As backcountry kitchens go, ours was as large and heavy as it was battered.
Odds and ends of old pots and pans, that’s what we used when backpacking as kids. We’d stuff them into what were little more than daypacks, then toss in the one-burner stove and 1-pound propane canister our family used on picnics. Add sandwiches and a few canned goods, bind tents and sleeping bags on with rope, and we were set for adventure.
Now, we never went far. Mostly just to the other end of the neighbor’s small farm.
If you were looking for an example of how to do backpacking wrong – in almost every single way – we were it. We were basically car camping without the car.
That was our mistake. Or, well, one of them.
When you’ve got to carry all you need on your back, for any length of time or number of miles, going light is key. But at the same time, you’ve just got to have a few certain things.
That certainly applies to your kitchen.
Here are a few must-haves, with an eye toward weight:
Most backpackers use one of two types: liquid fuel or canister stoves.
Both have their good points.
Liquid fuel stoves, which typically use white gas or regular unleaded, burn hotter. Because you prime them, it’s easier to regulate their pressure, which makes them more efficient in cold weather, too.
But they’re slower to start and – courtesy of their separate fuel bottle – take up more space.
Canister stoves burn some mix of isobutene and propane. They’re light, easy to fire up and pretty reliable.
But they have basically one setting; so it’s high heat all the time.
In all cases, pack something – a lighter or ferro rod and striker – to light the gas.
You’ll need water not just to drink, but to cook, whether you’re rehydrating a prepackaged meal, making couscous or other pasta or preparing something like rice.
But it’s heavy. It’s impossible to carry as much as you’ll need on anything more than a single overnighter. And even then, that’s a chore.
The way around that is to treat water on site. There are several ways to do it.
Water purification tablets do expire – though their life is measured in years – and can produce water with a funky taste and smell (unless you also use the accompanying neutralizing tablets, always a good idea). But they work.
Another good option is filters. Some work via gravity and are great for groups especially. Others are more personal sized.
Whatever you choose, a little redundancy here can pay off. Pack a filter and tablets, for example.
Ah, the spork. If ever there was a t ool meant for backpacking, this is it.
Experienced backpackers look for tools that can do double or triple duty in all cases. A spork is the epitome of that.
Be sure to pack one that’s made of a food-grade nylon or similar plastic or even titanium. What you want is something that’s light, yet not likely to break when you’re far from a replacement.
One other utensil to pack? A long-handled spoon.
Many of the meals you’re going to eat are going to require adding hot water. You want something that will stir the ingredients without risking you getting too close to hot water or flame and risking a burn.
When it comes to backcountry cookware, there’s a lot of variety. And that includes what pots and pans are made of.
Aluminum is cheap and light, and conducts heat pretty evenly. But it’s easy to dent, too. If you’re going this route, spend a little bit more and get gear of anodized aluminum.
There’s stainless steel gear, too, but it’s heavier. The top of the line, in terms of weight to strength, is titanium. It’s great in many ways. But it’s also relatively costly. You have to be careful not to overheat it, too.
Whatever material you choose, look for a cook set where all the pieces nest together. You’ll be able to pack the whole kit in one small package, or just use the bigger pot and fill it with other gear.
Now, throw in a bowl or plate – something light yet durable, and there are options aplenty there, too – and you’ll be ready to refuel with a hearty meal at the end of the trail.
Bob Frye is the Everybody Adventures editor. Reach him at (412) 216-0193 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.