What's In My Backpacking Kitchen (and why)?
Choosing the right items for your hiking and camping kitchen is a process. You learn what works fine for you and what is not a good match. If you are lucky, you don’t accumulate too much stuff that just gathers dust somewhere at the bottom of your gear closet. It’s well worth to read advice and see what works for others – to make it easier for yourself, as the choices of camping cooking dishes might be quite overwhelming!
That’s why I decided to write what is in my hiking kitchen – so it can help you in your own process of picking and choosing.
What kind of hiker am I?
First of all, a few words about my style of long-distance hiking:
- I hike and camp solo. I need to carry all my things by myself with no splitting between group members.
- I only eat hot meals made by pouring over boiling water. I don’t prepare some fancy gourmet meals, don’t fry or bake things. Simple meals to fill my belly.
- I do eat hot meals. There are hikers out there who ditch the stoves completely, opting for cold eating only. Sometimes they soak their oats and such and sometimes only eat food that does not need to be processed in any way.
- I am a celiac, which means I need to carry a lot of food with me – I cannot rely on finding gluten-free food on my way. This means I need to limit other things I carry to make room for the gigantic oatmeal bag and powder soups I carry.
- I’m not an ultra-light hiker. I try to shave weight of my pack for my own health and comfort of hiking, but I will never achieve the ultra-light status. I probably don’t even want to get there – I want some basic comforts and I prefer to hike fewer miles than cut my toothbrush in half.
- I’m a budget hiker. Although I work full-time my salary is East European but the gear I buy is priced for the Western world. I save, I look for sales and special promotions but some gear is just too expensive.
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So, without farther ado, here is a breakdown of my hiking kitchen:
My Hiking Kitchen: the Stove
Obviously the most important one for someone who needs her coffee and hot oatmeal in the morning. Throughout the years I’ve had three different stoves, two of them I still use depending on needs. I don't use open fire to prepare my meals - for the sake of the environment and my own health. It's also simpler and easier to use gas stove to boil water.
Solid fuel stove
My first stove was Esbit solid fuel one. I bought it because I thought it would be more reliable than a gas one. I could buy a lot of fuel tablets and have them on me, no fear of looking for a mountaineering store somewhere there. As you can’t have a gas canister on your when you fly, it is not a completely silly fear. But when I was going back then – to Scotland – I really didn’t need to worry, hiking is popular there and buying a gas canister was not an issue. But if you are going somewhere where it’s hard to buy gas canisters this still could be a valid option.
Why did I ditch the solid fuel stove? Because the tablets were smelly and heavy. It was often not enough to boil the water on one tablet, and sometimes they were burning leaving sticky goo all over the stove. The fire was also leaving behind soot on my pots. But the smell was the worst!
So for the next trip, I got MSR pocket rocket. It’s one of the best out there – it’s tiny, light and reliable. It’s recommended by many hikers and campers out there. I used it in Catalonia, Canada, and Iceland. The only times I had problems were in Iceland – the coldest, dampest, and windiest place of them all. I am still not sure if the long waiting time was due to the stove or gas canister (maybe I should have got a winter-specific one).
When I came back I decided to get one of the integrated stoves – Jetboil MiniMo. It’s pretty expensive but I had read so many good opinions on it that I really wanted to have it. So, before I went for a winter hike in Crete, I got it.
I am really happy with it – you can read my full review here. It’s not completely wind-proof but it boils water in no time. I generally place it somewhere it has some wind protection (by a wall, rock or under my tent’s vestibule.
My Hiking Kitchen: Cooking pots
I have only one – the Esbit pot that came in a set with solid fuel stove. It’s the perfect size for a cup of coffee or tea and a meal (oatmeal or soup with rice noodles/flakes). It’s made of aluminum and is pretty light. It’s not as light or durable as titanium pots but I can’t really justify spending so much for a titanium pot when this one works just fine.
I use it not just to boil water but also as a bowl. I don’t have any extra plates or bowls. I pour some water out for a drink and make the meal in the rest of the water. As a solo hiker that’s the best way – there is really no need to carry more dishes. And who wants to have more to wash in the wilderness? The less to wash the better.
My Hiking Kitchen: Drinking Container(s)
Tea or Coffee Mug
There are quite a lot of options out there for a coffee/tea mug. You can get a titanium one (some with protection for your lips to avoid burning), a steel (classic but heavy) mug or plastic one. I got the GSI backpacker mug and love it so much, that when the insulation got ugly and falling apart – I just got exactly the same one.
I still use the old one at work. Doesn't look all that pretty anymore but still works perfectly!
It’s light, cheap, easy to wash and the insulation helps my coffee stay hot longer. The top lid is the perfect solution for a clumsy hiker like me – I would spill my drink all the time if it weren’t for it! I am not scared to place it next to me in the tent and don’t worry about it tipping over. I can really recommend it – it’s just perfect.
Hot/Cold vacuum flask
That's definitely not a must and I don't carry it always with me. But when I know the hike can be bitterly cold, I like to have a small thermal bottle on me for the uplifting cup of hot coffee during a break.
A while ago I got Esbit vacuum flask and I really like it. I got the 0,5L and I think I should have gotten the bigger one - 0,75L. But at least it's really small and works perfectly to lift the spirits on a colder hike.
My Hiking Kitchen: Eating utensils
I have been using the same long titanium spoon for years and don’t feel the need to change it any time soon. I don’t need a fork or a spork. Spoon is perfect for eating any kind of meal, I don’t need a fork to eat more of a “dinner” kind of a meal and anyway I mostly eat soups or similar kind of hot food.
At home, I eat rice with a fork but in the outdoors – I don’t care. And why carry extra utensils?
Oh, and why do I use long spoon instead of a regular size? Because it's just so much more convenient to eat with it from pots or dehydrated hiking meal's bags without getting your hand dirty than with the short ones.
Btw - this spoon has a tiny carabiner attached to it. I never took out even though I don't attach it to anything. Why? Because it makes noise. It makes finding the spoon much easier! :D
Sporks I don’t really get. Don’t they spill liquids when eating soups and such? Weird things.
My Hiking Kitchen: Knife
I have a one, cheap hiking folding knife I got some years ago. It’s not ultra-light because those cost a fortune. It was really cheap so there are some rusty spots on it already but it still works. I rarely need to use it – I think I mostly use it to cut smaller pieces of band-aids so I don’t need a top-quality one. I don’t prepare gourmet meals, so I only rarely use it to cut food. Sometimes I have a sausage or cheese I want to cut into my evening soup but other than that? It stays in my pocket most of the time.
My Hiking Kitchen: Coffee Dripper
That’s a new thing for me. I love coffee and I just love to have a nice cup in the in the morning. I prefer a regular, ground coffee to an instant one. But in the beginning, I was carrying the popular with backpackers VIA Starbucks pockets, as they were pretty decent for being instant. Still, it was not the real thing.
There are a lot of options out there for outdoors coffee. Most of them are pretty expensive, though. In addition, some are heavy or cumbersome. But when I saw that Sea-to-Summit made a collapsible coffee dripper I decided to give it a chance. At home that’s my preferable way of making coffee – using a plastic dripper with a paper filter. Kind of an individual coffee machine.
It’s light and small but of course, takes more space than the VIA pockets. I need to carry the filters (I could put coffee directly in the dripper but I found that cleaning is a problem) and ground coffee which takes much more space. But there is magic in the smell of freshly brewed coffee so I am fine with that. Now you can see why I will never be an ultra-light hiker! I want my little pleasures and comforts when I am out there!
My Hiking Kitchen: Water Containers and Filters
There is no cooking without water. I am using the platypus bottles to carry extra water inside my pack. I like that they take no space when empty and I can use one or two depending on needs. Just recently I got my first water bladder (Hydrapak) to make sure I drink enough while I hike. But for carrying extra water to fill the bladder or to cook with – I find the platypus bottles perfect for my needs.
One of the ways to limit the amount of water you have to carry is to use water filtration systems. If you know you hike in an area with rivers, streams or lakes – it’s just the perfect solution.
A few years ago I got the mini-Sawyer filter and it’s been working fine for me. It’s a bit slow and sometimes my hands go numb when I try to squeeze the water through it – but as I never needed a lot of water as a solo hiker, it’s been fine for now. I might switch to a better one, though. I have read a lot of good words about the Katadyn filters – it seems the squeezing is much easier and faster. But for now, it’s fine.
My Hiking Kitchen: Food storage
For food storage, I use regular zip-closure plastic bags. I put my food in waterproof stuff sacks – the same kind I use for clothes. I generally have one bag for breakfast and snacks, and one for dinner. As I said, I often carry a lot of food – sometimes I need the most important gluten-free basics (oatmeal & soups) to last for three weeks. When you add to it snacks, trail mix, rice noodles or rice flakes… it’s a lot of food! The good thing is, it gets pretty light at the end of the hike!
My Hiking Kitchen: Washing Dishes
I don’t carry anything for cleaning the dishes. I use my hand and natural cleaners – grass, mud or sand to clean. Try it out – it’s natural, doesn’t release any harmful chemicals to the water and works perfectly. That’s an old way to do it from my early childhood scout times!
Sometimes, but really rarely, I might use a drop of bio-degradable soap when the pot is really greasy but then make sure I don't pour the grey water back into the water source. Even bio-degradable liquid should not be introduced directly into water.
I carry a small microfiber towel. I bought a cheaper one and cut it in half (burned off the edges so they don't split). I use it sometimes to dry the pot but also, I have it between the pot and a gas canister. Thanks to it, it doesn’t bang on the pot’s walls all the time.
And that’s it. I don’t have anything else – not special spices containers, no extra plates, bowls or cups, no cutting board, no frying pan and so on. I don’t drink alcohol when I hike so I don’t carry any containers for that…
I also don't hike in bear country or my kitchen set up would require a bear bag/canister and rope or whatever else to hang it.
What is your cooking setup? What gear you love and would recommend to others? Let me know below!