A Guide To Basic Camping Cooking Equipment

When you’re just beginning, camping cooking equipment can be confusing. There are so many items to choose from! But what do you really need?

First, you need to decide what sort of camping you’ll be doing.

For RV camping, where you’ll be using the stove in your camper, the items you’d use in any kitchen should be fine.

What I would like to talk about is choosing camping cooking equipment for tent camping and backpacking.

The main difference between these two is that in backpacking, when you’re carrying your camping cooking equipment, your main concern is in using the lightest items you can find which will do the job.

Let’s look at the various components of your camping kitchen.

Your Heat Source

There are two basic ways to cook while in camp: some sort of camp stove and your trusty campfire.

The Camp Stove

Camping Cooking Equipment - Solo StoveMany people like to do their cooking over a stove rather than a campfire, which has a lot of advantages:

  • The flame is cleaner, so you don’t mess up your pots and pans
  • The heat is more even, so you have more control of your cooking
  • You can get to proper heating temperature quickly, so your food is cooked quicker (which might be important to you when camping with children)
  • When you’re done cooking, you can just turn it off

The main disadvantage of using a stove is that you have to transport the stove fuel with you. This isn’t usually a huge problem unless you’re going on a multi-week backpacking trip, in which case you’re going to be lugging around a lot of canisters, which you’ll have to lug out as well. However some stoves, like the Solo Stove Campfire, are fire burning.

Some stoves (especially the larger ones used by tent and car campers) can be heavy and time-consuming to set up. Make sure you do a trial run with whatever stove you use before you go on your first trip with it — out in the middle of nowhere is not the best time to be reading directions.

The Campfire

Many people love cooking over a campfire. The advantages are:

  • You can cook anywhere you can set up a fire
  • No stove or fuel canisters to buy or transport, which makes it a much less expensive and cumbersome option
  • And campfires are just plain fun!

There are some definite disadvantages to campfire cooking, however:

  • Location: in some areas, campfires are either prohibited or restricted to specific areas. Also, you may find yourself in a place where there’s just nowhere to set up a fire. If you don’t have a stove, you’re stuck eating cold food.
  • You have to find your own fuel
  • Time: you have to set up the fire and let it burn until you get some coals before you can cook properly. This can take up to an hour, which could be stressful when you have a bunch of hungry people to feed.
  • A campfire tends to be messy: you’ll be dealing with soot, ash, and smoke, which may not be pleasant to you
  • You have to watch a campfire closely: in high winds, sparks can set things alight, you must make sure the fire is completely out before you go to bed, and so on.

Learn more about campfire cooking.

So What Heat Source Is Best?

Camping Cooking Equipment - Basecamp Stove

I have the BaseCamp stove, which is great for tent camping.

If you’re going to do a lot of camping, learn how to make a campfire but also get a modestly priced cookstove so you can see what you like.

Then you can decide what is best for you and your situation.

One stove I really love is the BioLite, which I believe to be the best of both worlds — it burns wood, so there are no canisters to carry, plus it can charge small electronics like your phone.

I have the BaseCamp (which would be perfect for tent camping) and the CampStove (a backpacking stove).

Both of them have worked great for me.

Backpackers should carry a stove and at least two other ways to make fire, just in case, as there are many situations where having both options can mean the difference between a fun trip and going hungry.

Camping Cooking Equipment: Pots, Pans, Etc.

Camping Cooking Equipment Solo Stove Pot SetFor those of you who are tent camping using a cookstove, normal pots and pans should be fine. Which ones you bring depends on what you want to cook.

Backpackers using a cookstove will of course want to use very lightweight camping cooking equipment; you can find pots and pans made for backpacking in any sporting goods store. There are even coffeemakers you can use while backpacking!

If you’ll be doing a great deal of campfire cooking, you’ll want to have a dedicated set of pots which you don’t mind getting soot on.

You can even use your old banged-up smaller pots and pans, or find cheap lightweight pots and pans at thrift stores, if you’re looking to save some money on equipment.

Do You Even Need Cookware?

Some backpackers like to travel ultralight!

If you’re going to exclusively use freeze-dried meal pouches, you can get away with adding the boiling water to the foil meal pouch, effectively using the pouch as both your pot and your bowl!

The only thing you’ll need in that case is a way to boil water. Well, and something to eat with (like a spoon).

Here are some interesting options:

Should You Buy A Mess Kit?

The term “mess kit” comes from the military, which typically issues a set of nested camping cooking equipment to each soldier. The items include pots, pans, lids, cups, and so on.

Because the pans are nested (they fit inside each other), a mess kit is compact, taking up a minimum amount of space. There are numerous “civilian” mess kits which you can buy for backpacking.

Some things to consider when purchasing a mess kit:

  • What items are included? Will the items cover the meals you plan to make? It’s hard to make pancakes in a pot, and it’s almost impossible to make any quantity of stew in a frying pan.
  • Will you need all these items? If you won’t need three out of five of the items in the kit, it may be better to buy the items separately.
  • How much does the entire kit weigh? Remember, you’re going to be carrying it.
  • How large is the kit? Will it fit inside your pack?
  • How durable is the construction? It’s no bargain if the handle falls off your pot three days out.

Forks, Spoons, Cups, Etc.

What utensils should you bring in your camping cooking equipment?

Some people like to bring their own cutlery, some like to go with plastic, others buy special “backpacking” stuff. It’s up to you. Just make sure you have something to eat with!

I hope this has given you some great tips on the camping cooking equipment you’ll need.

Happy trails!

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