Camp Cook Guide

Photo by Meg Killen

Camp Cook Guide

A guide to filling bellies and winning hearts

An Overview

Behind every happy and hardworking trail crew is a camp cook serving hearty and nutritious meals. Preparing tasty dinners and keeping a safe, organized kitchen is imperative to the success of any MWA trail trip. Your support as a volunteer camp cook will ensure our crews remain productive and healthy. Thanks for your help!

The information on this page should give you a better idea about what it means to be a camp cook for MWA. There is guidance on daily responsibilities, typical meal selections, cooking gear, and managing dietary restrictions. Please read through this guide carefully and let us know if you have any more questions or concerns.

Important: fill out the meal planning form here.

Project Availability

In an effort to keep group sizes smaller, camp cooks will be limited for the 2021 season.

Camp Cook Responsibilities

Before the Trip
  • Review this webpage to get a better understanding of what it means to be camp cook.
  • Coodinate with your trip crew leader and start talking grub.
  • Pick which meals you want to prepare from our list of pre-approved crowd-pleasers.
  • Stay in touch with your trip crew leader! The crew leader will keep you informed of any dietary restrictions or allergies amongst the crew. This will inform your menu-making decisions.
In the Field
  • Plan which meals to cook on which day, identifying meals with perishable ingredients to be cooked earlier in the trip. Our crew leaders are highly experienced and will be there to help you decide.
  • Cook! You'll be in charge of prepping all crew breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and deserts. This means having coffee ready at 6:00 a.m., putting out lunch fixings in the morning, and dishing out hot dinners.
  • Delegate prep cooking tasks to the crew. Remember, you're the kitchen boss and we're here to help.
  • Inspect kitchen in the morning and evening to ensure Leave No Trace (LNT) practices are being followed, food is safely stored in compliance with bear regulations, and no trash or food particles (attractants) are left out. Read more about safe food storage and LNT practices in the corresponding section below.
  • Tolerate the heaps of excessive praise and gratitude showered upon you by famished trail dawgs.
  • Enjoy your free time during the day while everyone else is working! You can go for a short hike, fish the river, or read a book. Just make sure you're communicating your whereabouts with the crew leader.
Grocery shopping and paying for food             CL
Menu Selection       CC  
Repackaging for storage and backcountry travel             CL
Supply all kitchen and cooking gear             CL
Delegating cooking tasks in camp      CC  
Collect dietary restrictions /allergy info from crew             CL
Keep track of food quantities and minimize spoilage      CC           CL
Maintain a clean and organized kitchen      CC           CL
Ensure all food storage regulations are adhered to      CC           CL 

Menu Planning

Planning every meal for a week for a backcountry trail crew presents many challenges. In the interest of making life a little easier for camp cooks, crew leaders will tackle the bulk of the pre-trip meal planning and grocery shopping. However, MWA wants to make sure our camp cooks still have ownership over the meals they'll be cooking. That's why we've created this handy form that allows you to select which dinners, deserts, and hot breakfasts you'd like to dish out during the trip. Submit your form after reviewing this page and talking with your crew leader. 

On a budget of $15/person/day, we strive to supply a variety of substantial meals that taste great after a hard day's work. There are quite a few limiting factors – packability, shelf life, weight, expense – but with careful planning, we can still eat like kings twenty miles in the backcountry! Here's a little more about each meal:

  • Breakfasts: The majority of our breakfast offerings will be "continental" style, with an emphasis on convenience and nutrition. We'll have several options each morning, including yogurt and granola, oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese/peanut butter, and yesterday's leftovers. We will have one or two hot breakfasts on mornings when we plan to sleep in. The camp cook will pick and prepare the hot breakfasts.
  • Lunches: Each morning, we put out our lunch fixings for volunteers to pack a lunch for the trail. These lunches typically include sandwhich fixings (with bagels/tortillas, not bread), a salty snack, a piece of fruit, some sweets, and a granola bar or trail mix. The crew leader will be responsible for planning and shopping for all the lunch meals.
  • Dinners: Camp cooks will choose from a list of 12 pre-approved crowd-pleasing dinners that are nutritious and practical for the camp setting. Crew leaders will determine the apporopriate quantities to purchase and make any substitions neccesary because of allergies or dietary restrictions on the crew.
  • Appetizers and Deserts: Most evenings we have a pre-dinner snack and an after-dinner desert. The camp cook can request appetizers and deserts using the online form.

Kitchen Supplies and Cooking Gear

MWA packs an extensive kitchen kit for food prep. While our gear is servicable, keep in mind that we won't have all the conveniences of your home kitchen. Here is what our typical kitchen kit includes:

  • One two-burner Coleman stove
  • One five-gallon propane tank. (more than enough for a week)
  • One fivce-gallon pot, one three-gallon pot, and one small sauce pan
  • Two large frying pans
  • One skillet
  • Two five-gallon collapsible water containers
  • One MSR whisperlite stove and fuel (for emergencies)
  • One MSR hand pump water filter
  • One MSR gravity water filter
  • Two percolator coffee pots (one for coffee, one for hot water for tea/oatmeal)
  • Kitchen tarp and ropes
  • Three wash bins
  • Camp soap and hand sanitizer
  • Mesh bag for drying dishes
  • Matches and lighter
  • Large serving spoons (regular and slotted)
  • Spatulas
  • Serving forks
  • Tongs
  • Can opener
  • Knives w/sheathes (a variety for chopping and cutting)
  • Extra dish set
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic baggies for packing lunches (sandwich and gallon sizes)
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels

​Possible items (depends on packers and if there is room):

  • Stove stand
  • Camp tables
  • Coolers

Food Storage and Keeping a Clean Camp

A safe and responsibly run kitchen is imperative to keep our trail crew healthy and minimize our impact on the land. As camp cook, you will work with the crew leader to ensure our crew is following food storage regulations and keeping a clean camp. You can prepare yourself by reading the links. Here are some – but not all – of the important things to keep in mind when running a working kitchen in the backcountry:

  • No food, attractants, or garabge can ever be left unattended. This means if we are not in camp, all food, trash, and attractants must be stored in an approved bear-proof container or on a bear hang that is up to standard (10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from tree). MWA will provide sufficient food storage and bear hang supplies. In the frontcountry, attractants can be safely stored inside a vehicle.
  • Any spilled food, crumbs, or dirty dishes must be cleaned up and stored properly. A large part of cooking in the backcountry is ensuring you aren't making any messes that you don't clean thoroughly.
  • You will start out with clean dishes, and it’s important to keep them clean throughout the week. You should use a three-bin system for doing dishes. 
    Bin #1: warm soapy water
    Bin #2: warm water a couple drops of bleach added
    Bin #3: plain rinse water (doesn’t have to be warm)
  • Your dish water does not need to be filtered or treated, but make sure the dishes are dry before using them again. The mesh bags provided make it very easy and convenient to dry the dishes
  • Make sure you strain your dirty dish water and dispose of all food particles either in the trash or in the fire. Also look around camp to make sure you haven’t dropped any food scraps while preparing meals. Do a nightly sweep of camp to take care of this before securing all your food and trash for the night
  • Cleaning the stove on a daily basis is key to keeping the odor attractants down, but it is one step that is often forgotten. The stove tends to become one of the messiest pieces of your kitchen equipment, and it’s not easily stored in a bear proof container, so be sure to clean it. Simply take your dish scrubby with soapy water and wipe it down and dispose of food particles. 
  • Set up a hand wash station. Your kitchen kits should include a dromedary bag that can be hung, and offer an easy way for the crew to wash up before meals.  Strongly encourage everyone to wash hands before eating. Folks can have some nasty bacteria that they don’t want getting into their food, so it’s important to make this a normal process of each meal. Hand sanitizer should also be readily available.
  • Organize! Keeping your food organized will help to keep the bear boxes and coolers cleaner. Separating the foods by meal helps, and keeping perishables in their own cooler or bear box is also a good idea. You will most likely need to re-organize at least once or twice throughout the week, as things get moved around and disorganized quite easily

Leave No Trace Ethics

MWA strictly adheres to the principles of Leave No Trace in order to minimize our impact. The kitchen is one of the most important areas to conduct ourselves thoughtfully when in the backcountry. Here's how camp cooks can help ensure our kitchen is a bastion of LNT:

  1. Plan ahead and Prepare: The crew leader will do their best to ensure we plan meals properly and bring in the right amount of food - enough to last but not so much that we need to pack it out. Know all the current regulations of the area you are visiting, including any fire restrictions. Don’t assume you can burn your garbage.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: The kitchen will see the most traffic throughout your stay in the backcountry. Keep this in mind when you arrive at camp and choose the spot where you will set up the kitchen.  Your crew leader will assist with this. If there is already a spot at camp that is mostly worn down to dirt, set up here instead of a fresh grassy spot. No need to turn a grassy spot into another dirt spot. When in a large group, we will dig a sump hole for disposal of all grey water.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: This mostly pertains to dish water. Dishes should be washed away from lakes, rivers, or streams, not in them. Never place a dirty dish directly into your water source. Dirty dish water should be strained and poured into the sump hole. The food particles should then go into the trash or fire.
  4. Leave what you fin: This doesn’t really pertain to backcountry cooking, but is important to know. It’s all about preserving the area, and not causing any new impacts. Leave all plants, rocks,  animals etc. undisturbed. Also make sure you’re not leaving behind any new structures such as fire pits or trenches.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts: Fires are great to have while camping, but it’s important to be responsible. When gathering fiewwood, take only wood that's dead, down, and detached from trees. Use established fire rings, and keep the fires small – there's no need for bonfires in the backcountry. Burn all the coals down to ash and scatter the ashes when it’s time to leave camp. 
  6. Respect Wildlife: Respecting wildlife is important when keeping a backcountry camp. We observe from a distance and never approach animals. It’s also important not to leave any food that will attract animals. This is one more reason we store our food and trash appropriately.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors: Make sure your camp isn’t directly on the trail and make sure to leave room for other visitors. Keeping noise to a minimum and being courteous to other visitors is important to everyone’s experience in the backcountry.