Choosing Camping Cookware: A How-To Guide

Having the right cookware is essential for a stress-free camping trip. However, with tons of options available, choosing camping cookware may scare or even discourage some campers. With so many options displayed in your local department store, how do you know if you picked the right set?

For starters, choosing camp cookware that lets you do all the basic cooking techniques will do. But, keep in mind that this isn’t the only thing you should consider. Let’s discuss everything you need to know about buying new camping cookware to bring on your next trip.

What to Consider When Choosing Camping Cookware

Cooking Setup

Just like choosing your gear, when looking for camping cookware, you should first consider how you’ll be using it. Do you need something that can accommodate your entire group or will you only be cooking for yourself? Will you be cooking mostly at a campsite with your vehicle nearby or far into the backcountry?

If car camping, chances are you’re looking for an all-around set and you probably also won’t bother about the weight. Just make sure that your camping cookware set has a flat bottom. Most stoves made for car camping have this design, so sets with a flat bottom are the most ideal.

Meanwhile, backcountry camping is very different from camping at a campsite. Firstly, weight is an important consideration when buying backpacking cookware. Secondly, all backpacking meals are only centered on boiling water. This means you may not even need pots or pans—a kettle is enough to boil water on the go.

Materials

Camping cookware can be made from a variety of materials to suit everyone’s needs. Each has its pros and cons and understanding them will help you pick the right companion for your outdoor adventure.

Aluminum

Aluminum cookware is best for simmering foods without scorching. It’s lightweight and great at conducting heat, which quickens cooking time. Aluminum cookware is very affordable, too!

But, it’s less durable than stainless steel and is easier to dent or scratch. Raw aluminum can react with alkaline and acid foods as well, changing their flavor.

Hard-Anodized Aluminum

Hard-anodized aluminum is a popular all-around choice for camping and home use. It’s lightweight, conducts heat evenly, and is easy to clean, especially when it comes with a non-stick coating.

Moreover, since it disperses heat more uniformly, it’s the perfect choice for cooking meals with fresh ingredients or temperature-sensitive foods. However, while it’s durable and resists abrasions, those with a non-stick coating may require more careful maintenance. It’s also more expensive than aluminum.

Titanium

What’s great about titanium is its ultralight performance—it’s about 45% lighter than steel yet stronger than aluminum. It’s the lightest camping cookware material out there without compromising strength. It’s durable and corrosion-resistant, and the thin wall construction allows pans and pots to heat quickly and efficiently. Light and fast campers who are concerned about shedding as much weight as possible will love titanium sets.

But, like stainless steel pots, it doesn’t disperse heat evenly and develops hot spots directly over the burner. This means that the area above the burner is the only one that’s hot while it’s cold elsewhere. Titanium is far more expensive compared to other options as well.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel camping cookware is somewhere between aluminum and titanium in terms of performance and stability.

It doesn’t conduct heat very well, which can lead to hot spots and burned food, and isn’t very energy-efficient. However, it’s very durable so it’s perfect if your pots take a lot of abuse. This makes it perfect for backcountry travelers who are particularly rough on their gear. Stainless steel cookware is perfect for guided scenarios, too, where the cooks prepare a lot of meals on various adventures.

Stainless steel is also the most robust and scratch-resistant. Unfortunately, it’s also very heavy, especially when compared to hard-anodized aluminum sets. While food sticks easily, because it’s scratch-resistant, you can use a steel wool pad while cleaning.

Stainless steel cookware can also come with multi-layer bottoms. For example, laminated stainless steel cookware is steel both inside and outside with a layer of copper between for better heat conduction and distribution. This allows it to conduct heat even better than aluminum, but again, is a lot heavier. Laminated stainless steel cookware is only ideal for car camping and mechanized or animal-supported trips.

Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is the best for car camping cooking. It distributes heat evenly, is durable, and is naturally non-stick. A quality cast iron skillet will last a very long time, too!

However, cast iron skillets are very heavy that’s why they’re not suitable for backpackers. They require constant re-seasoning, too, to retain their non-stick surface.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing Camping Cookware

Number of Pots

The number of pots and pans you need will depend on how big your group is. Go for a larger set if you have a large group or are serving more extensive meals. Meanwhile, for backpacking, you can often get away with using one pot for two people since the meals are simpler.

Efficiency

You can also determine a cookware’s heat-transfer efficiency by the absence or presence of heat-exchanging fins on the bottom.

Some pots have a ring of corrugated metal welded to the outer circumference of their bases. This captures heat that may escape and conducts it to the inner surface where the pot can heat the water. Generally, pots with a heat-exchanger ring can boil faster. This is crucial since boiling water is a huge part of what you do with camping cookware.

Moreover, pots with a heat-exchanger ring are more efficient in melting snow, which is even slower compared to boiling water. In fact, on trips where you’ll be melting snow, you may spend over an hour each day melting snow alone!

Efficiency also depends on the pot’s color, diameter, and height. For instance, darker pots (especially those with dark bottoms) are the most fuel-efficient. Since older cookware blackens over time, this also means that it’s more efficient than new, shiny cookware. Wider pots are often more efficient than tall, skinny pots since more surface area is exposed to the flame. This allows the heat to transfer into the system faster.

So, in terms of heat efficiency, the most ideal cookware is a bit larger than the diameter of your burner.

Lids

Water boils faster on lidded pots since they eliminate the amount of heat lost through the top of the pot. Lids help reduce cooking time and keep your fuel canister fuller for longer.

They can also help reduce splatter to keep your stoves a little bit cleaner. Many lids can now double as a strainer, too. This is very handy when cooking pasta dishes, which are an easy and popular meal to prepare when camping.

Handles vs Pot Grabbers

Look for camp cookware that lets you remove its rigid, protruding handle. However, grabbing a cooking pot by its edge is rarely feasible. Luckily, manufacturers have already offered us a few different solutions.

Most cooking sets come with at least one gripper or a removable handle. Pick one that you can lock to the pot so you don’t always need to grip the handle to ensure that it stays on.

On the other hand, some pots have fixed handles that you can wrap around the sides when not in use. This eliminates the need for an extra piece (which you can lose.) However, if the hinge on the handle breaks, there’s no other way to grab the pots. Therefore, always make sure to keep the flame narrower than the pot’s diameter to prevent this issue.

Choosing Camping Cookware: Extras

Some sets are simple and include just a pot and lid combination. Others, however, come with mugs, skillets, plates, bowls, utensils, and maybe some teapots and towels.

A complete set is great if you’re starting from scratch or going car camping. But, it can be redundant if you’re not starting with a blank slate or going backpacking.

Choosing Camping Cookware: Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning your cookware may be your least favorite activity but it’s extremely necessary. The easiest clean-up strategy is to finish all your food and then use a paper towel to wipe the residue.

For extended camping, pack a soft dish towel in your mess kit (especially if using non-stick cookware) and scrubbing pads. Make sure to bring biodegradable soaps in the backcountry or campgrounds where the dishwater goes straight to the ground. Most importantly, check if the cookware is dishwasher-safe or not so you can properly clean it once you reach home.

Conclusion

Having good food while you’re on the trail or while camping is crucial. This is why you must take your time when choosing camping cookware. Consider what is the most important: does it need to be lightweight or are you just after the cooking performance? Your answer to these questions can help determine your needs to help make the right purchasing decision.

Happy shopping and be safe outdoors!

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