How to choose the best camp cookware set

Ian Carroll
 

I’ll bet your camp cook set is a ragtag, thrown together an assortment of random equipment. Heck, I’d even bet part of your kit came straight from the thrift shop. Even if you’re one of the elite few with a real camp cookware set, I’d bet it’s getting pretty old.

These days, the best camp cookware set is a modern marvel of technology and puts your goodwill collection to shame. Even backpacking cookware sets from just ten years ago look old and obsolete next to new tech. That’s because these days, camp cookware is made from lighter, stronger materials. Companies have also raised the bar regarding packability by making entire kitchens fit inside of a single cook pot. If you haven’t checked out one of these all-in-one kits from companies like MSR or GSI Outdoors, you’re missing out. They not only fit everything you’ll need to cook, but also utensils for eating, bowls, insulated mugs, and cleaning supplies.

Options for the best camp cookware set

Pots without handles are a common feature of an incomplete camp cookware set

So you may assume that because camp cookware is so high tech these days, that it’s going to cost more than your new Gore-Tex jacket. Not so! Although there are camp cookware sets that cost over a hundred dollars, the majority come in somewhere between forty and eighty bucks. That’s pretty cheap when you consider how many meals you’ll make with it before it retires.

If you’re on a budget, you can even get complete ten piece sets for as little as twenty dollars! It’s astounding how cheaply we can produce quality camping gear these days. And sure, cheaper sets won’t last nearly as long or work nearly as well as the more expensive options, but they’ll cook the food. And that’s what counts. If you’re looking for the best camp cookware set for a solo backpacker, there are some one-pot options that cut down on space and weight and cook great. The Vargo BOT is a good example. It doubles as both a cooking pot and a water bottle. Or you could get something like the Titan kettle from MSR. It makes quick work of boiling and is also lightweight.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive solution, lots of camp cooking sets come with a pan, which doubles as a lid. These kits are mostly targeted at single backpackers or couples who want to cut weight. Most of them have fold-away handles and no extra components. For the gourmet chefs, foodie couples, and the culinary inclined, you can check out complete camp cookware kits like the MSR Quick 2 System or the GSI Pinnacle set. These camp cookware kits come complete with all the works. Made from high-quality plastics and metals, with quality nonstick coatings and intelligent, packable design, these are hot contenders for the best camp cookware kit overall.

Titanium backpacking cookware sets

Titanium cooking pots

Personally, I am a big fan of the TOAKS Titanium series. You can get cook pots for single travelers, or full kits. I’m all about the TOAKS Titanium 1100ml pot and pan combo. Although it’s a little much for most single backpackers, I love having a pot and pan. That way, I can saute veggies and cook rice for dinner or boil water for coffee while frying eggs. Titanium is great because it is so light, incredibly durable, and affordable.

Cooking in Titanium is nice, the pot heats well, but the handles don’t. And although you won’t find a nonstick coating on titanium cookware, you won’t find yourself scrubbing quite as hard as stainless steel. If you’re looking for even more complete sets, the best titanium camp cookware kit is definitely the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Kit. It’s a lightweight backpacker’s dream come true. Four titanium cooking pans with no extra gadgets or accessories. By far and away the best lightweight camp cookware set around, this kit weighs just 11.6 ounces. If weight is your first consideration when picking out a new piece of gear, then titanium cookware is definitely what you’re looking for. Whether it’s a single pot setup or a complete kit like the Snow Peak, titanium is the best way to cut pounds from your pack.

Stainless steel camp cookware sets

camp cookware set

The stainless steel pots are classic

Stainless steel is not as popular these days as camp cookware. Although once the norm, titanium and hard anodized aluminum are more popular than steel now. However, some companies still make great steel camp cookware. MSR is a prime example. As one of the most reputable outdoor equipment manufacturers, MSR still chooses stainless steel for most of their camp cookware. It’s extremely durable, heats quickly, and these days, is reasonably light. Stainless steel definitely tends to stick when you get into cooking serious dinners. So a good cookware cleanup setup is an important part of the kit. Many stainless steel sets, including those from MSR, also feature a removable clamp-style handle in place of fold away aluminum ones.

Hard anodized aluminum and nonstick camp cookware sets

 

best camp cookware kit

No matter what you put in a good nonstick pan, cleanup will be a breeze.

Finally, these are the most common backpacking cookware sets today. The cheap and lightweight nature of anodized aluminum makes it the ideal material for affordable cookware. If you go to your local outdoors store, anodized aluminum is likely to be the primary, or only, offering when it comes to camp cookware. Most aluminum cookware kits feature thin, foldaway handles, simple lids, often doubling as fry pans, and some sort of nonstick coating. It’s rare to find an aluminum camp cookware kit without nonstick of some sort. If you do find one, I don’t recommend trying it.

 

Nonstick coating is the main draw for most people who get an aluminum camp cooking kit. It’s just so easy to cook on. You can flip your eggs, you can cook your oatmeal, and then you can wipe it clean with a piece of bread. No scrubbing or scraping required. It’s really magical to skip doing the dishes when you’re in the backcountry, trying to get an early start. That being said, not all nonstick coatings were created equal, and even the best ones will wear out over time. This can be a real problem if you like eating eggs in the morning. However, I’ve seen a lot of heavily used aluminum cookware that’s still going strong.

The best camp cookware set for you

In order to find the best camp cookware set for your particular needs, you’ll have to consider your lifestyle, and the environment where your adventures normally take you. Are you an alpine adventurer, frequently spending days deep in the mountains and entirely reliant on your pack? Are you a front-country camper who enjoys exploring the woods within walking distance of a car? Or are you a family camper who is dealing with a partner, pets, and kids in the wild?

Camp cooking

All of these factors will affect your decision. Generally, though, you can put all camp cookware kits into one of three categories: Designed for single travelers, couples, or larger groups. If you’re a single traveler- then your biggest decision will be what material you favor for your camp cookware. Then it’s just a matter of price and extra features.

For couples, choose between a simple set or an all inclusive camp cookware kit for two. Think about if you intend to spend more time preparing meals or boiling water for coffee and tea? What is the most important aspect of a camp cookware kit to you? If you’re cooking for larger groups, check out some of the more complete sets. Or combine one or more set into the ultimate camp cookware kit. Every company designs all of the their camp cookware to fit together in a modular fashion. That way you can mix and match when packing.

Whatever you decide to go with, be sure to donate all that garbage you’ve been using back to the goodwill. You’ve carried that dead weight for long enough. It’s time to take your camp to the next culinary level.

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