When you’re going camping, you don’t want to subsist on packaged, cold foods. Sure, they may be easier to pack and “prepare” but they’re not going to keep you motivated as much as a hot meal will.
Cooking doesn’t have to be an impossible task when you’re out camping or hiking, so it pays to invest in finding cookware that will not only get the job done, but will also be easy to pack and won’t break your wallet.
And because camping cookware is available in such a wide range, it pays to know what the best cookware material is, as it needs to be made to handle the elements that Mother Nature is likely to throw at you. Check out our piece on how to choose the best backpacking cooking gear to help you.
The most commonly used material is metal, but that can range from aluminium to stainless steel to copper. So which one is the best to use?
Benefits of Bringing Cookware
Before we discuss what the best material you should choose from when it comes to your pots and pans, you should consider the benefits of having the ability to make a hot meal every day during your camping trip.
- helps to elevate mood
- if you’re traveling with a group of people, it’s a task that can be rotated (as well as the clean up)
- brings people together to converse while food is cooking
- boost motivation at the start of the day
- exercises creativity with leftovers
- having the modern convenience of home with you
- cold sandwiches get boring
It may seem a bit laborious to have to pack this extra gear with you, but you’ll be thankful for it in the end when you get to have warm oatmeal on a cold morning or a hot quesadilla for dinner.
Cook Sets or Individual Pieces
Looking at camping cookware shouldn’t be difficult at all, but you may be stuck between choosing a cooking set or getting to pick individuals pieces. With a cook set, you get pots and pans and their respective lids, and maybe even a few mugs and plates.
However, you might not need all of this stuff and you’ll end up with pieces you’ll never take with you. Cooking sets are more suitable for those who do car camping and don’t plan on moving from their campsite very much.
With individual pieces, however, you get to pick exactly what you want so that you can minimize on the weight you’re carrying and you’re not leaving out any unnecessary pieces. However, this option may be a bit more pricy in comparison to getting a cooking set.
Buying individual pieces is a task more suitable for those who are backpacking and need to minimize the weight that they carry with them on their trips.
Many of the materials about to be discussed are all beneficial in their own right, but it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your cookware that will determine what kind you get. Some are more beneficial for cooking small light meals, while others are more suited to heavier, richer meals.
There’s also the consideration of weight to be taken into account, as there are those who like to bring as many conveniences with them as possible, while others want to travel light.
Keep in mind that you want to look for materials and products that are free of BPA, as this is a harmful chemical that is created by sunlight coming into contact with certain materials. It can leach into your food and affect the flavor, as well as jeopardize your health.
Some cookware are also available with and without nonstick coatings. This can make it much easier to clean up when you’re done cooking, and you don’t need as much oil when you’re cooking.
However, it’s very easy to scratch off with metal utensils, which reduces their nonsticking properties and causes the coating to break down very quickly. There’s also the risk of inhaling toxic fumes if these coatings are overheated.
This can result in flu-like symptoms, and may result in the death of nearby birds. Exercise caution in controlling the temperature of your flame, or go for cookware without these coatings.
With that said, here are some of the materials that are most commonly used in camping cookware.
- Aluminium: if you’re looking for affordable and something light, then aluminium may be the material you want to go for. Aluminium cookware is extremely lightweight and a good conductor of heat, so you won’t have to wait very long for your food to start cooking and it won’t burn or scorch your food.
However, there are some things to beware of when it comes to using this kind of cookware. Recent scientific studies have suggested that there may be a correlation between the presence of aluminium and the onset of Alzheimer’s, so this may be something you’d like to avoid.
Aluminium also reacts with acidic foods, resulting in an altered taste and your cookware breaking down quickly. Lastly, aluminium cookware can get dented very easily, so if you don’t exercise enough care, it will look like you threw your pots and pans down the stairs.
- Hard-anodized aluminium: this is aluminium that has been treated so that it can withstand a bit more abuse. It is resistant to scratches and abrasion, but still has the light weight of normal aluminium. The process does add a bit more to the price tag, so it may not be for those who are shopping on a budget.
It is normally paired with a nonstick coating, which means that you have to exercise a bit more care in not getting scratched.
It’s also great at conducting heat, so you’ll always have an even distribution of heat and you won’t need as much fuel as you would with other materials. It’s a great choice for those who are cooking fresh or heat-sensitive ingredients.
- Stainless steel: stainless steel cookware can look extremely attractive, and it’s known for being extremely tough, especially in the outdoors. It’s more scratch-resistant than aluminium so you won’t have to treat it with kid gloves when it comes to cleaning.
That makes it perfect those who are particularly rough with their gear and plan to cook a lot of meals. However, there are some drawbacks if this is what you choose to go with.
It’s much heavier than aluminium, and it doesn’t conduct heat as effectively, so you could end up with scorched food in certain parts of your pot or pan and that means losing a bit of your meal in the process.
And because of its poor ability to evenly conduct heat, you’ll end up using more fuel, so it’s not very conducive for those who don’t bring a lot of propane with them or can’t find enough wood.
- Titanium: if you want something that’s both lightweight and strong, then titanium is the answer to your problems. It has all the strength of steel, combined with the lightweight nature of aluminium.
It’s highly resistant to corrosion, heats up very quickly, and distributes a lot of heat throughout your food, even when you’re not using maximum heat. It’s an ideal choice for those who are looking to minimize the weight of their gear as much as possible.
However, for all these benefits, it means that you have to pay a lot more since titanium is not that mainstream in the market. There are also a few drawbacks to going with titanium, such as suffering from hot spots, which can lead to scorched food at the bottom of your pan. You should also take care in not overheating it.
- Cast iron: many people have experienced eating steak from a cast iron skillet at a restaurant, but having one with you on your camping trip is something else entirely. Cast iron is considered to be the epitome of outdoor cooking, and for a very good reason.
It’s extremely tough and will last a lifetime. Not even the toughest treatment is capable of scratching the surface. It’s also naturally nonsticking, so you won’t have to worry about losing this ability no matter how hard to clean your pans.
It works very well over a campfire, and can even be used for baking chicken or even cookies for a sweet treat. On the other hand, its ruggedness comes with the disadvantage of weight, as cast iron is extremely heavy. It’s not really meant for those who are backpacking, but could be used instead for family campers who don’t plan on going anywhere.
The surface of cast iron requires periodic rinsing in order for it to retain its nonsticking abilities, and can be a bit hard to clean after every meal.
- Plastic: plastic is probably the cheapest and lightest cookware you can get, and works well as secondary storage containers after you’ve finished eating.
However, plastic isn’t the best substance to use over open flames, as they’re not very heat-resistant.
It can melt quite easily, and if it doesn’t, the chemicals in plastic can easily leach into your food and make you sick. It’s not the best choice and should probably be avoided altogether.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of cookware for every need, and it’s just a matter of choosing what would most suit your camping style. And don’t forget to include plates, and eating and cooking utensils as well. For the best camping essentials you’ll need, check out our article on this topic.
There would be no point in making a delicious meal, and having nothing to eat it with. There are plenty of travel-size, camping utensils to choose from that are easy to carry and can double as two utensils (such as a spork) to minimize the stuff that you bring with you on your camping trip.