Bivy Bag

Everything you need to know about bivy bags

Life is an adventure,
it's not a package tour. Eckhart Tolle

A bivy bag (aka bivvy sack) is a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. Sometimes spelt ‘bivy’, sometimes ‘bivvy’, both these terms are short for ‘bivouac’ meaning a temporary (usually minimalistic) shelter. They are thin, lightweight and compact, making them a lot smaller (and often cheaper) than a tent. Being so small, it’s possible to sleep almost anywhere with a bivy, including small patches of clearing, rock faces and so on. Hence, they are generally considered a more flexible shelter option than a tent. Like tents, bivies come in four-season varieties making some models suitable for alpine conditions (e.g. Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy).

There is no perfect shelter and bivy bags are not perfect. One disadvantage of a bivy bag is that you are likely to get some condensation forming on your sleeping bag as there is very limited air flow. This is ok if you can easily dry your sleeping bag out, but not ideal for extended trips in wet conditions. The other consideration is comfort: in undesirable weather, you can bunk down in a tent with a cuppa, where a bivy is small and closed area. Depending on the design some bivies are not great in heavy, sustained rain or in areas with lots of mozzies as some have a simple opening for your head at the top with no insect screen. Each bivy bag design is different and some deal better with these issues then others, so it is worth keeping an open mind about their potential.

Check & pack Checking and packing your bivy

Bivies are relatively simple to check and pack. Most setups are simply one piece of material, similar to the outer material of a tent. Some have a small set of poles and perhaps pegs as well, and in which case, follow the same procedures to check and pack these as you would do for a tent.

In general, the key things to check are:

  • Are all the parts there?
  • Are the seems intact and waterproof?
  • Does it work, and is there any damage?
  • Is it clean? Some gear may pose biosecurity risks if dirty, as there is a risk of transmission of diseases, pollen, spores, seeds and so on into uninfected regions.
  • Do you have a repair kit for that part in case something breaks in the field?

Even weight distribution and ease of access are key concerns when deciding how to pack your bivy (or indeed any items in your backpack). Since a bivy is only needed at camp, it’s generally packed near the bottom of your pack, but make sure you can access it in rain without getting your gear soaked.

Depending on the bivy design, the material may be relatively heavy, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the bivy is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around (e.g. stove, gas, billy). Ideally, waterproof the bivy as you want to minimise the risk of your sleeping bag getting wet when slipping inside the bivy. Your sleeping bag is the most important thing to keep dry, and since it comes into close contact with the bivy, it’s worth spending time wrapping it in a dry bag or bin bag to keep water out (most manufacturers provide a lightweight waterproof covering). Avoid packing the bivy in a way that creates direct contact with sharp objects (e.g. edges or poles, pegs) as they may tear the material. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).

Chapter photo by Allysse Riordan on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Use in Field Using your bivy in the field

In dry weather conditions, using a bivy bag is easy. Choose a flat area free from pointy rocks or roots, that will not flood in rain and clear of other risks such as falling tree limbs. Lay out the bivy bag and slip in your sleeping bag. Larger bivy bag will also take you sleeping pad inside, but tighter fitting bivy bags may require you to have your sleeping pad outside. If the bivy bag has poles or guy lines secure them in place. With open topped bivy bags, close up the gap using the to a small gap leaving plenty of room to breathe. You can even do the set up (sleeping bag into bivy) at home before setting out and just unroll the whole bivy-sleeping bag set up in one.

Consider laying out a groundsheet and setting up a tarp over the top. This helps protect your bivy bag and helps to keep your gear dry in rain. There are lots of different options, so play with it and find what works well for you on your trip.

Practice using your bivy at home first. This means you become familiar with all the material and how everything fits together. Remember you’ll be tired after a day of walking and it’s nice to be able to know how your tent fits together, rather than having to figure it out for the first time in the field!

If you haven’t used your bivy for a while, you can test if it’s still waterproof by setting it up in the backyard and using a hose to spray it with water. This is an easy way to determine if there are any issues (again, much nicer than finding out at 3am in the field!).

Remember that you are more exposed to weather conditions such as rain, wind and cool weather in a bivy than in a tent, so it’s worth taking additional clothing layers to stay warm. Also, think through where and how you’ll store all your other gear. Unlike a tent, where packs can be protected from wind, rain and animals, with a bivy bag, your pack will stay out overnight. Be sure to waterproof gear well and store food securely. Carrying a large heavy duty plastic bag can be a useful way to store your pack overnight.

In wet or windy weather, choose somewhere as sheltered as possible to set up your bivy. This could mean finding an overhang or sheltered clump of trees for windy protection. If the weather conditions are wet, place the sleeping pad inside the bivy bag for extra protection of the sleeping pad (if the bivy is indeed large enough to fit over the pad).

Chapter photo by moosepics on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND.

Care & Maintenance Caring and maintaining your bivy

For bivies, the main material maintenance is similar to care for the outer part of a tent. For bivies with pegs and/or poles, again, care and maintenance is essentially the same as for tents.

Cleaning and drying
The bivy is fairly prone to picking up mud and dirt on trips so it’s worth spending time cleaning it well when you get home and before packing it away in a long-term storage. Check that the material is clean by running your hands over both sides of the material and removing any mud, earth or sand using warm water and non-detergent soap. Check any zippers, guy lines and other attachments too.

Air out the bivy thoroughly (using indirect sunlight) and make sure it’s completely dry before packing away in a cool dry place. Never use artificial heat or direct sunlight to dry the material as this can melt or damage the materials.

Washing and improving breathability
Many bivy bags are constructed using breathable materials with a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment similar to quality raincoats. Read your bivy bag instructions for washing and reapplying the DWR. This usually means using a washing machine to apply the DWR and a tumble dryer to help set the DWR and improve the material breathability. This with rain jackets this a process that you may benefit from doing each year or so.

For bivies, the most likely repair you will need to do in the field is repair a rip to the main fabric. Remember to pack a repair kit for mending fabric (e.g. Coghlan’s Nylon Tent Repair Kit). Typically, your field repair kit will be small, with only those essential items necessary to make temporary in-field repairs. Back home, you can revisit your field repair and decide if you need to do a more thorough job.

Check that the sealant is still intact, and periodically apply DWR to the fabric.

Long-term storage
Make sure that the fabric is clean and bone dry before storing it in a cool dry place. It’s a good idea to store the fabrics loosely to allow a small amount of airflow and prevent mildew buildup.

Chapter photo by bradbox on Foter.com / CC BY

Selection Selecting a suitable bivy

Bivy bags are great lightweight shelters for bushwalking, with many different types to choose from. They are great options for people seeking a lightweight, smaller alternative to a tent. Traditionally used as an emergency shelter, bivies are now fairly common amongst the outdoor community, particularly for people that frequently need solo gear and are doing trips where weight considerations are critical (e.g. long distance walking, multi-day climbing etc). When used correctly, bivies can be just as durable and comfortable as tents, however, the type of bivy must be well matched to conditions you typically expect to use it in. If weight is the key concern, a bivy may be the answer, but bear in mind that some one-person tents these days are also extremely small, compact and lightweight (e.g. Zpack Duplex).

Modern-day bivy bags are typically made from two types of material: the underlayer made from similar fabrics to tent floors (e.g. durable nylon), and the upper layer made from a lighter weight waterproof and breathable nylon.

Some key considerations:

  • Is a bivy appropriate for this trip? Will there be lots of heavy rain? Would I like to sit up and read/play cards? Can I share with someone else? If the answers are yes, it may make more sense to share a 2-person tent.
  • Size: A bivy that’s too small also won’t be warm because the sleeping bag is pressed up against the wall, flattening insulation and making it less effective. A bivy that’s too big will have a lot of extra air space and won’t be easy to warm up (rarely a problem). Generally, a bivy that provides a little extra room is the best option, and you can store a few extra items there also.
  • Tent-like protection above head: Some bivies have a larger section of fabric at the head (called ‘bivy shelter’ rather than a ‘bivy sack/bag’) which can be propped up with poles or a guy line to create a tent-like structure over the head and protect from rain and wind. It adds a small amount of extra weight, but may be worth it to make it easier to read and organise gear.
  • Managing condensation: The biggest issue with bivies is the buildup of condensation due to poor air flow. Look for models that have breathable material, and ventilation options. You can also reduce condensation by airing during the night. Using a sleeping bag with a water-resistant shell can be helpful to reduce the risk of your insulation getting wet.

Some examples of bivies:
Twilight bivy

Black Wolf Cocoon

Another option that some bivy users prefer is to add an additional protection from rain via a tarp. This can be a great option in weather conditions when rain is expected.

Image source: https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/topics/camping-and-hiking/best-bivy-sack/buying-advice

Chapter photo by hungrydog on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Overnight Walks

Preparing for an Overnight bushwalk

When you’ve already give the day walks a go, overnight walks are the next step. Here you’ll learn about sleeping over in the bush and the equipment you need for that.

Walking with an experienced group of people is a great way to learn the nuances of the skills and gear that help make bushwalking safer and more enjoyable. Here we will tackle the core topics to help you get out there and enjoy these amazing places.

What to wear?
Clothes you’ll need on a bushwalk

What to carry?
Gear for overnight walks – everything you need for day walks plus gear for sleeping – a shelter, sleeping bag, pad, inner sheet and pillow.
Meals and cooking gear
Personal locator beacon

What to know?
Water collection
Water treatment
Map reading
Bites and stings
Using weather forecats
Sun protection
Leave no trace
Bushwalking etiquette

Inclusive and Accessible

Preparing for an inclusive bushwalk

Bushwalking is for everyone. Traditionally when we promoted accessibility for bushwalking we really only promoted very short, flat and smooth footpaths. The NPA has created a new framework, Naturally Accessible that helps improve access for all. Naturally Accessible is a new approach that improves access for people with limited mobility, for older people, wheelchair users, people with arthritis.

Naturally Accessible improves access to bushwalking by providing details about the track conditions and what people can expect. Currently, walks are graded as accessible or not accessible, but disability and access is not binary. By providing details about barriers and facilities along the track you can choose if the walk is suitable for you.

On this website, we don’t have a separate section on how to bushwalk with a disability as such. Most information about how to bushwalk is not disability specific, but where we can we include tips that can help, eg with pitching a tent. Information on Day Walks and Overnight walks.

Where to walk?
A list of traditionally accessible bushwalks.
A list of Naturally Accessible bushwalking.

Providing Assitance
Adaptive equipment for bushwalking (coming soon…)
Assistive Techniques (coming soon…)

Meals and cooking

Meals and cooking in the bush

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” George Bernard Shaw

Food tastes extra good on a bushwalk. You can keep it simple or be extravagant but whatever you do you can keep it nutritious and delicious. Having the right types of food with you, not only keeps moral going strong during the walk, but also gives your body enough fuel to not only just to survive out there, but thrive!

Great foods for bushwalking are those that are nutritious and easy to carry. On short walks, you can get away with taking heavier, more gourmet foods, but on extended walks, lightweight foods are key.

Everyone has different tastes and preferences when it comes to food, and we’re certainly not going to tell you what you have to eat. Instead, we’ll run through some basic guidelines for nutritional and food attributes to help you decide what to pack for a bushwalk, as well as some examples of menus to help you get some ideas for what’s right for you. If you want to skip to some sample overnight bushwalk menus go here .

About Food

Energy, nutrition & physical properties of bushwalking food

“If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?” Unknown author

We’re familiar with the words ‘nutrition’ and ‘energy’ concerning the foods we buy. It’s almost all we hear when we’re bombarded with adverts on the way to the shops, and have an endless selection to choose from. On a bushwalk, we’re limited by how much space we have in our backpacks, how much weight we can carry and how well the food travels away from a fridge and being tossed around in a backpack. For short trips, we can get away with some heavy foods, but on longer trips meals have to be lighter.

While a balanced diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables is important on a day-to-day basis, the primary concern when packing food for a multi-day hiking trip is energy. The aim is to maximise the energy contained in food while minimising the weight, as weight is generally the limiting factor on extended bushwalking trips.

It’s also important to select foods that you find are easy to eat, digest and enjoy while being active in the bush. Everyone is different, and a diet that works well for one person is totally wrong for another. It’s a great idea to test out some foods at home before taking them bushwalking, that way you can test out quantities and double check that your stomach agrees with the food!

Last but not least, remember that the value of food goes beyond nutrition: it provides a connection and is a wonderful social element too. It’s a nice feeling to be able to sit down and share a meal with others and get to know them a little better in the process.

Energy Getting the right caloric intake on a bushwalk

The energy stored in food is measured in kilojoules (kJ), or calories (Cal), and these typically expressed on the packaging in terms of energy per serving, and per 100g. One Calorie is equal to 4.184 kJ, and although both units are commonly used on packaging, the kilojoule (kJ) is the SI unit of food energy in a nutritional context.
The term ‘calories’ is slightly confusing. The small calorie (‘cal’) is the quantity of energy needed at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. The large calorie (‘Cal’) is the quantity of energy needed under the same conditions with one kilogram of water, so one ‘Cal’ is 1000 cals. The large calorie (‘Cal’) is also known as the ‘food calorie’ and is the one listed on the back of food packaging.

Nutritional information typically looks something like this:

It contains information about the total energy, as well as how much fat, protein, sugars and so on it contains. Nutritional information is typically further broken down into serving categories for ease of use by the reader:

  • Servings per packet: this tells you how many servings are contained in the entire box/bag/can/jar/package that the food came in, and helps you to calculate how if the amount of food contained is sufficient.
  • Serving size: this tells you the typical size of a serving per person. Beware that many serving sizes are typically smaller than what a hungry bushwalker wants to eat! Test out serving sizes at home before committing to a long trip.
  • Average quantity per serving and Average quantity per 100g: these are the breakdown of various nutritional components (energy, protein, fat etc), so you can get a sense of what nutritional components the food comprises of. Broken down per serving gives a good sense of what you get per serve, whereas the average per 100g allows you to compare between food types using a standard quantity.

For example, using the nutritional information standardised per 100g, you can get a sense of how the energy density varies between high-density foods (e.g. biscuits), compared to foods with high water content (e.g. apples).

The following table gives an easy visual representation of how their energy and nutritional contents differ:

ITEM breakdown (per 100g for comparison)
Energy2020 kJ1720 kJ218 kJ
Protein6.3 g24.3 g0.3 g
Fat, total21.2 g35.2 g0.2 g
- Saturated12.3 g23.9 g0 g
Carbohydrates, total65.4 g<1 g14 g
- Sugars18.5 g<1 g10 g
Sodium497 mg635 mg1 mg

Biscuits are a ‘high-energy’ food for their weight, compared to fruit: biscuits have around 10 times the amount of energy compared to their equivalent weight in apples. In day-to-day life, we generally try to limit energy-dense foods, preferencing a mixed diet with plenty of nutrition, however, on a bushwalking trip, we tend to prefer foods with higher carbohydrate and fat content than normal to get the most energy per gram of food weight we’re carrying. This is not an excuse to get carried away: you should still aim to eat a balanced and healthy diet, just be mindful of your increased energy needs.

Energy density is calculated as follows: energy density = no of calories/weight.

Energy Density typeEnergy (kJ per 100g)Food examples
Very low250Apples, celery, tomatoes
Low250-630Pasta, couscous
Medium 630-1670Weetbix, two-minute noodles
High>1670Cheese, biscuits, nuts

Some foods are more energy-dense than others. That is, the amount of energy per gram is higher. This comes down to the components, in particular how the ratio of fats to carbohydrates to proteins varies.

Fats are around twice as energy-dense as carbohydrates and protein (37 kJ/g compared to 16 kJ/g):

Energy sourceEnergy density (kJ/gram)
Adapted from "Chapter 3: Calculation Of The Energy Content Of Foods - Energy Conversion Factors". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 30 March 2017.

Energy-dense foods tend to be high in fat and carbohydrates and have low water content (the energy density of water is zero). These are foods like biscuits, chips and cheese. Low energy foods such as fruit and vegetables tend to have high water content. For a bushwalking trip, it makes sense to prioritise energy-dense foods over foods with high water content, especially for multi-day trips where weight becomes a concern. On walks longer than a few days you will need to start considering nutrition more broadly then energy, including foods like dehydrated fruits and vegetables to ensure you are getting all your key nutrients.

Energy intake for bushwalking
The average energy intake for adults is 8700 kJ[1]Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, 2013, Standard 1.2.8, Nutrition information Requirements, Australian Government, however, the exact energy requirements of any given individual varies with body size, age, activity, gender, metabolic rate, fitness etc.[2]Montoye, HJ 2000, Energy costs of Exercise and Sport, in Maughan, E (ed.), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 4, pp. 53 – 72.

Below is a table adapted from Xtreme Gourmet High-energy, lightweight recipes for the outdoor enthusiast by Sonya Muhlsimmer and Stephen Lake.

Technically speaking, you could just carry enough rice to gain all your energy requirements on a multi-day bushwalking trip. However, carrying a variety of foods not only ensures that you meet your additional nutritional requirements, but it also gives you options to eat what your body feels it can digest at the time, as well as ensuring a good appeal and appetite for food. Sure, you’ll survive, but your body won’t be operating optimally under these conditions.

Nutrition Getting the right nutritional intake on a bushwalk

After eating, we use food to fuel, build and repair our bodies. Carbohydrates give us energy that keeps us moving. Protein builds, maintains and repairs tissues. Fat provides energy, maintains core body temperature, and is critical for normal brain development and nerve function. Fat also helps with making hormones and transporting and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients in day-to-day life because amongst other things, they bolster our immune system, helping us battle infections. They are also important in strengthening bones and muscles.

As a general rule, carbohydrate-rich foods are good sources of energy before and during exercise, and protein-rich foods are great for repair and recovery afterwards (at the end of the day). It’s also important to snack regularly to keep up energy levels.

Water is also essential for staying hydrated and feeling great on a bushwalk.

Carbohydrates are biomolecules{link=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomolecule} found in food and can provide energy when consumed. Carbohydrates come in two forms – simple or complex – and both have different properties in terms of how they release energy to the body.

Simple carbohydrates are foods high in glucose sugar like lollies and honey. They are short-term energy resources that the body can use immediately.

By contrast, complex carbohydrates release energy slowly. Fibre and starch are complex carbohydrates found in foods like bread, pasta and rice. Fibre also keeps our digestive systems regular and healthy. Fibre is the indigestible (by humans) part of plant foods found in fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes. However, on an extended bushwalking trip, it isn’t practical to carry large amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, so instead dietary fibre can be found in other foods, for instance, oats for breakfast, wholemeal pasta for dinner.

Research studies have found that consuming carbohydrates prior to an event can improve performance up to 6%[3] Hawley, JA, Schabort, EJ & Noakes, T 2000, Distance running, in Maughan, E (ed.), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 42, pp. 550 – 561. Before a harder or multi-day bushwalk consider eating 8-10 g/kg body weight of carbohydrates in the days leading up to the bushwalk[4]Jeukendrup, AE 2000, Cycling, in Maughan, E (ed), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 43, pp. 562 – 573.

During the bushwalk, keep energy levels up by carrying food and water and stopping regularly to refuel. Research suggests consuming (eating or drinking) 30-60g carbohydrates per hour during an endurance event is optimal[5]Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), 2011, Fuelling your success, AIS Sport nutrition, Carbohydrate – the facts, Australian Government. So healthy snacking on the track can be a good thing.

Below is a table adapted from Xtreme Gourmet High-energy, lightweight recipes for the outdoor enthusiast by Sonya Muhlsimmer and Stephen Lake.

Some lightweight high-fibre foods include:

  • Beans and pulses. Carry dried beans or pulses such as chickpeas and lentils. To save cooking time, partially rehydrate the amount you need for dinner during the day in a small amount of water (and old peanut butter jar works well).
  • Wholegrain and wholemeal pasta are excellent sources of fibre but takes longer to cook. Consider thinner pasta options for faster cooking.
  • Brown or wholegrain rice. Also takes longer to cook than white rice. Consider soaking rice during the day to speed up cooking.
  • Nuts. Almonds, pecans, and walnuts have more fibre than other nuts.
  • Dried fruit. If fresh fruit isn’t available, dried fruit offers a fibre-full snack. A 50g portion of dried figs is 4g fibre.
  • Porridge and bran based cereal are high in fibre and lightweight.

Fats are biomolecules found in foods and are made up of components known as ‘fatty acids’. They are an extremely concentrated form of energy (37 kJ/g), which is roughly twice that of carbohydrates and proteins {ref = Campbell-Platt, G 2009, Food Science and Technology, Wiley-Blackwell, USA}.

Food rich in fat include meats such as fatty pork, lamb, beef and chicken (particularly with skin), oily Fish (Salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna) and also small fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies, nuts, seeds and grains (cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds), dairy foods (butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese) and some fruits (avocados and olives).

There are four different types of fats (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans) and our bodies deal with them all slightly differently. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are generally healthier options to saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats tend to raise LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins) cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol is considered ‘bad’ cholesterol because it contributes to the narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases (such as heart disease and stroke). Foods high in saturated fats include butter, lard, full-fat milk, cheese, coconut & Palm oil, fat-cut meat, poultry (with skin).

Trans fats also tend to raise LDL blood cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is ‘good’ because it carries cholesterol from the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are even more damaging than saturated fats because of the lowering of HDL cholesterol. Examples include hydrogenated oil (found in processed foods e.g. cakes, pies etc).

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats help to decrease the bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase the good (HDL) cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats have a slightly greater impact than monounsaturated fats.

Examples of bushwalking foods that are high in polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Brazil nuts/walnuts
  • Linseed (flaxseed)
  • Chia seeds

Examples of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Almond/canola/olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Peanuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashews & almonds

Proteins are made up of amino acid chains and large biomolecules. We need protein for growth and repair of muscles, and our protein requirements go up with the more activity we do as indicated by this table. Men generally need higher levels of protein intake than females[6]Jackson, A 2007, Protein, in Mann, J & Truswell, AS (eds.), Essentials of Human Nutrition, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, Chapter 4, pp. 53 – 72.

Below is a table adapted from Xtreme Gourmet High-energy, lightweight recipes for the outdoor enthusiast by Sonya Muhlsimmer and Stephen Lake.

High protein foods are lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans. Both animal and plant sources of proteins contain different essential amino acids, so it is important to eat a variety of protein foods to acquire an adequate mix of amino acids.

Great bushwalking foods high in protein include:

Vitamins and minerals are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in foods and are vital for a range of cellular processes. They are required in small quantities in the diet because our bodies cannot synthesise them naturally.

The best sources of vitamins and minerals are healthy unprocessed foods. For instance:

  • Vitamin A is essential for eye health and immunity against infections, and can be obtained from eating oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring), full cream dairy products, butter and table margarine, egg yolk, and bright coloured fruits and vegetables (carrots, spinach, apricots, mango, pumpkin, broccoli).
  • Vitamins B (e.g. B1, B2, B3,B6, B12) help release energy from food, and are important for the nervous system and digestive health, amongst other functions. Vitamins B are found in fish, meat, eggs and dairy products, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas.
  • Vitamin C is important for keeping skin, bones and connective tissue healthy, helping wounds heal and preventing infections, as well as helping absorb iron from food. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables: berries, citrus fruits, kiwis tomatoes, broccoli, sprouts.
  • Calcium, a mineral that is essential for building strong bones, muscle and nerve function and blood clotting, is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, canned sardines, salmon, Asian green vegetables and tofu. Calcium works together with vitamin D to make healthy strong bones and teeth.

Electrolytes are a specific kind of mineral with an electric charge that allows cells to function and communicate. Electrolytes are lost through sweat, so when we work hard, we must replenish our body’s electrolyte supplies by eating. For example, too little of the electrolyte potassium can lead to cramps. Bananas are a excellent source of energy and are also high in potassium, which is why you often see tennis players eating bananas between games.

Since electrolytes are lost via sweat, as bushwalkers, we must be particularly conscious of replenishing electrolyte supplies on hot days and when bushwalking across harder terrain.

Physical properties What physical properties of food should you look for?

When you carry a backpack for hours on a multi-day hiking trip, loaded with gear, food, clothes and all the necessities that are supposed to make your life comfortable, you begin to appreciate the value of light-weight resourceful packing.

Shape, size, weight, robustness and so on really do start to matter when packing your life for the next few days (or weeks) into a bag! Too heavy, bulky a backpack diminishes your enjoyment of the walk and can cause back and knee injuries. Fragile foods crumble, or worse, leak everywhere over your pack.

Here, we run through some key food properties to consider when selecting great meals and snacks for bushwalks.

The best thing about eating on a bushwalking trip (other then it been yummy and good for you) is that feeling as your pack gets lighter and lighter as you go!

On longer trips, food and water usually add up to being the heaviest items in your pack, and can easily contribute several additional kilograms if you’re not careful to think through exactly what you can carry given the terrain, length and nature of the trip. Having said this, you don’t have to deprive yourself of all nice foods. In fact, sometimes it can be really nice to feast out, providing you’re comfortable with the additional weight (remember, you’ve got to carry out all leftovers and packaging). You can eat yummy, health and lightweight food.

Tailoring your menu to track conditions can also work in your favour. Say the first day is relatively easy going, you may choose to carry in some heavier food for a great meal on the first night, but then eat simpler, lighter foods on subsequent days.

You can ease the weight of your pack by consuming the heaviest and most perishable items first on the first day of your trip, but consider carrying dried food for subsequent days of the trip (e.g. high energy snacks like mixed nuts and fruits, dried noodles & pastas, powdered milk for your cereals) instead as they are much lighter. Tip: you can pre-mix cereal, powdered milk and sugar (if desired), and just add water when you eat.

In short, there are two fundamental ways to save weight when selecting what food to carry: 1. the ingredients themselves, in terms of energy density and composition; 2. the packaging.

  1. Ingredient weight

    The energy density of a particular food, that is, the weight in terms of caloric value is a key consideration on long trips {link to Energy chapter above}, where food weight adds up quickly. Selecting foods that have a high energy-to-weight ratio is critical here.

    Another way to save weight is to consider dried options. Water is heavy- one litre of water weighs one kilogram! Many foods have dried alternatives available in standard supermarkets. The great thing about dried food is that you can rehydrate them during your trip using water collected as you go. This way, you save weight dramatically as the water is not included.

    Some examples are:

    • Powdered milk instead of fresh or long-life milk
    • Dried vegetables (peas, corn) instead of fresh
    • Dried chickpeas/lentils instead of canned

    The internet is also full of weird, wacky and yummy surprises for what you can do at home with a dehydrator, including everything from dried hummus through to full menu options. But you don’t have to get a dehydrator, there are plenty of lightweight options available off-the-shelf (e.g. ContinentalⓇ pastas).

    Full dehydrated meals (aka ‘Freeze dried food’) can be bought in most camping stores. These are convenient options for long trips, but are generally expensive have limited selection and lack flavour.

  2. Packaging weight
    Packaging weight is the other component of overall menu weight that is worth giving some thought, particularly on longer or harder trips where backpack weight matters. Plastic packaging is significantly lighter than glass or cans, so selecting lighter packaging helps reduce overall food weight too, both before eating the food and carrying out rubbish. For instance, plastic fish sachets (e.g. Safcol Salmon), rather than tinned fish sachets can save give your around 25% more food for the equivalent weight (e.g. John West Pink Salmon).

    Often, decanting items into plastic zip-lock bags at home can save substantially on packaging weight and rubbish volume, however, be conscious that this does increase your plastic consumption for the trip significantly. Hence, if there is a way to reuse existing packaging, or bulk package items rather than individually package them then do this (e.g. pack porridge oats for three breakfasts into one bag rather than three individual ones). Be mindful that decanting sterilized foods, such tinned meats, will cause them to start going off, so best to leave them unopened in their original package until needed.

Food size and volume is important because pack space is limited. Just because a food item is light, it doesn’t always mean it is a good choice, as the food may be light but extremely bulky. For instance, 500g of cornflakes takes up twice as much room as 500g of muesli, unless you crush it to powder form, which probably takes away the appeal of the cornflakes in the first place!

Tips for food packing:

  • Share the load (if you are going in a group) as much as you can on items such as coffee, tea bags, rice, pasta – you won’t need one whole jar of coffee yourself.
  • Discard as much packaging as safely possible and repack the food in zip-lock storage bags.
  • Make use of ‘hidden’ space such as inside your billy- e.g. pack squashy foods like tomatoes, or anything that tends to roll about in your backpack.
  • Label or colour code your lunches and dinners if you pack them in zip-lock bags, for easy identification.

If you want to get really serious about space saving, consider a vacuum sealer to pack down bulky food items and preserve them for longer (you can even vacuum seal toilet paper to save space).

Food robustness refers to how much the food survives being carried in a backpack on a bushwalk. Some items such as peaches, grapes and other soft fruits don’t carry well and are better left at home in the fridge to enjoy after the trip. Studier fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots are much more robust so do not squash easily and are great choices for bushwalking trips.

Food typeWhat to packWhat not to packNotes
Fruit and vegApples, carrots, cucumber, zucchini Peaches, grapes get squashed easilySofter fruits like tomatoes travel well if wrapped in a cloth and stored in a container or billy. Alternatively, carry sun-dried tomatoes as these are quite robust.
CerealMuesli, oats and breakfast barsCornflakes and rice bubblesCornflakes and rice bubbles turn to crumbs, so better to select more sturdy cereal.
BreadsWraps, and pitta breadLoaf of breadBread gets squashed easily and takes up a lot of volume compared to flatbreads and wraps. Wraps also stay fresh for longer than a loaf of bread.

Food longevity is a consideration on a bushwalk because it’s hard to keep food chilled. Some foods can last for months in a backpack without any trouble (e.g pasta), whereas others go off very quickly (e.g. meat), particularly in hot, humid conditions.

Generally, foods with high water content, such lettuce and cucumber, don’t last long, as well as animal produce (e.g. meat) and dairy (e.g. cheese).

On extended trips, where you need to carry all your meals, consider using dried and long-life alternatives.

Fresh food optionDried alternative
Fresh meatTinned Chicken
Fish (e.g. Safcol Salmon sachet)
Long life Tofu (e.g. bonsoy-firm-silken-tofu)
Beef jerky
Fresh tomatoes, celery, onions etc.Sun-dried tomatoes (e.g. sandhurst sundried strips)
Packet Cuppa Soups
Surprise peas
Fresh milkPowdered milk
Fresh fruitDried fruit (e.g. apples, apricots, sultanas)
CheeseLong life cheese (eg. dairylea-cheddar-cheese)
Garlic, onion, fresh herbsCapers, herb and spice sprinkles
Bacon pieces
Garlic flakes

So far, we’ve talked a lot about dried food, which may seem quite specialised, however, the reality is that you can get plenty of great bushwalking foods at your local supermarket.

Specialised dried hiking meals (e.g. Backcountry Cuisine) sold in camping stores look appealing for their ease of preparation, but tend to be expensive and often cost-prohibitive to many bushwalkers, especially on longer walks.

Most local supermarkets tend to stock all the ingredients that you need to prepare lightweight foods, it’s just a matter of looking in a different aisle a lot of the time. Asian supermarkets also have a great variety of long-life and lightweight foods.

We already touched on packaging in the weight category above, but we’ll go through it again here just to reiterate the point that you want to reduce your overall weight and volume of food you carry by minimising packaging.

Tins were once common-place for people going bushwalking, but plastic packaging is by far the most prevalent now. Tinned food such as tuna, sardine, salmon, baked beans, creamed corn etc. are convenient and make sure that foods carry well and last. Choose tins with a pull ring opener, so there is no need to pack a can opener (unless your penknife already has a can. The downside of tins and cans is that they are relatively heavy and you have to carry the empty tin weight back home. These days if bushwalkers are to carry these heavier foods they tend to use the plastic packaging, rather then tins.

Carry as little packaging as possible on the trip by spending a little bit of time repacking your food before heading off. For example, pack just enough coffee for the trip, not the whole jar. Take only enough muesli for the breakfasts you need.

Resealable plastic bags are great for carrying small amounts of food like hot chocolate, tea, coffee, sugar and milk powder. Small food safe containers are great for taking small amounts of butter, oil, salt and pepper.

Leave no trace by carrying all your rubbish out – all leftover food, paper and plastic packaging, cans, fruit peels and cores. Back home, recycle what you can.

Social The social properties of food

The value of food goes beyond nutrition: it also provides a unique opportunity for social connection.

At the end of a long bushwalk, there’s nothing nicer than gathering around and sharing a meal with friends. Food also plays an important part in boosting not only energy but also the group’s morale, particularly hard trips.

Here are some foods are easy to share on a bushwalk:

  • Scrogan or trail mix
  • Chocolate
  • Cheese platter – biscuits, olives, cheese
  • Jaffles – everyone loves a bite of a melted cheese and tomato jaffle!
  • Popcorn, chips and dip
  • Curry and rice dishes
  • Hot chocolates, soup, tea, or a port after dinner
  • Sushi rolls – it is possible and yummy

References   [ + ]

1. Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, 2013, Standard 1.2.8, Nutrition information Requirements, Australian Government
2. Montoye, HJ 2000, Energy costs of Exercise and Sport, in Maughan, E (ed.), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 4, pp. 53 – 72
3. Hawley, JA, Schabort, EJ & Noakes, T 2000, Distance running, in Maughan, E (ed.), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 42, pp. 550 – 561
4. Jeukendrup, AE 2000, Cycling, in Maughan, E (ed), Nutrition in Sport, Blackwell Science Ltd, USA, Chapter 43, pp. 562 – 573
5. Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), 2011, Fuelling your success, AIS Sport nutrition, Carbohydrate – the facts, Australian Government
6. Jackson, A 2007, Protein, in Mann, J & Truswell, AS (eds.), Essentials of Human Nutrition, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, Chapter 4, pp. 53 – 72

Planning a menu

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.
  • Nuts
  • Pikelets – prepare at home with a little jam and honey.
  • Fruitcake – slice up at home for easy eating on the track.
  • Lollies
  • 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:

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Couscous
  • Potatoes
  • Bread
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Quinoa

Quadrant 2: PROTEIN
Protein is typically the next major component of a meal after carbohydrates (Q1). Examples include:

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:

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
  • Pesto
  • 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!).

Pros and Cons of different menus

All about the pros and cons of different menus

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 typesProsCons
Lightweight, dehydrated mealsGood for long trips where you need light mealsCan 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)
‘Just add boiling water’ (e.g. Maggi noodles)Easy, minimal washingHigh in preservatives, not a balanced with protein and vegetables
One-potMinimal washingRestricts what you can cook
High-energyGreat for long trips burning a lot of energyYou can get fat…
Camp ovenFunTime-consuming, heavy
Base-campLots of heavy stuffHeavy, might need Eski too
Freezer-bag cookingEasyLots of packaging. Need to prepare beforehand
Cold meal (‘no cook’)Minimal prepHot meals can be nice

Lightweight Pros and cons of lightweight menus

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’ Pros and cons of lightweight ‘Just add Boiling Water’ menus

‘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 Pros and cons of one-pot wonder menus

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 Pros and cons of High Energy menus

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 oven Pros and cons of camp oven menus

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-camp Pros and cons of Base-camp

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 Pros and cons of Freezer bag cooking

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 Pros and cons of cold meals

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.

Cooking and meal preparation

Everything you need to know about cooking and meal prep

Meal preparation and cooking is one of the delights of overnight bushwalking. There’s nothing more fun than taking your time to cook a delicious meal at the end of a long day walking.

Everyone will have their own preference when it comes to preparing and cooking in the bush depending on what they like to eat and how they like to cook. There are no right or wrong answers here, but what we hope to do is guide you through a couple of key ideas to think about finding ways to prepare and eat food in the bush easily. We hope that over time and with a bit of practice, you’re able to find a routine that works well for you. Enjoy!

Preparing and cooking food How to prepare and cook food in the bush

The key things that are different in the bush with preparing and cooking food compared to cooking at home is that you don’t have endless supplies of cutlery and crockery, a shop just around the corner to restock supplies, and you may find yourself preparing and cooking a meal in non-ideal conditions, be that you’re tired at the end of a long day, or there’s a thunderstorm overhead.

For some, adverse conditions are exciting and fun, while for others, it can be a bit stressful. Here are some ways that you can make preparing and cooking food a little easier, so your meals become just another enjoyable part of the camping experience.

For many meals, 90% of the effort is in meal preparation, rather than cooking and subtle adjustments to how you prepare food can make the cooking process far more streamlined and effective.

Here are some things to think about:

  • At home:
    • Remove excess packaging and recycle as much as you can e.g. take muesli bars out of the box.
    • Decant what you need e.g. If you plan to cook pasta one night, take exactly what you need for that meal rather than a whole 500g packet of pasta. Some people like to measure out exact quantities needed for specific meals and bag them separately into zip lock bags (be conscious though that you use a lot of additional plastic by doing this, so consider your environmental impact and seek ways to recycle and reuse ziploc bags after your trip).
    • Pre-mix ingredients that may be difficult to measure in the field (e.g. pancake mix with the correct ratio of flour/sugar etc) or just to make life easier (e.g. add milk powder to muesli mix).
  • Arriving at camp:
    • Designate the cooking area: find somewhere that the group can prepare and cook meals away from the tents. This could be next to the fireplace, or near a picnic seat, or a sheltered area behind a fallen tree. Think about somewhere that is sheltered from wind with enough room for everyone to move around easily and cook. Try to make sure that it is not right next to tents so that people can rest away from the social hub as well as preventing smoke and cooking fumes getting into tents.
    • Organise water: For most meals, cooking becomes a lot easier when there is water close to hand. Think about where your water supply is and whether you need to purify water in time for your meal. If there is a water supply away from camp, consider setting up a water station using a large water bladder (e.g. Sea to Summit 10L pack tap) where the whole group can easily grab water during the evening.
    • Soaking: Some ingredients like legumes or lentils cook far more quickly if they’ve been left to soak in water for a few hours before cooking. If you get into camp early, consider soaking these kinds of food items to speed up the cooking process later in the evening and save fuel.
  • Before cooking:
    • Keep all your cooking gear together: It can be easy to misplace cooking items, meaning that you’re constantly rummaging in your pack for cutlery, knife etc. Spend a few minutes organising your gear so that you’ve got everything you need. A small calico bag can be a great way of keeping billy, stove, cutlery and crockery organised.
    • Find all the food you need: as with cooking gear, spend time gathering all the food items you need including condiments, oil, salt and pepper as well as all the main ingredients.
    • Chop up what you need, only start cooking when you’re organised and ready to go. This saves turning your stove on and off multiple times, or grabbing billies in and out of the fire more often than necessary. Measure out quantities, chop up ingredients and line up everything so it’s ready to go when you start cooking.

Cooking on a stove and cooking on a fire are the two most common ways of preparing a hot meal on a bushwalk. Stoves are easier to use because you can generally make more subtle changes to the heat source, cook in almost any weather condition, and produce instant results. Campfire cooking is a slower process involving making a fire with good cooking coals and takes more skill to control the heat and cooking process. Stoves are best for beginner bushwalkers as they are reliable and easy to control. By comparison, campfire cooking relies on being able to start a fire, not always a given in wet weather or total fire-ban conditions, and so are more suitable for bushwalkers that are experienced walking in the conditions of that area.

Cooking on a stove
There are a lot of different types of stoves on the market, but the principles around cooking on a stove are essentially the same regardless of the model.

  • Setting up your stove:
    • Set up your stove in the open, never cook in a closed, poorly ventilated space. Stoves give off noxious gases which can build up in enclosed spaces such as closed tents and small caves, and there is a risk of Carbon monoxide poisoning if stoves are used without adequate ventilation. Even in poor weather conditions, cook in the open and consider other ways of appropriate rain protection (e.g. tree cover, open-air shelter such as a tin roof or high-pitched tarp). Also remember tent and clothes material can melt and burn quickly, keep flames and heat away from all synthetic material.
    • Set up your stove somewhere stable, in an area where it is unlikely to get kicked over or people trip up on. Stoves are inherently unstable, particularly when a pot of water is set up on top of the burning element, so there is a real risk of the stove falling over. Choose an area where the ground is as flat as possible, clear away any small rocks or sticks and position the stove in the centre. Test the stability of the stove by putting pot/billy on top of the stove.
    • Consider a raised surface for your stove: For those with back pain, you may find it easier to set up your stove on a raised surface such as a flat log or a table. This avoids excessive bending over and being at eye level is easier to monitor and manipulate food. If cooking at a table, it is best to not sit below the stove, many bushwalkers are burnt from spilling hot water from a table onto their lap.
    • Remove any flammable material around the stove. Check the area immediately surrounding the stove for flammable material and remove anything within approximately a metre of the stove that is a flammable risk.
  • Cooking on your stove:
    • Settle in, make yourself comfortable: cooking takes time, think about ways to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Consider using a piece of foam mat to sit on, or a raised seat such a log to save bending over a lot.
    • Always monitor your stove when alight: never leave your stove unmonitored, and warn people nearby that the stove is alight so they don’t accidentally walk into it or trip over it.
    • Watch out for hot metal: pots and billies tend to heat up quickly on a stove, including handles. Beware of burning your hands accidentally by touching something hot. Consider using spondonicles or other pot grippers to remove pots/billies safely.

    Cooking on a campfire
    There are some incredibly delicious meals that you can make on a campfire, as well as more simple meals involving just boiling water in a billy. Campfire cooking takes a bit more effort and time than stove cooking, but does produce great results when done well!

    • Choosing a campfire location:
      • Determine if it is safe to light a campfire. Follow Leave No Trace principles and never light a campfire if there is a total fire ban.
      • Select a location for your campfire away from the tents where you can easily access the fireplace. Reuse an existing fire-ring if present, or select an open location away from flammable material.
    • Preparing the campfire for cooking:
      • Light your fire ahead of time. You need campfire coals for cooking on, and these take time to develop. Plan ahead by thinking through when you want to eat, how low it takes for the coals to develop and how long your meal will take to cook.
      • Build the fire to promote coal development: get larger sticks and logs onto the fire early on so they can start to burn well. In wet conditions, place these larger logs around the side of the fire to start drying them out.
      • Preparing the coals: Once enough coals have developed and you’re ready for cooking, spread them out to create an even surface suitable for pot, camp oven etc.
    • Cooking: The two main methods for cooking on a campfire with coals are using a billy (or camp oven) or using tin foil. A more simple method is to use a stick to spear the food and cook it over the flames (works well for things like sausages, marshmallows and toast).
      • Using a billy or camp oven: Place ingredients into billy or camp oven and place it on the coals. Take care to balance the billy on evenly spread coals so that it doesn’t tip over by accident. For a camp oven, use two sticks, or a large wedge of bark to place coals onto the lid of the camp oven. Since coals can be hot and may cook unevenly if one side of the billy/oven is closer to flames, take care to check food regularly and rotate the billy/oven. Here’s a dummy’s guide to using a camp oven to cook a roast.
      • Using tin foil: wrap food with a little oil in tin foil (vegetables work really well). Place tin foil into fire. Select a location where the tin foil is sitting close to coals. You will probably have to rotate the foil packages regularly to promote even cooking. Remove and unwrap to eat when ready. Take care to pull out all tin foil from the fire afterwards as it is rubbish that does not burn.
      • Using a stick: Find a long stick with a pointy end. Stick food on the end. Place stick close to coals on the fire and rotate regularly until cooked.
    • Afterwards: Leave No Trace and clean up appropriately.

Cleaning up How to make sure you leave no trace from cooking

Leave no Trace is about following a set of principles to minimise your impact when bushwalking. For food consumption and meal preparation, Leave No Trace comes into play when disposing of uneaten food and washing up and cleaning, as well as carrying out all food-associated rubbish. It’s worth thinking about foods that have minimal waste and are not messy to clean up when planning and preparing your food for a bushwalk.

Uneaten food is a problem in the bush. If you leave it out, animals will get it. If you bury it, animals will get it. Part of Leaving no Trace means not disrupting animal’s natural food habits nor getting them accustomed to eating human foods, so it’s important to prevent animals from eating food scraps. The best way to avoid leftover food it to cater appropriately, and have containers that you can use to carry leftovers out (or eat at subsequent meals). If you must, dispose of leftover foods by throwing in the fire and burning completely. If a fire is not an option, bury food in a deep hole (minimum 15 cm) away from water sources and cover completely.

Billies, pots, cutlery, bowls, cups and so on must be washed away from water sources to prevent contamination. Fill up dishes with water and use grains of sand to rub the surface and remove food waste. Never use soap or detergent in the bush, just use water and sand/soil. Dispose of dirty washing water by throwing it over soil or vegetation.

Now we’ve gone through the details, here are some ideas for meals on a bushwalk, and the quadrant approach.

Storing food How to keep food safe

It’s really nice to be able to carry some fresh food on a bushwalking trip, but it can be challenging to keep it fresh and safe. Here are some tips:

  • Be selective about what kinds of meat you carry: Some meats, such as salami or beef jerky last a long time out of refrigeration and work well for bushwalking trips. Some bushwalkers take a frozen piece of meat out with them on the first day, let it defrost during the day and cook it the first night.
  • Vacuum-seal foods: This can preserve the life of vegetables and meat safely for significant periods of time (even years). Here’s an example on how.
  • Wrap cheese in muslin: Muslin stops cheese sweating and will allow it to last much longer out of a fridge. Remove plastic packaging and wrap cheese block in muslin before leaving home.
  • Avoid food getting squashed! No surprises here, be gentle and careful with your food, and it will last far longer! Store delicate items such as tomatoes in a billy or lightweight plastic container. Mesh pockets on backpacks make excellent storage for a loaf of bread.

Check & pack

Checking and packing your tent or tarp

“Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky.” Rick Yancey

It’s good practice to check gear as your pack it to ensure that everything is in good working order and minimise the chance of gear failure out in the bush.

Here are our guidelines for what to look for and how to pack your chosen shelter.

Check What to check for when packing

The four key things to check are:

  • Do you have all the parts? It’s a nightmare to turn up at camp and realise that half of the tent poles are missing.
  • Does it work, and is there any damage?
  • Is it clean? Some gear may pose biosecurity risks if dirty, as there is a risk of transmission of diseases, pollen, spores, seeds and so on into uninfected regions.
  • Do you have a repair kit for that part in case something breaks in the field?

Note, for tents the key components are outer, inner, poles, pegs and ground sheet. Tarps are generally pitched without an inner or poles so key components are the tarp itself (similar to the tent outer), pegs and groundsheet.

Shelter componentAnything missing?Does it work?Is it clean?
Outer (or flysheet)Check all parts are there: zips, guy lines etc.- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradation
- Check seam sealing still intact
- Check zips work
- Check pole inserts work
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
InnerCheck all parts are there (inner is usually one piece!): zips, attachments etc.- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradation.
- Check seam sealing still intact
- Check zips work
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
PolesCheck all poles are there including extras (e.g. for vestibules).- Check poles fit together (e.g. attachments smooth)
- Check poles aren’t cracked
- Check elastic connections are intact
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
Pegs/stakesCheck enough pegs are there, including extras if necessary (e.g. for vestibules).- Check pegs aren’t bent, cracked or damagedCheck for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
Ground sheetCheck all parts are there (usually outer is one piece of material, so this should be a quick check!).- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradationCheck for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).

Make sure to carry a shelter/tent repair kit. You can get these off the shelf (e.g. Coghlan’s nylon tent repair kit) or make your own.

Typically, your field repair kit will be small, with only those essential items necessary to make temporary in-field repairs. Back home, you can revisit your field repair and decide if you need to do a more thorough job or replace items entirely (e.g. poles).

Pack these items in a ziplock bag to keep them together and dry:

  • Adhesive-backed nylon patches
  • Mesh screen patches
  • Needle & nylon thread
  • Tent pole repair sleeve (also called a ‘ferrule’)

Note, for tarp users, no need to pack mesh screen patches or pole repair sleeves.

Between trips, replace any used items and double check that everything is present and working.

Pack How to pack gear effectively

When packing, the key points to think about are:

  • Can I split up the item to share it with other people?
  • Where should the items go in the pack?
  • Does it need additional protection? E.g. protection from scuffs, wear and tear and water?

Sharing items
Shelters are usually sold with all the components – poles, pegs, inner/outer- wrapped together in one package. However, if you plan to share a shelter with another person on the trip, it may be sensible to spit the tent into pieces to share the load. Or one person carries the tent/tarp, while the other/s takes a larger share of the food.

In either case, it can be beneficial to separate out the components of the tent for ease of packing. This way, the tent components can easily fit around other bulkier objects in your pack (e.g. billy), and there is more flexibility with how the contents (and hence weight distribution) are packed.

Where things should go and how to make sure they don’t get damaged
Where to pack items is based on weight distribution and ease of access. Since shelters are generally only needed at camp, it’s safe to store these in harder-to-access parts of your backpack.

For distributing gear in a backpack, the general rules are:

  • Heavy gear near to your back (e.g. water, tent poles, gas bottles, some foods)
  • Light gear away from your back (e.g. clothes, groundsheet, some foods)
  • Less used items at bottom (e.g. sleeping bag, some clothes, sleeping mat)
  • Frequently used items at top (e.g. raincoat, snacks, small water bottle)

Shelter componentWhere should it go?Needs to be waterproofed?Tips for protecting it from damag
Outer (or flysheet)Depending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the outer is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Ideally yes, but if the outer does get a bit of water it’s fine. The key is to prevent the inner from getting wet (and taking care when setting up not to get the inner wet with the outer).Avoid direct contact with sharp objects (e.g. edges or poles, pegs) as they may tear material. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
InnerDepending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the inner is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Yes. It’s a good idea to keep the inner in a lightweight waterproof cover to keep it dry.Avoid direct contact with sharp objects (e.g. edges or poles, pegs) as they may tear material. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
PolesPoles can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Can be slipped inside pack or strapped onto outside.No, these can get wetPoles are susceptible to being bent, misshapen or even snapped if they are put under pressure. Store poles in a location that minimises damage from other objects and with some padding around them (e.g. groundsheet). Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
Pegs/stakesPegs can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Being small, fit around bulkier items.No, these can get wet.Avoid placing heavy items on top of pegs. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
Ground sheetDepending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the groundsheet is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Ideally yes, but if the bottom of the groundsheet gets wet that’s fine. Keep the side that touches the inner dry. Ground sheets are usually pretty robust, but still susceptible to tears from sharp objects. While tempting to strap to the outside of backpack, beware that passing branches may lead to rips and tears. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).

Use in the field

Checking and packing your tent or tarp

“I was born by the river, in a little tent, and just like the river I've been running ever since.” Sam Cooke

Practice pitching your tent or tarp at home first. This allows you to become familiar with all the material and how everything fits together. Remember you’ll be tired after a day of walking and it’s nice to be able to just pop up the tent or tarp rather than having to figure it out for the first time in the field!

If you haven’t used your tent or tarp for a while, you can test if it is still waterproof by pitching it in the backyard and using a hose to spray the tent with water. This is an easy way to determine if there are any leaks (again, much nicer than finding out at 3am in the field!).

Pitching (in standard conditions) How to pitch a tent/tarp in standard conditions

Pitching a tent or tarp in standard conditions is primarily about site choice. Usually, you will have a few sites to choose from, so it’s worth thinking through the following points to find the most appropriate one.

Choosing a great location

  1. Find a sheltered flat location
    Select an area sheltered from the wind with reasonable flat open ground. If a pre-existing camping area already exists, use this rather than create another one of our own. Select a flat surface, or surface with the least amount of slope: a slight slope is okay, as long as your lay with your head higher than your feet.
  2. Check it’s safe
    • Look up, check for loose branches or dangerous branches. Avoid pitching directly beneath anything that appears unsafe. Be mindful of potential Sudden Limb Drops from trees, particularly in Eucalyptus trees. This is when an otherwise healthy looking branch will fall from the tree with no warning, usually on a hot day. A good rule of thumb is to avoid pitching your tent or tarp below anything that you do not want falling on you.
    • Check the ground for stinging nettles, sharp object such as rocks, sticks or bindis. Lumpy or sharp objects make for uncomfortable sleeping and can quickly damage the underside of your tent and groundsheet. While you certainly can clear away the odd sharp object or rock, it’s best to find a starting point with as few of these as possible.
    • Scan the immediate vicinity for signs of ants or ant nests. Bull ants and Jumper ants are a few of those creepy crawlies that you want to avoid camping near.
  3. Check for flood risk
    In dry conditions, a site can seem great … that is, until it starts raining and suddenly your tent is a foot underwater. Check that your tent/tarp site is well of typical flood risk zones. Avoid pitching your tent/tarp nearby waterways that are likely to rise after rainfall. Avoid gullies or depressions where water will typically pool during rainfall (e.g. low lying terrain, marshes). Avoid soft ground that will absorb water and turn to mud.

    One way to tell if an area typically collects water is to examine the nearby vegetation. If the vegetation is typical of a marshy area such as rushes, sedges and reeds. Remember that an area may flood even when it is not raining there as water flows from upstream catchments.

  4. Extra things to consider
    Once you’ve found a spot that’s flat, safe and you’re confident that it’s not going to flood, you may also want to consider some of these nice-to-have factors:

    • In summer, opt for a shady spot if you get the choice so that it is cooler during the day and at night. In winter, select a sunny spot to speed up drying the tent/tarp out in the morning.
    • If camping on a hillside, and you have the choice, then think about where you pitch your tent in terms of the direction of the sun: in cooler months, it’s lovely to wake up with the sun directly on the tent; in hotter months, stay as shady as possible.
  5. Then just pitch your tent!
    In nice conditions, pitching a tent/tarp is a fun relaxing process. Although most tents and tarps follow similar principles, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that you correctly piece everything together and do not damage the materials.

    Some video examples of pitching different styles of tents:

Key points to remember:

  • Tent users, make sure the inner isn’t touching outer fly. Tents stay waterproof by having these two layers separated. Check by running your hands over the inner and outer and tighten pegs/guys to even out tension.
  • Take care when putting tent/tarp pegs in that they go in as far as possible to keep the tent most secure. Put pegs in at an angle (about 90 degrees to the pull on the rope), place the hook on the outside, not facing out. For soft ground you can push it in with your fingers, if it’s harder ground use a rock or hammer if it’s really too hard (do small hits so you don’t hit tent and damage it by accident, and hit directly inline with the shaft to avoid bending).
  • Keep any zippers done up tight to prevent creepy crawlies from getting in during the pitching process.
  • Create even tension across the tent/tarp to protect it from wind and rain. Do this by making sure the pegs and guys are held securely into the ground.
  • When folding and unfolding tent poles, start from the centre of the pole structure and work outwards so that the elastic inside stays even.
  • Keep organised, place extra poles and pegs (and other leftover gear) into the tent bag. Close the bag and place it in a tent pocket. Don’t let the wind blow it away while pitching your tarp or tent!

Pitching (in non-standard conditions) How to pitch a tent/tarp in non-standard conditions

The reality of bushwalking and camping is that you will probably not end up with a perfect campsite location, and you’ll very likely have to pitch your tent or tarp in challenging conditions (at least some of the time).

Rain and wind are the main conditions that make things hard, but gear failure such as a broken pole is another example of a challenging condition that requires a bit of ingenuity and patience to solve. Here we problem solve a few challenging scenarios.

Most tents and tarps are longer on one side (i.e. not symmetrical), and so have one side that has a larger surface area compared to the other. Usually the foot/head direction is the narrow one, and the body length is the long one.

If the long side of the tarp or tent is pitched directly facing the wind, a large surface area of the tent will get hit by wind and the whole structure will be more significantly affected than if a smaller side of the tent or tarp is facing directly into the wind. Think of your tent/tarp like a sailing boat: if the sail catches the wind it’ll take off. Similarly, your tent can get caught by the wind, so pitch your tent/tarp in a way that lets the wind flow past in the easiest way.

Another reason to consider wind direction in how you orientate your tent or tarp is to avoid smoke blowing from the fire into the tent/tarp. If you are camping downwind from the fire, try to have your tent/tarp opening away from the fire to minimise the amount of smoke blowing in. Ideally, you want the door of your tent to be downwind to making getting in and out easier and to protect the gear inside.

Rainy trips can still be a lot of fun. Here are a few tips to stay happy in the rain. If you are carrying a tarp, set this up first to create a dry working area and place for the group to shelter. Simply having a nice dry place to hang out when you come into camp can make all the difference. Pitch the tarp so that it creates a high ‘roof’.

Most importantly when pitching a tent in rain, avoid getting the inner wet! Some tent designs have the inner and outer attached (e.g. dome tents) so the outer automatically keeps the inner dry for a short time whilst pitching. Other tent designs have a separate inner and outer. Often, it’s possible to pitch the outer tent as a skin first, and then crawl inside and attach the inner. It’s not a bad idea in heavy rain to simply pitch the outer part of the tent and use the inside as temporary shelter, wait for the rain to ease, then pitch the inner later on.

Try to keep the inside of your tent as dry as possible by removing all boots and wet clothing before getting inside the tent (tents with vestibules make this far easier to do). Use a small tea towel or t-shirt to dry of wet things before putting them down in your tent.

Gear failure or forgotten items
Rips and tears to tent and tarps happens. That’s why it’s handy to carry a repair kit and know some tips and tricks for minor repairs in the field. See our Tent maintenance post.

Forgotten equipment is another thing that probably will happen to you at some point in your bushwalking career. If you can’t pitch your tent/tarp during dry summer weather, it’s probably not an issue as you’ll likely stay warm and dry enough in the open. However, in cooler weather, wet conditions and alpine areas, then not having a shelter can be extremely risky as you increase your risk of exposure and hypothermia. Here are some options to improvise replacements for forgotten tent items:

Forgotten itemReplacement options
PolesDepending on your tent design, you may be able to find a suitable stick to hold up part of your tent. Or a walking pole may also act as a tent pole replacement. Failing this, consider pitching your tent differently, making use of trees or rocks around: perhaps you can turn your tent into a tarp for the night?
PegsSticks, cutlery or rocks can replace missing or damaged pegs (see section below on using rocks instead of pegs).
InnerDepending on your tent design, you may be able to still pitch the outer part of your tent and use that as a protective shell. This still leaves you exposed to insects (no mozzie net) so consider applying insect repellent, and using a neck scarf and hat to protect your skin.
OuterForgetting your outer is a problem in rainy conditions and high wind. Select the most sheltered spot you can - perhaps a cave or overhang, or area with lots of vegetation overhead. Consider pitching a groundsheet, foil blanket, raincoats or taped together garbage bag to for a roof.
Ground sheetYour groundsheet is there to protect your tent from damage by providing an additional layer. Depending on the size of your tent, you may be able to use a rain jacket or poncho instead, or large garbage bag to provide some protection. Take extra care to not pitch on any sharp objects.

ideally your campsite is flat, but sometimes you just have to pitch where you can and if that means halfway across a slope, then so be it. There are a few things you can do to ease the scenario. Firstly, pitch the tent such that it minimise the slope that you will be sleeping on. This may mean pitching across the slope at an angle. Have your feet lower than your head and use your pack at your feet to prop up your body and reduce the amount you slip downhill overnight.

Pitching on a slope in rain means that you are likely to get reasonable flow of water under the tent, consider where the water will flow to minimise the amount under (and through) the tent/tarp.

Pegs not going in
Some surfaces are really hard to drive pegs into (e.g. hard soil or rocks). If the ground it really hard then avoid destroying all your pegs. When driving a peg in apply any force at the end of the peg directly along the saft. Any sideways force once the peg is partly in the ground is likely to bend the peg. Gently hammering with a rock allows you to keep this force in line, but will make the end of the peg rough. Using your foot to drive in a peg can work, but it is harder to keep the force in line and more likely to lead to bending.

If the ground is impossible to get the peg into, consider tying the guylines to vegetation or rocks. If using vegetation, avoid ringbarking and damaging the plant by using padding, and not strangling the plant with the rope. If using rocks (or logs), return them to where you found them when you leave. If pitching several tents/tarps, you may also be able to use the tents/tarps to anchor each other.

Pitching tent in the dark
You’ll probably have to pitch your tent/tarp in the dark at some stage – hopefully not the first time you use it! It pays to know exactly how your tent/tarp goes up, so make sure you practice first at home to avoid getting caught out.

Still do all your safety and sites checks even though it’s dark (check the area is safe, there are no sharp objects, ants nests or nettles on the ground, and that the area you are pitching is low flood risk).

Use a head torch to help see what you’re doing, and stay organised with where all your gear is (e.g. try not to misplace items such as pegs as they can be challenging to find at night).

Snow conditions require different tents and techniques to non-snow conditions. There are additional risks and safety checks that you must do to stay safe.

  • Check site for avalanche risk – do not pitch in an avalanche zone.
  • Find a sheltered spot and use a walking pole (or ski pole) to check that the ground is solid (no risk of snow collapsing).
  • Level out the surface by stamping on it or using a snow shovel to create a low platform. Allow the platform to harden for about 30 minutes before pitching your tent.
  • Pitch tent and use snow pegs to secure it.
  • In windy conditions build a small wall up wind to direct the airflow over the tent.
  • Dig a ditch in the snow around the base of the tent walls and keep fresh snow from building up against the tent.
  • Avoid wind blowing between the inner and outer of the tent, but do maintain gentel air flow to reduce condensation in the tent.
  • Increase visibility of your campsite by standing ski’s (or other objects) in a cross uphill, to reduce the risk of others skiing into you.

In-field repairs Simple repairs in the field

Inner and outer tent
Small rips and tears to the inner or outer tent (or tarp) can generally be fixed using a tent repair kit with patches and adhesive glue.

Broken or bent pegs are a little more challenging to repair in the field. You can try straightening the peg with a rock, although once a peg is bent it is significantly weakened. Use spare peg or improvise with other items.

For snapped poles in the field, use a ferrule to make a temporary repair:

Tent repair kits usually come with ferrules that are adaptable enough to fit most tent designs.
Failing this, tape can be great for making a temporary repair:

Neither tape nor a ferrule will last forever, but they are great ways of making temporary fixes in the field. If you do not have a ferrule, you may be able to improvise with a tent peg, cutlery or stick.