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The Ultimate Backpacking Kitchen Guide: How to Cook While Hiking

Updated: Nov 3, 2022



Cooking while backpacking can be a challenge. You want to make sure you have enough food, but you also don't want to carry a lot of extra weight. In this guide, we will teach you how to cook delicious meals while hiking without adding too much weight to your pack!

If you're planning on going backpacking, you'll need more than just a few snacks to get you through the trip. Check out this camp kitchen guide for everything you need to make mealtime a breeze.

After reading my guide and downloading the FREE backpacking trip checklist, you'll no longer have to "rough it" by eating unsealed food like nuts and granola bars. You will be able to camp comfortably with all the right gear and planning. Hiking is already a difficult task, so let's reviewed some tips that'll help make your experience more bearable before we check out additional equipment needed for cooking while camping.

Backpacking Kitchen Basics

Keep it light

When dealing with high heat, majority of your cookware, utensils and stoves at camp will be made out of metal- making them extremely heavy. Therefore, it's crucial to make smart decisions when selecting these items.

While you're shopping for kitchen supplies, take note of the weight andounces so that you can add it up. An extra few ounces may not seem like a big difference, but when multiplied by 10 pieces of gear, those ounces start to become unnecessary pounds in your pack (which will only serve to weigh you down on your hike).

You can save weight by packing light items that have multiple uses, like a pot that also serves as your plate, or my personal favorite – a foon (a fork and spoon combo. Sporks are so outdated).

Keep it simple

Oftentimes, to keep your backpack from getting too heavy, you'll have to cut down on the amount of items you bring. So before packing anything for your backpacking trip, think about whether or not you really need the item and if it's worth carrying around with you.

Keep your backpacking cooking kit and food simple. Pack calorie-dense, easy-to-prepare, and easy-to-clean meals. Unfortunately, you'll have to save your seven-layer lasagna recipe for RV camping.

The simplest backpacking kitchen setup is a fire and a stick. If you're daring, try the simplest backcountry cooking setup: fire and a stick.

If you're feeling brave, try the Spam on a stick performance. Skewer your Spam (or Spam flavored tofu if that's your thing) and cook it over hot coals. Eat it like a popsicle until you get an ice spot. To keep heating it, put it back over the fire once again. When you've had enough, burn the wooden skewer.

But since most of us want a bit more, um… “refinement” than Spam on a stick, don’t miss the gear and food guides below.

Don’t forget about water

Don't get so caught up in your backpacking kitchen equipment and camping recipes that you forget to pack some water. You'll need water to drink as well as cleaning solution, so make sure you bring enough water containers or have a way to purify it if necessary.

Ok, so now let’s head on to the FUN STUFF – backpacking kitchen gear!

Basic Guide to Backpacking Kitchen Gear

Let's take a look at some of the backpacking cooking equipment essentials you'll need, whether it's your first or 50th trip.

Heat – Stoves, fuel, and other ways to make fire

The centerpiece of your backpacking kitchen is a means to create fire. Campfire cooking is enjoyable, but for simplicity, speed, and safety, most of us will want to use something else to prepare hot food. So here are some of the top backpacking stove alternatives on the market.

Wood-Burning Stoves

Fuel options for these stoves include sticks, pine cones, and other natural materials. The stove's design keeps a small fire burning hot so that your pot receives maximum heat. However, you don't get the instant heat like you would with a gas stove.

My favorite is the Solo Stove Lite

  • No need to carry fuel canisters or tabs

  • More eco friendly than gas canisters

  • Durable construction shouldn’t give you any problems for years of regular use

  • Perfect for leave no trace travel since it doesn’t damage the ground it’s sitting on

  • Relatively fast cooking

  • Lightweight

  • Take it on planes

Canister Stoves

The small, self-contained gasoline camping stoves that run on propane resemble a miniature barbecue. They have a burner that may be screwed into the top of a pressurized gas canister. They're simple and quick to use since you won't have to start a fire or fill your own fuel canisters.

When purchasing, be sure to check the price and availability of extra fuel canisters. Some of the burner heads will only work with specific types or brands of canisters, many of which can’t be shipped through the mail.

A popular choice is the MSR PocketRocket Ultralight, which is a lightweight canister stove. They're super light (just 2.6 ounces), compact, and even fold up to take up practically no room in your luggage. The bad news is that many don't have their own igniters and aren't always effective in windy conditions without a windscreen.

If you can afford it, the MSR Windburner or Jetboil Flash are both great backpacking stoves. They also have a unique pot and windscreen that allow you to quickly boil water even in strong winds. The Jetboil Flash will even cook pasta in just 100 seconds!

Liquid Fuel Stoves

If you want to be flexible with your fuel canisters and don't want to be restricted to one type, a liquid fuel stove is the way to go. The majority of these stoves allow you to burn a variety of fuels, including white gas, kerosene, diesel, Unleaded gasoline, and jet fuel (for those who have regular access to jet fuel).

Though they require a bit more setup than other stoves, liquid fuel backpacking stoves are definitely worth it. In addition to filling the fuel bottle by hand, you have to connect all the pieces and pump the fuel bottle--though sometimes you also have to prime the stove. Just like with a car, these types of stoves require some regular maintenance too: things like cleaning the fuel hose or changing some O-rings. Here's an option for a good liquid fuel backpacking stove that you can add to your backpacking kitchen supplies.

Backpacking Cook set

There are tons of different options out there for backpacking cook sets. Let’s look at a few things that can help you choose the right one for you.


Camp Cookware Materials

Backpacking cookware and utensils come in a few basic materials, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Aluminum

  • Lightweight

  • Affordable

  • There’s some debate about how safe it is long-term especially when cooking with a lot of acidic foods

Stainless Steel

  • Durable

  • Scratch-resistant

  • Not the lightest option

Titanium

  • Lightweight

  • Heats up quickly

  • A little expensive

  • Doesn’t conduct heat evenly so you’re more likely to burn your food if you overheat it

Non-Stick Coatings (on different metals)

  • Easier to clean up

  • Not as durable in the rough outdoor environment

  • Lightweight, find one at your campsite

  • Doesn’t conduct heat

  • Easy clean-up, just burn it

Plastic

  • Lightweight

  • Good for utensils

  • Not great for pots

Silicone

  • Versatile and durable

  • Better heat resistance than plastic

  • Use to made ultra compact, collapsible backpacking pots and cups

Cookware pieces for your backpacking kitchen

When narrowing down your cook set options, always start by keeping it simple. You can build your backpacking cook set around...

….a tall metal cup with a handle – it’s rough, it’s rugged, it’s versatile.

With a little cup/pot like this, you can do a lot. It may be used to boil water, prepare soup, oatmeal, tea, and other things. However, it not so large that you cannot use it as a drink cup. Some ultralight solo hikers only take a tall metal cup and a long-handled spoon with them on their expeditions.

What food should I pack in my backpacking kitchen?

Again, we stated before... Keep it simple. Avoid the five-course feasts at the expensive restaurants. You'll enjoy more success if you prepare one-pot dishes that are simple to make and cook while backpacking.

Dehydrated/Freeze-Dried Food

Dehydrated or freeze-dried meals are one of the most basic choices. Because all you need to do is add boiling water, they're extremely simple to use. You might think of something from a drab green pouch that says "army surplus." Don't be scared; dehydrated meals have advanced dramatically.

Even if you don't like them all, keep trying until you find a few that you do. It's worth taking the time to try them out. You can't beat how simple they are to pack and use. Here are some of the best options to consider.

  • Mountain House Beef Stroganoff

  • Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

  • Backpacker’s Pantry Three Sisters Stew

  • Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna

Here are some common ingredients you can use when putting together meals for your backpacking kitchen.

  • Prepacked meats (Like the tuna, salmon, and chicken that comes in the foil packets)

  • Pre-cooked beans and grains in sealed foil packets (Usually these are ones you would just heat up in the microwave, but when camping you can just snip a vent in the top and put the pouch in some boiling water.

  • Preserved meats like pepperoni and salami

  • Instant oatmeal packets

  • Pre-mixed spice packets for easy seasoning

  • Instant coffee (Try Starbucks instant coffee packets, yum!)

  • Ramen noodles

  • Granola

  • Powdered milk (Calorie-dense, easy to pack, and has a lot of different uses.)

  • Nut butter

  • Jerky

  • Hard cheese (Doesn’t need refrigeration)

  • Granola Bars

  • Nuts

  • Dried fruit

  • Minute rice

  • Pasta

How am I going to get my coffee fix?

The only alternative is to combine your coffee grinds with boiling water and then strain them out using your teeth.

If there was only one way to make coffee while camping, I don't think I would ever go! Fortunately, there are many ways you can make coffee while on the trail. These range from using a simple drip filter that rests atop a coffee mug to more elaborate machines like a stainless steel french press or an espresso machine!

Here are some of the best options to add to your backpacking kitchen for making delicious coffee on the trail.

GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip – Simple, lightweight, easy to use

Stanley Adventure All-in-One, Boil + Brewer French Press – A versatile multi-purpose pot that can also be used as a french press. What makes this even better is that you don't need any additional pots to make water.

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee Packets – This instant coffee is so good, you'll never miss your regular brewed coffee again.


Check out some other great content from: Camping for foodies

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