Planning what food to take and how much to carry
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Bushwalking food can be delicious and simple. Here we run through some menu ideas for 2- and 3-day trips, then some specifics for certain meals as well as tips to think about in case of rainy conditions or you get into camp ultra-tired. Enjoy!
Most overnight bushwalkers start out on a 2- or 3-night trip, so we’ve put together some sample menus to get you started.
Each menu has a summary at the front, followed by a shopping list and cooking (or compiling) instructions for your meals. We’d love your feedback on how these menus work for you, so please get in touch.
Planning considerations Other things to consider
Food is something that needs a bit of time to plan before a trip so you can pack appropriately. On some trips, people organise to share food beforehand; this can make the food lighter and give you more variety. Others may prefer to plan a solo menu.
Plan ahead and prepare so you don’t get caught out with the wrong types of food and quantities. Before a trip, it’s a good idea to test out a variety of food types and amounts at home to get an idea of how much you eat and what you enjoy. Pack some snacks that work well on the move in case you are on the track longer than expected. Consider including simple emergency meals incase you get caught out for an extra day or two (e.g. instant noodles).
Even if you pack meals just for you, consider taking something small that’s shareable (e.g. chocolate bar, lollies).
Three key areas to think about include quantities, preparation and types of types of menus.
Keep a food diary before and during your trips so you have a good idea of how much you eat and can therefore pack appropriate for subsequent trips.
Trial food quantities at home first so that you know how much to cook on the track and don’t end up with too much or too little. Beware of serving sizes listed on packets, as these sometimes do not equate to main meal servings but side dishes instead (definitely worth testing at home first!).
It’s also a good idea to carry snack foods that you can reach quickly (e.g. muesli bars), as well as rations in case you are delayed.
It’s worth spending time preparing food before a trip. This can be a simple as removing excess packaging right through to pre-mixing foods like muesli and milk powder to save time in the field. There’s no right or wrong here, it’s just a matter of making sure that you aren’t carrying too much spare packaging, or making your life harder in the field with lots of finicky jobs that can be done more easily at home.
Types of menus
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to food types and menus depending on how much they are willing to carry as well as how much effort it takes to prepare and cook in the field. Different menu types have their pros and cons (find out more here: Pros and cons of different menus) and suit different styles of trips.
Breakfast Sample menus and ideas for breakfast
Breakfast is an important meal for fueling our bodies for the day ahead, so it’s important to eat foods with enough energy. Depending on what kind of trip you’re doing, it may be that your breakfast menu is quick and easy, or something more relaxed with plenty of time to cook something gourmet.
Here are some practical breakfast ideas to get started.
Time is probably the biggest thing that impacts on a breakfast menu. If you’ve got a big day ahead, you may prefer to select something that is quick and easy to prepare with minimal washing up to ensure that you get out of camp quickly. Alternatively, you may have a slow start and in which case you can take your time.
Muesli bars or breakfast bars may be a good option if you want a quick and easy breakfast, however, if you’re the sort of person that enjoys a cuppa in the morning, then it’s probably not too much more effort to prepare muesli or cereal.
Porridge is a great option to get something warming in the morning. More simply, adding hot milk to muesli is an easy way to get a warm meal inside you to start the day. Leave muesli and dried fruit soaking overnight to speed up the cooking process in the morning.
If you prefer a savoury breakfast, bread, cheese and dips are quick to prepare with little washing up to do afterwards. Another option is to cook double dinner and eat leftovers for breakfast. Leftover dinner tastes surprisingly good the next morning, just be sure to secure your food overnight to stop animals getting in!
If time is on your side, then the sky’s the limit with how imaginative you want to get with breakfast: scrambled eggs, french toast, pancakes …. Just be sure to wrap your eggs carefully!
If you’re trying to get away from camp quickly in the morning, cleaning up may come into consideration. Some ways to minimise clean up time is to select foods that require fewer bits of cutlery and crockery (e.g. muesli bars) and/or are generally less oily (i.e. cereal rather than eggs and bacon). Some cereal can be eaten directly out of the packet instead of using a bowl.
Some people find it hard to eat a lot first thing in the morning, so instead, need to think about ways of getting their energy later in the morning (e.g. nutritious snacks over morning tea). Ultimately, you know your body the best, do exactly what is going to make you feel best out on the track!
Lunch Sample menus and ideas for lunch
It can be hard to predict precisely when and where a lunch spot will be on a bushwalking trip. Conditions can make walking slower or faster than expected, and you may decide to push through to a nice late lunch stop with a view rather than stop somewhere exactly at midday!
Lunch menus need to be flexible and easy to eat on the track if there is limited time or poor weather conditions. Here are some lunch ideas to get started.
Sandwiches are great to eat on the track, although a loaf of bread is easy to squash. On multi-day trips, carry the components separately and make up sandwiches fresh each day. Consider using flatbread or crisp-breads instead of a loaf of bread as they travel much better. Harder vegetables such as cucumber, salad onions and snow peas travel well. Even tomatoes are great as long as they are packed carefully (e.g. inside a billy).
It’s worth having a backup lunch plan in case it’s not easy to stop on the track for lunch. For instance, if it’s raining, it’s usually easier to stop and have a quick snack and then keep moving instead of having an extended lunch. It’s also good to avoid unpacking your pack too much in heavy rain. In this case, having snacks like muesli bars and scroggin to hand is great so you can push on and get into camp earlier. Alternatively, make your lunch in the morning and store near the top of your pack.
Quick cooking noodles (or other instant meals) can make great lightweight lunches as long as you have time to boil water and clean up afterwards. In colder climates, walkers prepare soups or noodles in a lightweight thermos in the morning so it is ready at lunch. Instant meals have the advantage of being lightweight (excellent on long trips where water is reliable) and keep well, however, you need to make sure you have enough water handy to rehydrate. On longer trips, say 4 days, bushwalkers may choose to have fresh lunches for the first few days (i.e. cheese, bread, tomatoes), and dehydrated meals on later days.
You can keep it simple and nice with spreads like peanut butter or hummus and fillings like salami and cheese. On flat or crip breads this allows a bit of variety for lightweight and long-lasting lunches.
Dinner Sample menus and ideas for dinner
Dinner is good for your body and can be a great social event at the end of the day – it can be really nice to share a meal and reflect on the day’s adventures. For an evening meal, time usually isn’t the limiting factor, but rather, the amount of energy you’ve got left! If it’s been a big day or you’ve got into camp later than expected, cooking an extravagant meal is just about the last thing you probably want to do. So it’s worth being a bit realistic here with how gourmet and complex your evening menu is.
Here are some dinner ideas to get started.
The easiest dinners are those that just mean adding water. The quick pasta/rice and sauce range in all supermarkets are a good starting point for pasta and rice meals. Another option is couscous (e.g. spicy Moroccan style) or quick cooking noodles. With these easy to cook dishes, you can consider bulking them up with additional dehydrated vegetables (e.g. dried peas, or potato) and fish (e.g. Salmon).
These instant meals can be great options for when you’re really tired. If you are on a 3-4 day trip, you may include a few of these dinners and select which meal you end up cooking depending on how tired you feel (i.e.If day 2 is a really long day, then cook up your big meal on day 1 and have your easy meal for day 2).
It’s also worth considering your backup plan in case you can’t cook. What if there is a total fire ban? Or if your stove breaks? You may be able to share a friend’s stove, or on big trips, you might consider carrying a backup stove among the group, or enough backup food that doesn’t need cooking (e.g. muesli bars, canned fish). Some foods like couscous or instant rice actually don’t need cooking, as long as the grain is soaked in water for long enough.
During summer, cold dinners are another option for reducing the time and energy in preparing an evening meal. However, in cooler climates (and particularly wet or alpine conditions), a hot meal is a really good idea to boost morale, warm you up and keep your body well fueled for the night and next day. You might like a cold dinner with a hot soup or other drink.
Lastly, desserts are great to share with the group together in the evening. Even the simple act of sharing a chocolate bar can really boost morale, as well as doing something fun like toasting marshmallows over the campfire. Simple desserts can be just adding water (e.g. instant vanilla pudding) right through to gourmet cakes in a camp oven. A fun dessert for kids (and adults!) is stuffed roasted bananas cooked on the campfire. You could also cook up a custard powder mix and pour it over some dried fruit – yum.
Snacks Ideas for snacks
Snacks are important on the track for keeping energy and morale levels up, particularly on days where the track is hard or there is a long distance to cover.
In terms of quantities, a good rule of thumb is approximately 100g snacks per person per day (of course, depending on the exact types of snacks you’re taking).
Think about foods that are easy to store in the top of your pack, can be eaten on the move, are high in energy and also easy to share. Just be mindful that some of these snacks are very salty and you might need a bit of extra water to balance that out.
Some great ideas for snacks include:
- Scroggin (recipe ideas here, here and here) – or just use your imagination with whatever you have in your cupboard! Beware that chocolate can melt – consider using non-melting chocolate like chocolate chips used in baking as these are less likely to melt.
- Muesli bars (e.g. carmen’s)
- Pepperoni sticks (e.g. Hans)
- Pre-made trail mix (e.g. organic trail mix)
- Pre-made nut mix (e.g. Bhuja)
- Fruit – fresh and dried.
- Pikelets – prepare at home with a little jam and honey.
- Fruitcake – slice up at home for easy eating on the track.
- Chocolates – again, beware that chocolate melts even on only moderately hot days when it’s stored in the top of your pack. Wrap carefully in case it melts (zip lock bag), and store deeper inside pack as it tends to be cooler here. At camp, you can attempt to re-solidify melted chocolate by place in zip-lock bag and putting it in a cold water source such as a nearby river or creek.
- Chips or savoury biscuits (e.g. chicken crimpies)
Drinks Ideas for drinks
Hot beverages are really nice on a bushwalk, either as a warming drink around the campfire or first thing in the morning to wake up the body.
Teabags are lightweight and easy to carry. If you take milk in your tea, powdered milk is a great way of saving weight (also great for milky hot chocolates and cereal also). Condensed milk is another option, although can be too sweet for some.
Coffee is also easy to take on a bushwalk, with a whole range of different options depending on how much of a coffee connoisseur you are. Freeze-dried instant coffee granules and coffee bags are lightweight and easy. There are also instant cappuccino sachets, but these tend to have a lot of sweeteners. Another option is to carry a cold press coffee espresso maker (e.g. Aerobie AeroPress), or a coffee percolator if you don’t mind the extra weight. Some bushwalkers brew coffee in their billy and use a mini-tea strainer to get rid of the coffee granules. Or there is this Handpresso, a portable espresso maker. Many bushwalkers share the love of coffee, and some have got some great ideas on how to make a great bush brew!
Some people also like to add powdered drink flavour to their water. You can use sports drinks or simply powdered cordials. These can provide a bit of extra sugar or salts in your diet and help you drink more.
Some bushwalkers may also choose to carry alcohol on a trip. NPA supports responsible consumption of alcohol in the bush and responsible ways of carrying and consuming it. Cask red wine or port is popular on bushwalking trips. Wine bottles are impractical because they are heavy and there is a risk of breaking them. Consider decanting wine into plastic water bottles or designated wine bladders that keep wine in an airtight environment. A hipflask is a great way of holding distilled beverages. Beer cans are preferable to beer bottles as the cans are lighter to carry out than glass. The idea is just for a quiet drink, always best to stay in a clear mind when out in the bush.
The quadrant approach A tool for menu creation
The quadrant approach is a way of creating an unlimited number of meals based on picking one component from four different ‘quadrants’. It’s a surprisingly simple way of creating filling, hearty and nutritious meals without worrying about following an exact recipe. It also allows you to swap ingredients in and out at ease, depending on what you feel like eating and what is available. As long as the quadrants of the substitute items match up, the dish will work. This approach allows you to create affordable meals with what food is available in the store. Perfect for dinners and lunches.
We’ll run through the quadrants below and give some example recipes that work well. To make it easier to understand this approach, all of our breakfast, lunch and dinner menus follow this quadrant approach. After working through a few examples, you’ll get a sense of what things work well together, what ingredients can be swapped in and out, and you’ll feel comfortable to create delicious, simple meals on a trip. You can use this approach to cook at home too.
Quadrant 1: BASE
Base is a carbohydrate and the main bulk of the meal. Generally pack between 70-120 grams of a base per meal per adult. Examples include:
- Bulgur wheat
Quadrant 2: PROTEIN
Protein is typically the next major component of a meal after carbohydrates (Q1). Examples include:
- Fish (tuna, sardines, salmon)
- Ham & turkey
- Chicken (canned)
- Raw meat (carry frozen, eat on first day)
- Long life tofu (e.g. bonsoy-firm-silken-tofu)
- Legumes – chickpeas, lentils
Quadrant 3: VEGETABLES
Vegetables add flavour, texture, nutrients and colour. They are non-essential components of a meal in terms of energy content and fillingness, but certainly make a meal more interesting, balanced and flavoursome. Great bushwalking examples include:
- Surprise peas, dried corn
- Hard vegetables – carrots, zucchini
- Sun-dried tomatoes (e.g. sandhurst sundried strips)
- Dried mushrooms
Quadrant 4: FLAVOUR
Flavouring is the least important ingredient in terms of nutrition, but arguably the most important part for making the meal delicious and enjoyable!
- Salt and pepper
- Dried garlic
- Soy sauce
- Tomato paste sachets
- Packet Cuppa soups
So the basic approach of the quadrant builder is to pick one ingredient from each quadrant and build a meal. In this way, you can create entirely different meals from the same types of ingredients. When stretched for ingredients, Quadrants 3 and 4 become less important (i.e. you can still create a filling meal from Q1 and Q2), so essentially they are labelled in order of importance (although Q3 and Q4 are arguably interchangeably important!).
Here are some examples of being able to use the same ingredients to get deliciously different meals (e.g. rice makes curry as well as risotto!).