Ready to say goodbye to the summer camping woes of lugging heavy coolers or settling for dehydrated backpacker meals and endless trail mix (It turns out you can have too much of a good thing.)? Winter camping is here to save the day—expand your outdoor culinary skills with bacon, butter, and chocolate that doesn’t end up melted all over your pack! The options are endless when the wilderness is your refrigerator.
Good food isn’t only a perk of winter camping, it’s actually a necessity. Calorie consumption is extra important while out in the cold, and it’s much easier to double your regular caloric intake when the food that you’re eating tastes good. Before you grab your camp stove and cast-iron pan, check out our six winter camping cooking tips.
#1: Everything Will Freeze
And I mean everything. Prevent water from freezing over by using only wide-mouthed water bottles. To prevent overnight freezing, sleep with your water bottles in your sleeping bag or bury your water bottles upside down in snow (water freezes from the top). Just be sure to mark the spot where they are buried so you can find them again in the morning! Never bring along a full jar of jelly or unsliced block of cheese or you’ll find yourself sawing away for every bite. Prevent this problem with Tip #2…
While wintertime lends itself to camping culinary masterpieces, it’s best to do as much chopping, portioning, and preparing as possible before you go. This way, you’ll minimize the amount of time you’ll need to have your gloves off for tasks like measuring and pouring—and you’ll get to eat much sooner! Get your troop together for a food prep/cooking party, clearly label everything, pack neatly, and freeze until you leave.
Remember that cooking in cold temperatures requires more time and fuel, and the sun sets much earlier in the winter, so you’ll want to start dinner prep earlier than you would on a summer trip. Because cleaning dishes is an extra chore when it’s cold, try to use the least amount of pots and pans possible. If you do find yourself scraping frozen food, use boiling water to clean off dirty containers—to avoid this hassle, plate licking is encouraged!
#3: Everything in a Tortilla
Foods with high water content like bread, granola/protein bars, and fresh or canned fruit will quickly turn rock-solid in the winter. Tortillas are the perfect solution as they won’t be crushed in a backpack and they stay soft enough to be eaten without heating. Pre-make tortilla roll-ups filled with nut butters, Nutella, cream cheese, honey, jam, cheese, or salami and you’ve got the perfect mid-hike lunch.
Tortillas also make a great vehicle for pretty much anything. Not only are breakfast (or dinner) burritos a quick and delicious meal, but everything from mac and cheese to chili can be wrapped up in a tortilla to add additional calories. I once witnessed the creation of lake trout chow mein tacos, so really anything goes if it tastes good!
#4: Fat is Your Friend
Foods high in fat will keep you warm and energized on your winter adventure. Throw your ideas about healthy eating out the window (temporarily, of course) and focus on calorie-dense, high-fat food. Melt extra butter into soups, stash candy bars in your sleeping bag, and help yourself to seconds (And thirds!).
Bacon (either turkey or pork) is a delicious way to incorporate more fat into your meal. Simply bring a package of bacon along and throw it on a pan on your camp stove, then add it to soup or cook alongside your catch of the day. My favorite winter camping breakfast is bacon and cheese bagels. Cook the bacon, then toast the bagels in the bacon grease, and melt the (pre-sliced) cheese on top—et voilà.
If you or a girl in your troop doesn’t eat meat, you’ll have to be extra attentive to meeting protein, calorie, and fat needs, so be sure to incorporate lots of nuts, nut butters, and oils into their meals.
#5: Only Cook Two Hot Meals a Day
Camp cooking is time intensive and it’s easy to get cold while you’re standing still, so pack an easy-to-eat, no-cook lunch that you can bring on a hike. Nuts, dried fruit, sliced cheese and crackers, or (my favorite) pre-baked oatmeal cups with chocolate chips and almond butter, are all good options. If you find yourself needing a mid-day warm-up, opt for hot chocolate or tea.
#6: Safety First
Water is a number one concern when winter camping. You’ll need water for cooking and drinking throughout your trip. Remember to always use purified water when cooking—that means water that has been boiled for at least a minute or is from a verified potable source.
Make sure you are confident using your camp stove before you go. Be extremely careful when refilling fuel containers, as fuel on bare skin in cold weather can cause frostbite very quickly. Girls should not refill fuel containers. Wear gloves whenever possible while cooking; it might feel annoying to take your gloves on and off frequently but doing so both prevents burns and frostbite. Never cook in a tent or a quinzhee.
If it gets warmer than refrigerator temperatures (35°F), insulate your perishable food with snow. If you’re concerned that your food did not stay cold enough, do not eat it. Always have emergency food with you (oatmeal is a great, lightweight option for a back-up meal). If you’re planning to fish, never rely on your catch to feed yourself. Always have a meal planned (And a good one too, to boost morale after a day of unsuccessful fishing!).
Planning a camping trip? Check out our other camping resources:
- Winter Camping Series: What to bring and how to stay warm
- Camp Stove Cooking 101
- Safety Activity Checkpoints for Camping (Pg. 39)
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.