fruit cups
- Fruit rollups
- Candied fruits
- Raisins (okay, they are dried grapes, but few toddlers know that)
- Jarred applesauce
Some vegetables go bad fast and are hard to preserve, such as lettuce. But many vegetables are easily sourced, canned, or jarred, including asparagus, artichoke hearts, bell peppers, and bamboo shoots.
However, if you want fresh veg, the following store pretty well if kept uncut and unpeeled in somewhere cool and dark:
- Sweet potatoes
- Corn on the cob
- Spaghetti squash
- Tomatoes (for a few days)
- Eggplant (for a few days)
- Cabbage (for a few days, great in tacos)
- Avocado (for a few days)
Fridge-Free Grains And Starch
Bringing bread and grains can be done in a few ways, from dried to partially hydrated pouches. The dried will store the best in fluctuating temperature conditions.
Thus, if you are looking to make loaves of bread or baked confectionary, look for mixes that require minimal additions, such as only beer or water and oil instead of eggs. Should you have a mix that requires eggs and you don’t want to bring them, consider using applesauce or egg substitute instead.
However, it isn’t always ideal to have to add water to meet all your cooking needs so partially hydrated may be worth the bulk and cost. It isn’t just boiling water. It takes a lot of effort if you have to lug it from a water source and purify it rather than a drinking water-safe faucet.
- Dehydrated potatoes
- Rice cakes
- Granola and cereals
- Just add water mixes, like this one for pancakes
- Taco shells
- Tostada shells
- Tortillas (wraps)
- Cornbread mix
- Dehydrated hashbrowns
Condiments are easier than ever to bring along on camping trips thanks to the abundance of individual-sized packets sold online at places such as Amazon. But when using larger bottles, check that your shelf-stable selection doesn’t require refrigeration after opening.
- Ketchup and mayo packets
- Vinegar (apple cider, red wine, grape, etc.)
- Cooking oil (canola, grapeseed, and peanut have high smoke points)
- Olive oil (good as dressing, not great for high-heat cooking)
- Salsa cups
- BBQ sauce
- Soy sauce
- Jarred or packets of pasta sauce
- Maple syrup pouches
- Dried herbs and spices
- Brown sugar
- Regular sugar
- Sundried tomatoes
- Powdered gravy
Packing drinks such as cans of beer and soda for camping isn’t typically a problem without a fridge. Sure, it won’t be ice cold, but if a lake or stream is nearby, you can cool them down by sticking them in. But there are other drinks to consider:
- Hot cocoa mix
- Crystal Light Ice Tea Packets
- Coffee tea bags
- Chai latte
- Vegan chocolate milk cartons
Non-Refrigeration Camping With Bread
American campers can typically bring bread or rolls along without refrigeration and have it last over a week without getting moldy.
However, this mysterious superpower that US carbs contain doesn’t transfer across most of the globe. Thus, if you are camping outside the 50 states, keep in mind those fresh rolls or loaves of bread may last three days max, so eat promptly.
That said, throughout the world, there are bread products that have the shelf life of a Twinkie. For instance, sailor bread or bread in a can.
Non-Refrigeration Camping With Eggs
Unlike US bread, American eggs usually require refrigeration. The rest of the world finds this confusing, as their eggs can last a few weeks on a shady shelf. The reason for the disparity is that American eggs are almost always washed, removing the invisible protective layer from the shell.
Thus, Americans can take eggs on a non-refrigeration camping trip so long as their backyard hens (or a friend’s) laid them, and they are not washed.
If you are a US citizen camping in another country, do not wash eggs you buy off the shelf, even if they have some “stuff” on the outside. Instead, leave the “stuff” on the egg until you are ready to prepare it. Then you can wash the eggshell before cracking it open.
Camping Non-Refrigeration Food Safety
Camping fridge-free still requires some food-safety guidelines unless you plan to live off dry crackers the entire time. For example, uncooked, dehydrated pasta packets can last for years outside of a refrigerator. But once it is cooked, eat now or never if you don’t have a fridge.
Thus, here are some guidelines to keep in mind when camping sans-chill:
- Food should never be left in the open sun (shade is your friend)
- If using a cooler, check out our tips on ways to make the chill last the longest
- You cook it; you eat it
- Many foods have a limited lifespan after opening the can or packet, so buy in small portions
- Do not cook food in its can
- Avoid storing food in an open can
- Many countries sell long-life milk on a shelf, but some will need to be refrigerated a few hours after opening, so consider buying it in small portions
- As stated earlier, if you buy fresh eggs, do not wash off any gunk until you are ready to use them
- Do not try to keep eggs “fresh” by putting them in a cold lake or pond; the shell is porous
Non-refrigerated meals while camping is simple to do with planning and preparation. The only real challenge is getting portions right, as leftovers won’t keep.