Building your backpacking kitchen from scratch? Upgrading your existing setup? In this post, we’re sharing the backpacking cooking essentials we carry in our kit and why we chose them.
Whether you’re brand new to backpacking or a longtime experienced hiker, one thing remains true: everyone is constantly tweaking their gear setup. It’s just inevitable. We are all searching for upgrades, efficiencies, and improvements. And there is new gear coming out all the time.
Just like hiking itself, the path to the perfect gear setup is about the journey, not the final destination.
If you’re building a backpacking cooking kit from scratch (or if you’re just curious about what a pair of professional food bloggers cook with on the trail!), this post will be a good guide as to what we consider to be essential cooking gear, and we dive into what particular pieces of gear we carry and how we settled on each one.
Our Backpacking Cooking Gear
Food Storage: BearVault BV500 Food Container
The goal of backpacking food storage is to prevent wild animals from accessing human food. This is a central tenet of Leave No Trace and something we take very seriously. Unsecured food can habituate animals to seek out backpackers as a food source. Annoying if it’s a squirrel, menacing if it’s a coyote, and potentially deadly if it’s a bear. Not to mention the broader ecological impact. This is why it’s so important to properly secure your food.
Additionally, depending on where you plan on hiking, certain food storage containers might be required. For example, bear-proof canisters are required throughout much of the West and Rockies. Do your research before you go.
When we’re backpacking, we store our food in a BearVault BV500 Food Canister. Hardsided, bear-proof canisters like this are required in most of the places we like to hike (but we use it even if it’s not required to keep smaller critters out too).
Anything that smells like food goes in the BearVault at the end of the night (food, utensils, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc) and placed 100 feet away from our camp. So any nosey bear looking for a snack will go over there and not to our tent!
There are lots of different types of bear canisters, but we like the BearVault best because it’s made of clear plastic, allowing us to easily spot exactly what we’re looking for.
Stove: MSR Windburner Duo Stove
We have gone through a bunch of different backpacking stove setups over the years. We had previously been using an MSR Pocket Rocket 2 and MSR Ceramic Solo Pot, but recently decided to upgrade to the MSR Windburner Duo Stove.
On our backpacking trips, we usually cook a mix of DIY cook-in-pot meals and boil-in-bag meals. So we needed a cook-system with great simmer control while also being able to bring water to a boil fast. The MSR Winderburner Duo does a great job at both.
While on the surface the Windburner Duo does increase our pack weight, it’s enclosed cook surface makes it far more fuel-efficient than the Pocket Rocket 2. So hopefully we will not have to carry as much fuel, and our meals should be ready a lot faster.
Mug: GSI Infinity Mug
For many years we had Snow Peak Titanium Double Walled mugs. They were expensive but worked great – until they accidentally got run through the dishwasher and lost all their insulating properties. It was a tragic event, but not altogether unforeseeable.
Around this time we discovered the GSI Infinity Mug. We had initially dismissed it because it’s just not a sleek looking as the Snow Peaks, but there is a lot to like about it. GSI’s mug is lighter, more durable, and more compact than the Snow Peak mugs. True, they are insulated with a neoprene sleeve, not of 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. So we switched over to the GSI Infinity Mugs and have been very happy so far.
Oil/Sauce Storage: Humangear GoToobs
These flexible silicone squeeze bottles are the best way to transport oils and sauces into the backcountry. We have used other – cheaper – resealable bottles before and after suffering through a disastrous sesame oil leak on one trip, we ponied up and got these GoToobs.
They have a great double locking feature that ensures when they’re closed, they stay closed – very important to us! They also come in a lot of different sizes, so you can pick the right size for your particular purpose. We also use them to carry shampoo and conditioner while traveling.
Eating Utensil: Morsel Spoon
Nearly all backpacking food can be consumed with a spoon, so why not drop the ridiculous spork nonsense and go with an extra-long spoon. These backpacking spoons by Morsel have a rubberized squeegee edge, allowing you to scrape out every last bite – and make cleaning your pot super easy!
Pssst… Use “FOTG10” to get 10% off your Morsel spoon!
Knife: Opinel #8
Speaking of knives, we carry an Opinel #8 stainless steel knife with us on most of our backpacking trips. Is it as versatile as a multi-tool? No, but we find that generally, the only part of the multi-tool we used was the knife, and at 1.5oz, this Opinel is certainly lighter than a multitool. And while it’s not the absolute lightest knife, we feel much more comfortable cutting off a piece of hard cheese with an Opinel than we would with a folding skeleton blade or some glorified box razor. Invest in good cutlery, your intact fingers will thank you!
Water Filtration: Platypus GravityWorks
Water Filtration System
Up until recently, we had been using a SteriPen ultraviolet water filtration unit. It works well if you have a wide-mouth water bottle, but it wasn’t quite as versatile as we would like it. So we’re switching over to a gravity-fed system. We have some longer hikes planned in our future and we want a serious water filtration system.
Towel: Multi-Use 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.
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s Soap
Most people already know that if you’re backpacking in the wilderness, you should be using biodegradable soap. But what’s even more important is to know 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 (never in a body of water!)
Alpine Start Instant Coffee: Coffee is a critical part of our backpacking morning routine, which is why we’re so happy the instant coffee scene has improved significantly in the past couple of years. These instant packets from Alpine start are a great way to get your morning coffee fix, without having to pack out a bunch of wet grounds.
Kuju Coffee Pourover: For the last morning of our hike, we sometimes pack Kuju Coffee Pourovers. 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.
Cusa Instant Tea: Afternoon teatime doesn’t always fit into the hiking schedule, but when it does we do appreciate being able to have a mug of hot tea without having to pack out the bag.
Nuun Tablets: 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.
BarCountry Cocktails: What better way to celebrate a gorgeous vista than with a cocktail? Pack along one of these pocket cocktail mixers and a little nip of liquor and offer a toast to your trail mates. Barcountry’s current offerings include a Cherry Infused Old Fashioned, Bloody Mary, Coconut Lime Margarita, and Elderflower Moscow Mule.
We run a camp cooking food blog and we still use boil-in-bag meals! Not every meal has to be a gourmet culinary creation – especially when you’re out on the trail. We like to pack a mix of DIY meals and just add water meals. Sometimes you just want to eat, with as little mess as possible. And that’s when you pull out one of these.
We’ve tried a number of meals over the years, and these are some of our favorites:
*PS: When you buy 8 or more backpacking meals at REI, they’ll give you a 10% discount!
Build Your Own Meals
If you’re interested in building your own backpacking meals, REI offers a handful of building block ingredients that can be incorporated into your meals.
Looking for more? Check out our backpacking checklist for all our other tried and true backpacking gear. If you’re looking for meal inspiration, click here for our favorite backpacking food ideas, check out this article about making your own dehydrated food for backpacking, or check out our archive of backpacking recipes.