Building your backpacking kitchen from scratch? Upgrading your existing setup? In this article, we’re sharing some of our favorite backpacking cooking gear.
When we’re backpacking, we tend to focus on two things: the beautiful scenery, and what we’re eating for dinner! While tents and backpacks tend to get the most attention in backpacking gear guides, seeing as how much joy meal time brings us on the trail, we wanted to take a moment to shine the spotlight on our favorite backpacking cooking gear!
In this post, you’ll find our top recommendations for backpacking cooking equipment as well as the items we personally carry in our packs.
Of course, we know there’s more to backpacking than the food, so you can click through to our backpacking checklist for the rest of our gear suggestions.
There are a ton of backpacking stove options on the market. It is such an expansive topic we wrote an entire article about our quest for the best backpacking stove. But for this article, we’ll just share the highlights.
After testing dozens of backpacking canister stoves, the JetBoil MiniMo integrated cook system was one of our favorites. It was unbelievably fuel-efficient across a wide range of conditions (wind and cold temps), has excellent simmer control, and comes with a convenient piezo ignitor.
Whether you need it to just boil water or simmer a DIY dehydrated meal, this stove is our top pick. If you know you’re only ever going to need to boil water and you want to save some money, the JetBoil Flash is also a solid choice (it just doesn’t offer any simmer control).
MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe
If you are looking for a stand-alone canister stove, we highly recommend the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe. We have used the original Pocket Rocket and Pocket Rocket 2 for years, but the improvements in Deluxe are just too good to ignore. During our testing, it was a standout. The concave burner design and lipped edge make it very wind-resistant, it has very good fuel efficiency over a range of conditions, and the ignitor is the best design we’ve seen yet.
AOTU Canister Stove
If you are looking for a budget-friendly beginner stove, look no further than this AOTU stove! We tested a lot of different stoves, and this one is an incredible value. It has a very competitive performance compared to other premium brands, features four sturdy pot supports, and even comes with a piezo ignitor—all for less than $20! While it’s not the lightest option (it’s not the heaviest either), for the price it’s an absolute steal!
The above-mentioned stoves are what we would recommend for the majority of recreational backpacking in North America. If you want to explore all the different backpacking stove alternatives, we cover many of them in our Best Backpacking Stoves article.
The type of backpacking cookware you need will depend on your group size and style of cooking. Most store-bought “just-add-water” backpacking meals require between 350mL-500 mL of water to rehydrate.
If you are adding your own dehydrated meals to the pot, you need to account for the volume of the water and the dehydrated food. Properly sizing your pot can be one of the trickiest parts of any backpacking kitchen.
Be Aware: the stated capacity of many pots is often less than the recommended max fill!
Toaks 550 ml or 650 ml (solo hikers)
These narrow-bodied, all-titanium backpacking pots by Toaks are some of the lightest weight options on the market. Titanium is a very conductive metal, making these pots ideal for rapidly boiling water. However, they are not very non-stick, so avoid low and slow simmers. Either a 550 mL or 650 mL pot would be suitable for a single person.
Toaks 750 ml or 900ml (for two people)
These are larger capacity versions of the Toaks pots listed above. Generally speaking, we prefer to have a backpacking pot that is a little “oversized” for our needs. It’s nice to have extra water for coffee in the morning or for washing up in the evening. You can always add less water to a larger pot, but you can’t add more water to a smaller pot. Either a 750 mL or 900 mL pot should work well for two people.
MSR Ceramic 1.3 liter (for two people)
If you need a pot that will not only boil water but also has a non-stick surface so you can simmer food, we recommend this MSR Ceramic pot. It has a lightweight and conductive anodized aluminum construction, but the inside has a non-stick ceramic coating. We have used this pot extensively and think it’s great.
A DIY Pot Cozy is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to increase the performance of your backpacking cookware. An insulated pot cozy will allow you to rehydrate food WITHOUT simmering. Not only does this save fuel weight, but if you only need to boil water you can buy a lightweight pot. See our step-by-step instructions to make your own.
We know that purchasing new backpacking equipment can really add up, so check out our favorite websites for finding discounted backpacking gear. We also have a great deal for our readers: save 15% off your first order at Backcountry.com using our code “FRESHOFFTHEGRID” at checkout (exclusions apply).
If you fall into the “ultralight” backpacking category, then you will probably forgo a dedicated mug and drink your coffee right out of your pot. We prefer to have separate mugs, so we can have our breakfast and morning coffee at the same time!
GSI Infinity Mug
While there are a lot of very expensive double-walled titanium mugs on the market, we’re big fans of the vastly more affordable GSI Infinity Mug. The Infinity Mug is lighter, more durable, and more compact than some of the titanium versions. True, they are insulated with a neoprene sleeve, not a double-wall vacuum. But we don’t need to keep our coffee warm for 8 hours when we’re backpacking. 20 minutes is plenty. We hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail and JMT with these mugs and loved them.
If you’re a solo hiker, there’s no reason not to eat right out of the pot. You do not need a bowl. However, if you are hiking with a partner, and cooking both of your meals in the same pot at the same time, and your partner can’t be trusted to stay to their half of the pot, then bringing along one bowl so as to divide the food and keep the peace at mealtime might be justified… This is an entirely hypothetical scenario 😉
Snow Peak Titanium Bowl
Since this bowl is being brought solely as a way to keep things civilized, it should be as lightweight as possible. This titanium bowl from Snow Peak is only 1.6 oz.
In our experience, virtually all backpacking food can be consumed with a spoon. There is no need for a 3-in-1 spork, which only succeeds in performing all three tasks poorly. All you need is an extra-long spoon and a dedicated knife.
Morsel XL Spoon
These backpacking spoons by Morsel have a rubberized squeegee edge, allowing you to scrape out every last bite – and makes cleaning your pot super easy! These are the spoons that we took with us on the JMT and we loved them. Pssst… Use “FOTG10” to get 10% off your Morsel spoon!
This Opinel stainless steel pocket knife is what we take with us on every backpacking trip. It has a decent size blade, the handle is sturdy, and we have a lot of confidence cutting with it. No, it’s not the lightest nor is it a multi-tool. But it’s a good quality, relatively lightweight knife at 1.5oz that we enjoy using.
How you store your food while backpacking will often depend on where you are backpacking. Obviously, you need to keep your food protected from critters (mice, marmots, raccoons), but protection from bears is not only critically important—but often subject to specific regulations. Many western National Parks and the parks throughout the Rockies require them.
BearVault BV500 Food Container
We own two of these BearVault BV500 food containers and use them whenever we are backpacking in bear country. This container is approved for use throughout the US (including Yosemite) and will fit inside most standard-sized backpacks. There is also a smaller version if you don’t need the extra capacity. The screw-top lid is the least annoying method we’ve used so far, and the clear-sided walls allow us to locate what we need.
These flexible silicone squeeze bottles are a good way to transport oils and sauces into the backcountry. They have a great double locking feature that ensures when they’re closed, they stay closed. They also come in a lot of different sizes, so you can pick the right size for your particular purpose.
Clean up and dishwashing
Depending on your method of cooking, you should have very minimal (if not zero) cleaning up to do after each meal. However, it’s still a good idea to have a few supplies on hand to make sure everything gets put away clean (and as free of food odors as possible).
Dr. Bronner’s Soap
Most people already know that if you’re backpacking in the wilderness, you should be using biodegradable soap like Dr. Bronner’s. But what’s even more important to know is how to use it properly. Biodegradable soap needs bacteria in the soil to help it break down, which is why it should only be used over 200 feet away from a body of water and never in a body of water.
Multi-Use Quick Dry Towel
After washing up, we use a small multi-use quick-drying towel to dry everything off. Air-drying has never worked well for us, especially when we’re trying to get moving in the morning.
Water filtration and water bottles
While you might not think of it as part of your backpacking cooking setup, the ability to filter and store water is an essential part of backpacking. While weight is important to consider, ease of use can be just as important a factor as well.
Platypus GravityWorks Water Filtration System
Platypus makes a 2-liter and 4-liter version of this GravityWorks Filtration system. We took the 4-liter system with us on the JMT and really enjoyed using it. The large, zip-top bladder can be easily and quickly filled, the in-line pump is intuitive to use, and from there gravity does all the work. While this is a “heavy” filtration system (11.5 oz), we really liked being able to fill up water once at night and have enough for dinner and breakfast the next morning without having to return to the water source.
Sawyer Mini (in-line)
The Sawyer Mini is a compact and ultralight water filtration system. While it can be used in many different configurations, the Mini’s narrow body and modest through-put seem to perform best as an in-line filter, where the filter is attached to a water bottle or reservoir that is filled with dirty water.
The Sawyer Squeeze is a slightly bigger water filtration system than the above-mentioned Sawyer Mini. While it can be used in a variety of configurations as well, an ideal method is to fill a reservoir with dirty water, screw the Sawyer Squeeze on, and squeeze the water through the filter into clean water bottles or a water reservoir. The wider body and increased throughput of the Squeeze make this batch filtering process (by squeezing) much faster than with the Mini.
We hiked the JMT with Nalgene water bottles and regretted it. They were far too heavy. All the serious ultralight hikers were using SmartWater bottles. (An empty Nalgene weighs 6.5 oz while an empty SmartWater bottle weighs only 1.2 oz) Additionally, a Sawyer Squeeze or Mini can be screwed on to them as used as in-line filtration.
Backpacking coffee and tea
While we love a warm cup of coffee in the morning, there is no way we’re cleaning up and dealing with a bunch of wet grounds. Therefore, we can’t in good faith recommend any backpacking brewing options. Thankfully, the instant coffee market has really improved in recent years. It is now possible to have a truly excellent cup of coffee—from instant.
This is the Rolls Royce of instant coffee. Voila Coffee is a local company here in Bend, Oregon, that has developed a unique freeze-drying process for coffee. The process results in instant coffee that tastes every bit as good as a fresh pour from a 3rd wave coffee shop!
Alpine Start Instant Coffee
If you’re looking for a more economical daily brew for out on the trail, we can also recommend Alpine Start. This was the coffee I drank every morning on the JMT. This is a very solid cup of coffee that blows old-fashioned instant out of the water.
Kuju Coffee Pourover
For the last morning of our hike, we sometimes pack a Kuju Coffee Pourover. It’s a single-use portable pour-over, with real coffee grounds. The result tastes just as good as a cup of coffee at home and can be a real morale booster. You will need to pack out the wet grounds, though they do stay contained in the pour-over so there’s no additional cleanup needed.
Cusa Instant Tea
Not only has the instant coffee market improved, but now there is even instant tea! Cusa makes a variety of different flavored instant teas that fully dissolve into water. No teabag necessary. Enjoy a hot cup of tea in the afternoon or an “iced tea” with lunch using freezing cold mountain stream water!
Coffee and tea aren’t the only drinks suitable for the trail. Below are a handful of special occasion drinks. While don’t dedicate a lot of room to these, a nice cool fizzy water or an end-of-the-day cocktail can be tremendous morale boosters.
Remembering to drink enough water is the easy part (and it’s not even that easy). Replacing all those electrolytes can be the real challenge. These dissolvable tablets from Nuun are a great way to replace all those critical electrolytes while making your bland water taste bubbly and fruity. These have been real lifesavers for us on warm-weather hikes.
What better way to celebrate a gorgeous vista than with a cocktail? Pack along one of these Barcountry pocket cocktail mixers and a little nip of liquor and offer a toast to your trail mates.
Developing a backpacking meal plan and figuring out what food to pack is beyond the scope of this article, but you can check out our best backpacking food post for more on that topic. However, if you’re in need of a few quick recommendations, we wanted to briefly mention a few of our favorite store-bought meals.
While a dehydrator isn’t a part of your “on trail” cooking gear, we consider it to be an important piece of backpacking cooking equipment. No one piece of gear has the potential to have such a positive impact on your overall backpacking cooking experience. If you are interested in dehydrating your own food, here are the two models we’d suggest.
Nesco Snack Master 75
The Nesco Snack Master was the first dehydrator we bought and it has allowed us to develop dozens of backpacking recipes over the years. For a beginner, it’s perfect. It is affordably priced and performs nearly as well as the top-end models. This is a great dehydrator and we still use ours today.
Cosori Stainless Steel
We recently upgraded to this Cosori stainless steel dehydrator for a couple of reasons. It’s very very quiet, it has trays that are dishwasher safe, and it has a self-shut off timer. Since we do a lot of dehydrating, the Cosori offered a few more convenient features that we wanted to take advantage of.
Interested in making your own dehydrated meals? Check out our Dehydrating Food for Backpacking Guide! Expand your meal options, bring your cost-per-meal down, and reduce your pack weight.
Looking for more? Check out our backpacking checklist for all our other tried and true backpacking gear. For meal inspiration, check out our best lightweight backpacking recipes, our favorite backpacking meal ideas, and our guides to vegan backpacking food and gluten-free backpacking food.