Overlanding Meals: What Food to Bring and How to Prepare

Going overlanding is like going camping, just for an extended time. It’s a little bit more luxurious, so to say, than a hiking trip because you can pack more food and you can even install a fridge in your rig.

In reality, cooking while overlanding is still a far cry from cooking at home, but before you set out, you have to think about what and how you will feed yourself and your companions on the road.

What To Eat On The Road While Overlanding?

The question about what to eat is probably the first you will ask while packing for your first overlanding trip. After all, you won’t have a full-size fridge and a well-stocked chest freezer in your vehicle. So what can you take with you?

The answer is simple. You can take whatever you want, as long as it fits in your vehicle. Of course, you won’t be taking a lamb leg or a 6lbs pork shoulder for pulled pork sandwiches, but you don’t have to change your diet entirely just because you are heading into the wilderness.

As a first-time traveler, you might think it is easier said than done, but you will get used to it after a while. You have to remember that you can’t do big shopping as you used to at home because you have limited space. 

Depending on how big a party you bring with you, you can still make provisions for at least a week on the trail before stocking up again. 

The main ingredients will be non-perishables, like canned, dry, and freeze-dried food. The latter is one of the best inventions an overlander could wish for – they are light and take up very little space while retaining their taste after rehydrating.

The list of non-perishable food you can consider packing for the journey:

  • grains,
  • pasta,
  • nuts,
  • dried fruit and veg,
  • canned fruit and veg,
  • canned meat and fish,
  • nut butter,
  • coffee and tea,
  • canned soups,
  • powdered milk,
  • granola and cereal bars,
  • etc.

The good thing is also bringing vegges. They probably won’t last months in the car, but they don’t need a fridge to survive once properly stored.

You can still bring fresh milk, eggs, cheese, ham, etc. That’s what the car fridge is for. If you are willing to invest more money in one, you can even get a fridge-freezer. It will allow you to pack some frozen food and treats.

If you plan to tour several countries, your meal ingredients will probably change depending on what’s available in local stores.

A fun thing to do is also fishing if you are into it. You can easily store a fishing rod in the car and take it out anytime you fancy a fresh and healthy meal by the water edge.

Depending on the season, you can also venture into the forest to forage for tasty morsels, like berries, mushrooms, or fiddleheads. There is no need for storage, and you can’t get any fresher than that.

How to Store Food When Overlanding?

Overlanding Food / Meals

Once you know what you will eat on the road, you have to think about how you will transport it. Storage is most important to keep your food from spoiling and making you sick.

  • Fridge/Freezer – This piece of equipment is necessary for everything you can’t go without, like milk, cream, eggs, cheese, cold drinks, or even ice creams.

Like with your fridge at home, an overlanding fridge keeps food fresh for as long as possible, and if you have a freezer with it, even better. They don’t pack the same amount as a full-size fridge, but they can sustain you between your weekly shopping.

  • Plastic Containers – The must-haves of any trip are plastic containers. They can keep any food you want, even pre-made meals. You can store flour, bread, or even liquids in a good plastic container.

They are also handy with organizing your food in the truck – put all the spice bags in one, and all kinds of pasta in another. They come in many sizes, and if you buy a set, you can put them together like a jigsaw.

  • Ziploc Bags – You can use Ziploc bags instead of smaller plastic containers when you want to save up some space. They are not as great with liquids as you may wish to be, but they still do their job at keeping your food secure. 

However, they work great combined with plastic containers, at least with the bigger ones – you store smaller ingredients in bags, and to prevent them from flying all over the rig, you can store them in a plastic box.

  • Metal Tins – Tins are especially handy if you are a fan of coffee or peculiar spices, like paprika or turmeric, which don’t usually do well in plastic. They are not as popular as plastic containers, so they don’t come in too many variations.

They can also be a little bit more sturdy than plastic containers when squished. They tend to bend and deform a little rather than break under pressure.

  • Wooden boxes – Some people also have wooden boxes, but they tend to ingest all the smells, liquids, powders, etc. After a while, they can start looking and smelling rather funny. 

However, they are great if you want to make shelves or cabinets to store away other containers inside.

How To Cook When Overlanding?

While out in the wilderness, you don’t have too many options and commodities to use while cooking, but you can still make the most out of your situation.

Once you go out of your comfort zone, you can discover many possibilities. To start, we can recommend a propane stove. It almost gives you a feel of your home stove in a mini version. You can set it up anywhere you want (except in the car or a tent) and cook a meal in a pan, pot, or even boil water in a kettle. 

Propane stoves are the most popular devices for cooking while camping or overlanding. You can even pick what size stove you want to use. Some people choose a very simple, single-burner stove, and others go for more elaborate stoves with 3-4 burners.

Another option would be BBQ. They are mostly portable and easy to fold. We are talking about those coal/wood BBQs. Nobody expects to pack your backyard propane BBQ to go overlanding, but the small coal BBQ can be a savior. 

You don’t even have to lug around bags of coal. Most of your food can cook over the wood anyway, so as long as you can find enough twigs and sticks around, you can be certain of having a hot meal in no time.

And speaking of burning wood, there is always your old fire pit to cook over. The times of your youth spent by the fire incinerating your marshmallows over the fire can come back while you overland. 

One of the downfalls of this type of cooking is permit – sometimes you can’t just start a fire in the middle of the woods because you can accidentally burn the forest. That’s why it’s good to carry a fire shelter or portable fire pit.

Types of Overlanding Meals

Overlanding Food / Meals

Knowing what and how to cook doesn’t mean you still know what you will eat. I am not the best cook, but I get creative when overlanding, and some recipes will only work for me if I cook them outdoors.

1. Breakfast

While overlanding, your meals don’t have to differ from what you would normally eat at home. If you are a fan of porridge, you can still bring your quick oats, mix them with water, some fruits and nuts, and a spoonful of honey and leave it in a pot to simmer over the stove.

For those who prefer a savory breakfast, the bacon and egg toast is also an option, double tasty made under the open sky and over an open fire.

Although pancakes are a little bit more challenging, once you figure out the pan temperature, they will be on the menu anytime you want. Try making your own wraps or naan bread for lunch while you are at it.

Foods you can try for outdoors breakfast:

  • bagels,
  • grits,
  • oatmeal,
  • french toast,
  • avocado toast,
  • egg salad/boiled/fried eggs
  • all American breakfast
  • etc.

2. Lunch and dinner

Lunches and dinners on the road can be anything you want as well. There are a few good tricks to save on washing the dishes as well, like one-pot dishes. 

Those are not very complicated, as you only use one pot or one pan, and you toss everything in to cook together. You can try dishes like

  • beef stew, 
  • mac and cheese, 
  • tikka masala, 
  • spaghetti bolognese, 
  • carbonara, 
  • etc.

There are plenty of recipes on the internet, and making them while overlanding won’t be any different than preparing them at home, and what’s even better, you can always bring a small pressure cooker with you. I also use a cast dutch oven for those types of dishes.

If you are a fan of BBQ, there is a ton of stuff you can stab with a stick and make skewers. Shrimp, mushrooms, onions, and peppers are only the tip of the long list, right after beef, chicken, asparagus, and zucchini. 

Even forget about any sticks. On the BBQ (or even fire pit), you don’t need anything except a crate to spread your food on, with no dishes required. Toss a steak with a side of tin-wrapped potatoes for dinner or grilled cheese for lunch.

You won’t cook your pasta or rice this way, but you can leave those for one-pot dishes.

There is always the conventional cooking method – everything on a separate pan/pot. It is more time-consuming to prepare and clean after, but if you have nowhere else to go or anything else to do, then why not take time to cook your meal in a nice outdoor setting. 

3. Snacks

You may not think so, but snacks are one of the most important meals while overlanding. To keep you going between your full-size meals, snacks are a handy, fast, and delicious source of nutrition. 

Considering you don’t set up your overlanding kitchen every 2 hours to cook something to eat, you have to have a suitable snack for everybody on board (even your dogs). 

I found myself doing a lot of hiking during my overlanding trips because you can’t drive everywhere, and there is plenty to see. During days I rake up miles on foot, I found myself more hungry. That’s when a good snack comes in handy – it’s light enough to take with you on a hike and doesn’t require cooking (unless it’s something pre-made).

Snacks for the road may include:

  • nut mix,
  • cheese sticks/cubes/slices,
  • fruits (cut, cubed, whole),
  • chips,
  • cookies/crackers,
  • granola/protein bars,
  • sandwiches,
  • mini wraps,
  • etc.

4. Freeze-dried dishes

Last but not least are the ready-made dishes you can get from the store. Most of them only require you to pour hot water inside the bag and wait until it hydrates the freeze-dried food inside. 

With the advancement of technology, those packets taste like a real meal, rather than the paper taste of the first bags from years past, and it only takes a few minutes to prepare with no dishes to wash except a fork.

On top of that, you have any type of food you can imagine, from breakfast to dinner. The only thing is that packaged meals are one-pot dish.

Final Word

Going overlanding doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your diet completely. As an avid overlander, I have been through many ups and downs of cooking outside, from running out of gas for the stove to getting my dinner wet from unexpected quick rain. 

It is always good to have a plan A and plan B for cooking while overlanding, but whatever you choose won’t be so much different from what and how you would cook it at home (except maybe an open fire).

I am sure that 99% of the dishes you cook at home you can also prepare from the back of your car. That includes a roasted chicken if you are determined.

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