One of the questions that I always address when teaching a workshop on trail food surrounds what is needed from a gear perspective. Many people just starting out with this type of recreation aren’t sure where to start when it comes to the camp kitchen. While my backcountry kitchen essentials gear list varies by the type of trip, time of year, number of people, and menu these are the ten essentials you’ll always find on my adventures.
A Heat Source and Fuel
Your stove choice could be as simple as a homemade pop-can stove that uses denatured alcohol or methyl hydrate. These are best left for a weekend hike because the fuel weight can be greater than other stove types on longer trips or situations where there is more than one or two people. For mid-range trips some hikers choose to use a canister stove because the fuel is light. For longer trips a white gas or naphtha stove is good choice and it is a must have if you will be baking with an Outback Oven. Naphtha stoves are more reliable on trips where the weather will be below freezing—canisters can be troublesome in the cold. Another type of stove that is a great option if you are merely boiling water to rehydrate meals is a wood burning stove. There are many models out there and the only drawbacks are that tinder can be difficult to find above the tree line and that these little wood burning stoves make your pot very sooty. You may even opt for something like a Kelty Kettle which combines the stove with the kettle.
Fuel is a no-brainer, however, I wanted to mention that I’ve found it prudent to take an extra day of fuel in case of an emergency. There have been times we’ve become storm bound or were with a person who had an injury. Having extra fuel can be helpful in those situations.
Pots and What-not
You’ll need a container to boil water or cook in. This is entirely menu dependant and will depend on your style of cooking. There were lightweight backpacking trips where we took a simple kettle and merely boiled water. There are titanium pots on the market that are perfect for one person but if you are in a group you’ll want a larger and more traditional backpacking pot with a pot lifter. If you plan to do more than boil water the material that the pot is made out of comes into play. A non-stick surface is great for the gourmet types who want to actually cook out there. A frypan can be a great tool if you are the type that likes fare such as pancakes, pizza, or fry cookies. Coated/anodized aluminum is a great balance between weight and function as it conducts heat well. Titanium is best left for boiling water only as it tends to have hot spots and is not a good conductor. I’m not a big fan of stainless steel just because of the weight.
A Rehydration Container
This could be a pot that you are already taking or you could use something else. A Ziploc screw top container makes a great rehydration vessel as does a wide-mouth water bottle. The plus side to using a leakproof container such as a water bottle is that you can rehydrate some foods with cool water while you hike. This way you may not need to pull your stove out at lunch. If you do decide to use your pot be sure to set it where it won’t get knocked over. Some people even use freezer bags for rehydration. If that is your preference be sure to take a few extra just in case you have one that leaks.
The use of a cozy is a great way to reduce fuel consumption and to aid in rehydration. By pouring boiling water in your rehydration container and putting it in a cozy you can often avoid having to reheat your meal. This will vary depending on the dish—with meat based fare you may still have to quickly reheat. It is a handy thing to have for multi-course meals too. You can purchase cozies specifically designed for water bottles, pots, and freezer bags or you can make your own out of Reflectix or insulated fabric.
A Vessel to Eat From
Some people like to eat from a Sierra cup and others a bowl. If you are rehydrating in a freezer bag you could even eat from that, however, you may find that a little cumbersome. Solo backpackers may choose to eat directly from their pot. There are some trips where our family has been known to take a Lexan plate for each person.
A Cup for Hot Beverages
If you are using a Sierra cup for your eating container you may not opt for a cup for hot beverages. That said, I prefer to pack one so I can enjoy my morning meal alongside a cup of coffee. To increase the practicality of a mug you could mark increments on the side and use it as a measuring device for rehydration. Insulated products are best.
Spork, Foons, and Cutlery
What you eat with seems to be a very individual thing. We’ve hiked with folks who prefer the simplicity of a spork or foon. Others like to have one of those little three-piece titanium sets that have a fork, knife, and spoon. Some like the full-size Lexan cutlery. Me, well I prefer my little Lexan set which fits nicely inside my pot. On a multi-week trip it is nice to have a few options.
Personal Water Bottle
It is important to plan for each backpacker to use a personal water bottle. I suggest marking them in a way so you’ll know whose is whose. I simply have a little purple biner on mine to distinguish it from everyone else’s. This will prevent illness from being passed around in the event that someone comes down with a cold or flu.
This is a must in many regions to avoid nasties like giardia or cryptosporidium. There are several ways to treat your water. You can boil it but this can use a lot of fuel and leave drinking water tasting flat. Two-part chemical treatments are available and can take anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. Iodine is effective but has an unpleasant taste and will stain your water bottle. Water borne illness can ruin a trip pretty quickly.
It is rare that I get to go on a trip where there isn’t some sort of precipitation. A small tarp made of a lightweight material such as sil-nylon and that can be strung above where you are going to cook and eat is very helpful—it simply makes camp life a bit more bearable. This also keeps one from the temptation of eating in the shelter you’ll be sleeping in; a practice that could prove deadly in bear country.
If you are just new to backpacking this list should help get you started. If you are a seasoned backpacker please feel free to share your own backcountry kitchen essentials list in the comment area below.