Best Backpacking Cooking Gear – How to Choose

Spork Alternative
When you forget or break your spork, locally sourced chopsticks will work.

Backpacking food isn’t going to be a high-end gourmet affair. Honestly, it is rarely even as good as standard camp food because fresh food is heavy and you obviously won’t have access to a refrigerator while on the trail, unless you are backpacking in the winter :). This isn’t to say we don’t carry good fresh food when backpacking but usually, by about third day the quality/fresh food options have dissipated and all that is left is dehydrated food. This is an important realization because it dictates what really makes for the best backpacking cooking gear.

Classification and Rating

Best Backpacking Gear
It is hard to imagine that this is what we have the potential of packing into our backpacks.

Obviously food is important for staying energized while backpacking. Dry food can be carried that requires no cooking gear at all. However, this can be a real bland challenge and in our opinion isn’t a great way to enjoy the backcountry. For this reason, we find the best backpacking cooking gear to be necessary but not essential. Some pieces are even optional. Our A-F rating is to help newcomers to backpacking know where to best spend their budget. Quality cooking gear can last a lifetime if it is maintained properly. There is usually a quality, useability, packability, and weight tradeoff with cheaper products. Check out our best backpacking gear post to see how we rank and rate all backpacking gear in one place.

Quick Links for the Best Backpacking Cooking Gear

Best Backpacking Cooking Gear
A Jetboil, spork, coffee mug, and MREs is all you need to get stay fueled up in the backcountry.

The Best Backpacking Cooking Gear

Food/MREs

If you are going to do anything longer then a two-night backpack you are going to need to eat rehydrated food or a lot of trail mix and trail bars. Many backpackers actually dehydrate their own food. Because we are nomads and a dehydrator is bulky and not all that energy efficient we buy MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). MREs have insane nutrient to weight ratios and a lot of them even taste very good. We intend to do a full post on backpacking food including our favorite MREs but for this post, we need to mention this because the need to rehydrate food dictates what is the best backpacking cooking gear. We do cook some things like roasting hot dogs or boiling noodles but rehydrating MREs is the go-to. The reason for this is everything revolves around a single pot which greatly reduces our pack weight.

Backpacking Stoves

Jetboil
Our Jetboil has been our backpacking stove since 2012.
  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

The first and most important piece to have when choosing the best backpacking cooking gear is a camp stove. Obviously, the lightest option is to source rocks locally and build a fire pit where the fuel source (wood) is sourced locally as well, but this isn’t allowed in many parks. A traditional campfire is also subject to the weather as wet wood is very difficult to ignite. For these reasons you will need to have a camp stove as a part of your backpacking gear.

Solo Stove Lite

The Solo Stove Lite is a modern backpacking adaptation on a traditional campfire. It uses locally sourced fuel like twigs and pinecones to cook food or boil water. This is a nice cooking solution because there is no need to carry fuel in your backpack. So at 9oz the Solo Stove is an extremely lightweight stove. The downside is that many places prohibit backpackers from collecting any material for use in cooking. They also have the same issue with wet fuel being unusable. However, these stoves can be supplemented with an alcohol fuel source when twigs aren’t available or allowed to be collected. The other downside is that they cook slowly and are subject to windy conditions.

Isobutane/Propane Canister Stoves

The other backpacking stoves we will recommend here are isobutane/propane canister stoves. This fuel source is relatively light-weight, efficient, and fairly cheap. However, buy these canisters at your local recreational store as ordering them online is expensive because of the shipment risks. I only put this amazon link here for reference and maybe for those who live far removed from areas where these types of stores are located.

MSR Pocket Rocket

The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Ultralight is a backpacking Isobutane/propane canister stove designed with the bare minimum in mind. It is ultracompact and without a canister, weights 2.6oz. You will of course half to have the fuel canister as well as a pot or pan to do any kind of cooking, but still this is an awesome little stove.

Jetboil Flash

The Jetboil, in my opinion, is one of the best backpacking cooking gear products available, because it comes with a pot that is designed to focus the heat and minimize fuel consumption by reaching boiling temperatures extremely fast. It is able to be used everywhere and in all kinds of weather conditions. As we have discussed you will need a pot with any of the above stoves. The Jetboil Flash (13oz weight) boils water, 16oz in 100 seconds. If you have never seen one of these it is astonishing how fast they boil water. The Jetboil Flash packs within itself (including the 100g fuel tank, not included with purchase) to protect the more venerable pieces when shoving it into your backpack. The downside of the Jetboil Flash is there is no simmer control.

Jetboil MiniMo

For simmer control, choose the Jetboil MiniMo (14oz weight) which also packs within itself but does have a simmer control valve. It isn’t as fast to boil water as the Jetboil Flash but it is still twice as fast as comparable stoves like the Pocket Rocket with a more traditional pot design. The weight on the Jetboils are deceptive when compared with the Pocket Rocket and Solo Stove but don’t forget the Jetboil has the pot built-in and it saves fuel which saves both pack weight and money.

Lighter

  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • F-Rating: Save money as this product often needs to be replaced regardless of the quality.

Some stoves come with an igniter but even so, I recommend carrying a backup lighter. The ability to create a fire not only for cooking but in case of an emergency is paramount to survival. Jennifer and I hike with a lighter in each of our packs just in case we get separated, lose one, or one stops working. We used to carry waterproof matches but a small lighter has proven to be more reliable. Hardcore backpackers even carry flint stones but I find two lighters are sufficient for redundancy. Plus lighting a portable stove with a piece of flint is crazy difficult. Although we have found some fellow backpackers who are incredibly good at it.

Cooking Pot

  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.

I am hesitant to make a recommendation on a good cooking pot because we have only ever really used the Jetboil’s pot when backpacking. We bought it early in our backpacking adventures. Prior to this we carried a kitchen pot and cooked over a campfire, which was really heavy and not recommended. However, I do have some wisdom to pass on here should you go with a non-Jetboil setup. Again for most backpackers, you are using a pot to boil water. The typical MRE needs 400ml – 650ml of water. So a 700ml to 1L pot is going to be sufficient for this.

Stainless Steel

The Solo Stove Pot 900 adds 7.8oz to the Solo Stove setup but the stove itself nests inside the pot. This stove/pot combo becomes a very reasonable setup at just over 1lb and no need to carry any fuel if you are allowed to source it onsite.

Titanium

Of course, titanium is lighter than stainless steel and many manufactures construct their backpacking pots with titanium. If you really want a pan in addition to a pot when backpacking, purchase the Toaks Titanium 1100ml Pot and Pan combo. The combination weighs only 5.6oz. The other nice thing about this design is that it can nest a 200g isobutane/propane fuel canister inside. I’ve thought long and hard about switching to this one day so I can pan fry small pieces of fish sourced while backpacking. Remember that the downside to this over a Jetboil is that it doesn’t focus the heat and will take twice as much fuel to boil the same amount of water. The handles will also inevitably get hot so you will probably need to have some kind of potholder.

Collapsable Pots

The final style of pot is a collapsable pot. When I first spotted these in REI, I thought they were crazy. I really thought the silicone sides would just melt over time. I’ve seen several of the Sea to Summit collapsable pots used out on the trail now and they are kind of amazing. The base is aluminum and the sides are silicone. The obvious advantage is that they collapse to a relatively small size and the silicone will resist getting hot making it a pot that is easy to handle. They must be used on a controlled flame. They will melt on an open campfire.

I’ve listed the X-pot (9oz weight) as well as the kettle (6.5oz weight). The 1.3L kettle is all you need to boil water and packs down very small with only a 5.7″ diameter. The 1.4L X-pot, however, would be a better choice for cooking things like pasta since it has a wider opening and a drain lid. It packs down to a 7.5″ disk.

Spork

  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

Sea to Summit Alpha Light

I feel like I can hear you saying “What! $12 for a spork?” Yeah, the Sea to Summit Alpha Light Long Spork is a bit pricey when compared to a regular $2 plastic spork but the long handle and titanium material is worth every penny. Backpacking gear is about lightweight efficiency. You need a long spoon or spork to mix the contents of an MRE packet after adding in the water. The bags can be deep and a regular-sized utensil isn’t sufficient. Titanium is lightweight but it is also strong. Jennifer and I were on a backpacking trip with a plastic spork in Canada when the spork broke in half inside our packs. There are few things worse when backpacking then having a broken utensil 30 miles from civilization. This is one product I really suggest splurging on.

Backpacking Mug

Bugaboo Coffee Cup
Our light-weight Bugaboo coffee mug is an awesome piece of backpacking gear.
  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

The Jetboil’s lid has a spout built-in so that it makes a great mug as well but since we like to drink coffee and eat our oatmeal at the same time we do backpack with a lightweight titanium mug. This, along with the Jetboil pot, gives us two mugs to enjoy hot chocolate at night because what is a camping trip without hot chocolate?

Bugaboo Mug

After years of hiking with a traditional coffee mug, we finally broke down and bought the less than 2oz GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Cup which is made out of lightweight aluminum and has folding handles. While I do like this mug it doesn’t hold the heat in the liquid very well, but it does hold the heat inside the aluminum. Typically you will burn your lips while drinking luke-warm beverages. That being said the Snow Peak Hot Lips attaches to the side so you can drink out of an aluminum mug before the beverage goes cold. One thing I really like about the Bugaboo is that it doesn’t hold the flavors. Many plastic mugs will always taste like coffee. The aluminum doesn’t hold the flavor so we can drink coffee in the morning, flavored water at lunch, and hot chocolate at dinner without the mug mixing the flavors.

An Alternative Backpacking Mug

I have seen many backpackers carrying the 3.5oz GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug. I like the look of this mug even though it weighs a bit more than the Bugaboo. It has a lid and seems like it fixes many of the issues I have with our Bugaboo mug. If I were in the market today I would give this mug much consideration but for ultralight backpacking the Bugaboo is almost impossible to beat.

Coffee Maker

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

Coffee, optional! Blasphemy! 🙂 When we backpack we carry instant coffee to keep the weight down in our packs. However, if you are one of those people who believe that instant coffee is indeed blasphemous we understand and got you covered. If you need that fresh cup of ground beans, we recommend grounding the coffee before setting out and packing it into a plastic baggy. At 2.9oz and a collapsable frame, this Sea to Summit X-brew is the best way to make a drip coffee in the backcountry. Unlike most of the other collapsible coffee cones on the market, the X-brew has a built-in wire mesh, so no paper filters are needed. This is the lightest way to have a fresh cup of joe on the trail.

Backpacking Bowls or Plates

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

The pot part of our Jetboil also doubles as a bowl. It cools down amazingly fast and has a plastic cover to put on the base as well as a sleeve cover around it that is cool to the touch. MREs are eaten directly from the pouch but we usually have instant oatmeal packets for breakfasts that go directly into the Jetboil pot. If you backpack with kids you might need a few bowls or plates but we just pass the Jetboil back and forth between us. If you find that you need a bowl these 2.8oz collapsable Sea to Summit X-bowls are really nice. We’ve had fellow backpackers rave about how much they love them and the 4.9 X-plates. The base of the X-plate even doubles as a cutting board.

Knife

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.

We typically do not carry a knife on the trail or a hatchet for that mater. In our early backpacking days, I did carry a knife and a hatchet but found that I never used either. The only thing we might ever need a knife for is filleting a freshly caught fish. We do have a fillet knife that we own and sometimes use but it is an old knife passed down to me from my dad. At 4.1oz with a sheath, I think this Morakniv’s 4.1″ long blade would make a good all-around, tough backpacking knife.

Best Backpacking Cooking Gear

Best Backpacking Cooking Gear Pin
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The best backpacking cooking gear will not include everything and the kitchen sink, although there are manufacturers out there that will try to sell you a portable sink. Cooking while backpacking is all about light-weight, efficient gear that gets the job done. Backpacking food usually isn’t glamorous but it can be surprisingly tasty and we will do a post on that soon.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. This is quite interesting!!! This is what anyone would want to get. In fact, on an ideal trip, backpacking cooking is an incomparable gift. I am quite specter expectant some nice to the author. I can read this article 1st then feel the backpacking cooking needs. I will source you for the next trip, may my trip be more relaxed. Thanks ALL

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