How to Build an Overland Camp Kitchen

person squats next to a fire in a campsite with two dirtbikes and pinetrees

Freeze-dried meals or MRE’s are a good way to pack in enough calories without crowding your bags. That said, they get old after a while—it’s worthwhile learning how to maximize your calorie intake, use your surroundings to source food on the road, including foraging and fishing, and to build a basic “camp kitchen”. We reached out to Adventure Haks, an overland moto couple based in British Columbia, Canada on how to build one and eat well on the trail.

person standing by their motorcycle and a campfire billowing smoke at the foot of a lake in a pine forest

Brendon and I have been traveling by motorcycle for just over a decade. We’ve ridden on many different style bikes—from a sport bike, to a cruiser, to a big adventure bike. Recently, we’ve moved on to a simpler, and separate, set of Honda dual sports. Our motorcycle travels have taken us through parts of western USA, most of Canada, and an additional 14 countries—with trips lasting anywhere from three hours to three years. Currently, you can find us wintering on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, prepping for the next overlanding adventure. Along with our motorcycles, our goals and priorities have changed over the years. Living close to nature and feeling a strong connection to it is one of our main pursuits. As we explore and experience new places, the methods have evolved to reflect a more sustainable version of travel. Hotels—and, more importantly, restaurants—have been happily substituted for longer trips where we camp and cook for ourselves. Every day brings a new experience, and eating meals packed full of nutrients in order to restore our energy and keep us well fueled is essential.

Importance of Proper Nutrition

After a long, hard day of riding, the only thing that feels important about a meal is that it’s easy and fills you up. Yet convenience foods will leave you feeling depleted in the long run. Sure, having a few dehydrated ready-to-eat meals along is a good idea, but we treat these as a plan B. With a little meal prep and destination foresight, it is easy to eat better than you might at home.

hands holding a cup and spooning a stew out of the cup

Building a Camp Kitchen

Sourcing your own local ingredients—and supplementing your food with foraging and fishing—is very rewarding. That’s why we tend to bring only the basics and fill the gaps with what we find along the way. We keep a small stock of dry items at all times, like rice, quinoa or pasta, oatmeal, coffee and tea, chocolate, hot sauce…and maple syrup, the best sweetener you can get. Grocery stops can be kept simple when all we need is fruit, vegetables, and occasionally protein. If and when the grocery store doesn’t materialize like it should, we still have food to fall back on.

One of the keys to being able to create a variety of meals is having a good spice kit. Spices can turn almost any meal from boring and bland to unique and flavorful, not to mention full of health benefits. They are the unsung heroes of our camp kitchen. Generally, the spices we carry in our kit are salt, pepper, chilli powder, red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, curry powder, oregano, steak spice, and cinnamon.

cast iron skillet cooking cuts of meat on top of a rocket stove style fire built out of a standing log

Cooking Equipment

No one answer fits all for kitchen equipment. Each person needs to carry what works for the space they have and the meals they intend to cook. You could go as simple as having nothing, with all meals cooked over an open fire, or literally bring everything including a kitchen sink. We love to cook dinner on a fire while relaxing at camp after a hard day. However, a fire isn’t always practical for quick roadside meal stops, and fire bans are often in effect here in North America during the summer months. That’s why a packable cooktop, or better yet a backpacking stove, is a must.

Using Multi-Fuel Stoves

Something distinctive about motorcycle travel is the vast quantity of spare cooking fuel you have at all times; that is, if you use a multi fuel stove, with the capability of burning gasoline. We make lots of big one-pot meals like chilis, stews, and curries, all of which can simmer for up to an hour before eating.

Our experimentation with alternative fuels turned into lost space carrying extra canisters, frustration when these canisters couldn’t be replaced, and having to minimize cook time when off grid for extended periods.

Water & Hydration

Water is another big dilemma. It’s too heavy to carry enough on a motorcycle, and what you find along the way can be questionable. We choose not to buy water in bottles, rather to fill up where possible, and get the rest from natural sources. But, beware, treatment is absolutely necessary! One of the worst illnesses we’ve ever experienced came from a crystal-clear mountain stream, because we didn’t treat the water first. Alternatively, I’ve safely quenched my thirst many times from water that started out darker than coffee because it was properly treated.

There are many small and lightweight options to purify water: filters, UV sterilizers, and treatment tabs, to name a few. We carry a small version of all three, and each is worth its weight in gold. Another item we are never without is anti-bacterial wipes. These are great when there simply isn’t enough water to do the dishes, which is more often than not.

man casts a flyfishing rod in a river in a lush green forest

Be Prepared for a Longer Journey

Being prepared when venturing into the backcountry is crucial, but not only for when disaster strikes. Sometimes, you need to be well prepared for when things are going so well that you don’t want to leave. Time and time again we find ourselves camped out in serene wilderness, with a private lake view or a riverside slice of heaven. The only thing that determines our length of stay under those circumstances is how long our supplies last. This is often when the fishing rod comes out to supplement the stock of dry goods, and our morning hikes turn into a berry hunt to add sweet flavor and calories to the day. Then, feeling satisfied with our extended wilderness escape and getting ready to pack it up, it hits us. We can spend another night under the stars, thanks to that dehydrated meal hiding under the tool kit.