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 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, including 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).
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We have been very happy with the Soto WindMaster and feel it definitely lives up to the hype on backpacking forums. The concave burner design is a clearly superior design, creating a strong and focused flame. The high-lipped edge and squat position of the pot supports do a great job of minimizing the effects of the wind.
The generously sized pot stand is collapsible and detachable, so it hardly adds to the overall bulk of the size. But it does allow you to have a very stable cooking surface. This has become our go-to canister stove and what we carry with us on 9 out of 10 backpacking trips.
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!
BRS Ultralight Stove
The BRS ultralight stove is by far the lightest weight canister stove on the market and comes with a very attractive price tag. It also had surprisingly competitive fuel efficiency and boil time when operated under dead calm conditions.
However, the BRS stove is extremely vulnerable to wind. Not only will strong gusts blow it out, but even a light breeze can wreck its fuel efficiency. This can be counteracted by setting up a windscreen, but you will need to be vigilant about it.
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.
In terms of pot style: Narrow-bodied pots will fit well on smaller burner stoves and are best for boiling water or rehydrating liquidy meals. Wider-bodied pots need a broader cook surface and are best for simmering dehydrated meals and can be much easier to eat out of.
In terms of sizing: If you plan on using store-bought backpacking meals that just need boiling water, you can safely assume each meal will require between 350mL-500mL of water to rehydrate. If you plan on adding homemade dehydrated meals to the pot, you will need to account for the volume of the water and the dehydrated food.
Be Aware: the stated capacity of many pots is often less than the recommended max fill!
Sea To Summit Alpha Pot
Starting in the 2021 backpacking season, we switched over to the Sea To Summit Alpha Pot and have been really happy with it. The pivot lock handle is really secure in both positions and the bottom of the pot is textured so it doesn’t slip around on the burner.
We find the 1.2L version to be the smallest capacity pot we can get away with for two of us–two people, cooking mostly homemade dehydrated meals in the pot. The 1.9L version would definitely give you a little more cushion.
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.
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.
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! Sealable mugs are also great for making cold-soak lunches.
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.
Sea to Summit X-Bowl
The X-Bowl is another great option. It weighs 2.8 oz and with its collapsible silicone sides, it can be flattened down to more easily fit in your pack.
ZipLoc Twist & Lock
Cheap, lightweight (1.4 oz), and surprisingly durable—look no further than a Ziploc Twist & Loc container. These versatile little containers have a water-tight lid which makes them perfect for cold-soak meals as well!
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.
Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon Long
This is a great lightweight long spoon that is perfect for stirring in tall, narrow-bodied pots as well as getting to the bottom of those store-bought backpacking meals.
MSR Folding Spoon
While moving parts always introduces a potential fail point, this lightweight folding long spoon by MSR is very cleverly designed to minimize space in your pack.
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.
Backpacking cooking kits
If you are just getting started and need to build your backpacking cooking gear from scratch, you might want to consider purchasing a bundled kit that is made to nest together for compact storage.
Soto Amicus Cookset
For just over $50, this stove and pot cook set is a great deal and weighs only 8oz. The Soto Amicus stove is a pretty decent performer and the 1L pot means you’ll have plenty of room to boil water for a meal and a hot drink.
Pocket Rocket Deluxe Kit
This cook set bundle includes an MSR PocketRocket Deluxe (one of the best performing canister stoves), a 1.2-liter pot, a lid lifter, and a lightweight bowl for your trail partner. It’s a great stripped-down set for two people that weighs about 13oz.
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 areas throughout the Rockies require them. To learn more, check out our in-depth guide about bear canisters.
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.
Ursack makes two lines of lightweight bear-resistant bags: the Major and the AllMitey. The Major bags are bear-resistant only, while the AllMitey bags are bear and critter-resistant. Both styles come in a variety of sizes.
The main advantages of an Ursack bag include being lightweight and compressible in size. However, the main disadvantage is its lack of approval in many national, state, and local parks across the country. For the most up-to-date list of where Ursacks are and are not allowed, visit this helpful map on their website.
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. Check out our article about the best backpacking water filters for a more in-depth look at different models and how they compare.
The Katadyn BeFree is an ultralight (2.3oz) water filter that connects to a soft flask. You can squeeze the water through into another water bottle, use the filter cap to drink straight from the flask, or even rig it up as a gravity filter.
It has a super-fast flow rate, though you should expect it to decrease over time. Choosing clear water sources will help maintain the flow rate, as will swishing the filter around in clean water from time to time.
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.
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.
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!
Dehydrating your own backpacking meals gives you ultimate control over ingredients and variety, and over time it’s far cheaper to make your own food than to buy commercially made meals.
Check out our article on the best food dehydrators for an in-depth comparison of the top models currently on the market. Here are a few of our favorites:
Nesco Snack Master 75
This was our first dehydrator! We used the Nesco Snackmaster for years while learning the basics of dehydrating. It lacks many of the features of higher-end dehydrators but it is still a very functional unit. The most annoying thing about this machine to be aware of is that there is no on/off button—if you want to check on your food or shuffle the trays, you have to unplug the machine to turn the motor off.
What it lacks in features, however, it makes up for in its low price. While there are many “affordable” dehydrators on the market, the Snackmaster 75 is a tried-and-true basic model that won’t let you down.
Cosori Stainless Steel
We eventually 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.
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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 and our favorite backpacking meal ideas.
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