What cookware do I need for backpacking

How exciting to travel by rucksack! The bliss of total immersion in nature, the adventure of discovering new places, and the indelible memory of sleeping out under the stars Among the many necessities for a backpacking trip, the cookware you bring can make or break the time spent outdoors preparing meals.

So, how does one go about picking out the best backpacking cookware? Or, what cookware do I need for backpacking? Why don’t we just jump in?

lightweight is the name of the game

1. Lightweight is the Name of the Game

When backpacking, every bit of weight matters.

If you want to be able to cover more ground without getting tired, using lightweight cookware is a must.

Titanium and aluminum are often chosen for this purpose.

They’re lightweight, and they distribute heat well, so your food won’t get overcooked in certain spots and undercooked in others.

2. Durability: Built to Last

You’ve left civilization and entered the wilderness.

What you need is durable equipment that won’t give up at the first indication of trouble.

When choosing the best cookware for backpacking, durability is of utmost importance.

For instance, despite being slightly heavier than aluminum, stainless steel is a material that many seasoned hikers recommend due to its well-deserved reputation for toughness.

space is premium for backpack

3. Compactness: Because Space is Premium

Let’s face it, backpack real estate is precious. Compactness is vital. Many backpacking pans and cookware sets are designed to nest within one another, making them incredibly space-efficient. Some even come with folding handles or other features to reduce their packed size further.

4. Material Matters

Different cookware materials offer varying benefits.

  • Titanium is super lightweight and incredibly strong. It doesn’t conduct heat as evenly as some other materials, but its weight-saving benefits often outweigh this minor drawback.
  • Aluminum is lightweight and offers even heat distribution. However, it can dent or scratch more easily.
  • Stainless steel is highly durable and resistant to scratches. It’s heavier than the other two but can last a lifetime if treated right.

5. Versatility for the Culinary Adventurer

When you’re miles away from the nearest restaurant, versatility in your cookware can make all the difference. A pot that can double as a mug or a pan that can be used both for frying and boiling can be a game-changer. It’s not just about saving space; it’s about expanding your culinary options in the great outdoors.

6. Backpacking Essentials: Accessories

While pots and pans are fundamental, don’t forget about the smaller backpacking essentials in the realm of cookware. Sporks (a combination of a spoon and fork), compact stoves, and lightweight fuel canisters are just as crucial. They play a pivotal role in your outdoor kitchen setup.

backpacking tools

Cookware materials for backpacking

It’s time to choose which materials are best for backpacking pants and pots.


The benefits include being portable, cheap, and a good thermal conductor. 

It is useful for keeping food from scorching as it simmers.

Negatives: It degrades slowly in the presence of acidic foods. 

It scratches and dents very easily.

Aluminized steel

The benefits of this oxidized material include durability and resistance to scratches and abrasion.

There are no drawbacks.

Stainless steel

Stronger and less likely to scratch than aluminum.

It is weightier than aluminum, but thermal conduction is not as even (it can cause hot spots that scorch food).

Benefits include being the lightest viable option without sacrificing durability.

Highly resistant to corrosion, rapid heating, and efficient operation at lower than maximum temperatures.

Negatives: higher price compared to alternatives. 

Has a lower thermal conductivity compared to stainless steel. 

Avoid heating it to an unsafe level.

cookware materials for backpacking

Iron casting

It’s durable, so you can use it for baking and cooking without worrying about it breaking.

Disadvantages: Extremely bulky; not a portable item.

needs special attention.

Anti-stick surfaces (available on some metal cookware)

Easy cleanup is one of the benefits.

Cons: Its durability is inferior to that of standard metal. 

Metal knives and forks scratch most surfaces.


Pros: It’s light, inexpensive, and gentle on the skin. 

Ideal for the storage of cutlery and food in sealed containers.

Disadvantages: not as long-lasting or resistant to heat as metal. 

Some plastics can absorb and hold odors and flavors from food.

Cookware Safety Concerns

cookware safety concerns


Some people ask if using aluminum cookware is unhealthful. Based on reports from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the London-based Alzheimer’s Society, no health risks are associated with the use of aluminum pots, pans, or skillets. States the Alzheimer’s Society: “There is no conclusive medical or scientific evidence of a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.” While not a health concern, cooking leafy greens or cauliflower in aluminum cookware is not recommended since it can impact the taste and appearance.

Nonstick coatings: 

Cookware coated with food-grade fluoropolymer PTFE can emit toxic fumes if severely overheated. Inhaling these fumes can cause flu-like symptoms in humans, and they have been known to kill pet birds. Use caution when cooking with nonstick-coated cookware (don’t use it when broiling food, for example), or consider using uncoated options instead.


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic compound of potential concern for older cookware. All cookware items sold by REI are BPA-free where food or liquid contact the cookware.

cookware for backpacking

Considering the Meals: Cookware to Match

Your choice of cookware should also mirror the backpacking meals you intend to prepare. If it’s just boiling water for dehydrated meals, a simple, lightweight kettle might suffice. But if gourmet camp meals are more your style, then a set with a pot and pan might be in order.

6. Environment-friendly: Leave No Trace

Backpacking is as much about the journey as it is about respecting nature. Choosing environment-friendly cookware, like ones without non-stick coatings that can chip off or those made of sustainable materials, ensures that we minimize our impact and leave no trace.

Other Cookware Considerations

Pot size: The largest pot in your cook set should hold approximately 1 pint per backpacker or camper in your party.

Number of pots: This depends on the type of cooking you plan to do and how many campers are at your party. If you plan to cook dehydrated foods for two backpackers, then one pot is sufficient. More elaborate meals and larger groups require additional pots and pans.

Lids: Lids reduce cooking time, save fuel, and reduce splatter. Some cookies feature a lid for every pot, while others have a single lid that can be used on several different-sized pots. Others can even double as frypans. Certain lids can also serve as plates, which can lighten your load.

Pot lifters or grippers: Make sure you have some way to pick up your pots and pans safely. Most cookies include one gripper for all their pots. Just remember to pack it with you.

The extras: Some cookies come complete with mugs, utensils, plates, and even towels. This is convenient if you’re starting from scratch, or perhaps redundant if you’re not.


While car campers can use traditional kitchen utensils, many backpackers seeking to save space and weight have gravitated to the spork. This handy spoon/fork combo offers great versatility for just a fraction of an ounce. Some sporks even include a small knife on the edge of an outside tine.

Adding to the fun, some sporks are known as foons. Those that feature telescoping handles for pot stirring are cleverly referred to as tele-foons.

Don’t forget to bring spatulas, measuring spoons, and whisks, as needed.

chilling of backpacking

Camp Kitchen Gadgets

Campers don’t have to “rough it” with these appliances on hand:

  • French press: coffee maker (sized for backpackers, too).
  • Dutch oven: slow cooker for meats, stews, and more.
  • Cooking iron: for hot sandwiches.
  • Extension forks: for roasting marshmallows or hot dogs.
  • Popcorn popper: always a hit at the campfire.

Also, bring spice containers, squeeze bottles, and clean-up supplies. See the REI Expert Advice Camp Kitchen Checklist for a comprehensive list.


The right cookware for backpacking is out there, waiting for you to discover it. While the plethora of options can be dizzying, remember to consider your personal needs, the type of meals you plan to prepare, and, of course, the weight and space you can spare.

Embarking on a backpacking adventure is an exhilarating experience. And with the perfect cookware in tow, not only do you ensure a belly full of deliciousness but also memories that last a lifetime. So, gear up, pick the right tools, and let the great outdoors welcome you with open arms!

Happy Backpacking and Bon Appétit! 🌲🍲🎒

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