Fruits and Vegetables
As long as fresh fruits and vegetables are kept preserved, they can last a few days into the camping trip. For convenience, having them cut up, separated and stored in plastic food containers will keep them fresher longer and make them easier to grab and eat. Vegetables such as green peppers, mushrooms, squash and potatoes can be brought along to grill over the fire for a stir fry or to add to a breakfast omelet.
The only real concern for tailgate campers is spoilage. Since they are camping relatively close to a vehicle, hauling food is not such a big deal. However, the only refrigeration a tailgate camper is likely to get is through the use of an ice-packed cooler. This might do for a short camping trip, but it places some limits on the amount of food that can be kept cool. The best choices are those that will last for a while if they are merely kept out of the sun, like apples, pears, potatoes, carrots and onions.
Backcountry campers are heavily constrained by the need to carry everything into the campsite on their backs. That compels them to seek a high calories-to-weight ratio for all of their food choices, and it makes fresh fruit or vegetables a bad choice. A backcountry camper could bring along a couple of carrots or apples, but these should be treated as a treat and not part of meal planning.
Dried items like rice and beans are prefect for tailgate campers. They do not spoil easily and are easily cooked. However, they have a calorie-to-weight ratio that is too low to make them a good choice for backcountry campers. If you are going into the backcountry, think of rice and/or beans for one meal as a way to get some variety. Pasta and noodles, meanwhile, have a relatively high ratio of 110 calories per ounce. That makes them perfect for either tailgate or backcountry camping.
Nuts are another good choice for both forms of camping, especially since they are the classic foundation of trail mix. Peanuts, cashews and almonds have a lot of energy for their weight (150 to 170 calories per ounce). They are great for backcountry camping and a good idea for tailgaters as well.
Dried fruits and vegetables like raisins, cherries, blueberries or tomatoes might not carry as much energy, but they are important for long-term backcountry camping. You need to get your vitamins from somewhere, and if you do not have access to fresh fruits and greens, the dried variety becomes your best bet if you don't want to resort to pills.
If a tailgate camper brings along a cooler, it will probably be to keep some fresh meat. Backcountry campers simply cannot afford that weight and must resort to preserved meat like beef jerky or salt pork. The latter are actually pretty good for camp cooking overall, since they are well-seasoned and can serve as a great base for camp stews.
Backcountry campers are pretty limited in their processed food choices. Cans are heavy and their contents rarely justify that. Even Spam has only 80 calories per ounce, which is only 10 calories higher than a mix of dried vegetables. Canned goods can be brought on a backcountry camping trip, but as with rice and beans, they should be treated as a means for making one meal very different. The main choice of the backcountry camper for processed foods should be dried food packs of the type that are the cornerstone of military MRE rations or are available in camping stores.
Tailgate campers can make a lot of their camp cooking a lot easier by resorting to cans. Once weight is removed from the equation, cans become a great way of bringing all kinds of meat, fruit and vegetables to the campsite without concern for spoilage. Tailgate campers can resort to dried food packs as well, but that choice should be based squarely on preference rather than necessity.