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Choosing the best backpacking cooking gear for your camping trip will make your meal preparation simple and also help keep your pack lightweight. Ultralight backpackers will get by on cold meals while many newbies will bring every item in their kitchen weighing them down and making their trip a struggle.
Finding the right balance between these two schools of thought is what this article is all about. You will have all the knowledge needed to simplify the decisions about what to put in your pack and what to leave behind.
What backpacking cooking gear should you pack?
- Backpacking Cook Stove
- Titanium Pot and Pan
- Waterproof Igniter
- Water Filter
- Cooking Utensils and Cutlery
- Drinking Container
- Biodegradable Soap
- Cleaning Cloth
Table of Contents
One of the most important items you’ll bring with you is a stove. These are essential for backpacking trips because this makes the cooking process easier for you.
There are three types of stoves you can choose from. These are gas stoves, alcohol stoves, and solid fuel stoves.
Here’s an in-depth run-down on them, as well as the things to consider when choosing one:
Canister Gas Stoves
Canister gas stoves are the most popular kind of stove used by backpackers because they are lightweight, compact, and can be purchased in almost any hardware or department store. The fuel used for these is typically butane or a butane/propane mix which come in gas canisters.
There are two common styles of these stoves. The most common is the upright canister stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket available from Amazon. where set up is as simple as screwing the stove directly on to the fuel port on top of the canister. The combined weight of you pot or pan and food will be supported by the canister which can have a high center of gravity and be more difficult to balance.
Another connection option is the remote canister stove which uses a fuel hose from canister to stove. This setup allows the canister to be inverted which works better in cold and high altitude situations. These stoves have a lower center of gravity making them less likely to tip over. Having the extra fuel hose does make them more complicated to set up and adds more weight to your backpack.
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Some stoves feature an integrated push-button igniter which allows you to automatically ignite it, while others require the use of a lighter or other source of flame. Integrated canister stoves are designed to effectively block the wind so that it won’t affect the heat transfer and cooking efficiency.
Many of these backpacking stoves can be folded up and packed small enough to fit inside your cooking mess kit making it very convenient to keep your cooking kit together. However, these stoves become larger and heavier the more features they have, so identify what features you need and choose your stove accordingly.
Canister gas stoves might be a great option for you because of their simplicity and functionality. Here are a few things to consider when comparing the different models.
The first thing you need to consider when choosing a backpacking canister stove is its weight. You don’t want to carry a heavy stove on the trail when a lighter model will suffice.
The lighter it is, the better it will be on your back and joints. The average weight of a gas canister stove is around 28 to 113 grams or 1 – 4 ounces excluding the fuel can. The larger ones are heavier and have more features like integrated igniters.
The stability of your canister stove will be determined by the height of the gas canister it is mounted on top of. Other considerations are the size and shape of your cooking pot and the weight of liquid or food you plan to put inside of it.
The smallest versions of these camp stoves are ultra lightweight and extremely compact but because of that, the pot support legs are small. This can also make getting even heating of a larger pot or pan more difficult. You can find more stable stoves but you have to sacrifice size and weight.
Different styles of bases and stands are available that connect to the bottom of your gas canister to expand its footprint and give it better stability. Of course this will also depend on how level the surface of the table or ground is that your stove is sitting on.
Alcohol stoves are a great ultralight stove option to bring on your backpacking trip. These camping stoves use denatured, isopropyl or grain alcohol for fuel. The stoves and fuel can be bought in almost any hardware store, making them a good stove option.
What makes them different than gas stoves is that they have slower boiling time and the fuel bowl needs to be filled by hand. The flame adjustment is a bit crude but despite that, they’re still the go-to stove type of many hikers because they are very lightweight and compact.
Alcohol stoves are commonly used in conjunction with a windscreen to ensure steady flames and heat for cooking. The windscreen will add a little bit of extra weight to your pack but reduce cook time.
The fuel should be carried and stored in a dedicated watertight container. It must be labelled accordingly as well so that no one can accidentally drink it.
Most alcohol stoves weigh between 50 and 150 grams (2 – 5.3oz) depending on their features and construction. Depending on the amount of fuel you’ll need to carry and the style of stove, Alcohol stoves are usually a lighter alternative to other gas or liquid fuel stoves. They tend to take up less room in your pack as well.
I purchased this lightweight titanium alcohol jet stove made by TOMSHOO from Amazon. It weighs only 2.1 oz with the pot support and easily fits in the palm of your hand. I’ve had great results boiling water with it and it takes virtually no space in my pack.
- Mini alcohol stove with gradation in oz and ml for easy use.
- Cross stand creates stability and burns the stove efficiently.
- Rugged titanium construction ensures durability while reduces pack weight.
Stability of alcohol stoves vary from model to model. However, most alcohol setups have a low center of gravity letting the pot rest tightly above the stove. There are some camp stoves that allow for the use of both alcohol and solid fuels making them more flexible to available fuels. Make sure that the stove is resting on a level surface to prevent any spillage which can cause fire to spread.
Solid Fuel Stoves
Solid fuel stoves are extremely simple, compact and lightweight options for backpacking. These aren’t as popular compared to gas and alcohol stoves which is a bit surprising. Solid fuel stoves come in different styles and materials including titanium and galvanized steel.
Utilizing small Esbit blocks as fuel these stoves have a similar boil time to alcohol stoves and leave no trace of ash after their standard 12 minute burn. The fuel is readily available in many hardware stores and outdoor shops as well.
Another nice thing about solid fuel stoves is that they are very easy to use and they don’t have any liquids to carry or that can be spilled causing the spread of fire.
Many designs combine an integrated wind shield and pot surface and some even provide storage space for the fuel tabs. If using the tablets isn’t your style then going for a stove that can also burn twigs, leaves, pinecones or alcohol adds extra flexibility.
Fuel stoves weigh around 12 grams to 150 grams (0.4 – 5.3 oz). If you are always on-the-go and weight is a priority then go for a titanium stove. Otherwise stainless steel versions are a bit cheaper and provide the same function.
Solid fuel stoves are quite small and have a low center of gravity making them quite stable. Many styles can hold 50 – 100lbs as well making them extremely strong and durable. Stability will vary by design so be sure to read the reviews to get a good perspective from people who have used them.
Pots And Pans
When getting a pot and pan for your ultralight backpacking cookware, The construction material is going to be a main consideration. The strongest and lightest are made from titanium making them the go-to material for backpacking cook wear.
Cookware made from stainless steel and aluminum might be cheaper, but they are heavier. I personally shy away from cooking on aluminum but there’s no real advantage to using it over titanium as it dents and damages much easier. The main trade off is price.
There are two design choices when it comes to choosing a pot, those that have a narrow and tall shape, and those that are more flat and wide. The tall and narrow are geared to 1-2 person cooking while the wider style can cook larger meals and spread the heat more evenly.
Tall And Narrow Pots
Tall pots are fine for a 1-2 person meals or boiling water for a hot beverage. They also lend themselves well to being used as a dish to eat out of. Pots that are narrow and tall will require more stirring to distribute the heat throughout the food and to prevent any burning at the bottom. They will also have a higher center of gravity making them less stable compared to a shorter wider pot.
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Short And Wide Pots
Meanwhile, wider pots are more stable and have better heat distribution because of their larger bottom surface area. They can also be used to cook larger meals or for more people. The maximum width of your cooking gear will ultimately be limited by the size of your stove.
The trade-off between the two designs will be the speed to boil (generally faster in a wide pot) vs the space it takes up in your backpack.
Most pots and pans have handles that can be folded inward for packing and folded out for cooking. Other styles have a removable clamping handle to prevent it from heating up while the cookware is over the flame. Having a pair of work gloves on hand is useful to protect from burns while handling your cooking gear during use.
Some bonus features to look for are pots with graduated measurement marks along the sidewall. These are perfect for gaging the level of water in your pot.
Cooking gear that has a pouring spout will make transferring hot food and liquids easier, while also reducing spills as well.
Your largest pot should have a capacity of 4-8 cups ( 1 – 1.8L) if you plan to cook for 2 or more. A capacity of 2-4 cups (500ml – 1L) will suffice for a single backpacker. During a rolling boil water tends to spit and bubble out of small pots and could potentially extinguish your flames so keep an eye out while cooking.
Meanwhile, anything that’s beyond 8 cups will just add unnecessary weight while taking up more space in your backpack. An 8 cup (1.8L) capacity is plenty of volume to boil water for a pot of coffee or feed a small group.
The larger its capacity the heavier your cookware will get, so be sure to size it to your needs and avoid carrying excess weight for no reason. Many styles of backpacking cookware kits come nested with different dishes inside so determining the weight of each individual piece can be tricky. Sticking with a titanium set will ensure you get the highest quality for weight ratio.
Having a few different sources of flame to light your camp stove is a necessity. Lighters can malfunction or get lost, matches can get wet and strikers can be difficult to use without dry tinder. Plan to pack a combination of fire starting tools for the trip. Here are some of my favorites.
Having a cheap BIC should suffice as a lighter. These are waterproof, durable and work at temperatures that most people will be backpacking in. Some campers would rather have a zippo which will work as well. These reliable lighters are refillable rather than disposable making a more eco-conscious choice.
Having a long neck torch lighter like the kind you use to light a grill can be handy to light gas stoves. This style of lighter will allow you to keep your hand far away from the burner and clear of any flammable vapors.
Waterproof stick matches are a staple to any backpacker gear bag. Because they light and burn in almost any weather conditions, including winds and rain.
Stormproof matches like these from Amazon come in a water tight container and can burn up to 30 seconds. That’s plenty of time to light a stove.
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If wooden matches don’t spark your interest (pun intended) then you can opt for a permanent match. These steel matches contain a cotton wick surrounding a piece of flint steel. When stored the wick soaks in a lighter fluid filled container until it is needed.
Once sparked along the side of the container the fluid ignites and burns for 5 seconds before burning the cotton. If you need more flame than that just extinguish it, dip it back in the container and strike it again.
Fire Steel / Ferro Rod
Using Fire Steel or a Ferro Rod is another waterproof method of creating sparks to light a fire. Usually used with backpacking woodstoves it is not ideal for gas and alcohol stoves but can work in a pinch.
This method sends sparks onto combustible material as the striker is scraped along the ferro rod. Starting a fire using fire steel is an art so be sure to practice using it before having to rely on it out in the woods.
Having a few reliable ways to create a flame will get your gas or liquid fuel stove firing up quickly. However, if you choose to go with wood as your fuel then you’ll want some Pyro Putty to keep a flame burning while you stack on your kindling.
This putty is for real! just rip it apart and light the fibres and a pea sized ball can provide 8 minutes of flame. This is perfect for lighting kindling, leaves and sticks in a wood stove.
The different formulas cover -20 to +110F (-29 to 43C) outdoor temperatures. A single small tin will light 10 or more fires and only weighs 2 ounces. The green formula burns between 20 and 90F and is made from natural materials. This eco friendly blend will ensure your fire gets lit first try, even in wet conditions with damp wood.
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There are home made options like dryer lint and vaseline that will do a great job at holding a flame. Most of the materials required for a reliable fire starter are probably in your home right now. A quick online search will send you down the fire starter rabbit hole really quickly. Good luck!
Having a water filter is essential for a backpack trip. Irregardless of how remote your camping location is, throughout the seasons water quality of nearby rivers and streams will change. Having a filter to remove the sediment, heavy metals, odours and bacteria can’t be overlooked. Good quality filters are available that are lightweight and simple to use.
Personally, I carry a survival straw which is a small tube that can filter up to 400 gallons (1500L) of water. I like this simple water filter because it can thread directly onto a water bottle making it easy to scoop water up and drink it instantly. A survival straw doesn’t require any pumps, tubing or external filters either so there are no parts to break down.
Utensils And Cutlery
Utensils and cutlery serve dual purpose on backpacking trips. In most instances you’ll be using that same spoon to stir your food and eat it. That of course is in the case of cooking for 1.
Otherwise it’s good to have some flexibility without going overboard on cooking implements. Go for spoons that have long handles so that you’ll have an easier time stirring or turning your food while cooking.
We recommend you go for spoons and forks that are made of titanium like this 3 piece set from Amazon. Titanium is strong, temperature and corrosion resistant and lightweight. There are utensils made from wood and stainless steel, but they’re much heavier options.
Spoons with long handles make it easier for you to stir to the bottom of a pot or pan and also get the last bits from the bottom of a meal bag.
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Sporks And Hybrids
Some people prefer one single spork style utensil but I’ve had mixed experiences with using them as a fork, my food always tends to fall off. Spoons with a serrated side are also available and are supposed to substitute as a cutting edge but again they aren’t very practical as knives. Putting a serrated spoon in my mouth always has me on edge as well.
Folding Cutlery With Flipper
If you plan on doing some fishing or just have a need for frying on your camping trip a lightweight nylon set offers a good solution. This Jetboil stowable fork, spoon and spatula utensil set from Amazon is telescoping, allowing it to pack up small in your pack. It is also lightweight and able to handle the high heat of camp stove cooking. The only drawback is that there is no knife included in the set but any backpacker will have their favourite knife nearby anyway.
Choosing a style like the ones shown above will make a great addition to your cooking gear. There’s plenty of length to stir a pot of food and they’re ultra lightweight. It also gives you a spare to lend out at meal time, because someone always forgets their spoon.
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- Reach every last bit of food at the bottom of your cup with the telescoping handles.
- Save pack space with the collapsible design, which stores compactly in or on Jetboil cooking vessels.
Most cookware mess kits will include a cup for drinking and probably a plate and bowl as well. These items are utility and almost every option will work. If on the other hand you prefer to select your own plate, bowl and mug there are a few different materials and designs to choose from.
Titanium has the best strength to weight ratio making it a no brainer for those backpackers who try to shave every last ounce from their packs. Because of its resistance to scratches, dents and heat damage for such a lightweight cookware option it is also the most expensive of materials used in camping dishes and cooking gear.
If you can spare the extra dough then choosing titanium is a great option for your gear bag and you’ll appreciate the choice a few miles into your hike.
Stainless steel is a popular material for camping dishes because it’s durable, resistant to heat damage and easy to clean. Many camping dish sets come with a carrying sack to keep the pieces together and easy to find inside your backpack. Stainless steel is a bit heavier than other options so keep that in mind when shopping around.
Aluminum dishes are a lighter weight option compared to steel however they do tend to dent and scrape easier. Quality aluminum dishes won’t rust or corrode either. As a thin metal it’s important to remember heat will transfer quickly from a hot liquid so having a handle on your cup is a good idea for drinking hot liquids.
Silicone is a flexible option that can save a lot of space in your gear bag. Collapsible like an accordion, these dishes pack flat for travel and expand to a generous size for use.
Silicone is lightweight but instead of getting its durability from being rigid it is extremely flexible and able to take knocks and bumps without issue. These dishes are available in many different colors and some have a carabiner attachment for easy transport.
You can find cups, plates and bowls of all sizes available in silicone and the material is BPA free and has no problem withstanding the heat of a fresh coffee or hot soup.
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Soap For Cleaning
Liquid soap is one of the most effective option for removing grime and food particles from your cooking gear. And since you’re going out in the wilderness choosing a natural and biodegradable brand is our “Leave No Trace” suggestion.
If purchasing a small quantity is not cost effective, transferring a small amount from a large bottle to a smaller travel size squeeze bottle is a simple solution. A squeezable bottle with closable spout will make leaks less likely and still be simple to use.
Choosing a multi purpose biodegradable soap that can be used for cleaning dishes, washing hands, and bathing is a great option for keeping everything clean while out in the bush.
This also comes in handy in stopping the spread of viruses or illnesses as well as spot treating stains until a better washing area is located. Just be sure to dump your soapy water on soil and not directly into the lake. This will allow the soap to biodegrade before it reaches the water.
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Towel for Drying and Cleaning
Like everything you bring on a backpacking trip your cleaning towels should be multi purpose. Having two separate towels, a small one for use as a cleaning cloth and the second as a drying towel is the ideal set up. Microfiber is a perfect material because it dires quickly and compacts down small.
To prevent loading wet towels into your bag, choose ones that have a clip ring or fabric loop that can be hooked to the outside of your bag. This will allow your cloth and towel to dry as you walk or be hung from a branch around camp.
Backpacking cooking utensils are necessary for outdoor adventures as these ensure you eat good food which you need to boost up your energy. Hopefully, this article helped you choose the best ones to get as well as the things you need to consider to get the right cooking gear. Listen to our advice and you’ll surely have happy tummies throughout your next outdoor adventure.