Camping is a great way to connect with nature.
Although many of your vacations might take you to beautiful places filled with breathtaking natural beauty, you don’t really get to experience nature the same way when you are living in hotels and resorts.
While camping, you get to experience nature in its raw form.
This makes camping a great way to combine a sense of adventure with enjoying the great outdoors.
But experiencing nature in its purest form doesn’t mean that you should divest yourself of the benefits of modern human society.
It’s fun to cook on a campfire, but you don’t have to spear cut meat and wild plants on wooden sticks like our ancestors did. Instead, you can opt for sensible camping cookware.
This way, you can enjoy the beauty of nature; seasoned to perfection with a well-cooked meal (this is highly subjective to your cooking skills).
So what would “sensible” camping cookware comprise of?
This is highly dependent upon a few factors. Solo camping is still alive and well, so this might be the first factor in choosing your cookware.
But one thing that influences the choice of cookware the most for a camping trip is whether you are going backpacking or planning a car camping trip.
Car camping is a relatively more relaxed option.
Your car has to do most of the leg work and bear the weight of your gear, so your cooking setup can be a bit more elaborate.
Many people even take portable grills with propane tanks to make for a well-fed camping trip.
This works out especially well if you are camping out near a fishing site.
One the other hand, when you are backpacking, the size and weight of the cookware is a major factor.
You can’t lug half the kitchen around when you already have to carry other necessary gear like your camp, water, first-aid kit, and survival gear, etc.
So you need utensils that are easy to carry around, fit with the other gear, and will still help you prepare a decent meal.
- 1 What kind of cookware is best for a camping trip?
- 2 Can you use a normal pan for camping?
- 3 What is camping cookware made of?
- 4 How do you clean camping pans and other cookware?
- 5 Conclusion
What kind of cookware is best for a camping trip?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions when people are planning a camping trip.
And though every trip is different, there are some features that good camping cookware should posses.
Firstly, you can either have a whole set, or individual cooking and eating utensils.
The benefits of having a whole set are obvious, even if some parts of the set are useless for you.
These sets are designed to fit together. This offers ease of repacking and takes up a minimal place among your gear.
On the flip side, a whole set might cost you relatively more than just packing the essential utensils.
Packing just necessary utensils might limit your cooking options.
And if they don’t fit together well, they might take up more space, constraining the available room for other necessary gear.
To Grill or Not to Grill
Whether or not you are taking a grill with you can have a lot of impact on the rest of the camping cookware.
Even if you are backpacking, there are a lot of lightweight options out there, whole camp stoves weighing just under a pound and collapsible (Firebox Bushcraft Camp Stove Kit).
But if you are not taking any such utensils with you, then you have to depend upon other methods to cook a meal while camping.
You can trench cook, by building a small pit and placing a pan on top of the fire you have built inside the bit (leaving enough airway to keep the flame going).
Or use a crane cooking method, by hanging your pot by its handle over a flame.
But there are limitations to such techniques, which is why it’s usually a smart idea to consider a grill or a camping stove part of your camping cookware.
There is a further difference between a grill and a camping stove.
Some camping cookware might not fit too well with a grill and open campfire and might be better suited to a propane-based camping stove. Some might work fine with fire coals.
Important characteristics of camping cookware
Many things differentiate different types of camping cookware, but every good set (or collection of individual utensils) should have some basic characteristics. It should be:
Cookware should be light enough to carry around.
Weight is also an important consideration when choosing the right material, which we will discuss later, for the camping cookware.
It can also depend upon the number of utensils there are.
For a solo camping trip, you might need the most basic set with minimal utensils, weighing significantly lighter than a set intended for a family meal.
Choosing unnecessarily heavy cookware for a backpacking trip will only contribute to your early fatigue, and an aching back.
On the other hand, packing up a super-light but flimsy set might end up a crumpled mess.
Even if it just bends the wrong way, you might not be able to fit all the pieces together and will have to store different utensils separately, hogging precious space.
This is especially important if your camping involves a lot of movement on foot.
Most cooking utensils intended for camping are built to fit inside each other, so how much space your cookware will take is mostly determined by the largest of the pots.
Some additional features like removable handles and multi-piece utensils, further increase the portability of the cookware.
Easy to clean
You can’t store away dirty dishes in your backpack without it smelling something horrid and creating a mess inside.
Also, keeping dirty utensils to wash later might spoil and contaminate them.
It might make you sick the next time you use them.
Besides, how long your utensils will last depends mostly on how well you keep them. And that requires proper cleaning.
So look for cookware that is easy to clean.
Your cleaning method itself might vary, based on the materials the utensils are made from, and what you cooked in them.
It can be as gentle as wiping them with off with wipes and then cleaning them with fresh water.
Or you may use sand to soak and grind away the leftovers in your utensils (but only if your cookware can handle sand).
There are other desirable characteristics as well, like durability, proper dispersion of heat, and a variety of utensils that allow you greater diversity in your meals.
Can you use a normal pan for camping?
It depends mostly on whether you are backpacking or car camping.
If you are bringing in an elaborate stove set on a car, then you might as well take half the kitchen with you.
But if you are backpacking, a normal pan might be a bit problematic.
Most kitchen pans nowadays are made up of aluminum or stainless steel. And you shouldn’t place either of those materials directly over a campfire.
And while a cast iron pan can easily be used over campfire directly, it is very heavy and hard to carry around when backpacking.
Another problem is portability.
If you ever try to store a normal pan in your camping pack among all the other gear, you will appreciate how much of a difference a detachable handle can make.
In conclusion, it would be smarter to stick with proper camping pans while backpacking.
You can bring some eating utensils from your kitchen, though it’s a good idea to cook and eat in the same pot/pan because fewer utensils equal less weight.
But if you are taking a camping trip where you won’t have to be farther away from your vehicle, and you are also bringing in some kind of camping stove, you can use a normal pan for camping.
Provided that it can handle the elements it will be exposed to during camping.
What is camping cookware made of?
Understanding different camping cookware materials, their properties, and the pros and cons can help you make a better choice.
The most traditionally appropriate choice for camping cookware material is aluminum.
It’s lightweight, it gets heated easily and spreads the heat around evenly.
Therefore, it can be used for frying without burning the food or simmering without scorching.
This makes it perfect for a wide variety of meal options. It’s also corrosion-resistant.
On the downside, aluminum is pliable, which is great when you are shaping it, but annoying when it gets easily bent under weight or pressure.
Also, it’s weak against acidic ingredients like vinegar and tomatoes.
If you are cooking with these, aluminum may breakdown and “leak” a metallic taste to the food. But it’s not as poisonous as previously believed.
Aluminum cookware is relatively cheap, portable, but it can’t take a beating.
Aluminum can be made into a much more desirable material for camping cookware, by oxidizing its surface.
This results in something called anodized aluminum, which is becoming a choice material for cookware, and not just for camping, but ordinary kitchen pots and pans as well.
The reason is simple, anodized aluminum still transmits heat as efficiently as regular aluminum, but it’s much more durable and robust.
So even if you were to pack an anodized aluminum pan with other gear, you wouldn’t have to fear it getting scratched or bent out of shape.
But perhaps the best characteristic is its diminished reactivity with acidic food.
And while it’s more expensive compared to plain aluminum, it’s still cheaper than titanium.
There is another variation within this material.
A process called “hard-anodization” creates an even thicker layer over aluminum, making it more durable but costly.
It’s one of the most sought after camping cookware material.
Since, like aluminum, it heats up fast and saves up a lot of cooking time and fuel, both of which are essential resources while camping.
The only downside is that when it’s non-stick, it requires a bit more care.
When it comes to a “no-care needed” material, cast iron takes the cake (or responsibility for cooking in this case).
It heats up evenly, though not as fast as aluminum. It’s naturally non-stick (if treated right), very durable, and long-life.
But it loses to other materials in weight. It’s over 2.5 times heavier than aluminum.
It also needs to be seasoned appropriately to keep its non-stick nature intact.
If you are car camping, cast-iron can be a great choice of material for your cookware, especially if you are taking a cast iron frying pan or a Dutch oven.
But it might not be suitable for backpacking. In terms of cost, it’s relatively cheaper than anodized aluminum.
Stainless steel is very durable, and relatively harder and scratch-proof compared to aluminum.
But it’s also relatively heavy. If we compare it to cast iron, stainless steel is actually denser and heavier.
But the pots and pans made from stainless steel might come out lighter than similar-sized ones made from cast iron, because of the thickness of the material needed.
Stainless steel is also scratch-resistant. So you can use sand or steel-wool for cleaning.
Stainless steel is perfect for frequent uses and rough camping conditions. But its major downside is its heating capabilities.
It heats up slowly, consuming more fuel and taking more time. And even when it’s heated, it doesn’t distribute heat evenly.
This often results in burned and scorched food.
One way to get around this is the addition of copper layer within the bottom steel layer, but such pans are much more cumbersome and expensive.
But if your cooking regimen is focused around liquid cooking, stainless steel pots might serve the purpose well enough.
The most expensive and robust material used to make camping cookware is titanium.
Its most significant selling point is its weight, as it’s even lighter than aluminum. It can take a beating like a cast iron, and it’s highly corrosion resistant.
Titanium’s problem is heating. It heats up very quickly, and if you aren’t cooking on full heat, it is usually fine.
But its heat distribution starts to be uneven, as heat increases.
It’s usually not as bad as it’s with stainless steel, but it will take some time before you get the hang of it.
For backpacking, where weight is a significant consideration, it’s considered one of the best materials.
Non-stick (Teflon and Ceramic)
Another expensive and relatively high-maintenance option is non-stick pots and pans.
They come in two varieties, Teflon coating and ceramic. They are not as durable as other options.
And though they are much easier to clean, their surfaces (non-stick) coatings are prone to wear from continued use.
It’s not a problem in the case of ceramic, as the substances used for its non-stick coating are relatively safe to ingest. But Teflon particles might not be as harmless.
Another variety of camping cookware that has surfaced is collapsible silicon pots and utensils.
They closely resemble plastic but are much more durable and safer around heat.
When intended as pots and pans, they are attached with an aluminum base that works as the heating surface.
This offers impressive thermal properties and unique storage solutions.
But they are not as durable, and if not used right, they can easily get damaged.
The opinions on which material might be the top choice for camping cookware is a bit divided.
But we have found hard-anodized aluminum to be the best choice, closely followed by titanium.
With each material’s properties, pros and cons, durability, weight, and price considerations, you can choose the option that suits your camping needs best.
How do you clean camping pans and other cookware?
Cleaning up after eating a hearty meal might seem like a tedious chore, but it needs to be done.
How you clean up your cookware and utensils will differ from material to material and whether you have access to water or not.
If you have running water, like a stream or river nearby, you might be tempted just to let the water take care of the cleaning.
But it’s highly recommended that you don’t. Instead, you can bring along a scouring pad, use water from a bottle, and drain it on soft ground where it will get absorbed.
Another, less conventional way to clean your cookware is with dust and little water.
This is for camping trips where you have a limited supply of water.
And it can’t be used on materials that can get scratched easily. Use dry sand, preferably with some dry grass to clean the pots.
Fill the pot with dirt, move it around with your hand, and let it fall. It will leave some dust behind that would have soaked the oil and grease from the pot.
Repeat the process until very little of such dirt remains. After that, use a clean cloth or paper to wipe down the pot properly.
Then pour very little water, swish it around thoroughly and pour out. Repeat until the water comes out clean.
If you are car camping, you can bring in soap or dishwasher as well, but make sure not to dump the water containing chemicals where it contaminates the environment.
But that’s if you don’t have any morsels of food leftovers. Just throwing the food around might not be a good idea.
As it would contaminate a site, and possibly, attract wild animals.
The responsible thing to do would be to pack all the food scraps and used dishwashing wipes if you used them instead of a scouring pad into sealed or freezer bags.
Then dump these at the appropriate or allotted site.
Until you do, don’t keep the food or food waste near your camping site. Otherwise, you will attract wild animals.
There is something beautifully visceral about eating out in nature.
This is probably one of the reasons why so many campers, even the ones that are backpacking, choose to bring in cookware and grills along to cook a proper meal.
Instead of depending upon much more convenient pre-made packaged food options.
So for your next camping trip, make sure you have the right cookware ready.
It will allow you to enjoy a much more fulfilling camping trip.