No matter where and how we're camping, food is always involved. Cooking is an essential part of the camping experience and it should be an enjoyable one because there's nothing better than enjoying a nice meal with hopefully a great view! In this post I'll break down camp cooking into two categories: backpacking and stationery. Continue reading to learn more about the things that are important to us to bring on camping trips and what you should consider bringing on your next trip to help make meal time easier.
When we're stationery camping with the camper or have the wall tent set up, we're able to bring a little more "modern" comforts to the outdoors. Here is a list of the essentials for cooking in the wilderness that we normally wouldn't have on a backpacking trip:
1 - Folding camp table - Having some sort of a folding table that's easily transportable is huge. It's a place to cook, a place to prep food, and a place to put things other than the ground. We ended up buying two of these because they're so lightweight and compact.Camp chairs - We swear by our zero gravity chairs for the ultimate camp comfort! If you wanted something less bulky, we also love these tripod chairs or you could bring lightweight backpacking chairs.
3 - Camp stove - The search for a good camp stove led us to this particular one. We like it because it can use both propane and butane and it's 10,000 BTU. You really want something that's at least 10,000 BTU for optimum heat and effective cooking. This burner doesn't have windscreens, but we make do on our own with whatever's available and try to position the burner away from the wind, usually our vehicle acts as a wind barrier.Cooking utensils - Having the right equipment is key and cooking is no exception. We used to just take spatulas and tongs from the house and that quickly became inconvenient and life became better once we upgraded to having a set of utensils dedicated for camping.
5 - Pans - We really love having the cast iron pans for cooking, they hold up great and are pretty simple to clean up and they don't warp. We have used the lightweight camping pans in the past which are fine, but they wear out super quick in our experience and we haven't found something we like yet. Another key element to include here is a cast iron Dutch oven! The pans that are linked make their own version of a Dutch oven, but we also have a dedicated one. Best used for Dutch oven lasagna and brownies.Dutch oven liners - We have used these to line the inside of our Dutch oven while cooking over fire and over a wood burning stove. They hold up nicely and really help streamline the cleanup process.
7 - Cooking Grate - If you wanted to cook over a fire, this folding grate is the perfect surface. We have cooked steaks and put the Dutch oven skillets on top and it gets the job done well!
8 - Plates - While camping, especially with minimal water, the trick with these plates is to place a paper plate on top to reduce mess and clean up. That way you have a hard eating surface that won't flail and you'll have less dirty dishes. In our eyes, you're either using precious water resources or creating a small amount of waste, so we opt for latter option to keep things simple. Do what works best for you!
9 - Insulated mugs - For your morning coffee and evening beverage, an insulated mug is nice to have to keep hot things hot and cold things cold. Having one with a handle is an added bonus and surprisingly handy (pun intended). In the mornings we like to use instant coffee because it's mess free and not time consuming and if you're a slow coffee drinker like me, your drink will stay warm for hours. In the evenings we use them to make cocktails or pour a beer in them.
10 - Telescoping roasting sticks - We picked these up on a total whim to have in our "kitchen sink" (more on that below) and I'll never go without them again! The fact that you can roast brats or marshmallows and rotate using one hand is super awesome and beats having to find sticks to roast with, which is what we used to do!
11 - The "Kitchen Sink" - we bring this everywhere we go for any kind of car or tent camping. It's basically a small but tall storage bin that holds literally everything, but the kitchen sink and I highly suggest you build your own! In it we have small, miscellaneous things that you would need for cooking like a small cutting board, aluminum foil, spices, a kitchen sponge, small bottle of biodegradable soap, collapsible sink, small mixing bowl, it's also where we keep our utensils and coffee!
^Our camper and wall tent set up in the Utah wilderness
Things are a lot more streamline when it comes to backpacking because you can only carry so much on your back, so what goes into your pack matters. For camp cooking you really just need a few things:
1 - Jet Boil - A cooking system is a tool we bring on any camping or road trip, not just backpacking trips. We use it to boil water for coffee and backpacking meals. I've even used it to boil water to wash my face (after its cooled down). There are other options out there like this MSR system that is ultralight, however we found it to be unstable and more of a hassle, so it's really just a preference thing!
2 - Instant coffee - We aren't coffee connoisseurs and happily use instant coffee in the wilderness! It's more efficient than using a pour over and still tastes great! Our favorites come from local coffee shops or from Starbucks.
3 - Collapsible cups - When you can't bring an insulated mug, these collapsible cups are the next best thing! They are heat protective so you won't burn your hands when you want a hot beverage and being collapsible makes them light weight and compact.Spork - You could get a mess kit, but all you really need is a good ol fashioned spork. Most people these days are hiking with freeze dried meals which means your meal is contained within a package and you don't need a plate or bowl. Super handy! These sporks are heavy duty and light weight which makes them perfect for backpacking. 5 - Freeze dried backpacking meals - These light weight and easy to prep backpacking meals are amazing. They are pretty dang tasty and have most of the nutrients that you need while you're backpacking (ie: protein, sodium). All you need is some boiling water to cook your meal and a utensil to eat it with. When you're finished you can roll it up and zip it closed and put it in your trash bag! Super simple, super easy and there's many brands to choose from. It also doesn't hurt to have some snacks. Our go to's are protein bars, jerky, nuts, and candy for dessert.
If you made it this far, keep in mind that this list of things is meant to be a resource and reference for you. We know and see the value in bringing them for us, and your values may be different and that's okay! Regardless, we hope that it's helpful to you in one way or another. Continue reading for a few of our favorite camp recipes.
I'm Chuck Black, landscape and wildlife artist based in Southwest Montana.
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