How to Choose Camping Cookware

The Best Camp Cookware: How To Choose Pots, Utensils, and More

Your hike is done, your tent is up—and you’re hungry. Everything tastes better in camp, but you’ll need a quality outdoor cooking equipment set to make it happen. The options vary in price, weight, and cooking characteristics, and what’s best for an ultralight backpacker won’t necessarily work for a family camping trip. Here’s how to choose the best items for you. 

MATERIALS

Camping pots, pans, and accessories are typically made of one of these materials, all with their own pros and cons.

Aluminum

Pros: Lightweight; affordable; conducts heat evenly

Cons: Dents/scratches easily; doesn’t last as long as other materials

Best for: Occasional campers; meals that require simmering

Hard-anodized aluminum

Pros: Lightweight; a special finishing process makes it durable and scratch resistant; conducts heat evenly

Cons: A bit more expensive than regular aluminum cookware

Best for: Most backpackers; meals that require simmering

Stainless steel

Pros: Durable; scratch resistant; affordable

Cons: A bit heavier than other options; doesn’t conduct heat as evenly, making hot spots and scorching a problem when cooking

Best for: Gear abusers; simple cooking and heating water

Titanium

Pros: Featherweight yet strong; heats up quickly

Cons: The most expensive option; doesn’t conduct heat as evenly as aluminum

Best for: Ultralight hikers; simple cooking and heating water

Silicone (paired with a metal bottom)

Pros: Durable; naturally nonstick; flexible (so it can be collapsed for packing)

Cons: Expensive 

Best for: Saving space in your pack

FEATURES

Cookware comes with a variety of perks and extras. You might consider:

Nonstick coatings: Just like at home, these treatments make cleanup a lot easier. They can be found on most types of materials (except silicone), and are typically made from a chemical treatment (like Teflon) or a ceramic coating. Also like home: Metal utensils can scratch a nonstick surface, so use plastic or wood.

Lids: Most backpacking pots come with a metal or plastic lid; clear plastic lids let you check on food without releasing heat. Pasta on the menu? Look for lids that come with strainers, making draining noodles a lot easier.

Collapsibility: Nesting sets reduce bulk. If space is a premium, silicone cookware is often designed to squish down flat, making it the most compact option. 

Measuring tick marks: Some cookware comes premarked with units of measurement, making it easier to get proportions right. 

SIZE

How many items do you need—and how large should they be? That depends on how ambitious your menu is, and how many people are eating. 

Solo campers can get away with a single, 1-liter pot if they prefer simple, just-add-hot-water meals. A roughly 2-liter pot will heat enough water for two or three, and a 3-liter option is best for groups of three or more. Keep in mind that a larger-diameter pot is a bit more efficient, as you get more surface area to heat the food. Just make sure the pot you choose sits securely on your stove; large pots can be tippy on small stoves. 

Pans

Add a skillet if you want to get a little fancier with your cooking: sauteeing garlic, making pancakes, frying eggs. Backpacking skillets range from about 8 to 12 inches across. Some pots feature a lid that can double as a frying pan, which saves weight. 

Cooksets

Should you buy a matched cookset or choose your items a la carte? Cooksets—which come with a combination of pots, skillets, utensils, and sometimes bowls and mugs as well—are nice if you’re just starting out and want a complete kit all at once. And the pieces are often designed to fit inside each other, making for better packability. On the other hand, it can be useful to choose the perfect individual pot(s), skillets, and utensils for your custom cookset. Maybe, for example, you want a larger titanium pot for heating water, plus a hard-anodized aluminum pan or pot for more elaborate cooking. 

UTENSILS & MORE

What about camping utensils? You’ll find spoons and forks (and the ultra-useful spork) made from most of the same materials that form pots and pans, plus plastic. Tip: A long-handled spoon is great for stirring meals on the stove as well as reaching to the bottom of a dehydrated meal pouch.

If you’re a gourmet camp chef, you can add extra cooking utensils to your kit. Think: spatula, ultralight cutting board, tongs, even chopsticks. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.