On a trip where there are significant distances to cover with some rock scrambling, you may select a lightweight menu. Whereas on a casual car-camping trip, where the pace is slow, and you can carry lots of different ingredients in by car, you may decide to cook a far more gourmet menu. There’s no right or wrong here, just different options depending on the style of trip you are planning. We’ll work through the pros and cons of various menu types (summarised below) to help select something suitable for your trip.
Meal type: Lightweight, dehydrated meals
Pros: Good for long trips where you need light meals
Cons: Can be hard to eat this kind of food for long periods of time; often can contain high preservatives. Expensive if you buy; cheap if you do yourself (but time-consuming)
Meal type: ‘Just add boiling water’ (e.g. Maggi noodles)
Pros: Easy, minimal washing
Cons: High in preservatives, not a balanced with protein and vegetables
Meal type: One-pot
Pros: Minimal washing
Cons: Restricts what you can cook
Meal type: High-energy
Pros: Great for long trips burning a lot of energy
Cons: You can get fat…
Meal type: Camp oven
Cons: Time-consuming, heavy
Meal type: Base-camp
Pros: Lots of heavy stuff
Cons: Heavy, might need Eski too
Meal type: Freezer-bag cooking
Cons: Lots of packaging. Need to prepare beforehand
Meal type: Cold meal (‘no cook’)
Pros: Minimal prep
Cons: Hot meals can be nice
Lightweight menus are really great for long trips where weight is a key concern. They mean that you can carry sufficient food to meet your caloric requirements for the trip, but do not put yourself at risk of injury through an overly heavy backpack. On trips where bushwalkers are doing technical walking such as off-track walking or exposed scrambling, being nimble, lightweight and quick is essential, and so lightweight meals are preferable.
The downside of lightweight menus is that is means almost all the food is dehydrated and heavily preserved. Some people find this food challenging to consume for long periods of time, not just from an appetising or appeal point of view, but also because of the high salt and preservative contents that tend to coincide with pre-packaged dehydrated meals.
For bushwalkers that are regularly doing trips, they often find that dehydrating their own meals is a really neat way of getting lightweight nutritional meals in the bush but without high preservatives. Dehydrating food, however, does take time, energy and planning, so it’s something that has to be thought about well in advance of the trip.
Examples of lightweight meals range from snacks like dried bananas and hummus, right through to more complex rice and bolognese. For those with home-dehydrators, the sky’s the limit in terms of what’s possible to dehydrate!
‘Just add boiling water’ meals like instant noodles or mash are really great for people that are new to camping and want something that is easy. These meals reduce stress around cooking because you only need to boil water and add it to the meal. This has the other added advantage of minimal washing up afterwards.
The downside of these meals is that they tend to be high in preservatives and salt, and are not balanced with protein and vegetables. Having said this, it’s easy to bulk up these kinds of meals with dehydrated vegetables and a can of tuna.
One-pot wonders are meals that only take one pot to cook in. Meals like pasta pesto are a great example of a one-pot wonder: cook the pasta, drain water, add pesto. These meals are great for bushwalking because you only need to carry the one pot and there’s only one pot to wash at the end. However, they can be restrictive in terms of what’s possible to cook, so it’s only suitable for some types of food.
The trick to doing one-pot wonders well comes down to thinking through the order in which you cook the ingredients. For instance, for a pasta dish with veggies, you can cook the veggies first, put these aside, then use the pot to cook pasta, drain, add pasta, mix through sauce – done!
High energy meals are those meals made from high caloric ingredients, often meals with high fat content. These are great for long trips where you are burning a lot of energy. The downside being that you can get fat … not really a risk on a short trip, but something to be mindful of on longer trips and over a lifetime of bushwalking.
Camp ovens (‘outback ovens’ or ‘dutch ovens’) are a fun way of cooking roasts, cakes and much more over the campfire. They enable bushwalkers to create the most amazing meals while enjoying time around the fire. The experience of cooking a meal over a fire is a really fun way to get to spend time with your group, but it is time-consuming, and something that takes a fair bit of planning from getting the fire started early and giving the food enough time to cook.
Camp ovens are heavy bulky iron-cast pots that are large and heavy. Not suitable for overnight bushwalking, but really fun for car camping or at a base camp. Some fun recipes to try out here: http://50campfires.com/35-incredibly-easy-dutch-oven-recipes-camping.
Base camping means that you set up a semi-permanent camp where you leave all your overnight gear and do shorter day-walks out and back from the camp.
Base camp can be somewhere that cars are allowed, or it can be somewhere that you walk into and set up. For car camping sites, base-camp cooking means that it’s possible to cook a huge array of foods, without weight being an issue at all. You can even chill foods using an eski.
Freezer-bag cooking (or FBC) is a technique where people make their own freeze-dried meals and rehydrate them in the field. You simply add boiling water to the freezer bag to cook, and you can eat the meal out of the bag.
The downside is that this involves a lot of packaging, and you need to be organised to prepare the meals beforehand (for Freezer bag cooking 101 go here). However, it’s possible to do the same recipes without using a freezer bag (e.g. pots, insulated mugs).
Lots of recipes to try out here: http://www.trailcooking.com/recipe-home/
Cold meals are great because they have minimal preparation and are quick and easy. However, hot meals can be nice at the end of a long day so it’s worth thinking through whether they are appropriate for every meal. Most people enjoy a cooked meal at the end of the day, and it’s a good way of making sure your body has a varied diet and good boost of energy at the end of the day. Breakfast may vary depending on how much time there is in the morning (perhaps a quick cold meal is most appropriate).
Think about how much time you’ll have for each meal. This will help you think through whether or not you’ll have time to cook up something. If the group wants a quick start in the morning or a short lunch, then think about how to minimise the amount of cooking needed e.g. cold cereal, muesli bars. On longer trips, you may wish to save weight by carrying meals that you can rehydrate quickly, even for lunches e.g. 2min noodles. Best to chat to your trip leader to figure out how much time you’ll have for cooking for each meal. Some leaders may prefer lots of shorter stops rather than a long lunch break.