How To Buy Camp Cookware

Even the most dialed camp kitchen set­up lacks mor­tars and pes­tles and arti­san chef’s knives. But a good cook armed with the right equip­ment can make meal mag­ic out­side just as well as if they were in. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing guide­lines when pur­chas­ing your out­door kitchen—it could mean the dif­fer­ence between camp­ing as a back­coun­try bon vivant or in sum­mer sausage shame.

Cook­ing Sur­face: Be it pot or pan, the sur­face you choose to cook on is the most essen­tial piece of any respectable out­door kitchen. And per­for­mance is most notice­able after the cook­ing is over and cleanup has begun. Choos­ing the best cook­ing sur­face for your needs begins with the materials.

 Alu­minum: This is heav­ier than tita­ni­um but lighter than stain­less steel. It’s also the most afford­able option and very sus­cep­ti­ble to wear and tear. Although it heats up fast, alu­minum does not always dis­trib­ute heat even­ly, stay­ing hot­ter direct­ly under the heat source. Alu­minum cook­ware is best suit­ed for those who won’t be using it every sin­gle week­end. A cop­per­ized bot­tom helps with heat dis­tri­b­u­tion and adds to longevi­ty of the prod­uct, but will add some weight to your pack.

Stain­less Steel: Sol­id and rigid, stain­less steel is great at dis­trib­ut­ing heat. It’s much eas­i­er to clean than alu­minum, but quick-cook­ing food at high heat (take eggs, for exam­ple) can stick.

Tita­ni­um: This is the most light­weight option and is durable and easy to clean. It’s more expen­sive, but for those who camp and cook often, it’s a worth­while investment.

Dimen­sions: When you’re on a long back­pack­ing trip then you might not need to bring any­thing more than a pot to boil water for your dehy­drat­ed chili mac. But when you’re on a less ambi­tious mis­sion then you might want to pre­pare a more sophis­ti­cat­ed meal. And if you camp often enough then you know what you like to pre­pare most often. The first step in dial­ing in your out­door kitchen is to do the obvi­ous: cre­ate a list of the meals you’re most like­ly to cook. Then fac­tor in how many peo­ple you’ll be cook­ing for. Based on those cal­cu­la­tions you can decide the right size pots and pans for your needs.

Base Diam­e­ter: This mea­sure­ment is the total dis­tance across the bot­tom of your pot or pan. A sin­gle per­son can get away with a pan 4” in diam­e­ter, while a group of 8 might need some­thing a bit larg­er. If the base dis­trib­utes heat even­ly, then you can get a pot or pan with a base much larg­er than the burn­er size. If not, then it is best to keep a diam­e­ter no larg­er than the burn­er itself.

Depth: Depth is impor­tant if you are boil­ing water or cre­at­ing oth­er liq­uid-based meals such as a soup or sauce. A shal­low pan means less room to cook—anything less than 2 inch­es might as well be con­sid­ered a pan. But if you plan on cook­ing rice and boil­ing plen­ty of water, make sure the depth of your pan allows for at least four cups for a stan­dard meal for two people.

Vol­ume: This is sim­ply how much space the cook­ware can con­tain. A good rule of thumb is that a plate of food is rough­ly two cups. This is very rough, and you have to con­sid­er if your food is dense (like beans) or not dense (like popcorn)—from there you should be able to deter­mine if your cookware’s vol­ume is ade­quate to your needs.

Set vs. Indi­vid­ual: This depends more on where you’ll be cook­ing than what. If you’re haul­ing your gear in on your back or in a dry box in a boat and have lim­it­ed room then a set that fits togeth­er snug­ly is ide­al. If you’re dri­ving to the state park and don’t mind bring­ing some beat­er cook­ware from home then you may only need to sup­ple­ment the indi­vid­ual pieces that you don’t want to risk ruin­ing with the inevitable scratches.

Han­dles vs. No Han­dles: While han­dles are con­ve­nient they can be awk­ward in your pack or dry box. If space is going to be an issue then you should look for cook­ware sans han­dles and also buy a pair of lifters, which are small enough to be eas­i­ly stored in almost any pot. (Pro tip: A mul­ti-tool makes a great lifter in a pinch. No need to burn those fingers.)

When you are shop­ping for the right cook set, always try to imag­ine first what you are cook­ing. That will nar­row the choic­es down great­ly. From there, it’s a mat­ter of weight and qual­i­ty vs. price. The more you will be using your camp­ing cook­ware, the more you will want to invest to make sure it lasts a long time.