Choosing camp cookware is not a one size fits all solution and with time and enough experience you will settle down with a cooking kit that suits you but its good to know your options and how different camp cooking utensils are going to make outdoor cooking easier.
Here we go through the pros and cons of the materials used to make camp cookware along with a few handy tips to make your choice simpler.
Deciding What Cookware You Need
Depending on the way you camp there is a restriction on the type of cookware you will be interested in, if you stick to organized campsites and use your vehicle to get there then weight of cookware is never going to be a problem but if you are a backpacker specializing in wild camping then anything you can do to save on weight is always important. Thankfully we live in an age of super light durable metals and plastics that have produced a whole range of lightweight camping gear for the long distance backpacker.
The amount of cookware you need is going to come down to personal preference, the amount of people you have to cater for and how much weight you are happy to carry (or shared between everybody who wants to eat). A lone set of cookware can consist of very little and scaling up for a group doesn’t necessary involve a great cash outlay as long as you are prepared to develop a system of dual use for some of the bigger cookware, once again this will come with experience over time.
The Basic Option
Personally I like to travel really light and for my solo wild camping trips cookware is never more than a metal cup for coffee, a 12 inch enamel cooking dish and a small aluminum pan with my camping knife doing the job of any cutlery. This does change though when my partner Michelle (the other half of Wild Terrain) comes along because even though she likes wild camping doesn’t see why she should “eat like a neanderthal” (her exact words).
Choosing the Right Cookware Materials
Choosing camping cookware is easier to deal with if broken down into the materials used to make them and as outside cooking presents a different set of problems for utensils, materials that perform well and enjoy a long life in your household may not cope with a summer of camp cooking.
One of the most common materials used to make camp cookware Stainless steel is an affordable option for any camper. May not be the best cooking solution for the backpacker due to it being one of the more heavier metals used to make cookware but will take a fair amount of abuse before it becomes unusable.
Heat resistant plastics have come a long way in recent years and are being used more and more in the kitchen and do have their place in camp cookware. Their lightweight makes them ideal for the backpacker but campsite cooking can involve a lot more direct heat than cooking at home which will break down the plastics over time.
Plastics can retain the taste of food and smoke which is made worse sometimes by not having the same effective cleaning facilities that are available at home.
Lightweight and conducts heat very fast enamel is one of my favorite pieces of cookware and using a shallow enamel bowl for frying really cuts down the cooking time for thin slices of meat and vegetables. Enamel does have the major drawback of being fragile and can chip very easily but can be bought at such a low price they are basically throw away items.
Good camping kit is going to cost a bit more but this usually means its going to last that much longer and going for the Titanium option is the ultimate solution in lightweight cookware for the backpacker. Titanium is very tough and will withstand many camping trips so if you can justify splashing out that little bit extra on top of all the other money we spend on camping gear every year Titanium cookware will serve you well.
The soft nature of Aluminum causes so many problems with scratching when used in an outdoor environment but they tend to be very cheap to buy. A perfect lightweight alloy for the backpacker if the Titanium option is too much cost as long as they are cleaned properly after cooking to avoid damage(sometimes not completely possible when camping).
Two Things to Avoid When Buying Camp Cookware
1. When selecting cookware always stick with a solid one piece construction so that any pan handles have a permanent joint and are not bolted on. Cookwares life in the outdoors is going to be tougher than around the home and anything you can do to minimize failure will make things much easier and keep you fed.
2. When cooking over an open fire there is very little control over the amount or direction of heat unlike cooking in a kitchen so under no circumstances buy anything you intend to put on a camp fire that has plastic handles. These handles are usually molded around flimsy bits of wire that are not strong enough to lift a full pan once the plastic has burnt away.
Things get really hot on an open fire so invest in a quality pot grabber so you can keep those fingers away from the steaming pans and unpredictable flames.
Further Reading… Easy way to start a campfire