Packing the Ultimate Camp Kitchen

Camping season is upon us. If your summer schedule looks anything like mine, you’re going to be endlessly packing and unpacking. Here’s some tips to minimize the hassle, maximize your comfort, and ensure that you have everything you need…every time.

Food Cooler

Some might say I’m a little obsessed with cooler maintenance. But seriously, I value preserving the integrity of my food and my cold beverages. Have you ever opened a cooler to find your bacon floating in a pool of greasy ice water? To prevent this travesty:

  1. Acquire two or three large wide-mouth plastic jars with air-tight lids.
  2. Fill the jars 3/4 with water and freeze. These will provide a contained ice situation for the first part of your trip.
  3. When the ice melts, you can drink the water or use it for washing, and then refill the containers with party ice or, preferably, small hunks of block ice (see “ice pick” on the packing list). Keep all ice contained, thus preventing the bottom of your cooler from filling with treacherous water.

Another idea: make soup or sauce at home, freeze in screw-top  plastic container (the snap top kind may leak), and pack in your cooler. You’ll conserve ice while freeing up more camping time for lazing around.

Beverage Cooler

Always bring a separate cooler for beverages. This is particularly important if you’re hanging out with beer-drinking buddies who open the cooler every five minutes. If you keep your coolers segregated, you’ll conserve ice and prevent your food from getting rifled. You’ll want to buy ice for your drink cooler from the get-go, but add a couple of frozen water bottles to make it last longer.

Cooler Packing List: 

2 coolers

3 frozen water bottles

2 large plastic jars of frozen water

extra Tupperware for leftovers

ice pick

Permanent Portable Camp Kitchen

Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you should resort to savagery and subsist exclusively on burnt hot dogs. Camping can be a fun time to do some leisurely cooking. (Tip from a pro: Everyone will be way more impressed with your culinary talents because people have lower standards when camping.) To save the headache of packing, keep a trunk or storage bin packed with a summer camp kitchen, including cooking oil and a box of spices. (You don’t need to spend a ton of money on this–most of these items can be found at yard sales or in your own overstocked home kitchen.)

A note on plates:

I try to be environmentally conscious, but dishes can get out of control if you’re camped in a spot with limited facilities. For larger groups I go with paper boats, which are sturdier, easier to balance, and more versatile than paper plates. You can get a good deal on a huge stack at Cash-and-Carry or another restaurant supply place. Or you can order online (they also have an unbleached version).

Other cool equipment:

  1. This koozie is at once functional and pleasingly stealthy.
  2. If you’re keeping your eggs in the cooler (a good idea if there’s wild animals around), consider this egg case, which is far superior to a disintegrating egg carton.
  3. Luci solar lights are small, lightweight, waterproof, and put out a lot of light. Bonus: save on batteries.
  4. I haven’t tried this particular model, but stretchy camp chairs are the best. (The more chairs you have the fewer people will be sitting on your beer cooler.)
  5. Kitchen scissors are great if want to avoid dirtying your cutting board.

Ultimate packing list:

barbecue tongs


kitchen scissors

paper towels

heavy-duty Ziploc bags

heavy-duty garbage bags

plastic bin for washing dishes

folding dish rack and/or towel for drying dishes

dish soap


2 large frying pans

large cook pot

cutting board

coffee cone

coffee filters


metal cups

paper boats

Tupperware bowls

extra-large Tupperware for mixing and/or salad


2 decent knives

2 small cutting boards

forks and spoons

2 spatulas

large metal spoon

camp stove


ice pick

can opener

wine/bottle opener




cooking oil

drink koozies

pot holder

dish towel

optional (if you’re fancy):

vegetable peeler

cheese grater


cast iron dutch oven

food tents to keep the flies away

small cooler specifically for drink ice

cocktail shaker

simple syrup