Your First Lunch While Camping Should Be Restaurant Takeout

Before you spend a few days working hard to feed yourself, first enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor

Photo Credit: Getty Images/EyeEm

When I was 19, I went on a 30-day hiking trip in the Cascade mountain range. About halfway through, I fell on a steep, rocky trail and gashed open my left knee. It was gross — gross enough that the trip leaders decided I needed to be hiked out to receive medical attention. This was not an idle decision: Being hiked out entailed leaving the wilderness, finding a ferry, and then securing ground transportation to the nearest small town with some semblance of a medical facility. It was a long, arduous, and ultimately futile process: The doctor we found decided that the cut was in a bad location to be stitched, so just cleaned it and sent us on our way.

But in my mind, it was all worth it, gross injury included, for one simple reason: I got to stop at McDonald’s. For weeks, I and every other person on that trip had been subsisting on peanut butter, oatmeal, sweaty blocks of cheddar, and a wide and disturbing array of dehydrated meals (some, it should be noted, are actually worth eating). We spent our downtime sharing heated fantasies of what we would eat as soon as we got back to civilization, and many of them revolved around fast food. So while my knee ached, the rest of me rejoiced in the chocolate milkshake and Filet-O-Fish I got to scarf down in exchange for my troubles.

All of which is to say that when you go camping, resist the urge to plan a roadside picnic on your way to the campsite, or something that feels more outdoorsy. Instead, stop at a restaurant, fast food or otherwise, on the way to your destination. The reality is that day one at the campground often feels like work, a hot, sunny afternoon full of unloading, unpacking, and tent-building, of fumbling with firewood and tinder and matches. The ideal scenic picnic spot might simply not materialize on the way, and that feeling of disappointment can be easily avoided. Lunch might as well be easy, and provide the fuel necessary for all that setting up.

What’s more, you never know what will happen in the woods after you get there. Even if an accident doesn’t befall you — you don’t fall into a geyser, annoy a bear, wander off the trail, decide to pitch a tent on a mountaintop in a thunderstorm — you’re going to spend the next however many days sleeping on the ground and possibly pooping in a dirt trench that you dug yourself. So treat yourself. That memory of food that you didn’t have to make will carry you through whatever the wilderness sends your way — or if nothing else, give you something to fantasize over until you return.

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