"Takes you places"

Bushwalking Food and Cooking

John Bartlett cooking at home

John Bartlett cooking at home

As part of the Club’s 50th Anniversary, I published The Bushwalker’s Cookbook, and in the Spring 2002 edition of Tandanya, a substantial amount of the book was re-published. Now, 14 years later, and so many new members in the Club, it is worth publishing parts of it again, so following are some extracts from the book, plus a few personal comments thrown in for good measure.


The dietary needs of bushwalkers who carry their food in packs on their backs have not changed over the years, even though methods of preparing and packaging have altered, along with changing fashions in bushwalking gear and different attitudes to the bush itself.

Food is of prime importance on a walking trip. Quantities, methods of cooking and type of food may vary from person to person, but the fundamentals are the same, and these are:

  • compactness, minimum weight and reasonable cost
  • variety
  • ease of preparation
  • satisfy both the palate and the physical needs of the body

Meals are frequently the natural focus of a day’s walking when the appetite is sharpened by fresh air and exercise.

Although it is often said the most things taste better in the bush, cooking on a walk still needs to be leisurely, creative and satisfying. It is worthwhile exploring sources of suitable bushwalking food in outdoor shops, supermarkets, health food shops and Asian groceries as this will lead to creative cooking and and satisfying food of the type the walker is usually accustomed to.

There is a proverb “an army marches on its stomach”, and it can be truly said that a bushwalker does likewise.

Note: This article is mainly directed at overnight pack-carrying trips rather than car camping trips.

On a personal note

My first major walk was The Overland Track in Tasmania from 28th December 1951 to 5th January 1952 with 2 companions. I see in the extracts from my log of the trip indicating 862g of food per day per person. However, in later years, I found I needed to carry close to 1Kg of food per day as dictated by my body. On my 14 day Kakadu NP walk in 2003, I carried 14 kg of food, but because of the heat and the top end “dry’, all gear was at an absolute minimum.

Factors Affecting the Menu

For a strenuous or cold weather trip there needs to be a slight increase in high-energy foods. Meals on a snow camping trip need to be quick and easy to prepare, especially if snow has to be melted and cooking is done in the tent. More frequently, open fires are not allowed, particularly in National Parks, so fuel has to be carried for all cooking and water heating.

Availability of water can also affect the menu such as in arid or high areas. One-pot meals are useful in these circumstances. It is a good idea to carry some food that is pre-cooked, or can be eaten uncooked in the event of bad weather, fire bans, an accident or delay.

“A diet rich in complex carbohydrates conserves energy and defers the time taken to reach exhaustion. Thus it is necessary for the diet to contain a high proportion of carbohydrates. The best sources of complex carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread or biscuits, cereals and pastas, and these can all be in dried form for bushwalking.”

Background to Basic Requirements

For the average bushwalker, there is little need to calculate daily kilojoule intakes or exact percentages of food, assuming the walker enjoys a healthy and balanced diet. It has long been a rough guide that 900grams of mainly dry food per day per person satisfies most needs. With careful planning, about 850grams of dry food is sufficient.

For their expeditions to the South Pole, both Amundsen’s and Scott’s parties took approximately 980 grams of food per person per day. This was made up of 400 – 450g biscuit, 350 – 375g pemmican(lean ground dried meat mixed with melted fat) and the rest in the form of milk powder, butter, sugar, chocolate or cocoa. History tells us the reasons why one was brilliantly successful, and the other was an absolute disaster.

Our late former Patron, Warren Bonython, in his book Walking The Flinders Ranges (1967) stated that his daily ration was 850g, made up of 360g carbohydrate, 300g fat, protein and others, and 190g fresh food. Food is essentially fuel for the body and must be readily digestible in the form of complex carbohydrates, with adequate amounts of water drunk for good hydration. When the body is working, it uses carbohydrates and body fat for fuel. Carbohydrates are glucose or glycogen and body fat is stored in protein and fats.When glucose in the blood and glycogen in the muscles and liver are used up with exercise, the body burns stored fat for fuel.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates conserves energy and defers the time taken to reach exhaustion.

Thus it is necessary for the diet to contain a high proportion of carbohydrates. The best sources of complex carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread or biscuits, cereals and pastas, and these can all be in dried form for bushwalking.

Stoves, Fuel and Campfires

With few exceptions, bushwalkers carry stoves these days. Days of campfires for cooking are surely passing. There are several types of stoves available, and the most common these days are:

Butane stoves (butane – fuel, propane – propellant)

Canisters of liquified butane gas are available world-wide, and stoves fuelled by butane are either the type whereby a burner is fitted to the top of the canister (a wind guard is recommended), or there is tubing to a TRANGIA stove modified for using a gas cannister in lieu of methylated spirits.

Methylated spirits stoves (alcohol)

These are either the well known TRANGIA stove kit, or a much simpler stove consisting of just the burner and pot stand. These stoves are fool-proof, but slower than gas or white spirits stoves.

Wood stoves

There are some simple stoves available that have a metho burner and supporting framework, that can readily used using small pieces of wood as fuel in lieu of the metho burner. There are also one or two that burn small pieces of wood only.

Multi-fuel stoves

There are stoves available that burn more than one type of petroleum based fuel (not metho).

Less popular now are:

  • Stoves fuelled by white spirits – they are fast, but noisy and troublesome
  • Stoves using kerosene – they are dirty, smelly and need priming with white spirits.

The notes above are intentionally kept very brief because there is a lot of information available on the internet about stoves for bushwalkers.

How does a newcomer to bushwalking decide what type of stove to buy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Hire stoves from ABW and try them out , and on a walk, observe what types of stoves others are using.
  • Visit outdoor shops that specialise in bushwalking, and view and discuss options with the staff.
  • Visit internet sites, but seeing and using the real thing is always a better option.

Carrying Fuels

Once in the pack, leaking fuel, if liquid, can be dangerous and can contaminate food, clothing and bedding, so obviously well sealed containers are vital.

Remember that it is not permissible to carry fuel on aircraft, so fuel supply must be arranged before commencing a walk following a flight.


All bushwalkers love a campfire. It represents a place to cook, companionship at the end of the day, light and heat. Fires are not permitted in many areas, particularly in National Parks and other conservation areas. Check if a fire is permissible in your planned area of walking, and in most cases a stove is carried by the walker regardless.

When a fire in the evening is possible, due consideration needs to be given to such factors as:

  • bushfire risk
  • nearness to tents (put downwind from them)
  • effect on the immediate environment
  • permissible in the area

If it is considered reasonable to have a campfire, the generally accepted code is:

  • if there is a well used campfire site, continue to use it rather than start a new area.
  • If there has been no fire before, dig a trench for the fire, heap soil to one side, and cover remains of fire with the soil before moving on, making sure you remove any tins or foil.
  • Before retiring at night, always put out the fire with either soil or water.
  • Always leave a camp site as you found it, or even cleaner and tidier than you found it.
  • Cooking on a campfire will always be enjoyable and sociable and requires some special skills. A billy is often taken if there is a likelihood there will be a campfire.

Carrying, Packaging and Containers

For an extended trip of say 7 – 10 days, food is a considerable portion of the total pack weight. As food is dense, it needs to be packed in the centre near the walker’s back in water proof bags and be well separated from fuel which may leak and contaminate the food. In warm weather, use insulating qualities of clothing to stop chocolate from melting and fresh food from going off. Most packaging can be discarded when packing, thus saving weight and space.

When walking in some areas, it is necessary to make sure food is well packed away and utensils cleaned to reduce the risk of attacks by wild life and vermin which can gnaw through packs and tents. They can find their way into or even live in mountain huts. With the advent of minimum impact bushwalking, lack of campfires, and the need to leave nothing behind in the bush, tins and other packaging need to be kept to a minimum, unless weight is not important.

Food Drops

The expression ‘food drops’ probably originated in Tasmania when extra supplies for a long trip were literally dropped by light plane. This practice ceased long ago, but the expression has survived, and usually applies to a package of food for the second or even third stage of a long walk. The package is sometimes left with a bus company to deliver at a predetermined time and place, cached in the bush or left in the care of rangers.

Depending on circumstances such as time of the year, place, security and duration of holding the drop, the food must be packed accordingly. The following aspects need to be considered carefully when packing, despatching and leaving the food in the care of someone to hold or deliver:

  • effect of heat
  • leaking containers
  • breakage
  • vermin proof
  • naming
  • clear instructions
  • perishing of food
  • waterproof
  • security from vandals and thieves
  • Drinks

When the body is working continuously, whether it be in warm, dry weather or on a ski trip, dehydration of the body due to prolonged exercise and exposure to the elements can reveal itself as fatigue and headaches. Dried foods put further demands on the body’s fluid level.

Therefore, drink plenty of water. Plain water is best for serious thirst. Fruit drinks and hot drinks are palatable and if sweet,can provide energy.

Drinking Water

Care needs to be taken when collecting natural, bore or tank water. These can contain impurities, pollutants or health risks.

Safe drinking water is a detailed study in itself and can be left for another article in Tandanya, or in some separate publication.

In general if there needs to be caution over the quality of drinking water on a trip, then steps need to be taken to boil and/or chemically treat the water available.

Cooking Utensils

With so much emphasis on diet, ready-prepared and quick and easy to cook foods, cooking utensils are usually kept to the absolute minimum by the modern bushwalker.

The frying pan has become a rarity, and the billy less common except for those who still like cooking on an open fire if one is available.

Stoves were dealt with earlier, and a lot come in a compact kit containing pots for both cooking and eating from, and a plate which serves as a frying pan or lid, and a pot lifter.

A cup is necessary, and is also useful for filling water containers.

Some bushwalkers carry only one large metal pannikin which serves as a cooking pot, an eating bowl and a drinking mug., and the menu is planned accordingly. A spoon is necessary as well as a sharp knife, but a fork is often left behind as being unnecessary. For convenience, and to avoid burns,a pot lifter is vital for both stoves and open fires.

Typical Daily food Requirements

  • Carbohydrates: 200g
    Muesli or porridge, biscuits, rice, noodles, pasta, flour
  • Fats: 50g
    Butter, margarine, peanut butter, vegetable oil
  • Sugar etc: 230g
    Sugar, jam, chocolate, confectionery, honey
  • Protein: 200g
    Meat (freeze dried), salami, fish, kabana, frankfurts, cheese, powdered milk, powdered soup, powdered eggs, nuts
  • Fruit and Vegetables: 150g
    Dried fruit, dried or freeze-dried vegetables
  • Drinks: 20g
    Tea, coffee etc.
  • Total weight/person/day: 850g

N.B. Weight carried per day will rise if fresh foods are substituted for any of the above.

This figure of 850g should be regarded as an average figure. Some people require less, some more. Only experience can decide.

In some circumstances, it may be advis able to carry an extra day’s food to cope with an emergency or a delay, such as on a ski trip, or on a long walk in a remote area.


Breakfast on a walk is often a quick meal, and, depending on the fuel situation, is very often cold apart from a hot drink. However, breakfast is a most important meal as it sets you up for the rest of the day, so it should not be skimpy.

Some mornings, a leisurely cooked breakfast in pleasant surroundings is appropriate, but at other times, a bowl of muesli or cooked cereal is breakfast because of the urge to set off on the day’s walking or skiing. Remember that breakfast is a good time to prepare lunch or put the evening meal on to soak in a sealed container to be carried during the day.


Lunch on a walk is often time for resting as well as eating. If the weather is cold or wet, or you are in an exposed position, the food needs to be at the top of the pack and possibly prepared in advance.

In the middle of the day, a heavy meal is not recommended as it takes too long to prepare and leaves you lethargic. Snack foods that are light and easily digested are better when you need to be sharp on your feet in the afternoon.

In warm weather, foods like cheese, butter, margarine chocolate need to be towards the middle of the pack for insulation, but still need to be easy to get at.

Lunch is often taken on a day walk during a long trip, and the lunch needs to be planned accordingly. There is a big range of popular lunch foods for bushwalkers – to big a range to list here.


There is usually plenty of time to prepare the evening meal, so why not try and prepare the type of food you would have at home.

In planning the dinners for a trip, bear in mind such things as fuel available, whether there will be light and limitations of cooking utensils.

A hot drink or soup is good way to start as it is re-vitalising and keeps you occupied while other courses are cooking. Fresh food can be taken on short trips and the first couple of nights on a long trip, subject to weight restrictions.Tinned food offers variety, subject to carrying out the tins. Take spices and Parmesan cheese for variety of flavour. A dessert always rounds of a meal, and there is usually plenty of time for its preparation. If there is an open fire, foods can be cooked in the coals. Finally, a hot drink, some chocolate and a wee drop of your favourite beverage.


Scroggin is best defined as a mixture of dried fruit, nuts, confectionery etc., either loose or packaged, used as a light but sustaining snack food by bushwalkers. The origin of the word is obscure, but it is thought to be of Scottish origin. Every bushwalker whose body is working strenuously knows the craving for scroggin.
Within a day’s make-up of food of say 850g, scroggin would amount to about 200g, and could consist of any of a great variety of snack foods. Scroggin should be kept within easy reach in the pack.

Taking Care When Cooking

If it is very cold, hands are less sensitive, so extra care is needed when handling hot objects and food. Always use potlifters in preference to gloves or sticks. A head torch is an essential piece of equipment. Remember that modern clothing and gloves may melt and burn the skin when near heat. The dangers of open fires are well known, but also remember that stoves when faulty or flaring can be very dangerous.

If accidents occur, then apply the correct first aid treatment.

Cleaning Up

It is best to clean up as you go – not leave dishes until morning. When cleaning a pot, use a scourer, mud or sand. It is easier to sit back and relax when the dishes are done, and you avoid worrying about scavenging wildlife, rain in the morning or freezing overnight.

Protecting Food from Animals

In many parts of Australia, or in fact in many parts of the world, food needs to be protected from animals. Some animals can gnaw through tents and packs, or even get into packs. Animals often a nuisance include rats, mice, quolls, possums and wallabies. Even birds such as emus, currawongs crows(ravens), and magpies can be artful thieves. Therefore, food should not be left on the ground or outside a pack. Keep food in a pack in the tent, suspended from a tree or hanging in a hut. Billies and pots should be washed before retiring, thus avoiding noisy disturbances in the night.

Health and Cleanliness

Water from polluted creeks, lakes or tanks can be a source of stomach infections on a trip, hence consideration needs to be given to the quality of water available. If staying in huts, remember that they are frequently inhabited by vermin. Huts are often not left in a clean condition, and in fact not possible to leave them in a clean state. Where possible, clean benches and tables thoroughly before placing food on them or better still, do not put food or cutlery on these surfaces.

Diet Modifications and Medication

Due to the average age of ABW members being about 50, health issues concerning food may need consideration. Some issues needing consideration include diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. There are probably others.

Remember to always take prescribed medication on a trip.

Food Dehydrator

A few members of ABW use a dehydrator to dry some of their food for an extended trip.

This is always worth considering so you can take some of your favourite foods. The Club has a food dehydrator available for members to hire.

Food is fully preserved at about one-third of their original weight.

Categories: Gear tips

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