“Cooking in the backcountry is a very important skill to master,” says Eagle Scout Adam Herrenbruck, 25, the chief ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch. “It isn’t just something you do because you’re hungry. Cooking can be important for first aid, for getting proper nutrition on the trail and for keeping spirits up in the backcountry.”
While for some guys cooking means unwrapping an energy bar and pouring some Gatorade, if you want to do camp cooking right, you’ll need at least a few smart pieces of cooking gear.
Here are 15 Gear Guy camp cookware picks from sporks to pots and pans:
POTS ‘N’ PANS
Coleman Solo Cook Kit ($30, coleman.com): This compact 15-oz. kit made of hard-anodized aluminum comes with two small pots with handy molded-in measuring cup lines and swing-out handles and tops that can double as small frying pans or cups.
BSA Scout Mess Kit ($10, scoutstuff.org): A sturdy one-man aluminum cooking kit, this one includes a seven-inch frying pan, 1¾-qt. pot with lid, small high-sided plate and a plastic mug. Weighs 15 oz. and nests together inside a mesh carrying bag.
Brunton Stainless Steel Vapor Cookset ($44, brunton.com): In a slightly more compact package than the GSI, the two-pound Brunton stainless steel kit includes two pots (1.65 liter and 1.7 liter) with an eight-inch frying pan/lid and plastic pot grabber—all of which nests neatly inside an insulated pot holder.
REI Campware Nonstick Cookset ($50, rei.com): Very similar to the GSI yet slightly larger and treated with a Teflon nonstick surface, this 1-lb. 15-oz. kit would suit up to three campers and includes two pots (1.5 qt. and 2.5 qt.), two frying pans/lids, metal pot grabber and two camp towels.
MSR Quick 2 System ($100, cascadedesigns.com): ) By far the most well-rounded, lightest weight — yet most expensive — kit here, the Quick 2 is perfect for an extended two-man backcountry trip. It weighs 1 lb. 12 oz. and includes two nesting aluminum pots (1.5-liter nonstick and 2.5-liter), one handy strainer lid (but no frying pan), two plastic dishes and two insulated stainless steel mugs with lids (color coded so you won’t forget whose is whose).
GSI Glacier Stainless Cookset SM ($50, gsioutdoors.com): A classic and rugged stainless steel kit for two to three campers, the Glacier weighs just shy of two pounds and comes with two pots (1 qt. and 1.5 qt.), two frying pan lids, a metal pot grabber and two round plastic cutting boards that fit inside the nesting bowls with mesh bag.
Primus EtaPower Pot ($47, primuscamping.com): This 1.7-liter aluminum pot with a titanium nonstick surface features a heat exchanger attached to the bottom of the pot that will boost the fuel efficiency of your stove and comes with a lid and an aluminum pot grabber. Weighs 12.2 oz.
PLATES ‘N’ BOWLS
Sea to Summit X Bowl and X Plate ($15 and $18, seatosummit.com): These cool collapsible food-grade silicone bowls and plates have accordion walls that can withstand temps up to 300 degrees. The base is hard enough to be used as a cutting board and the plate also makes a good Frisbee.
Guyot Designs Squishy Bowls ($12 to $16, guyotdesigns.com): Just as the name suggests, these very packable 1.7-oz. and 3.3-oz. bowls are squishy and made of food-grade silicone, which can resist temps up to 400 degrees.
Fozzils Solo Pack ($18, fozzils.com):Like origami cookware, these ingenious, space-saving Fozzils are flat pieces of polypropylene plastic that are easily buttoned into position. The entire set weighs just 4 oz. and comes with a folding dish, bowl, cup and spoon.
Brunton My-Ti Folding Spork ($16, brunton.com): You gotta love this 0.6-oz. titanium spork with foldable stainless steel handle. Sure it’s expensive, but man does it look cool!
Light My Fire Spork M ($4, lightmyfireusa.com): Ahh, the ever-handy spork. There are many versions of the spork, but my favorite is this 0.6-oz. heat-resistant, BPA-free plastic one.
Guyot Designs The Utensils ($8, guyotdesigns.com): This 1.8-oz. two-piece, snap-together hard nylon utensil kit has a large spork and a spatula for flipping eggs or spreading peanut butter, plus a knife edge for cutting.
“But don’t just go home and pull something out of your mom’s cabinet,” warns Adam, who has led Scouts at the BSA national high-adventure base near Cimarron, N.M., for five years. “That would be overkill, and there are plenty of lightweight things designed specifically for the trail.”
Here are Adam’s suggestions for building your own backcountry kitchen. Read on and eat well.
WHAT TO CARRY
The sort of cooking gear you bring along depends on how many people will be eating meals and what you plan to cook. The bigger your group, the bigger the size and number of pots and pans you’ll need to bring — but you’ll also be able to share the weight by splitting up the gear among your crew.
“If you’re hiking and cooking in a crew, each individual probably only needs his own bowl, spoon and cup,” Adam says. If you’re just backpacking with a friend and plan to eat freeze-dried meals, then a single pot with a lid plus two spoons might be all you need.
Camp cookware can be made of everything from ultra-light titanium or aluminum alloy to sturdy stainless steel. “For backpacking, aluminum and lighter metals like titanium are the way to go,” Adam says. “Stainless steel is heavier, but if you can get away with the extra weight, stainless will last a lot longer.”
Aluminum is both affordable and lightweight but less durable and tougher to clean. Titanium is very strong, but also extremely expensive.
BUY A KIT OR A LA CARTE?
Buying cookware one piece at a time will help you get exactly the stuff you want, but the prepackaged cooksets — which usually come with a pair of bowls, a lid, a plate/lid/frying pan, pot grabber and such — will likely save you money and time, and they will be lighter weight and more compact because they are designed to nest together. “Mess kits are cool because they give you options and then you can decide exactly what to take for each trip,” he says.
Make sure your pot comes with a lid — otherwise boiling water outdoors in an unprotected pan will take forever and waste lots of precious fuel. And don’t forget to bring along something to pick up your hot pots and pans, since most camp cookware doesn’t have handles. “A lot of kits come with hot pot tongs or handle grabbers,” Adam says. “But you can also just use something like a Leatherman-type tool, which will also serve other functions on the trail.”
NONSTICK OR NOT?
Some pots and pans come with a nonstick coating like Teflon that stops food from sticking to the metal. This is especially handy when frying foods, and it makes cleanup much simpler. Be aware that nonstick coatings are easily scratched by metal utensils and will eventually wear off.
SOMETHING TO EAT AND DRINK FROM
While an old plastic cereal bowl works for Adam, you might prefer something more lightweight and space friendly, like a collapsible bowl or even foldable cups and bowls. “I often use a simple Tupperware-style bowl with a lid — that way, I can store food inside.”
“You should always have a spoon,” Adam says. “For small groups, you can just use your personal utensil as a stir spoon. But for groups of 10 or so, you should have a dedicated long-handled cook spoon for stirring and serving because it’s easier and more hygienic.”
Long-handled spoons are also good for digging to the bottom of a bag of freeze-dried food and for stirring boiling water. Some people swear by multi-function utensils like sporks (spoon + fork) or foons (fork + spoon). These can be made from titanium (expensive) or Lexan or some other type of hard polycarbonate plastic (affordable). It’s really all personal preference.
WHERE TO SHOP
“Shopping online is a great resource,” Adam says, “because you can read a lot of reviews online and make price comparisons.” But when it comes to shopping for cookware, you might as well just go to your local outdoor specialty retailer. “It’s great to support your local shops, and it’s probably not worth paying the extra shipping to order cooking gear online,” he says.
HOW MUCH TO SPEND
When it comes to camp cookware, you can spend from $150 for a lightweight titanium cook set to $7 on used pots, bowls and silverware at the local resale store. One thing to consider is that good cookware is an investment. Unlike boots and clothing, you’ll never grow out of your pots and pans, so it’s not a bad idea to invest in something that will be durable and lightweight.