Building Your Backcountry Kitchen, Part 3: Cookware & Stove Pairings

Keeping yourself well-fed and well-fueled is key to enjoying your time in the backcountry, and so is building a camp kitchen that’s right for your trip. MSR has created a wide array of cookware and stoves to meet the needs and preferences of everyone, from fast-moving soloists to gourmet basecamp chefs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and several camp scenarios that can help you select the best camping cookware and stove pairing for your backcountry kitchen.

3 Considerations for Choosing Your Camping Cookware & Stove

cooking coffee with backpacking stove and kettle
Photo by Per-Eivend Syvertsen

1. How many people am I cooking for?

Are you cooking for just yourself, or are you camping with a friend? Is it a big group that you’ll have to feed? The numbers matter; if you’re a group of four, it doesn’t make sense to haul in four stoves and four 1L pots when bringing one 4L pot can accommodate everyone more efficiently.

2. What type of trip am I taking?

Will you be backpacking, basecamping or using assisted travel (e.g. car camping, rafting, horsepacking)? The nature of your activity, along with your meal preferences, will influence your stove and cookware choices. Thru-hikers and mountaineers, for example, typically prefer ultralight stoves and minimalist cookware that let them pack light and prepare simple meals that usually only require boiling water. Campers and epicureans may choose more elaborate cook systems that can simmer and sauté.

camping cookware materials

3. Which cookware material best meets my needs?

There are several important differences between stainless steel, aluminum and titanium cookware, but the basic specs to compare are durability, weight and cost. Stainless steel is the most durable of the three materials and is great when your cookware needs to take a lot of abuse. Aluminum is lighter than stainless steel and nearly as durable. It makes a great option for weight- and budget-conscious backpackers. Titanium is similar to stainless steel in durability yet extremely lightweight, but it’s also a more expensive option.

Find the Best Camping Cookware & Stove Pairing for Any Backcountry Adventure

Here are camping and cooking scenarios that may help you determine the cookware and stove pairings that will work best for your activities.

Overnight and Multi-day Backpacking Trips

Solo backpacker preparing meal
Photo by Scott Rinckenberger

WHO: Fast-moving soloist backpackers

MEAL PREP: You want to keep meals simple since you won’t have room in your pack for a big stove or lots of cookware. Mealtime typically involves heating water in a small vessel for quick, boil-only meals.

COOKWARE & STOVE RECOMMENDATIONS: An ideal pairing for making simple, one-pot meals is the Titan kettle and the PocketRocket 2 stove. Use the do-it-all kettle as your water-boiling vessel, meal dish and drinking mug. If you need a bigger pot for cooking soup, you might consider the Trail Mini Solo Cook Set. A third lightweight and compact option is a super-efficient stove system (more on this later).

cooking in the backcountry
Photo: Kennan Harvey

WHO: Backpacking pairs

MEAL PREP: Backpacking pairs can share a stove and cookware and split the packing burden. To enjoy nicer meals on your backpacking trip, you can take along a 2-pot set and plates and sit down to a simple but real meal (quesadillas, anyone?).

COOKWARE & STOVE RECOMMENDATIONS: Bring a bigger pot like the one included in the Trail Lite Duo System, which features a tall pot that’s great for cooking and for nesting the rest of the cookware inside. When cooking, the aluminum pot disperses heat more evenly so you don’t have to contend with hot spots. Any add-ons are up to you, such as a coffee press or an ultralight kitchen set, both of which work with the Trail Lite Duo. If you need a two-pot set and still want to travel ultralight, the Titan 2 is a good choice for you.

alpinist snow camping
Photo: Paul Bride

WHO: Alpinists and snow campers

MEAL PREP: When you’re traveling through the snow-covered alpine, your meal preparation will likely entail melting snow for drinking water and rehydrating bagged meals. In these rugged conditions, you’ll want a convenient, fast and fuel-efficient cooking system.

COOKWARE & STOVE RECOMMENDATIONS: You might pair a hardwearing stainless steel pot with an extremely hot stove that runs on white gas, like the extreme-condition MSR XGK-EX. But the most efficient choice for general alpine adventures is a windproof stove system that comes with its own specially designed pot and works in harsh alpine conditions. Stove systems such as the MSR Reactor or WindBurner—the two fastest and most fuel-efficient stove systems in challenging weather—will actually be lighter than a traditional stove when you consider how much less fuel you’ll need to use and carry. This speed and efficiency also make stove systems a great choice for fast-packers going long distances, looking to conserve fuel weight.

Large Groups and Vehicle-Assisted Travelers

Backcountry Kitchen-Dragonfly
Photo by Scott Rinckenberger

WHO: Large groups of backpackers hiking to camp

MEAL PREP: You’re backpacking, so space matters, but you’re set on enjoying a real meal with the whole group.

COOKWARE & STOVE RECOMMENDATIONS: Bring several stoves along with a big 2.5-liter pot (great for cooking pasta), or multiple pots that nest together for easy packing. The DragonFly stove has wide pot supports to handle pots up to 10” in diameter easily, and it’s a master at simmering. The WindPro stove is a lighter, still simmer-capable canister fuel option. For cookware, the MSR Flex 3 and Flex 4 cook systems and the Alpine™ 4 Pot Set are designed for groups and offer the versatility for you to bring only the items you need for a particular trip—backpacking one weekend, car camping the next.

front country cooking
Photo by Bard Baseberg

WHO: Car campers, rafters, horse packers

MEAL PREP: Whether it’s a family camping trip, a vehicle-assisted rock climbing excursion or a rafting adventure, you have the means to bring a full camp kitchen.

COOKWARE & STOVE RECOMMENDATIONS: Cook like you’re at home with a traditional two-burner camp stove and MSR stainless cookware, or perhaps one of our Flex cook systems. For a one-burner option, the DragonFly stove offers precision heat adjustment, a unique feature not always available with white gas stoves. If you’re all about the amenities, you might get the Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set or other MSR accessories designed for your camp cooking pleasure.

Whatever your cooking style or trip requirements—fast, boil-only meals, simple two-pot recipes or simmered gourmet feasts—there’s a stove and cook set designed to support it.

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Updated. Originally Published April 10, 2017.

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