How to Choose the Right Camping Cookware
The moment you decide to take the big step into camping is the one you have to grab some camping cookware. The variety available to hikers and campers nowadays is a bit dizzying so I am here to help you navigate your way in the wild kitchen.
By the way - are you thinking about going camping but are kind of unsure about the whole thing? Let me help you! Learn a few tips and enjoy the solo camping adventures!
If the only thing that comes to your mind when you think of camping pots are the old school aluminum scouts' pots, you are about to be in for a surprise! Although you probably can still buy those, I have no idea why anyone would.
The old-style aluminum is soft and bends easily and it leaves an off-putting metallic aftertaste in cooked dishes. I am happy to show you what is available for the modern hiker.
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Guide to camping cookware: What should you be looking for?
First of all, when you enter any kind of outdoors store, you will find mugs, pots, and pans made of aluminum, plastic, steel, and titanium. To help you make the decision, I will focus on a few important factors helping us differentiate between them.
That was easy, wasn’t it? You will notice quite the difference in price tags between them. As you probably assume, the price has to do with the other factors.
We all want to carry as light a load as possible. We can agree that we are leaving the proverbial kitchen sink at home. People who go car camping have a lot of freedom here, but for those who carry all their stuff on their own backs, sometimes for hundreds of miles, every ounce matters.
Things happen along the trail. Things get dropped, hit or thrown at an angry friend (not a personal story). We want gear that can serve us for years to come – especially if we were to pay the higher end price.
One thing that can do a few things weighs much less than a few things doing just each of them… Again – people who go car camping can take a few different pots sizes, cutting boards, dedicated gadgets, and kettles but backpacking folks need to choose each piece carefully.
It’s not just about being hungry and impatient. Low cooking time means saving on gas. Various materials have different conduction of heat and as such, differ in the time needed to bring water to boil.
Do you hike alone or with more people, spreading the load between you? What kind of meals do you prepare – dried dishes needing just boiling water or wild gourmet masterpieces?
For a solo hiker who does not need much cooking, one pot of about 800 ml is plenty enough to make a tea/coffee and oatmeal or dinner. If you like having fun around your campfire for the benefit of the whole family, you probably need a few pieces more.
Guide to camping cookware: materials
At the moment we can find camping cookware made of plastic, aluminum, steel, and titanium. Let’s see what are the plus sides and shortcomings of each kind.
Plastic camping cookware
The main downside is obvious right away – you can’t cook in them. Plastic serving dishes can be really useful when hiking with other people and sharing meals.
The plastic used in production is very hard and durable, as well as light. Dishes made by reputable companies, like Sea to Summit, don’t contain harmful chemicals like BPA.
Personally, I love my plastic Backpacker Mug by GSI in its insulating cover and can highly recommend it.
Check out those cool plastic camping plates and mugs - including a few great sets for bigger groups:
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Steel camping dishes
The main advantage of steel dishes is their durability. No matter what you do to them during your camping adventures, they can take it.
Perfect for car camping, as they weigh more than the alternative. Another plus side is that steel does not pass the metallic taste to cooked food. Another downside is that steel is not the perfect heat conductor which means it needs more time to heat up.
You also have to be careful that the food does not stick or burn.
Check out those camping cookware options made of steel:
Aluminum camping dishes
Probably the most popular kind of camping cookware as they provide pretty good quality for low price. Although the old kind of aluminum was very delicate and was adding nasty metallic taste to your meals, it’s all behind us.
Modern aluminum camping pots and pans are made of hard-anodized aluminum, which means that they are covered with a very thin coat of non-stick material. It makes them more durable and also prevents from seeping any metallic taste into meals.
They heat up pretty fast and are easy to keep clean thanks to the non-stick coat. They are not as durable as steel or titanium cookware, though. The hard-anodized aluminum creates even thicker coating and makes a better quality cookware but costs more.
The price is definitely what makes them so popular, especially when compared to our next kind of camping dishes.
Check some of the options among anodized aluminum camping cookware:
Titanium camping dishes
The elite of the camp kitchen. Titanium pots seem to have it all: very low weight, extreme fast cooking as well as cooling time, amazing corrosion resistance which translates into durability… No metallic aftertaste is the cherry on top.
The only downside? I am sure you guessed it: the price.
Such high quality cannot come cheaply. But who said you need a multi-piece set right away?
Check some of the best titanium camping cookware pieces available:
Cast Iron camping cookware
The hardest and most durable but only for car camping. They need some special care and re-seasoning but will last you a lifetime.
It's a must-have in every kitchen and if you go for car camping, take it with you!
Cast iron provides even heating and naturally non-stick surface. Cast iron dutch oven will serve you well both at home and while camping!
Check some of the best cast iron camping cookware:
Silicon (and aluminum) foldable camping cookware
The last kind of dishes is somewhat unique. It looks like made of plastic at first glance but is made of high-temperature-resistant silicone.
The pots are made also with aluminum bottoms, which means they can be used to boil water and cooking. They also can fold down and take hardly any room in your bag.
Some pots that are not need for cooking - like mugs, pots, bowls or coffee drippers, don’t have the aluminum bottoms. I have a collapsible coffee dripper and like it a lot.
Check out a few good examples of collapsible camping cookware and dishes:
Integrated canister stoves
There is a whole section of hybrid stoves. They were created with one goal in mind: to boil water as fast as possible. In the beginning, there was no option to simmer your food and those kind of stoves were only good for backpackers eating dehydrated meals. Nowadays there is a lot of variety among those kind of stoves. Some are still made with boiling only in mind, some have the addition of simmering option. Still some have special wind protection (although you need to pay for it with more weight).
This options is good when you have no other pots yet, you generally hike solo and don't cook gourmet style of meals when camping. MSR Reactor has a bigger pot (1,7l) which makes it perfect for hiking couples/pairs.
EDIT: I recently got the Jetboil MiniMo intergrated canister stove - you can read my review and see what I think about it!
Check those awesome examples of integrated canister stoves for extra-fast cooking:
Which camping dishes should you choose?
Whichever suit your needs… and the depth of your wallet. Cookware is no different than any other piece of hiking gear: you have to make the decision based on how you are going to use it.
Solo or in a group?
Car camping or backpacking?
What is your budget?
As I am a budget solo hiker I use just one 800 ml aluminum pot with a big plastic coffee mug.
I don’t need anything else as I hike solo and eat only oatmeal for breakfast and powder soups with rice noodle for dinner (or similarly easy setups).
If you are a solo hiker you don't want to take too many pieces of camping dishes. You might, just like I am, be perfectly happy with just one pot. In that case, it might be worth investing in a titanium pot.
On the other hand, if you often hike with a group of people, it's pretty easy to split all the needed camping cookware among you. That way you can all take a whole set of pots and pans to prepare meals for a bigger group.
Manufacturers make sure it's easy to choose well fitting pieces, so the whole set takes as little space as possible.
You should also take into account the stove you will be using. For energy efficiency, your pot should fit your stove - wider pot will be more efficient than narrow and tall one.
The perfect pot should fit the diameter of your burner. For the same reason (energy efficiency) you should always use a lid. In some sets, lids can double as pans.
Many lids nowadays are made for pasta lovers - they are equipped with draining holes to make it easier for you.