How to Keep Food Warm During Hiking: Never Worry about Cold Food Again

girl eating out of insulated container
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

There are so many people who love to go hiking and backpacking in the mountains. They like to feel a different kind of experience by hiking in the cold fresh air or the freezing winter temperatures. There is no such thing as having some lovely warm meal after being out in the open air all day. If you learn how to keep food warm during hiking, you will never worry about having a cold food again.

See also: Best Camping Thermos: Hot Drinks on the Cold Mountaintop

Although most of the hikers are not prepared for some situations that may arise in the winter conditions, cold weather hiking and backpacking could be very challenging and dangerous.

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. If you are planning to go on a longer hike, planning the meals requires more effort in order to prevent food poisoning from occurring.

food for a long hiking trip

The best choice should be foods that are light enough to carry in a backpack, but can also be transported safely. Yet, the most difficult question is how to keep that food warm while you hike.

Using a Standard Cooler

Yes, coolers are used for not only keeping and maintaining foods cold but keeping foods hot and warm as well. For this, you will need a microwave, aluminum foil, hot packs, cooler and larger towels. Check out our review of the best cooler bags to help you with more options.

  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.
  2. Then, wrap the hot food properly in aluminum foil.
  3. After that, 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. Then 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.
  4. Next, place these hot packs on each side of the hot wrapped aluminum foil, and wrap all that securely in a large towel.
  5. 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.
  6. Don’t open the cooler until you need to serve the food.

blue yeti cooler

Insulated containers with a thermal insulated bag

These containers have specially constructed stainless steel wall with double layer, and also an air pocket inside which will allow the food to stay warm for many hours.  Regardless to the double insulation, the food should be warm for six to seven hours.

These carrying containers are also leakproof, so they can be used for liquid meals like soups or curries. The insulated container comes with its own insulated bag, which will keep the meal hot and warm for even longer.

Insulated boxes

These boxes are a safe and convenient way to transport meals while keeping them cold or hot. The boxes are ultra lightweight, with a very high-temperature resistance, that will keep your food warm for an extended period of time.

black insulated box with spoon

Hot or cold meals may be transported with an average temperature loss of less than 1°C per hour. These boxes are available in different shapes, colors and different depths. They are also very easy for cleaning and maintaining.

How to use these insulated boxes? Here are some tips:

  • 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 leave it 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 until the meal time.
  • 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. Just zapping it in your oven microwave won’t be enough. Your soup or stews will remain the warm longer than hot dogs because they will be packed at a higher temperature.
  • Locate it in a warm backpack – By storing your insulated box with food in an ice pack or maybe lunch bag, will decrease the chances to keep your food hot. If it’s possible, pack all of your cold foods separately from hot foods, and also try to keep it all indoors.
  • 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 16-ounce box or container, make sure it’s filled completely. Although, 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.

full insulated box to keep the food warm

Keep the food warm by creating your own miniature oven

If you want to enjoy the perfectly warm meal after a long hiking through the mountains, you should create your own miniature oven that you will be able to carry with you in your car. Even after a long exhausting day, there is a simple way to have the warm meal.  In order to do this, you should follow some simple steps:

  1. First of all, you need to heat your oven to 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit. You may use your microwave oven or toaster oven if you find it more simple or efficient. When the oven is heated, place one brick or bigger stone in the oven for about 30 minutes.
  2. While the bricks are in the oven heating up, you may prepare the meal that you are planning for your hiking.
  3. When the meal is ready, close it well in a box or place it in a container, and wrap it in an aluminum foil.
  4. Next, chose a suitable towel, wet the towel and wring it out completely.
  5. After 30 minutes, use potholders to carefully remove the heated brick or stone from the oven
  6. Then, wrap the heated brick in the wet towel and put it at the bottom of the insulated cooler you are carrying with you.
  7. At the end, place the box or the container with the hot meal around the brick, and look forward to enjoying the warm and pleasant meal after three to five hours.

heating bricks to keep the food warm

Keeping your 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 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.

  • Insulate the casseroles with the meal in a cloth or some newspaper. If you want to keep your casseroles warm for extra 20-30 minutes, you should wrap it in a newspaper or tea-towel. It will keep it warm until all the other meals are prepared.
  • Another simple idea is to add a sauce to the meal. Adding a sauce to boiled vegetables or pasta will 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.
  • And right just before dinner is served, call everyone to join the table. This won’t allow anyone to get a cold meal.

cooking in the mountains

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 bulk, the may also contain a 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.

plastic cups on the ground

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. Also ensure that you stay safe from wild animal attacks. Check out our piece on the top bear canister to secure your food.


Whether you are hiking for just a few hours, or you may want to camp for a few days, warm meals and drinks are all that you need. Planning warm meals for a longer hike or camping trip often requires more planning and organizing, but it’s doable.

You should choose foods that can be transported safely while hiking, are light enough to carry them in a backpack, and are able to stay warm during your trip. Since it’s very difficult to keep the food warm on hiking without a heat source, you may choose from the wide range of insulated boxes and containers.

insulated containers for keeping food warm

You should keep the hot foods separately from cold foods. Pack the food safely, in an insulated container and put them in thermal insulated bags, so the food will stay warm for even longer. 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!


Mark Foster

Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.