An Expert Guide to Backpacking Cookware

Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. compiles her suggestions for some of the best backpacking stoves and cookware out there.

A silver, metal kettle sits on a portable stove outside. Someone stands next to it.

Photo by Sean Benesh

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There is nothing better than eating Annie's Mac N’ Cheese out of your ultralight pot after a long day of hiking. You finally set your backpack down, take off your hiking footwear of choice, and relax for the evening. Maybe it’s just me, but food—really any food—tastes so much better when you are surrounded by trees and warming up in your sleeping bag after a beautiful day of peaks, valleys, and incredible terrain. But what stove are you cooking on and what utensil should you bring? What should you consider when looking? In this article, I will give you suggestions for some of the best backpacking stoves and cookware out there.

Camping and backpacking stoves/cookware can be very different. Backpacking gear will be a lot smaller, lighter, and often more expensive, whereas camping gear may be a bit bulkier and heavier since they can all fit in your car (but not your backpack). Camp stoves more often than not will have two burners to make bigger and more complex meals than you may have while you are backpacking. But when you are in the backcountry, a backpacking stove and pot may be the ideal choice.

Utensils

Let’s start with utensils. My favorite is the spork for backpacking/camping. I use a Sea To Summit Ultralight Spork that I purchased for myself on a road trip through Durango, Colorado after I lost my other one. This one came with a mini carabiner so I instantly attached it to my key ring and it hasn’t left since. Like I said before, I keep it on my keychain for two reasons: 1.) you never know when you will need a spork; and 2.) it is a great conversation starter. For example:

Person without spork: “Hey, why do you have a spork on your keychain?” Me: “Why don’t you have a spork on your keychain?”

See what I mean?

Sea to Summit also makes an ultralight fork, spoon, and knife if you aren’t interested in the spork. They are very affordable and will bump up your camping life.

Another lightweight option for a utensil is the UCO Utility Spork, which is double-sided with a fork and spoon on each end. This is extremely budget-friendly and is great for those who want both a fork and spoon in a non-spork configuration.

Pots/Pan

When I go backpacking, I bring one pot that I cook in and then eat out of. Think, how much oatmeal can I fit in this pot? That will answer, is this pot big enough for me? I recently purchased the Soto Amicus Stove Cookset Combo, which includes a self-igniting stove and two stackable pots (one doubles as a lid), weighing a total of 11.2oz, all wrapped in a mesh bag. I highly recommend this option for a budget-friendly, lightweight backpacking stove and cook set combo. Just screw the stove onto the IsoPro Fuel canister and start cooking!

For a single pot option, the MSR Trail Lite 1.3L Pot is a fantastic choice. The lid has a strainer built-in, a foldable handle, and is designed to last. This durable pot is perfect for those wanting one-pot dinners after a long day on the trail.

If you are interested in a frying pan, the GSI Outdoors- Bugaboo 8in frypan is a nonstick, lightweight option great for backpacking. It has a folding handle and higher sides for bigger meals!

A pour-over coffee station with a Jetboil is set up on the ground. There is snow coating the ground in the background. The Jetboil lets off steam.

Photo by Kyle Peyton

Mess Kits

Looking for a one and done purchase for backpacking? Mess kits and cookware kits often will have a pot, utensil, and some container for your food/mug. Others will include a stove. Here are some of the best options!

The GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist is a great two person mess kit that includes two mugs, a 1.4L pot with a strainer lid, two sporks, two bowls, and a welded sink. Weighing in at 1lb, it is great for backpacking but would work just as well for any camping trip.

The MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit comes with a stove, two mugs, two sporks, and two bowls in a 2L pot. The total weight is 25oz and would work great for backpacking or camping.

Fuel for Your Stove

Stoves are often the most difficult camp kitchen item to choose from as there are so many options. There are many different kinds of fuel that stoves use. I’m a fan of Isobutane Propane for ease and simplicity. However, others may prefer an alcohol stove (denatured), white gas, a solid tab, or wood burning stoves. Be careful of smoke, embers, and of course any fire regulations that may be in place.

Wood-burning stoves are great if you don’t want to carry your fuel, but rather find it along the way or near your campsite. Some areas will have regulations against this, be sure to always check. But more importantly, what if all the wood is wet or what if you go to an area without wood (aka a desert)? That being said, these can be very efficient. Remember to check fire regulations and don’t start a forest fire friend!

I truly believe the Isobutane Propane (IsoPro) fuel stoves are the most user friendly, but keep in mind that at high altitude they do take longer to boil water. Obviously fast boil times are preferred in all situations. The faster it boils, the sooner you get to eat!

Solid fuel stoves are compact and lightweight and easy to use, which is great for backpacking. However, the solid tabs often smell (like raw fish), can be difficult to clean up, and are often more expensive than IsoPro. Not my favorite choice, but they are great for being very light and easily packable.

I haven’t used alcohol or white gas stoves myself, so I can’t speak from experience. Alcohol stoves require an additional purchase of a pot holder/pot support. All that being said, my go-to fuel is the IsoPro option and I highly recommend it to all users.

A pot and ladle are set directly onto a fire. A piece of wood serves as a handle to the pot. The ground is snowy in the background.

Photo by Alaxey Ruban

Stoves

Backpacking stoves should be compact, light, durable, and ideally, should boil water quickly. Boil times are often a big factor in the decision to buy this or that stove. Other features for stoves include self-ignition, wind screens, stability legs, flame control, how efficient fuel usage is, and a regulator.

As I mentioned earlier, the MSR Pocket Rocket Stove has been called the holy grail of backpacking stoves. It uses IsoPro fuel and can boil water in under 3 minutes. It weighs absolutely nothing (2.6oz), folds up tiny, and can fit into most pots for better packability.

The Solo Stove Lite can be used with alcohol as fuel, but also has a spot to collect ash for easy clean up. It is a bit pricier than the MSR Pocket Rocket but is incredibly lightweight.

A slightly heavier, wood-burning option is the nCamp Gear- Compact Wood Burning Stove. Collect small kindling on the way and enjoy cooking over an open flame. This stove can pack down small and won’t add too much weight to your pack. A cool feature is the fuel adapter, which will allow you to use other kinds of fuel with the stove. The MSR Windburner Stove is another great wind burning option.

Another popular IsoPro Stove is the JetBoil Mighty Mo Stove. This weighs less than a deck of cards at 3.3oz, uses half the fuel consumption of other products to boil water in under 3 minutes, and folds down to 2 by 3in for a low volume profile. Simple, durable, and portable. Check, check, check. The JetBoil flash and JetBoil MiniMo are two other amazing JetBoil stoves that are great for backpacking.

A black and white image of a Pocket Rocket stove sitting upside down.

Photo by Mareck Pwinicki

Some other questions to ask yourself about the stove: Does it have a self-ignition (in case you lose or forget your lighter)? What kind of fuel canister will work with this stove? Does this stove come with a windscreen or is that an additional purchase (windy conditions can make cooking difficult)? Is my stove made out of titanium or another metal? What kind of stability does this stove have? Does it easily fall over?

If you need any help finding the right stove for your camp kitchen needs, chat with me or one of my fellow Camping & Hiking experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations. What adventure will your stove accompany you on next? Let us know!

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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