Tips for the Patrol Cook

By Robin E. Holbrook, ASM
Troop 5, Palo Alto


What is a patrol cook?
What kind of trip is it?
Basic Supplies
Food Supplies
Food for Winter Camping
Click here to go to Troop 5 Web Page!

What is a patrol cook?

The patrol cook is in charge of the food for an overnight trip. The scouts are divided into groups (by patrol if possible) of 4-6 and one boy in each group is designated as patrol cook. The cook is not necessarily the one with the most experience, but rather is the scout who is working on a rank advancement requirement or on the Cooking Merit Badge or who has not cooked on a recent trip.

The trip coordinator collects the money for the trip and gives each patrol cook enough to pay for the food he has to buy - and staying within budget is one of the requirements for patrol cook. One way to stay within budget is to "be prepared" and purchase some basics that you should have on hand that don't necessarily get included in the food budget (see the Basic Supplies shopping list below). Another way is to cook things yourself at home ahead of time rather than buying more expensive packaged goods (e.g. make muffins from scratch or a mix rather than buying bakery muffins).

Scouts on a trip usually bring bag lunches for the first day and money for a meal or snack on the way home, so the patrol cook is responsible only for the meals "on site" during the actual campout.

Everyone in the cooking group helps carry the stove, cooking pots and utensils and food items. The patrol cook doesn't have to do ALL the work - the patrol should all help and each does his own cleanup and shares in the cleaning of the pots and the site.

What kind of trip is it?

Basic Supplies:

There are a number of camp cooking supplies it is handy to have on hand:

Food Supplies:

These are some things to have on hand in your kitchen at home - you will use them on almost every trip...

TIP: keep packaging to a minimum. Save space and weight by throwing away the box and taking just the insides (remember to tear off/cut out cooking/mixing instructions, tape to outside of package or put in baggie with food). Remember everything (garbage) has to be packed back out!

Adult Cooking: Don't forget the coffee (plus sugar and coffeemate)! Instant coffee is not generally recommended - either use a Coffee Press or a Melita cone and filters or individual coffeebags (and tea bags for the tea drinkers). You can make your own coffeebags with fine-ground coffee, filters and a stapler (tip courtesy of Unit Commissioner, Chuck Enderby).


There are LOTS of sources of good camp cooking recipes on the Web. Some can be found at:

You should also check out the Cooking Merit Badge Requirements page:

Back to top of page up arrow.

Before you even start on your menu, it is wise to contact the other scouts in your cooking group and find out if any of them have food allergies, religious prohibitions to eating certain foods or absolutely hate some foods. You don't have to get their approval for your menu, but you do need to make sure you bring food that everyone can eat (or have a alternate choice for someone who can't eat one dish). TIP: bring your menu with you in a waterproof sheet-protector.

Make the menu, then the list of what you have on hand versus what you need to purchase. List separately things that need to be kept cold. Refer to the lists when packing and pack cold things together (in the cooler in a car-campout, but if on a hike-in, cold items need to be re-packed at the trailhead to fit into the backpacks. Instead of using ice to keep perishables cold, freeze meat in plastic bags to be used on the second day and use the frozen meat as "ice." Paper is a good insulator, so wrap the cold food in newspaper and/or paper bags (which can be used to help start the campfire).


Summer 1-night Car Camp w/Fire pit

Hot dogs - cook over fire on skewers (remember the rolls, ketchup and mustard)
Camp Potatoes in foil (heavy-duty foil - cook in coals of fire pit) (remember the salt and pepper)
Veggies* w/ranch dressing *(cherry tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber & carrots)
Soda (Cola/rootbeer)
Marshmallows & chocolate bars

Cold cereal boxes with Milk
Smokie Sausages
Hot Cocoa or hot cider

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam on Sourdough or whole wheat
Tortilla Chips
Cranapple juice

Winter 2-night Car Camp Menu

1st Dinner
Spanish Rice w/Turkey
French Bread w/Butter
Cherry Tomatoes & Celery Sticks
Hot Chocolate and/or Hot Cider
Chocolate Pudding

1st Breakfast
Hot Chocolate or Tea
Pancakes (from just add water mix) w/syrup (in small tupperware or plastic container)
Smokie Sausages
Winter Melon

1st Lunch
Teriyaki beef on steak rolls
Raw baby Carrots
1/2 can Pringles each
(water to drink)

2nd Dinner
Chili w/grated cheddar
Oyster Crackers
Canned peaches
Hot Chocolate and/or Hot Cider

2nd Breakfast
Hot Chocolate or tea
Instant Flavored Oatmeal w/Powdered Milk
Blueberry muffins

2nd Lunch
Baby Bel and String Cheese
Chicken strips
2nd half can Pringles
Gummy worms
(water to drink or crystal lite lemonade)

Trail snacks
lemon drops


Gorp, life savers (for on the hike)

Barbecued chicken
Fettucini Alfredo
Sicilian salad (lettuce+green onion, orange slices, green olives & croutons in vinegrette dressing)
hot cocoa and/or lemonade

Oatmeal w/milk (powdered)
Canadian Bacon
Lingonberry scones
Tea and/or Spiced Cider

Bagels w/cream cheese
pastrami and red onion
Shoestring potatoes
Almond shortbread cookies

Pack together to keep cold...
Butter (1 stick)
Canadian Bacon
Chicken (pre-barbecued)
Cream Cheese
Pastrami (frozen)

Cocoa, lemonade mix, teabags, cider mix
Gorp (raisins, peanuts & choc. Chips) or Trail Mix
Life savers
Powdered milk, sugar
Brownies (premade, indiv. wrapped)
Bagels, Scones
Shoestring potatoes
Salad Dressing (oil & vinegar in small container)
Fettucini mix (add pre-measured powdered milk)
Red onion
Oatmeal Pkgs.
Oranges (breakfast + salad), Apples
garlic, Salt, Pepper, Lawry's
detergent (Campsuds)
paper towels
pots (2 w/lifter handle)
large bowl & pitcher
big spoon, extra fork, spatula, knife
extra garbage bags
camp stove

Salad greens (TIP: get the pre-packaged sealed salad greens - they are already cleaned and hold up amazingly well for a day without refrigeration in the backpack) + olives + green onion & one orange


Day 1 - arrival at trail head

Dinner: "Iced" tea (just made with cold water) and hot cocoa, garlic sourdough bread, pork chops (carried frozen) in mushroom sauce, instant mashed potatoes, raw carrots, buttermilk brownies (trail recipe)

Day 2

Breakfast: Instant Oatmeal, fresh cantelope, coffee/tea.

Lunch: bagels w/cream cheese packets and salami, babybel and gouda cheeses, dried apricots

Dinner: Fajitas - made w/fajita seasoning, rehydrated salsa, rehydrated stirfried onions and peppers, small can chicken or turkey & grated cheddar cheese (package sealed in wax)- rehydrated refried beans, chocolate bars, hot tea or hot cider

Day 3

Breakfast: Packer's ham hashbrowns (made w/rehydrated ham and potatoes) topped with salsa (rehydrated) and cheese, coffee (adults)/herbal tea, Tang

Lunch: Turkey jerky, Triscuits, string cheese, trail mix

NOTE: if you are going to be cooking for high adventure or overnight backpacks, a Dehydrator is a great tool - not too expensive at Walmart or a discount store and a lot of fun to use. It is not only good for cheaply drying fruits and jerky, but you can lay down wax paper on the drying trays and dehydrate salsa, refried beans, tomato paste, chutney, all kinds of things that come in jars or cans that are heavy to carry...

Back to top of page up arrow.


Nutrition is a very important factor in the success of a campout. Food is both a necessary fuel and vital for body repair. More food is required for strenuous activity, and specific mixes of types of food are needed for cold-weather/winter camping. Where a normal calorie requirement may be between ~2,000 and 2,800 calories/day/person, the energy requirements for a strenuous or high adventure trip are 3,000 - 5,000 calories/day/person and winter treks require 1,000 MORE calories/day than summer treks. This translates to about 2 - 2.5 lbs. of (lightweight) food per day per person, and the food should be nutritionally balanced at ~50% carbohydrates, ~25% fats and ~25% protein.

Just as you need extra water when hiking in summer, extra amounts of liquids during winter activities are essential. In summer it is essential to take plenty of water when hiking - and ALWAYS in 2 containers. Even with a large platypus or nalgene bottle that you think will be more than enough water, a second bottle is advisable - what if the large one develops a leak? In winter warm drinks and soups should be fixed several times a day. It takes extra energy to warm your body after eating snow, so melt snow over a camp stove rather than taking it straight from the snow bank!

In winter camping the patrol cook should start water heating AS SOON AS YOU START TO SET UP CAMP while the rest of the patrol does the camp set up, so hot drinks are available as soon as possible.

The other "basics" for camping are to keep it simple and have an easy clean-up. You don't want to waste precious fuel heating extra water for greasy pans. Summer car camps are the right places to do your fancy Dutch oven and grill menus. In the snow or cold weather, you need hot food fast, and you will probably only be using a small camp stove. The warm water is more for making hot cocoa and instant cider and soup than for cleaning dirty pots and pans, so try for one-dish meals cooked in zip-lock freezer bags or that can be "cooked" by just adding hot water to the mix in your bowl.

Another tip is to always put a lid on your pot while the water/contents is/are heating up. The contents of the pot will heat up faster, and you can use the lid as a "griddle" to start heating something up in foil. And you can start to thaw bagged frozen food on the warm lid - just check the bag periodically to make sure the plastic is not melting onto the lid and turn it over!

Kinds of food

Carbohydrates are easily digested and release energy in minutes, but their energy is rapidly consumed. During cold, wet weather it is important to continuously stoke up with carbohydrates and it is recommended that you eat lunch "from breakfast to dinner" or snack frequently on carbohydrates during the day.

Carbohydrates come from starches (potatoes, rice, pasta), cereals, fruit, nuts (trailmix or gorp!), honey and candy (esp. hard candy).

Protein is more difficult to digest and the energy boost takes longer to take effect. High protein foods should be taken in small amounts during the day and concentrated at the evening meal so energy is available for "body repair" and generating body heat while you sleep. Meat is high in protein - and whole meats are particularly recommended for winter camping. Jerky is a great trail snack for late in the day as you set up camp.

Foods high in protein (other than meats) include instant milk (add to your instant oatmeal, which also has protein, and to your hot cocoa and packaged pasta mix), nuts (peanut butter), and cheese.

Fats produce energy that is consumed by the body over comparatively long periods and have over twice the energy of proteins. Carbohydrates and protein-rich foods tend to be more light-weight than fatty foods, but the fats are essential to keep your metabolism running high in the cold weather. Fats, like proteins, are harder to digest, so they should be consumed in small quantities during the day and most of the daily fat intake should be concentrated in the dinner menu.

Nuts are one of the best high-fat foods to eat - also high in protein and easy to carry and eat on the trail. Another fatty food is butter. Margarine is usually suggested for camping (comes in a nice tub for easy transport and stays "fresh" longer), but for short trips in cold weather your butter will keep just fine and has more healthy fats than margarine. Add butter to your oatmeal in the morning and your one-pot meal at night. Pre-cooked sausages (Smokies) that can be heated in a bag in boiling water (to keep the clean-up to a minimum) are also a high-protein, high-fat food that is good for breakfast or added to the dinner menu.

See the Food for Winter Camping section for more specifics!


Food for Winter Camping:

Basic Rules:
1. Quick and easy to prepare with little or no cleanup.
2. Light weight. Try to avoid cans. Repackage, if possible.
3. Easy to digest, with lots of energy.
4. Breakfast - at least 1 and dinner at least 3 HOT items (trail lunch usually no cook).
5. Check with everyone in your cooking group for special food restrictions.
6. Present your menu and food list to the Winter Trip Leader for advance approval.

  • Salt, pepper, spices in film cans or other small containers
  • Sugar
  • Powdered milk
  • HOT DRINKS: Hot chocolate mix, bullion cubes, spiced cider mix, herbal teas (instant coffee or coffee and/or tea bags for adults, older scouts)

  • Cereals (hot preferred, instants - flavored or use sugar, add powdered milk)
  • Hot chocolate
  • Coffee (remember to find out if your patrol members use sugar or sweetener and/or coffeemate)
  • Fresh (melons pack well) or dried fruits (soak dried fruit in juice/water overnight first, can heat up in morning)
  • Sausage or bacon or ham ONLY if bagged in freezer bags and heated in bag - fatty meats burned to pan too difficulty to clean up in winter).
  • No doughnuts or pastries in winter (OK for trailhead, but need the hot items in winter)

    Lunches and Snacks:
  • Bread, rolls, crackers, tortillas, pita bread
  • Jam in tubes or plastic jars
  • Cheese (cheese in wax or individ. packaged keeps well even in summer)
  • Lunch meat (sliced ham, turkey and other whole meats). Be careful of bologna and other prepared meats, which keep less well. Frozen meats travel well, can gradually thaw in backpack (or on pot-lid).
  • Italian salami or dry sausage, jerky
  • Hard candies, M&Ms, small chocolates (candy bars can freeze and be too hard to eat)
  • Nuts
  • Trail Mix
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, banana chips)
  • Fresh fruits (apples & oranges survive well in packs)
  • Lemonade or fruit drink powder, CrystalLite or similar

    Dinners (at least 3 hot items): Note: fast and easy is important since you will prepare it after dark.
  • Soups - powdered, Ramen, Cup O-Noodles (soup is required on winter trips)
  • Bread, crackers (as at lunch)
  • Spaghetti, noodles, instant rice, couscous, grits, etc. - pasta/rice mixes, add cheese to macaroni and cheese mixes
  • Tuna helper and similar mixes with added meat
  • Canned or frozen meats
  • Look for the new foil/plastic packaged tuna and/or chicken
  • Canned or powdered spaghetti sauce, oriental or salsa mixes
  • Canned beans or chili (be aware of clean up - possibly use freezer bags to "boil in bag"
  • Vegetables also canned, frozen or freeze-dried
  • Puddings - hot puddings or jello (cool/solidify in the pan in snow!)

Oljato Grace

For food, for raiment,
for life, for opportunity,
for friendship and fellowship,
we thank thee, O Lord.



Adare, Sierra, Backcountry Cooking, Tamarack Books, Inc., Boise, ID, 1996.

Cook, Dale J., Sr. & Outdoor Awareness Team, Basic Backpacking Awareness Syllabus, Boy Scouts of America, Western Region Area III, Tempe AZ, 1995.

Miller, Dorcas S., Good Food for Camp and Trail, Pruett Publishing Company, Boulder, CO, 1993.

Straka, William, Winter Orientation, Troop 5, Palo Alto, 1997/98.

Back to top of page up arrow. or click here to go to Troop 5 Web Page!

Questions? You can reach the author at

©2002 By Robin Holbrook, all rights reserved.