If you are like me and absolutely love to go hiking and backpacking in the mountains, you probably focus on the experience itself and not the food. But having some lovely warm meal after being out in the open air all day makes everything better!
And this is what we’re talking about in today’s article: how to keep your food warm when hiking so you’ll never have to worry about having cold food again. This becomes even more important if you go hiking when it’s colder outside.
How to Keep Food Safe and Warm
In many cases, your hike may last all day or maybe a few days, and could include preparing at least a meal or two. And if you’re out of ideas, make sure to check out my previous article filled with the best camping food ideas.
If you are planning to go on a longer hike, planning the meals requires more effort in order to prevent food poisoning from occurring.
The best choice should be foods that are light enough to carry in a backpack, but which can also be transported safely.
Yet, the most difficult question is how to keep that food warm while you hike. Because, sure, you can go with a bunch of cold meals and snacks, but nothing beats the deliciousness of having something warm!
Use insulated boxes / thermos
These boxes are a safe and convenient way to transport meals while keeping them cold or hot. And probably the easiest and best option for hikes that last one day only.
The boxes are ultra lightweight, with a very high-temperature resistance, that will keep your food warm for an extended period of time.
Hot or cold meals may be transported with an average temperature loss of less than 1°C per hour.
These boxes and thermoses are available in different shapes, colors and different depths. They are also very easy for cleaning and maintaining.
My go-to thermos for a while now is this model (affiliate link). Make sure to check it out and get one: it’s perfect for keeping food warm and safe and you have various capacities available.
While choosing an insulated box or thermos is mostly a matter of personal preference as the good brands are always high quality, you might not know the tips below that help you get the most out of them:
Preheat the boxes – Like so many restaurants that heat their plates to keep the food warm when it’s served, you may do the same thing with your insulated box.
Fill the box with boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then discard the water and immediately fill the pre-heated box with a hot meal. This will enable your hot meal not to cool down as soon as you put it in.
Fill it right before you leave – You should know that when it comes to packing a high-temperature lunch, it’s the best choice to wait until just before you leave.
This way it will remain at the right temperature for longer, as you basically waste no minutes with it waiting for you to get ready to leave.
Pack the meal hot – Another tip is to pack the meal hotter so that it has less time to cool down. Heat the food to boiling right before packing, and it will super safe to eat in 3-5 hours or even longer.
Just zapping it in your microwave won’t be enough. This is why your soups or stews will remain warm longer than hot dogs: because they will be packed at a higher temperature.
Fill the container full – All insulated thermal boxes and containers keep food warmer and hotter when they are filled to the top without any air gaps.
Whether you’re using an 8-ounce, 12-ounce or larger box or container, make sure it’s filled as close to the top as possible.
Just be careful to not overfill the box because the lid needs room to close fully. You don’t want the food to leak out in case the lid is screwed on.
Put it in a warm place– If possible, wrap your container with clothes so that the temperature outside won’t change much either.
For this reason, you should never keep close cold and warm foods when hiking.
Use a Standard Cooler or Cooler Bag
Yes, coolers are used for not only keeping and maintaining foods cold but keeping them warm as well.
For this to work as good as possible, you will need hot packs, aluminum foil and larger towels, as well as warm food.
If you don’t know where to start, check out our reviews of the best cooler bags to help you choose one.
Now, here is how to prepare the food to remain warm for as long as possible in a cooler:
1. Begin by preparing the warm food as close to the time of the hiking as possible. As an alternative, you should reheat the food just before leaving your house – but make sure it is as hot as possible.
2. Then, wrap the hot food properly in aluminum foil. We’re talking about soups as well – wrap the container they are stored in!
3. Knead the gel inside the hot pack for 5 seconds and put it in a microwave oven. Leave it the large hot pack in the microwave for up to 30 seconds.
(IMPORTANT: Read the instructions on your hot pack as directions might vary. Always follow those directions!)
4. Remove the hot pack from the microwave, kneed the gel inside the pack all over again and repeat the process for additional 20-30 seconds, or until the pack is sufficiently hot on all sides.
5. Next, place these hot packs on each side of the hot wrapped aluminum foil, and wrap all that securely in a large towel.
6. When you have all food wrapped properly, place it inside the cooler. In case there is empty space inside the cooler, fill that space with towels to trap the heat next to the food and prevent it from dissipating.
Don’t open the cooler until you need to serve the food!
Now, the biggest disadvantage of using a cooler for storing warm food when hiking is the size of the container.
These are usually large and difficult to carry around, but you can find smaller bags too that would work just as good and which might even be stored in your backpack or used as a backpack.
Actually, I would recommend these insulated thermal bags as the better choice for hiking – keep the larger coolers for when you go camping and you don’t have to move that much.
How to keep food warm when cooking in the mountains
Cooking out in the open weather is not like cooking at home, where you can simply turn the oven and bake some meal or reheat your sandwiches in the microwave.
During hiking or camping, you usually have the choice either to eat in one sitting or eat the food cold.
Here are some tips that will help to keep your food warm if you didn’t come prepared with special equipment:
– Insulate the casseroles with the meal in a cloth, paper or anything similar. This will slow down the cooling process and keep the food warm for longer.
– Another simple idea is to add a sauce to the meal. Adding a sauce to boiled vegetables or pasta will not only keep them warm for a lot longer, but will also add some exceptional flavor.
– Use the tea and coffee flasks to keep the meal warm. You may put the sauce into a flask to keep it hot, while you prepare the other food. Then seal the hot sauce and enjoy the hot meal.
– You can also create a hot box from your standard cool box if you need hot meal instead of cold one.
– You could do this by filling the box with some hot air from a kettle. After that, put your pans inside the box and keep it warm until serving. Just make sure that the recipients won’t actually melt the inside of your box!
And right just before dinner is served, call everyone to join the table. This won’t allow anyone to get a cold meal.
Food and Preparation Tips During Hiking
You should not bring fresh foods or wet meal pouches while hiking. Besides the fact that they are heavier and bulkier, the may also contain plenty of water which can make them prone to freezing.
For that reason, take only dry food like dehydrated food, fruit, and vegetables, pasta, quinoa or couscous.
Avoid bringing too many different dishes. To be realistic, all you need while hiking is one bowl and fork or spoon.
The best options are the plastic ones because the metal is heavier and also heats up fast, so it’s not good for winter cooking. Like an option, you may also bring some light plastic cups for drinks or think about Mother Earn and replace plastic with biodegradable alternatives.
Carefully re-package the food. Before putting the food in your backpack, you should repackage the food into freezer bags, so you can stay well organized while hiking.
There are two options to organize the food: organize a bag of food for each day where everything is already planned out, and to organize by food type so you know where everything is.
Whether you are hiking for just a few hours and a few days, warm meals and drinks make the entire experience a lot more pleasant.
Even though you will need to do a bit more planning and organizing when considering the warm food options for longer hikes or camping trips, it’s totally worth it!
Make sure you choose foods that can be transported safely while hiking, are light enough to carry in a backpack, and are able to stay warm during your trip. For that, you already have all the tips you need above.
For our top choice of the best soft sided cooler, check out our earlier piece on this topic.
However, make sure you share your experiences about how to keep your food warm during hiking with us and leave us a comment after the great hiking!