Taking meat camping can be a challenge if you’re going in warm weather.
But what would a camping trip be without being able to enjoy a burger, steak, or sausage on a bun?
The trouble with taking meat camping is that there’s a higher risk of spoilage (and therefore food poisoning) if the meat isn’t stored properly or prepared and consumed quickly enough.
Ross and I have thankfully never gotten sick from accidentally eating bad meat while camping, but that’s because we’re incredibly careful and do everything we can to minimize the risks.
Plan to eat all raw meat within 1 to 2 days max
If you plan on going on a longer camping trip, make sure to plan your meals so that all of the raw meat is eaten within the first two days at the very latest.
This is where meal planning comes in.
Make sure to plan out exactly what you’re going to eat for every meal on each day of the trip. When it comes to certain types of meats, you can’t decide to eat it just whenever you like.
They have to be prioritized for earlier on in the trip.
I once watched a YouTube video of a bunch of campers where a guy decided to eat five-day-old hotdogs.
Guess what happened?
He got sick.
Don’t be that guy.
When it comes to taking meat camping, timing is key.
Freeze your meat first
You can ensure that your meat stays cold for a longer period of time if you freeze it before you go camping.
You can do this for both raw and cooked varieties of meats. This is especially helpful for items like raw steaks, hamburger patties, chicken breasts, and sausage links.
The meat will slowly thaw over the day once it’s taken out of the freezer.
Bring a portable cooler with ice or cool packs
A good quality cooler is essential for keeping meat (and all other food items) cold while camping.
I highly recommend investing in a high-quality cooler like the Yeti Tundra 45.
It’s expensive, but it will keep your food cold for days on end.
If you don’t want to invest in a Yeti, or if you’re going camping with a shorter trip duration, then make sure to bring plenty of ice or cool packs with you.
One of the main benefits of bringing ice over cool packs is that you can optionally use them for drink—as long as you take the necessary precautions to avoid contaminating them (such as by keeping ice in resealable plastic bags).
Know how to pack meat for camping
You definitely need to be careful when packing and storing meat for camping to avoid spills and cross contamination.
Here’s what I recommend when it comes to understanding how to pack meat for camping in the safest way possible:
Use resealable plastic bags. This is an easy and practical way to store and transport your meat.
Pack each type of meat in a separate bag. For instance, pack hamburger patties in one bag, lunch meat in another bag, and on.
Use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or parchment paper to separate meat portions. For example, if you don’t want your hamburgers or salmon fillets to stick together, you can use this technique before placing them in a plastic bag.
Squeeze out all the air before sealing it. This will help keep the meat fresh and prevent it from spoiling as quickly.
Double-bag your meat for camping in case one of the bags rip or the seal comes undone, your other food items will be protected.
Consider vacuum sealing meat for camping with a vacuum packing machine for even greater protection.
Use leak-proof containers for added protection from the bag being crushed or ripped.
Place your meat at the bottom of the cooler to minimize the amount of warm air it’s exposed to every time you open it.
Pack your meat between layers of ice or ice packs so that they stay as cold as possible.
Rely on cured meats later on in your camping trip
Once you get past the two-day mark of your trip and have eaten all of the raw or cooked meat you planned for those first couple of days, you can still enjoy a variety of camping meat options by relying on cured items like summer sausage, ham, pepperoni, and salami.
Cured meats are are meats that have been treated with salt and other preservatives to help extend their shelf life.
These are some of the best meat for camping because they last for a longer period of time are more forgiving in terms of refrigeration.
Just make sure to store them out of the sun and in an airtight container to avoid spoilage.
You can use cured meats in wraps, sandwiches, stews, pizzas, breakfast omelettes and more.
Get farm fresh eggs instead of grocery store eggs
Did you know that eggs don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated?
As long as they haven’t already been refrigerated, as most farm fresh eggs haven’t, they can be stored at room temperature for 2 to 4 weeks.
Grocery store eggs are also typically washed before they’re sold, which removes the natural protective coatings that help prevent bacteria from getting inside.
Farm fresh eggs have this natural coating intact, making them much more shelf-stable.
With that said, if you’re going camping in hot weather, you may want to think twice about bringing farm fresh eggs.
Farm fresh eggs should be stored at temperatures no warmer than 68 to 72°F (20 to 22°C) in order to prevent spoilage.
So, if you’re camping in a cooler environment, go ahead and bring those fresh eggs with you.
And if the weather is looking hot, it might be better to stick to the store-bought variety.
Choose pre-cooked bacon over raw bacon
Bacon is one of those magical meats that somehow tastes even better when cooked over a campfire.
But raw bacon can be tricky to store and cook properly while camping.
A much easier option is to buy pre-cooked bacon, or what’s sometimes called ready-made bacon.
It typically comes in a foil package and only needs to be reheated before eating.
This makes it a great option for camping, since all you need to do is throw it in the skillet or on the grill for a few minutes to heat it up.
Pre-cooked bacon is also less likely to spoil than raw bacon and has a longer shelf life since it’s also a type of cured meat.
Consider bringing canned meat
If you’re really serious about cooking meat while camping, then I highly recommend bringing along a few cans of your favourite canned meats.
Canned meats like tuna, salmon, chicken, and ham are perfect for no-cook meals as well as for adding some extra protein to your campfire meals, bringing some much-needed variety to your tastebuds.
The biggest downside of bringing canned meats is that they’re pretty heavy since the cans are made of steel metal, and the meat is often packed in water.
In addition to that, you have to pack the cans out after you’ve used them, meaning you’ll have to carry more waste with you.
But if weight isn’t an issue, I’d say go ahead and try bringing canned meat on your next camping trip.
A can of tuna or chicken added to a box of Kraft Dinner mac n’ cheese is absolute heaven, in my opinion. Just remember to bring a can opener!
Try chicken or tuna packets/pouches
One way to get around the weight and inconvenience of bringing canned meat is to go for meat packets or pouches instead.
These are often made of lightweight plastic or foil and can be easily squished down to save both space and weight in your backpack.
Tuna and chicken are the most common types of meat found in packets and pouches, and to be honest I’ve never seen any other type of meat sold in this type of packaging.
They usually come in single-serving sizes, which is great if you’re packing light.
And best of all, they don’t require refrigeration, so you can just throw them in your backpack and forget about them until meal time.
The main downside of packets and pouches is that they can be a little pricey for the amount of meat that you get.
But in my opinion, the extra cost is worth it for the convenience factor.
My absolute favourite are the wild skipjack tuna packets in Thai chili from Raincoast Global.
I love to mix them with a mayo packet and eat them in a mini tortilla wrap as a quick and easy lunch option that’s also incredibly tasty and filling.
Buy (or make your own) jerky
Jerky is a great option for camping since it’s lightweight, doesn’t require refrigeration, and has a long shelf life.
It’s also high in protein and very filling, making it a perfect food to take camping.
There are tons of different flavours and types of jerky available these days, including your typical beef jerky, but you can also get chicken, turkey, salmon, and even bison jerky.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try making your own jerky at home using your oven, food dehydrator, or air fryer.
Unfortunately, jerky is another type of camp food that can be slightly more on the expensive side—especially if you’re buying the higher quality brands.
But it’s incredibly convenient. In addition to being a great trail snack, you can add it to campfire meals like stir fry, rice, or pasta dishes to boost the protein content.
Dehydrate your own meat
If you’re serious about camping, you typically go on longer trips, and packing light is a big priority for you, then you may want to invest in a good food dehydrator to dehydrate meat that you can add to your camp meals when it comes time to cook them.
Dehydrated meat has an incredibly long shelf life—up to a year or more when stored properly. It’s also very light since all the water has been removed.
The best types of meats to dehydrate, in my opinion, are ground types—like beef, chicken, and turkey. These all rehydrate the best and are the most versatile to use in a variety of camp meals.
In addition to being more cost-effective, dehydrating your own meat is also healthier since it contains far less salt and preservative than cured meat and other foods you choose for their long shelf life.
However, it does take more planning, care, and time to dehydrate your own meat, so it’s not for everyone.
How to spot the signs of spoiled or contaminated meat
Even when you try to do everything right, sometimes meat can go bad—especially if it’s not stored properly.
Here are a few signs to look for that indicate your meat has gone bad:
- The meat is warm to the touch
- The meat is discoloured or has changed colour from its original hue
- There is mould growing on the surface of the meat
- The meat has an unpleasant smell
- The texture of the meat is slimy or tacky
If you sense any of these signs, it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw the meat away.
It’s not worth taking the risk of eating contaminated meat and getting sick, especially when you’re out in the wilderness.
To learn more about food safety and storage, I highly recommend checking out some of the following resources.
Government of Canada resources:
U.S. Government resources:
- Are you storing food safely?
- Refrigerator and freezer storage chart
- Cold food storage chart
- Safe food storage
It’s better to be safe than sorry when taking meat camping
I’ve certainly tossed out meat on my trips simply because I didn’t feel confident enough about eating it.
In the end, I didn’t want to risk getting food poisoning, so it was better to play it safe and go without.
I’d recommend that you do the same, even if the meat was expensive and it feels like such a waste to throw it out.
Your health is definitely worth more than any amount of money you may have spent on the meat.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).