The White Monkey Talks Gear: Cooking Systems

Aug 13, 2012 by

In watching new backpackers, I always notice they bring too much “stuff.” A good rule of thumb is take out half of everything you’ve packed, and then really scrutinize the remainder.

One area where newbies really seem to go overboard is with their cooking system. By that I mean the plates, the bowls, the silverware and of course, the cooking pots.

The Writer and I have seen people literally bring their kitchen minus the kitchen sink. And they’re planning on cooking some five-course meal – and then wonder why they can’t feel their back.

Yes, you can make up some great gourmet meals on a backpacking trip. But it takes planning, and it’s harder to do with just one or two people. But we’ll leave that for another time – the idea of how to really cook gourmet on the trail, that is.

Here’s what The Writer and I take on, say, an average two-night trip. Breakfast is coffee or tea (your choice), maybe some instant oatmeal or dried fruit (that’s primarily for me). Lunch may be cheese and crackers with some sliced pepperoni or summer sausage; or even just the good old GORP eaten throughout the day. If it’s cold, maybe some instant soup. Dinner might be one of those freeze-dried dinners from companies that specialize in backpacking meals – Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry, for example.

Actually, those meals are pretty good. They’ve got breakfast meals and dinners are actually pretty tasty, everything from beef stew or stroganof to chicken enchiladas. Really, the whole gamut.

But here’s the kicker. Every one of those meals, other than the ready to eat, just need hot water to cook. In other words, all you really need is a small pot to boil a couple of cups of water.

That’s it.

If you’ve got an old, small and lightweight pot in your kitchen cabinet, feel free to use it. The Writer and I know some who just use an old Army canteen cup.

But if you’re interested in a little better quality, and probably lighter system, there are three companies that stand out: GSI Outdoors, MSR and Snow Peak.

Each of these companies offer their own cooking systems, from a minimalist solo kit up to sets that can easily handle four hikers.  And it’s really a matter of personal taste.

One key point: Whatever company you go with, try to stay with it. That’s because you can add other items, an extra pot or cup for example, and each company designs them to fit inside another one. If you start mixing and matching different company products, you’ll find they won’t fit as well and you’ll end up taking up more space.

For example, the Snow Peak 700 pot fits inside the 900 pot, which in turn fits inside the 1400 pot. It’s harder to get a GSI pot inside a Snow Peak pot.

Some are made of aluminum, others titanium. Some are non-stick, others are not.  Snow Peak sets are all titanium, they are the lightest, but give the impression of being a little more flimsy, but they really aren’t. The Writer likes the handles best on GSI units. again, it’s all a matter of personal preference.

The Writer varies between a couple of different sets: The GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Soloist cookset or one of the Snow Peak sets – like the Snow Peak Trek 700 (he also takes another mug along).  His preferred mug/bowl is the GSI nesting mug/bowl, which is triangular-shaped and has an insulated cup inside another cup, both plastic. Two for one so to speak. Others like to take a steel or aluminum mug so they can cook with that as well. Plastic does not cook well.

When you get down to it, all you really need in most cases is something to boil water, something to drink your coffee or eat your soup/oatmeal out of, and something to eat with.

You don’t need to bring a tablecloth, you don’t need multiple dishes and bowls and coffee cups.  One pot, one cup/bowl, one spoon. Or if you’re crazy radical, a spork.

Here’s some links to the three most popular companies with their various cooksets and reviews:

GSI Outdoors

Snow Peak


Until next time, see you in the woods.



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