Selecting the Right Hiking Cookware

Hiking Cookware - StewWhen ending a long day of hiking or backpacking, the one question that is always asked is “what’s for dinner?”  Okay, maybe it’s “who’s turn is it to cook dinner?”  In either case dinner or food is a very important part of the hiking experience.  Selecting the right hiking cookware can make a backpacking trip that much more enjoyable.  Choosing the wrong gear can turn a good adventure into a bad one.  So, what makes a good set of backpacking cookware?  Are there certain traits that should be avoided or desired?  Read on for these answers.

Materials: (A nice paisley fabric?)

Cookware that is made for hiking or camping comes in four different materials, but we are really only concerned with three here; Aluminum, Stainless Steel and Titanium.  (The fourth is cast iron and unless you are trying to bulk up by carrying an extra five pounds in your pack, I really don’t suggest it.)

  • Aluminum: Probably the basic of all the styles.  Aluminum is lightweight, inexpensive and heats up fairly evenly.  It comes in varieties of normal and non-stick.  Some hikers advise against a non-stick surface, because it can burn if used over a fire.  Well, that leaves us with a standard aluminum pan.  These pans are not very durable and will dent easily.  There are also some studies out that show that Alzheimer’s patients had high amounts of aluminum in their brain.  Whenever you use un-coated aluminum, small traces of the material can get scratched off during the cooking process.  The FDA has not ruled on the danger level of aluminum intact.  Another problem with aluminum, if that wasn’t enough, is that items can stick and become very hard to scrub off.
  • Stainless Steel: This material is slightly durable, dent and scratch resistant.  It does not heat up as evenly and is heavier than aluminum.  Clean up is easy.  Recently, lighter varieties have become available.  Because it doesn’t heat up evenly, some manufacturers have added aluminum to the underside.
  • Titanium: This is the lightest of all the materials.  It is extremely durable although not as scratch resistant.  It is advised that you not clean it with abrasives nor use metal utensils.  Titanium has two major drawbacks;  it heats up very quickly (which can be a plus if just heating water) which can burn your food and it is the most expensive of the materials.  Constant monitoring of your meal must be done in order to make sure that it is cooked and not charcoaled.  It is easy to clean and take care of.

What to Bring: (leave the kitchen sink at home)

Every backpacker will give you a different answer as to what their hiking cookware kit consists of, but here are a few guidelines:

If it is just you or only two people and you are not going to “gourmet the meals” one or maybe two pots and a lid that can double as a frying pan should suffice  You can use one pan for boiling water, the other for fixing rice.

If there are more people or you want to be the “top chef”, maybe a nesting pan and pot kit would be adequate.

The best thing to do is when planning out your trip, plan all of the meals before you go.   Figure out what is the maximum number of pots and pans that will be needed for any one of your meals and only carry that amount of hiking cookware.

What to look for:

  • Utensils: Most hikers are happy with a spoon or a spork, but some like to have a full fork as well. If cooking for a lot of people or if you have elaborate meals, a lightweight fold-able spatula would be nice to have.
  • Tight Fitting Lid: The tighter the lid, the faster food will heat up.  This is a fuel saving feature too.
  • Nesting Pots: If you are buying a kit, most will nest inside each other.  This will save space.
  • Removable Handles or Pot Grabber: Pots should have a removable handle or not have a handle at all.  If they don’t come with a “pot grabbing” device, you can purchase one separately.  This will come in handy when handling a hot pot
  • Cleaning: A mesh plastic pot scrubber.
  • Bowls and Cups: The great advance in bowl and cup technology has been silicone.  Silicone bowls are lightweight, easy to clean and best of all, collapsible.  Really cool stuff!


When selecting all your hiking cookware, make sure that it can all fit together.  Also, pick out utensils that, when folded, will fit inside your pots.

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