Backcountry Cookware

Over the years, I have tried so many times to find the perfect setup for me for cooking in the backcountry, but I am always frustrated by something. As my needs have changed over the years due to my changing circumstances and my advancing age, I have found that while in my 20s, I was perfectly willing to carry an elaborate kitchen setup, approaching 50, I am far less willing, or even able.

After much consideration a few years ago, I settled on using gas canister stoves for cooking, specifically the MSR PocketRocket. My opinion on that front has not changed. Compared to all other kinds of stove systems, a gas canister stove offers by far and away the best tradeoffs of cost, weight, bulk, ease of use, ease of maintenance, flexibility of output, fuel burn rate, and availability. Its only real downsides are that the fuel is petroleum and non-renewable, and the need to pack in and out the weight and bulk of the gas canisters, themselves, even when empty. Unless you are travelling to extremely remote destinations or frequently camping in sub-freezing conditions, I really just don’t see why anyone would choose anything else.

As for the PocketRocket itself, its drawbacks are its relative instability do to its proportions and its inability to use a proper windscreen, but those are not the worst things in the world with which one might have to contend. Yes, there are lighter and slightly smaller options, but the PocketRocket can be considered the benchmark, for $40 USD.

You may recall that I am a big fan of always carrying two of everything, both for the flexibility it offers in cooking and for the ability to share with others, either those one might meet on the trail, or in the event of a pack loss by a backcountry partner. So, you can imagine my grin, when I discovered that there is a good selection of hard-anodised aluminium cookware available. I had long used an MSR Blacklite frypan along with my MSR Alpine stainless steel cookset, but the non-stick coating eventually wore out. I did not replace it, because my style of backcountry cooking no longer involves skillet cooking, and if I happen to be car camping, there are better options. But, aluminium is really the best material for packable cookware, because of its high heat conductance and light weight. Stainless steel and titanium are really awful at heat conductance, and you end up wasting a lot of fuel and burning a lot of food, as a result.

The way I prefer to cook now is to have one pot for boiling water, only, about 1 L size, and have one pot for cooking food, slightly larger, since so many of the cheaper packages of food I find at the grocery store are packaged as four 1 cup servings per package. Being able to buy grocery store dehydrated food instead of expensive, backcountry-specific brands of freeze-dried food saves a *lot* of money, especially since most of what I buy come from the outlet store of my local co-op, where I can find things like boxes of Cook Simple meals that normally sell for $5 ea selling for $1 ea. The weight difference between a 0.7 L pot and a 1.4 L pot is not 100%.

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CookSimple dehydrated meal mixes.

 

I also prefer my pots to have fully closing lids, to keep out curious insects and bits that fall from the sky.

I am seriously considering the GSI Outdoors Halulite line of hard anodised aluminium pots, specifically, the 1.1 L boiler and Microdualist set, which comes with a 1.4 L pot, albeit with a plastic strainer lid. I am hoping it might be possible that the lid from the 1.8 L boiler will fit the 1.4 L pot. The 1.8 L boiler is just too big. I am trying to find out if that lid will fit, and additionally whether or not the 1.1 L boiler can nest inside the 1.4 L pot, or whether I would have to carry them separately, adding to bulk, though thankfully not weight, since the one big draw back of the Halulite pots is that they use steel folding handles that are not easily removable without a hacksaw. Those handles will go first thing, and I will continue to use my MSR aluminium potlifter that came with my Alpine set, which has gone to charity.

 

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GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.1 L Boiler, 8.6 oz (224 g)

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GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist cookset, 18 oz (about 510 g). Pot and lid alone, 286 g (about 9.7 oz), according to Northwest Nature Calls

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GSI Outdoors Halulite 1.8 L Boiler, 11 oz (314 g)

 

It is unfortunate that GSI chooses to publish the dimensions of their products as bare numbers, without any indication whether each number is height, width, or depth/length. Sometimes, I am surprised when I see a company make a product that is *almost* perfect, but has a glaring flaw. It makes me wonder whether or not the people who design these products actually use them. And of course, no reviews are available online of these products which cover the ways I am planning on using them, nor do any local dealers carry the specific items I want to test. I was able to see the 1.1 L Boiler in person at Campmor in Paramus, NJ, a few months ago, at least. If I had the money, I’d just buy all three, and sell of what doesn’t work for me, but I don’t have $150 lying around to experiment with.

My PocketRocket, sadly, was lent to my brother when he wanted to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine, and never returned, so for the time being, I am stuck using my vintage MSR Rapidfire remote canister stove, which is still one of the best stoves ever made, despite its great weight and bulk compared to the PocketRocket. The only minor annoyance is that MSR no longer produces maintenance kits for the Rapidfire, and the o-ring in the canister tap is a bit dried out, so before every time I use it, I swab a little silicone grease around the inside of the tap to ensure a good seal. But, I will definitely replace my PocketRocket before my next outing. The Rapidfire will from now on be dedicated only to car camping or home use. Since my current apartment is electric stove only, I sometimes use my Rapidfire to char chiles for peeling, a task at which it excels.

I am committing to getting out more this year, and I have also decided that I will only be getting out in warmer weather, from now on. I barely have enough time in my life to get out as it is, so there’s no point in me pretending that I have any desire to camp out in the colder halves of Spring and Autumn.

As for tableware, I have my treasured Snow Peak titanium flatware sets and my hollow generic Korean stainless chopsticks, but I am torn between using metal bowls and cups (I do not eat straight from the pot, ever), and using plastic. Plastic is lighter and better with insulation, but also more easily damaged. Titanium is very expensive, and hard-anodised aluminium tableware can rival titanium. The advantage of metal is that it can be used directly on the stove, as well, if needed.

 

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Snow Peak SCT-001 Titanium Flatware set, 1.8 oz (52 g)

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Snow Peak SCT-004 Titanium spork 0.6 oz (16 g, fits in the SCT-001 case, despite the fact that it looks bigger, here)

 

Some of the GSI Halulite cookware pieces, like the 0.6 L pot from the Minimalist cookset, can be used as tableware. The Minimalist has a plastic sippy lid and insulating sleeve, which is great for drinking coffee without burning yourself and having it go cold in three minutes.

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GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist 0.6 L hard-anodised aluminium cookset, 6.3 oz (about 180 g)

 

The hard-anodised aluminium pots from the Trangia #27 cookware set also make good tableware. They are designed to nest and each hold 1 L, so there are “inner” and “outer” versions. Their only drawback as cookware is they do not have lids. They weight 2.8 oz each (about 80 g).

 

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Trangia 27 hard-anodised 1 L aluminium pot, 2.8 oz (about 80 g)

 

Otherwise, there are still the Snow Peak Trek Titanium Bowls, at 1.6 oz (52.5 g) each, also with no lids.

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Snow Peak Trek Titanium Bowl, 1.6 oz (52.5 g), holds 20 oz (0.56 L)

 

I remain very upset that Snow Peak has apparently discontinued their MG-002 stacking Titanium Single Cup II

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Snow Peak MG-002 Titanium Single Cup II, discontinued 😦

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Snow Peak MG-002 Titanium Single Cup II and E-104 Ti-Backpacker’s Cup

 

Well, I’ve kind of run out of steam on this post, so I will leave you with that. These are my recommendations for lightweight, functional, and not incredibly expensive backcountry cookware and tableware. Let me know if you have any great ideas you’d like to share.

Ciao!

Gemma

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