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How to Buy a Mess Kit and Camp Cooking Gear

Chow time is one of our favorite things about camping. Whether it’s a steamy pot of cheesy pasta or warm biscuits fresh out of the Dutch oven, good food makes for good times on the trail. Proper nutrition is key when you’re hiking and spending time in the outdoors because it nourishes your body and your spirits. But cooking takes a little work and the right kind of gear.

Just try to damage the BSA STAINLESS STEEL MESS KIT ($19.95, — it’s not likely. This durable kit comes with everything you need. It’s made from 18/8 stainless steel with a rustproof finish. The set includes a 1-liter pot, 6.3-inch frying pan, 5.9-inch plate and 12-ounce cup. The pot and pan have folding silicone-coated handles, and all the pieces nest together and fit in a mesh stuff sack. Coolest feature: You can use them cooking over a campfire or coals, and the pan can double as a pot lid. 1 lb. 1 oz.


The term “mess kit” might seem old-fashioned. (Brief history lesson: “Mess” originally referred to a portion of food. As long ago as the 15th century, “mess” also meant a group of four people who sat to eat together.) Today’s camping and backpacking kits for cooking and eating offer a functional, neat modernization for a piece of timeless gear.

Often, the pieces (a cook pot, bowl, cup, etc.) nest together in a compact package that fits easily inside a backpack. These packages are generally lighter weight and more affordable than buying each piece individually. And with a mess kit, before each trip you can pick and choose exactly which pieces of the kit you want/need on the trail. Expect to pay from $10 to $30 for a basic kit.

Want a mess kit that’s environmentally less messy? The LIGHT MY FIRE MESSKIT BIO ($24.95, is made from reusable bio-based plastics. It includes a plate, deep-bottomed bowl, collapsible cup and serrated spork. Everything nests, and the kit serves as a lunchbox. 7.2-by-3.5-by-2.3 inches, 9.1 oz.


The bare minimum you need for eating on most outings is a bowl, a spoon and a cup. An unbreakable bowl works well for everything you’ll eat, and a spoon (or spork) will help you shovel almost anything into your face.

Arguably the coolest innovation in backpacking cook kits in years, the SEA TO SUMMIT X-SET 31 ($109.95, features a 2.8-liter pot, two 22-ounce bowls and two 16.2-ounce mugs, all of which have flexible, food-grade silicone walls that collapse. The entire nested kit measures about an inch and a half tall. The collapsible walls on the pot, bowls and mugs are rigid when assembled, avoiding spills. The mug walls have measurement markings. The pot’s aluminum base cooks evenly. Bowls, mugs and a collapsible pour-over coffee dripper can be purchased separately and nested into the larger kit or carried individually when backpacking. 1 lb. 5 oz.


It’s not always best or even possible to cook by campfire. Open fires might be prohibited where you’re camping, maybe dry firewood is nowhere to be found, or perhaps you  just want to have less impact on Mother Earth. That’s where backpacking stoves come in.

We recommend two basic kinds:

Canister (or cartridge) stoves: Small, lightweight and affordable stoves that screw onto canisters of pressurized gas (about $3 each). They’re easy to use and pretty much maintenance-free, but empty canisters aren’t refillable or recyclable and must be packed out.

Liquid-fuel stoves: Compact stoves that use refillable fuel bottles usually containing white gas or propane. They are extremely reliable and work well even in frigid temperatures. Liquid-fuel stoves are generally more expensive, slightly more complicated, and require regular maintenance and cleaning. But they’re also easier on the planet (and, eventually, your wallet) because the fuel bottles are refillable.

The GSI BUGABOO MESS KIT ($29.99, provides the implements for cooking and eating: a 1-quart pot, 7.5-inch pan, 6-inch polypropylene bowl, 12-ounce polypropylene cup and a gripper — all nest and stow in a mesh stuff sack. The kit’s aluminum disperses heat to cook evenly, and each piece has two layers of nonstick coating for scratch resistance. In all, a good value for a young camper, if a bit heavy for backpacking. 1 lb. 0.7 oz.


On most outings, pots and pans are shared to save both weight and money. Pots can be made of everything from sturdy stainless steel to aluminum and super-light titanium. Stainless steel is the most durable and heaviest; aluminum is affordable and lightweight but not so durable; and titanium cookware is durable and super-light but very expensive. Prices range from $15 to $100, and some come with a nonstick coating. Always look for a pot that comes with a lid, because it speeds up boiling times and often can be flipped over and used as a frying pan.

For two hungry campers, the MSR 2-PERSON MESS KIT ($34.95, offers a simple lightweight kit: two plastic insulated mugs, two deep dish bowls and two folding sporks. The components nest and store in a mesh bag, measuring just more than 5-by-5 inches, making the kit ideal for backpacking. 13 oz.


A camping classic for decades, the Dutch oven is a heavy cast-iron pot with a lid. Though much too heavy for backpacking, this is a must-have for base camps and car-camping trips. Placing the oven over a campfire, you can easily fry fish, cook stews and beans, and bake pies, bread and cobblers. A new Dutch oven must always be seasoned first, rubbed inside with grease or butter to make it nonstick and protect the metal from rusting.

15 Comments on How to Buy a Mess Kit and Camp Cooking Gear

  1. Off-Trail Monkey // April 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm // Reply

    Our patrol just got 4 all new GSI Glacier cook sets, WOW. Nice and easy to clean.

  2. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // November 22, 2011 at 11:00 pm // Reply

    Mountain House meals require only a pot to boil water and a spoon or fork.

    • Have you priced these out though? At $7-$10 a meal, what scout could afford a 6 day hike paying these prices? You’re talking $120-$180 for an outing per scout. Ouch!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // June 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm //

        Normally if its just a 1 to 2 day trip then that easily affordable plus most meals can feed to people. me and my dad do it like this, every time we go to the store we get like two or three Mountain Houses'(That way you dont spend $120 at once). if we go to the store say, seven times a a month we can collect about 15 meals. Thats enough to last a long time. And if you can get them at discount price then they are much cheaper

    • Too expensive

    • That’s not cooking. It’s reheating. All you’re learning is how to shop at REI.

  3. I use some simple army mess tins and they are perfect.

  4. Just use a pot nothing fancy

  5. This topic seems to be the hardest for my new scouts to figure out. Through use, we have found the scout mess kit inaddiquite, it crimps in packs and the handle of the small pot tends to not be centered so items tip out and the pan handel can’t hold any real weight like hamburger w/o bending. Most of our scouts still wanting a mess kit use a military kit made of steel; they’re read good and often cheaper. Our older boys use Orikasu foldable meal kits. They lay flat in a back-pack, weigh almost nothing and clean real easy with a drop of camp suds. (I’ve had mine for 4 years now) For pots we carry the GSI 4 piece kit. They too clean up real easy and can handle campfire cooking. For messy cooking where pot cleaning might not be easy, we carry #10 food cans w/ bail wire attached for handles; once used, cut the bottom off, flatten and dispose of when possible. Since its been recycled, it’s also a green concept.
    For silverware the light my fire unit gets an A+. We did break one once but the scout was at fault.
    As always, try several items and then choose what’s best for you.

  6. If you are camping in a stationary place, and not hiking or backpacking, cast iron cookware is the way to go. The initial investment you make will last you more than a lifetime, is nonstick and versatile.


  8. get coleman cookware its great

  9. I love the GSI Pinnacle Soloist cookset. It is great for backpacking because it is so light and small, but it is just as tough as other base camp cookware. You can fit a small canister stove (and canister) in it. The lid is great because it has a strainer built into it, and it fits the small bowl/cup that the cookset comes with. And the stuff sack doubles as a washbasin.

  10. GSI makes some cool cookware.

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