Choosing A Cooking System: Part 2
This is the second part of a two part series on cooking systems. In this post I will discuss cookware and utensils. The first part can be viewed by clicking here.
As I mentioned in one of my lightweight backpacking posts (see:11 Quick & Effective Ways You Can Go Light), I used to carry everything under the sun. After lowering the weight of the big 3 (shelter, sleeping bag & backpack), my cookware was next as it too was partially at fault for my carrying a 50 lb pack around. Large pots, frying pans, bowls, mugs are great for car camping when weight and space aren't a concern. For the backpacker, in general, these items can add weight fast and take up important space in your pack.
For solo trips, I like to stick with one pot as my cookware, bowl and mug (if I have coffee while cooking I will bring a collapsible mug like the Sea To Summit X-Mug). On group trips I'll bring a larger pot or split the cookware needed with everyone that is on the trip. If this is the case (and depending on variable factors), a frying pan may also make it's way onto the list.
Cooking pot volume is a good factor to take into consideration when backpacking. Most will go with a pot size of between 0.6 L and 1 liter. If you like to eat or cook you'll want to aim for the upper end of this range. For any winter trips, you'll need more volume to get a significant amount of water out of melting snow. This is where a larger pot (pictured below) comes in to play. They are also great for trips with large groups.
Materials are another important factor to consider when choosing your cookware for your cooking system. The 3 you will often see are: stainless steel, titanium and aluminum.
Stainless steel is abrasion resistant and tough. With these characteristics comes weight. It doesn't heat uniformly so the possibility of a scorched meal is there. Stainless steel is reasonably priced.
Titanium is on the other side of the spectrum and is what I prefer to use on all of my trips (I like the 0.85 L MSR Titan Tea Kettle, 4.2oz, see above). Titanium is the lightest option you will find without compromising the cookware's structural integrity. It heats up quickly (don't leave it on heat longer than needed) and efficiently. It is also corrosion resistant. The drawback to titanium is that the lighter weight comes at a price. For long distance thru-hikers, ultralights or those who don't mind the cost, this type of cookware is excellent.
Aluminum is a very popular option for the backpacker and will suit most. It blends the qualities of stainless steel and titanium while remaining very cost effective. It's great for cooking and simmering as you will be less likely to burn anything in it. If you prefer to go with this option, you'll also want to consider hard anodized aluminum and/or one with a Teflon coating (see above). These features will help with abrasion resistance and keep things from sticking to your pot.It will also last a long time.
Plates, bowls, mugs and most other things aren't too necessary for solo trips in my opinion. If I'm out with a large group I am willing to carry a little extra weight or find room for them in my pack so that I can enjoy a nice snack or beverage while tending to meal cooking. If you find yourself in this position or just prefer to bring these extra items with you there are still great lightweight options available.
If you prefer a cooking set over just a pot, there are many great options out there for that type of setup too. Many are designed with the ability to carry your stove and a small fuel canister inside (similar to an integrated canister stove system)(Pictured below is the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist, 10.9oz).
Utensils I feel are a personal preference. You can find them made of the same materials as your cookware along with plastic. I've even used a spoon in the past that I made from aluminum foil. The main thing to ask yourself when choosing a utensil is, "What will my trip meals need?" On most of my trips, I'll have coffee in the morning and a meal bar or some oatmeal. Snacks every couple hours help sustain me during my hiking time each day. Dinner is usually a packaged freeze-dried meal (e.g. Mountain House, Good-To-Go) or something I've made at home using a dehydrator and instant-cook ingredients. I find that a lightweight long handle spork works best for the meals I take (Sea To Summit Alpha Light Long Spork, 0.4oz, see below). The length and prongs on the utensil help me get everything out of the meal pouch or out of my cookware so that I am not wasting anything.
For snacks or meal ingredients that require a little more prep I tend to use my multi-tool knife blade or a small knife. Though I have also had success with using the uniquely designed spork by Light My Fire, 0.2oz (pictured below).
What is your preferred cookware setup? Do you use a pot and separate stove or an integrated system?