by Diane Spicer
The best backpacking kitchen essentials work a little magic by transforming the purpose of your kitchen at home into a portable work station that fits easily into your backpack.
But it takes a bit of a mental adjustment.
First, you need to decide which style of backpack cookery you prefer.
And then decide on some carefully chosen backpacking kitchen gear.
So let's work a little cooking magic, shall we?
Kitchen tools for backpacking are no different than what you have in your home kitchen, in terms of basic alchemy.
Their purpose is to change cold, hard inedible foods into warm, tempting and savory meals.
First time planning a backpacking trip?
Granted, not every backpacker brings every item on the list every time, but to be complete, let's outline your backpacking kitchen essentials before we get into the details.
Here's an overview list of backpacking kitchen essentials:
Hiking For Her is proud to be affiliated with top gear companies which supply these backpacking kitchen essentials, and after 5 decades on the trail, only recommends the best of their best products.
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Now let's get to work and examine each item on the list, with recommendations for what I know will work for you on a backpacking trip.
Or do they?
There are backpackers who eat nothing but cold food for the duration of their trip.
If that's your vibe, why not hop over to a different page, like these backpacking food tips?
But if you're sane and sensible, like me (!), you'll relish the idea of a hot bowl of breakfast yumminess accompanied by a steaming mug of your favorite eye opener in the morning.
And here's the truth: a big part of what motivates me to keep going all day is the thought of a hot, savory backpacking dinner as the day draws to a close.
Then let's do some stove talk.
Take your time with this decision.
Your backpacking stove, if chosen carefully and handled with respect, will provide years of service.
So it needs to be suitable for the style of hiking you prefer.
If you hike in rocky, windy areas, a wind screen and a non-tippy set up is critical.
You like to cook up a pot of dinner from scratch, so you'll need a stove that can simmer AND boil some water for after dinner tea.
You're honing in on factors like convenience, wait time, and rate of fuel consumption without even realizing what you're doing (yet).
And the number one underlying factor for a backpacker is always weight, along with cost and durability.
So really, the type of fuel your stove burns, and how you transport it, is the biggest factor in your decision and drives those factors above.
Here's a detailed guide to choosing the best backpacking stoves for your style of hiking.
You might want to read it before proceeding, so you'll have at least a rough idea of the type of stove you want as a foundation of your backpacking kitchen essentials.
If you disagree, skip this section and read about some "no cook" high calorie backpacking food! (coming soon)
When it comes time to focus on the meal preparation aspect of a pot, you've got to make some more decisions.
Let's tackle the biggest decision first: one, two or three?
The answer to this question is going to vary, depending upon which type of backpacking trip you're on.
So let's run through some scenarios, then recommend some cooking pots that will suit each scenario.
One hiker, eating straight out of one cooking unit using a long handled spoon or spork (see below), and preparing small-ish portions at one time, is what this scenario looks like.
If that's you, there are two ways to go here:
It's also available in a slightly larger capacity, 33.8 fl. oz.
For a solo backpacker who is a bit more focused on controlling the temperature of the stove and likes that 33.8 number:
Note the wide capacity mouth on this cooking system, making it easier to eat straight from the cooking cup.
|Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System | REI Co-op|
A backpacking duo needs a large enough pot and a lid (to speed up cooking time and maximize fuel supplies) to get a meal into hungry bellies pronto.
Pass the cook pot back and forth until the food is gone.
Make sure your stove burner dimensions and your cook pot choice are compatible to get the most out of your fuel.
Look carefully at the handles:
Here's a basic option to maximize fuel efficiency and prepare boiling water for a meal & maybe a hot beverage in one stove cycle for two backpackers:
Same pot as above, just add bowls & eating utensils (see below) to minimize spit swapping.
Or eat out of separate meal pouches or bags.
A mug (tips below) can also be pressed into service for separate portions, but be sure to put the lid back on the pot while you consume each small helping, or you'll have cold food near the end of the meal.
A backcountry gourmet, wanting a large capacity marine grade stainless steel pot with a strainer lid plus a non stick surface, silicone wrapped handle that folds, and volumetric markings, should take a close look at this one.
If you like to make a pre-dinner soup, a main course, and a cold pudding for dessert, you'll need more than one pot.
Divvy up the three pounds of these pots among your trail buddies, with the promise of a delicious meal for their efforts ;)
A group of hungry backpackers is going to require a stove with a large capacity burner, and at least one 10 inch diameter pot.
Two pots can make morning meal prep faster, with hot water for beverages available in one covered pot as people roll out of their sleeping bags, and the other pot cooking up the porridge.
Consider the cook set above for even more flexibility (3 pots to work with) in meal prep for a group of 4 or more backpackers.
If cost is a big concern, here's a basic stainless steel set of backpacking cookware, weighing 26 ounces including lid and pot gripper.
Note the absence of handles, that's why you need that gripper!
Group backpacking tip:
If your group is large, consider bringing at least two stoves with matching cook sets.
Even worse: Being forced to eat in shifts, which leaves you standing there watching some lucky person scarf down a hot meal until it's your turn.
After seeing your cookery choices above, you might have noticed that materials used in backpacking cookware matter.
And boy, are you right!
Cook time, fuel consumption, ability to cook a meal without scorching it, all depend upon the construction and materials of your cook pot.
Let's take a quick tour of your options.
Titanium is lighter, heats quickly, and may come with a no stick finish.
If you're in this backpacking thing for the long haul (groany pun), you'll want to invest in the gear that will go the distance with you.
And can go car camping with you!
Titanium backpacking cookware will do that for you, and is considered one of the best backpacking kitchen essentials for some hikers.
So take a look at these options in admittedly high end, but deservedly awesome options, for titanium cooking pots which deliver fast cooking time and durability for the money.
Here's a hard-anodized aluminum pot that can work admirably for a solo hiker but steps right up for duo hiking capacity:
|GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot - 1.1 Liters | REI Co-op|
Note the rubber coated handle and lid grip, making it easy to get at the goods.
This type of pot is a few ounces heavier than titanium, but may provide a more evenly dispersed heating surface if you're trying to do more than boil water.
And the price comparison is hard to beat; this pot costs $30 US and if you treat it right, will be around for a long time in your backpacking gear locker.
Looking for an indestructible pot with generous capacity and folding handle? Plus a lid? At a low cost?
Here it is:
When you're just starting out as a backpacker, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all of the choices.
Plus, your backpacking budget might not be that large.
So here's a great combination of stove and cookset, with not one but two pots and some nice features:
Here's your stove, 2 liter anodized cook pot with strainer lid, 2 bowls, 2 insulated mugs, an integrated pot handle, and 2 folding sporks, for those of us who hate making a bunch of individual decisions.
Perfect for a beginner backpacking duo who want gear from a great brand as they learn the ropes of backpacking kitchen essentials.
Notice how all of this stuff nests together for one streamlined footprint in your backpack.
Just add a fuel canister, and you're mostly ready to roll in terms of backpacking kitchen essentials.
|MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit | REI Co-op|
If you've already purchased a stove, or don't want a canister fuel option, here's a cook set that gives you two pots, along with dishes for two backpackers.
Pick and choose what to leave behind when you go solo.
That metal thing (with or without) a handle is way more than a pot for cooking a meal.
Let's count the ways a cooking pot does more for you, and know that you're following a time honored tradition among backpackers:
Rely on it to scoop surface water for filtering or purification.
It's a kitchen sink after your meals.
Use it for washing out dirty underwear and socks, or for rinse water after you shampoo your hair and body (away from surface water: Leave No Trace).
It collects rain water if you're needing that in an area where surface water is a long distance from you.
A noise maker sometimes comes in handy in bear territory, so pair your pot with a stick or a rock, and have at it.
Stumble upon a scrumptious berry patch? You got it covered!
And don't forget, it's the best place to store your stove and cooking accessories.
If you decide that one or two hiking water bottles are going to be just fine for providing all of your cooking water, please take a careful look at your water treatment and purification method.
If you're a backpacking water filter pumper, you will have to pump several times a day to keep yourself hydrated as you hike, and again for meals to stay fueled up.
Ditto for purifying small volumes of water via UV light or chemical treatment.
To make kitchen duty as easy and fast as possible at the end of a long day, or to shorten breakfast prep time, consider a collapsible, easy to pack water reservoir for storing treated water in your backpacking kitchen essentials.
MSR makes a series of lightweight dromedary bags, beginning with 2 liters and going up to 6 liters capacity.
Note that you can also purchase a heavier, ultrabuilt version of this bag if you're headed into a dry area where carrying water for long distances inside a backpack is your plan.
Unless you enjoy eating hot food with your hands, and don't mind watching your trail buddy dish out your food with hers, you're going to need a few utensils.
Forget about bringing flimsy plastic spoons from fast food and take-out.
They're just going to snap and leave you staring at your meal.
This lightweight spoon is silicone-tipped to protect your cooking pot's interior.
And it's going to handle (oooh, spoon humor) deep dives into a food pouch or full cooking pot.
Note that this spoon could snap under a heavy load of mashed potatoes, so be careful, or bring a back up.
Or pack this long handled spoon made of aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum alloy:
It's double the price of the plastic long handled spoon, but its durability and spork-y end gives you a bit more for your money.
Once you commit to your stove and cooking pot(s), be sure you have a convenient method for removing the pot from the heat source when it's heavy and full of boiling water.
Wait, isn't that the handle?
Sure, if it has one.
Also note that a full (as in heavy) pot of boiling water or hot soup with a slender handle might mean trouble, so bring a work around.
A pot lifter is one way to achieve a safe lift off.
This ingenious, lightweight gadget will stay in your backpacking kitchen essentials kit forever (or until you lose it).
Note the protective sleeve it lives in.
You don't want to scratch up the inside of the pot this device travels in, do you?
If you bring along a multi-tool which has a knife and pliers, you can eliminate the pot lifter.
Just be sure your multi-tool pliers can lift a full pot off the stove before you leave for your trip.
And hey! Don't forget the can opener...
|Coghlan's Can Opener - Package of 2 | REI Co-op|
If you're really going to bring cans of food, contact me ASAP and I'll talk you down.
Ditto for the corkscrew, wine bottle and glasses.
Unless you know something about gravity that I don't know?
A heat source, a pot to cook in, and a way to get water into the pot and food out of the pot, check!
Now let's turn your attention to some deeply personal decisions you're going to make to round out your backpacking kitchen essentials list.
We'll start with a very important piece of backpacking gear:
And I'm not kidding. (sorry about the can opener)
Welcome to the Spork Clan!
Backpackers make do with this one eating utensil, because it morphs between a fork and a spoon as needed, and totally eliminates the need to carry two items.
|Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork | REI Co-op||
A metal one with a long handle is recommended if you're at all concerned about a plastic spork snapping in the middle of your meal.
Tiny carabiner, also fun :)
Some backpackers do not wish to embrace the spork, relying upon foldable metal spoons like this one instead. It's all good (eatin')!
Absolutely refuse to give up your fork? Backpacking meals are soup-y, so think carefully about complete reliance upon that pronged utensil.
Try this hybrid solution, which can be pieced together for a long handled contraption as shown below, or used separately if you insist.
The cup or mug a backpacker bonds with is a big deal.
Some of us like handles, others simply scoff at the unnecessary weight and added geometric challenge for packing up.
Some of us enjoy a large capacity mug that works for a big dose of tea or coffee, and also can be used to sip a generous quantity of noodle soup.
Other backpackers sip 8 ounces and are good to go.
And you may be the backpacker who fancies a collapsible cup rather than a mug.
But seriously, slow down and consider which option you want to have in your hands meal after meal, day after day.
It's a long term commitment!
This lightweight handle-less cup holds 12 fluid ounces, or a packet of instant oatmeal.
The insulation sleeve is removable and can be tucked inside the mug along with the silicone sip lid.
Nice touch: there are volume markings inside this mug, to help with cooking tasks.
|Sea to Summit DeltaLight Insulated Mug | REI Co-op|
|GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug | REI Co-op||
Although you can't see it here, this 17 fl. oz. mug does have a collapsible handle.
The insulated cozy is made of nylon, and is removable, but why defeat its purpose?
Note the flip lid, to keep the beverage warm while you turn your attention to your food.
Anodized metal more your style? This is going to set you back a bit more in price, but weighs only 2.4 ounces to hold 14 fluid ounces of your favorite beverages.
|Snow Peak Colored Titanium Mug | REI Co-op|
Not much you can do to fancy up a bowl.
Just make sure it's durable and resistant to temperature changes.
And deep enough to accommodate generous portions of food!
|Sea to Summit Delta Bowl | REI Co-op||
Here's a bowl that can be used for all the "re-purposing of a pot" tasks we noted above, plus hold your stew.
Don't forget your furry friend's bowl!
|Ruffwear Quencher Dog Bowl | REI Co-op|
Bring a few items to make your job as a backpacking cook not only easier, but safer.
A hot pad, kitchen glove, small microfiber towel or extra sock helps you handle the stuff that could burn you and ruin your
And for the love of all that is flavorful, avoid mutinous taste buds.
Flavor hacks answer the dilemma of craving something a little different, or one flavor in particular, on a backpacking trip of long duration.
|GSI Outdoors Spice Rack | REI Co-op||
Fill up a spice kit, like this one, and never feel deprived of oregano, basil, curry, cumin, cayenne... and don't you dare forget the garlic powder!
Are you a salt 'n pepper kinda backpacker?
Who needs a spice kit when this will meet all your gustatory needs?
Plus, sodium = electrolyte to avoid muscle cramps
|GSI Outdoors Ultralight Salt & Pepper Shaker | REI Co-op|
A multitool can be a life saver for gear repairs in the field, but also quite handy around the campsite kitchen.
If it includes a sharp blade, so much the better.
Read my review of a Leatherman here.
Now we get even more personal: the things that every backpacker cherishes, sometimes beyond reason.
Here are a few of my favorite essential luxuries that could make your backpacking trip a lot more than just survivable.
Hiking For Her prefers high alpine hiking destinations in the United States, Canada and beyond, which means cold winds, snow fields and the possibility of some heavy weather each and every month of the year.
If you're headed into terrain like this, consider carrying the luxury of a double walled insulated metal bottle with a sip cap.
In the morning, boil extra water and fill your bottle.
Slip it into an easy-to-access place on or in your backpack, along with a tea bag, packet of electrolytes or hot cocoa, instant coffee - whatever will warm you up fast.
It's going to feel so delightful to take that first sip of a hot beverage when you're chilled and possibly wet, and your campsite is still far away!
Pre-heat the bottle with hot water by filling it to the top.
Then pour it out into a pot and use that water for dish washing, rinsing, or personal hygiene tasks.
If conditions are awful, stash the bottle inside an extra sock inside your backpack.
This 7.7 ounce stainless steel bottle holds 17 fluid ounces, so roughly enough hot water for 2 cups of delicious tea or instant coffee.
|GSI Outdoors Microlite 500 Twist Vacuum Water Bottle - 17 fl. oz. | REI Co-op||
Clip your mug's handle to it with a small carabiner, and be ready to brew a re-hydration break that warms you up from the inside.
Another option to consider if you like to mix up your beverage right along with the hot water and sip as you go:
|Klean Kanteen Wide Vacuum Mug with Cafe Cap 2.0 - 16 fl oz| REI Co-op||
This insulated bottle weighing around 11 ounces will hold lots of hot goodness for you.
There are a few scenarios when carrying a knife on a backpacking trip makes sense.
$13 US and 1.4 ounces is all you need for basic camping tasks like those.
|Gerber Mini Paraframe Serrated Knife | REI Co-op||
Keep it sharp and it will be serviceable for years to come
Need a kitchen knife for slicing up chunks of hard cheeses or meats like salami?
Have the time and energy to chop up almonds to top your dinner entree?
This stainless steel blade will set you back 1.7 ounces.
|MSR Alpine Kitchen Knife | REI Co-op|
There are backpackers among us who relish a well prepared cuppa at least once, but more likely, several times per day.
Technology has provided a way to indulge in the wild.
|Jetboil Coffee Press | REI Co-op||
If you're using JetBoil technology to boil water, here's the coffee press that fits.
Be sure to choose the correct version, either Standard or Grande
Another choice, which looks familiar (see blue cozy encased mug above).
Beneath the insulated nylon cozy, you'll find a 30 fluid ounce copolyester carafe.
The insulated lid and plunger mechanism do the hard work of brewing your coffee and keeping it warm.
This isn't a lightweight item to bring along on your backpacking trip: 10.3 ounces per manufacturing specs.
But if coffee makes you feel human, why deprive yourself?
Drip coffee drinkers, you're covered right here.
At 0.4 ounces, it's not much of a weight splurge, now is it!
The bright orange cup with the handle is not included, but we've already covered some great backpacking mug choices above.
Bonus: Discover seven different ways to make outdoor coffee from NOLS.
Go ahead, try to explain the profound satisfaction of a perfectly brewed cup of tea to a coffee drinker.
I know, I've tried.
But if you're like me, you realize how wonderful a pot of tea can be at the end of a long, satisfying day.
Or how plentiful brewed tea helps get you hydrated at breakfast, before you start your long day on the trail.
So here's an indulgence that won't resonate with everyone:
|GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.8 Qt. Tea Kettle - 1.8 Liter | REI Co-op||
Lest you think "what a waste of space!", notice that a fuel canister or kitchen supplies can nestle within.
The handle folds down to save pack space, but locks in place when you put it on the stove.
Why not try some of my favorite teas? Easy enough, with these recommendations!
If the idea of a tea kettle on a backpacking trip is too much to swallow, and you're a devotee of loose teas, this tea filter that fits into your mug of choice (see tips above) is what you need as your backpacking splurge item.
You can share it with your coffee drinking companion, too.
Kitchen tools are mighty important if you're trying to do more than boil water.
This kitchen kit is lightweight and has some great traditional kitchen tools.
Most unique: the pot scraper!GSI Outdoors nForm Crossover Kitchen Kit | REI Co-op
But there's a lot more to like about this kit:
So what's the weight penalty?
And keep this in mind as a nice gift for your trail buddy who whips up amazing backcountry meals for you.
At the very least, invest $5 US in the pot scraper.
Your backpacking food might already be bagged up and ready to go in your plastic bag system.
Or maybe it's all pre-prepared in pouches and packaged in individual portions.
You will also need to pack out every scrap of food waste, wrappers, pouches & paper, so bring at least one heavy duty garbage bag per two people per five days.
To keep critters on all sizes completely out of your food and garbage, you'll need to hang a waterproof food bag, use a bear canister, or invest in a critter proof sack.
Heading into territory where bears don't exist but chewing rodents rule?
RatSack to the rescue!
|Armored Outdoor Gear Ratsack Cache Food Storage Bag | REI Co-op|
Oatmeal stuck to the bottom of the cook pot needs to be dealt with right after a meal.
To make dish washing on a backpacking trip easy, use these detailed tips and suggestions.
And consider that kitchen kit above, because in addition to cooking tools, it's got a towel, soap dispenser, scrubby pad and storage tote to make clean up easier.
|GSI Outdoors Camp Dish Cloth | REI Co-op||
Throw in this microfiber two-sided towel: scrub a pot, or rub off smudges or food spills without scratching a metal surface.
Use the hanging loop to air dry it in your tent, or clip it onto your backpack.
Love that hunter orange!
|REI Co-op Multi Towel Mini | REI Co-op||
At the very least, bring a microfiber towel like this one.
It comes in various sizes, dries so fast you can't believe it, washes out nicely in soapy water, and can be pressed into service for other duties as needed - so bring two!
If you're doing a lot of cooking and don't want to bring a dish towel, you might want to spring for this handy brush and scraper combo.
|MSR Alpine Dish Brush/Scraper | REI Co-op|
Whew! Lots to think about!
We've covered all of the best backpacking kitchen essentials you need to keep your belly full on a backpacking trip while keeping weight, cost and chores to a minimum.
Now it's time to make some decisions about your own kitchen gear list.
Or maybe take a little break, grab a snack, and turn your attention to the food you'll be eating.
These tips will
make you hungry help.
Backpacking Kitchen Essentials For Good Eating
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