Western Traveler

Cooking Equipment

As with any outdoor gear, there are endless possibilities in this area.

If you’re a backpacker or kayaker, weight is once again first and foremost on your list of concerns. Cook sets come in a variety of configurations and materials. This is a very personal thing, finding a set that you’re comfortable with.

When I began my camping career in the Boy Scouts I used the traditional aluminum, 5-piece “mess kit”. It was lightweight, compact and worked like a charm. It contained; a skillet with folding handle, a plate/bowl combination, a cooking pot with lid and a cup to drink out of. These kits are still available for less than $10 at almost any store with a Sporting Goods department. The only real disadvantages to this type of set are that they’re not the most durable and they can be hard to clean. Otherwise, they’re great.  Military “mess kits” fall into this category as well and their primary disadvantage is that they tend to be much heavier than other kits.  The good side to that is that you’ll never accidently destroy them, they’re made like a tank.

The more high-end kits are now made of aircraft aluminum, stainless steel and even titanium. One of my favorites is Evolution Cookware. It’s an enameled, aluminum system with a non-stick coating. One thing I really like about the Evolution system is the fact that the bottom of the pots have a texture which makes them less likely to slide off of a stove while cooking.  Ultralight kits come in multiple configurations and it’s really important for you to think about how you’ll be using them.  If you’re just boiling water to add dehydrated food and/or tea & coffee in, you need very few pieces and can get by with just a single cooker if you want to.

Another thing to consider when buying any cook set is how you’re going to cook with it.  Are you using a stove, or hanging it from a tripod or over a campfire grate?  If you’re going Bushcraft, the odds are that you’ll be using either a tripod system where you hang you pot over a fire, or on a grate setup of some kind.  If this is “how you roll” make sure that whatever cooking implement you get has a loop handle above the pot and/or lid.  Having side handles only won’t work with a tripod setup.  Just a reminder, if you’re cooking with a tripod, make sure that you position that handle above the pot, not to the sides or it’ll get as hot as the fire itself.  The types of cookers are called Bush Pots, or Billy Pots.

Any legitimate conversation about cooking gear has to include the always-popular enamel cookware.  This is truly Old School and still is loved and used by many.  It’s steel construction with a baked-on enamel finish, usually in black or blue, but it does come in almost any color.  For steel, it’s fairly lightweight and almost indestructible.  You can cook in it directly on a fire or hang it from a tripod.  One thing i love about enamel cook wear is that it comes in so many configurations and size ranges.  I always carry some of this in my car camping kitchen box.

The next level of cooking gear is stainless steel.  This has become increasingly popular because it never rusts and has a very good cooking surface.  They tend to be less prone to food burning on them than some others, they’re a little big heavy but super durable.  Like the enamel, these can be found in almost any shape and size that you’d want.  For the record, good stainless steel is more expensive but can be a lifetime investment as they almost never wear out unless abused.  They’re more popular with car campers than backpackers & kayak people because of the weight.

Now we go to the heaviest, most durable and to many people the only way to camp cook, cast iron.  This stuff weighs a ton, is almost indestructible and to many folks gives the best-tasting food over a campfire.  Any cooking configuration you want will be available in cast iron.  What makes it especially good is that you can use it and in some applications walking away from it for a whole day while on the trail.  Specifically I’m talking about the Dutch Oven. You fill it with ingredients and sit the whole thing on a bed of coals, cover the top (with the lid made specifically for this) with more coals and then leave it.  When you get back to camp your meal is done.  Good cast iron is by far the most expensive, but like the stainless steel will never have to be replaced unless you don’t take care of it.  Antique cast iron can cost a fortune, but is still sought out by people who love it.

While we’re talking about cooking equipment, let’s not forget about cooking utensils. You can buy them in three basic materials, stainless steel, titanium and Lexan. In my kit, I carry a Lexan knife, fork & spoon set as well as a miniature stainless steel spatula. These utensils to date have fulfilled all my cooking needs in the wild.  The newer titanium offerings are lower in weight and super durable, but as expected cost a lot more.  People who are serious backcountry cooks will have several different pieces to meet their cooking needs.

Also, make sure to carry multiple trash & ZIPLOC bags with you, the uses are endless.

If you’re car camping, it’s a good idea to put together a kitchen box. Mine contains; plates, pots, skillets, cooking utensils (in a separate container), coffee pot, cutting board, dishwashing kit, paper towels, matches, and an assortment of other items. In recent years I’ve added paper plates and bowls to the box so I don’t have to heat water and wash dishes.  I just put the paper plates on my metal ones for support, then after the meal pitch the paper product into the fire and it’s gone.  My box always stays stocked and is ready for immediate use. This is also a great asset to have for the Prepper-minded.  You can customize your box based on your level of cooking and projected needs.

Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with mix & match on cooking gear.  Only you know exactly what you’ll need.  I’ve seen lots of cooking kits where people stack several mismatched components within the largest pot for transport, and sometimes even the stove.

Last modified on: February 21st 2022.
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