The major problem with camping today is that most of the food one would think to take is designed for fast-eating use and consumption – in other words, junk food. The other problem with this kind of food is that it’s also heavy on the gluten factor. Think about it: how many campsites have bagels, bread, chips, or crackers? Practically all of them. It’s the kind of food that’s easy to bring on a camping trip, it doesn’t need refrigeration, and it doesn’t go bad as long as the food doesn’t get wet.
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But for the gluten-averse type, it’s also the wrong thing to bring for food. Even the presence of it causes contamination in camping mugs, containers, tools, pans and plates. As a result, it’s no surprise many folks in this category don’t like camping.
Fortunately, there’s a fix. The first approach is easy: get everyone to cooperate with you in the same campsite. That works if your partner, friends or family know your needs and work with you in terms of keeping gluten out of the way. But what happens if you go camping in mixed company with folks who are more acquaintances than friends? Now you have to switch to plan B. This is where the planning comes in. Otherwise, the cross-contamination alone is going to make your camping trip miserable and have you locked up in the tent or the campsite outhouse.
Camp Close to Home at First
If you haven’t gone camping at all, then take it slow at first. Start with short camping trips close to home, as this will give you a couple of advantages. First, you get exposure to what camping requires, particularly for your needs. Second, if things go wrong with early mistakes, you have the ability to deal with them quickly and get to your safe place/home quickly and easily. Third, you can still keep going camping if you forgot specific items or ingredients because home’s not that far away – just a small inconvenience versus losing the whole trip.
As you build up your confidence, repertoire of what to bring, and experience, you’ll enjoy camping more, and you’ll learn good lessons on what does and doesn’t work for a gluten-free experience. With your own personal-adventure wisdom, that’s how you will get from always being afraid of getting sick in uncertain situations to being confident you can enjoy yourself.
Prevention and Planning: Go Big on the Home Food Prep
In the emergency-management business, folks who deal with disasters, riots, and major society calamities do a ton of planning. It’s essential; the more planning they have in place with procedures on how to respond, the less they have to make up when under pressure. Yes, there are still surprises, but planning reduces the number to a few odd moments instead of a long train of chaos. So, while you’re not going to be an emergency planner for your camping trip, planning your food and diet while in tentville will reduce a lot of your angst and problems right up front.
You might think, however, oh why bother, I’m still going to get sick anyways. Not true, and let’s face it, dealing with a chronic gluten reaction is just a horrible way to spend a weekend or a week in the outdoors. So, prep your food, plan it out for each meal, and enjoy the vacation when you’re there.
Part of prepping is having the right equipment. Get a good set of camping utensils and camping cookware that pack tight and carry light. Pack your seasoning, which makes lots of food types taste great, in small containers and just large enough for your trip duration (in other words, don’t bring the entire container).
In fact, you can combine your seasoning and food ahead of time by seasoning meats or marinating them a day or two before, which will enhance the flavor while cooking at the campsite. For dry foods that you will eventually need to mix anyways, pre-mix them. Pancakes, cornbread, omelettes and more are easy to pack in one container when keeping the ingredients apart doesn’t matter.
Consider buying a camping cookbook in advance and revise existing recipes to create gluten-free versions of traditional camping recipes.
Don’t Short Yourself: Bring Lots of Food the Smart Way
The next key step is to make sure your camping trip is well stocked. You’re not necessarily hoofing into the wilderness with just a hiking backpack, so you have the ability to carry enough food in iceboxes and plastic crates. It would be silly not to take advantage of this approach. You even have the ability to drive to a nearby locality and get good food for cheap.
For example, grocery stores have rotisserie chickens that are fully cooked, come in their own handy container, and can feed a family of four. It’s high in protein and easy to spice up even further with your own seasoning stored in separated camping spice containers. All you have to do is get one on or the day before the trip, put them in the refrigerator, and pack them into containers. You will have instant chicken that can be eaten cold or warmed up again over a fire. And because it’s already cooked, there’s no issue of undercooked meat on a camp fire.
Have Your Recipes Packed and Ready
The military long ago came up with an ingenious way to feed troops in the field – MREs. Meals Ready to Eat essentially keep things in containers made from simple recipes that get mixed on the stop. Add some water, and instant food is created. Granted, MREs taste horrible, but your recipes don’t need to. Think like the military and scope out your camping cook recipes and how to pack them. If you need four parts, pack them in four separate containers and put them in the same bag, so when it’s time to eat that meal, you have everything ready to go. Big Ziploc bags are great for this kind of approach.
The effective part of planning and good recipes means covering all your bases. So check twice and use some time ahead of your trip so you don’t miss anything. Bring plenty of food so you have a fallback if something does get left out. After all, camping is about roughing a bit; not everything is perfect or that would be glamping instead. But some planning should always be done to make sure you always have each meal and can remain gluten-free the whole trip.
In terms of quick breakfast meals, gluten-free oatmeal is a good start. It packs dry and simply adding hot water and mixing generates an almost-instant meal. On the other hand, oatmeal may not be your thing. Breakfast wraps and sandwiches are the next option. These too are easy to make with gluten-free tortillas and eggs, bacon, fruit, sausage, and similar foods. Or you could go traditional with protected eggs for travel, peppers, mushrooms and bacon by mixing a quick omelette in a camping skillet.
It should be mentioned at this point a propane camping stove is a must for any camping trip needing hot food. These are cheap, come in multiple sizes from small to big, and fuel with compressed propane or similar containers. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to heat everything over a camp fire while trying to avoid burning your hands.
It might be that you dislike dairy foods too. No problem, gluten-free pancake mix with water added in a frying pan or camping griddle is also an almost instant breakfast alternative.
Lunch on many camping trips is a light meal. After a thick breakfast, lunch in the woods or desert should usually be light, easy to carry, and quick to unwrap. Fruit, vegetables, beef jerky are great choices. Canned tuna, packed fruit salads, and chicken salads are also good choices that contain really well. Wash down with water or ice tea and you’re set.
Water and canned sodas or beer tend to be the standard for camping, but they’re not your only choices. A cool invention in tea came out just years ago with cold brew. You simply fill up a container with water, throw two cold brew tags in, and you have the same ice tea as the hot brewed stuff. Add ice cubes and its cold.
For the morning, brewing coffee outdoors on the cooking stove is a simple mix as well. Avoid the juices or complex drinks; they are hard to keep clean and they clump up. The containers are also poor if not plastic and fall apart.
Like breakfast, dinner should be a big meal. It fills you up and gives you the means to refuel while you sleep. So, remember that chicken we talked about? Here’s how it starts becoming real fun food.
Chicken Tacos! – Shred the chicken, add in some peppers, onions, mushrooms, spices and cheese, fry it hot a bit, and put the contents in corn tortillas. Yum! Goes great with a cold drink. A conventional beer is great but avoid wheat-based beers (as they contain lots of gluten).
Chicken Sausage and Rice – Aidell or McKormick sausages come packed in 4s or 5s and are easy to heat quickly. The meat is pre-cooked and, with instant rice, you have a full meal. Add some vegetables and it gets even more interesting with taste.
Thai Chicken – Take your chicken in parts, mix it with peanut sauce and store it in Ziploc bags in your ice box. Then, at dinner time, pull out the parts, skewer them along with vegetables and heat. You have an almost instant Thai dinner. Instant white rice finishes the meal or quick noodles as well.
Go Simple – Chili & Cornbread – Easy to pack and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The chili comes in the can and modern grocery stores include the self-opening type (not like the old days when you actually needed a portable can opener). Cornbread mix is also easy to pack in a bag and prepare on a camping stove. Boom, a full meal that will have you sleeping like a baby (but it might be an issue if you share a tent and your chili has beans).
Baked Sweet Potatoes – Also known as yams, these vegetables can be packed without much care, no refrigeration, and bake quickly, especially when sliced into a frying pan. The result is a sweet-tasting food that matches well with meats.
Sometimes, you just get the munchies but you don’t need a full meal. Gluten-free crackers or graham crackers are a great solution. Again, you’re eliminating the need for food preservation, and they can pack easy as well as break into smaller numbers for day trips. They also go great with dip like hummus, for example.
One of the contributors to cross-contamination when camping with others, particularly on extended stays, is the dishes. The more dishes that pile together and wash together, the greater the chance of problems caused by cross-contamination. You can reduce this by using one-pot recipes and meals and by planning ahead with your camping kitchen setup and by keeping your camping knife sets, camping utensil sets, and camping mess kits separated from those owned by people in the party who are eating meals with gluten. The less containers you have and cook and serve food with, the less things get mixed up. Plus the approach works better with pre-packed meals and pre-mixed recipes.
Keep Gluten-Free Food Separate from Other Food
Here’s the last bit of planning to make sure gets done. When you camp, you want your food to stay separate. Resist the cooperative urge to compact and pack with others. Label your food, pack it yourself, and store it separately in different camping kitchen organizers. Invest in your equipment and storage as well. Utensils, cooking tools, pans, stove, and drinking glasses are all on the list. There are plenty of choices that compact and are light and durable as well. All of this avoids cross-contamination or mistakes in the dark.
Again, the focus of camping gluten-free is to enjoy yourself. Remember that principal first in every part of the preparation and experience. And if something does go wrong or off-plan, don’t panic or lose your cool. That’s why you did all your planning and stocked extra food supply. Adjust and work out a different meal, go out of order a bit and relax. When you let go of the stress, you gain confidence, and that’s when you really start to have fun camping. Your experience makes you resilient and that makes you willing to go farther out longer and with more challenges. But always remember to have fun first.