Best Backpacking Cooking Gear – How to Choose

Spork Alternative
When you forget or break your spork, locally sourced chopsticks will work.

Backpacking food isn’t going to be a high-end gourmet affair. Honestly, it is rarely even as good as standard camp food because fresh food is heavy and you obviously won’t have access to a refrigerator while on the trail, unless you are backpacking in the winter :). This isn’t to say we don’t carry good fresh food when backpacking but usually, by about the third day the quality/fresh food options have dissipated and all that is left is freeze-dried food. This is an important realization because it dictates what really makes for the best backpacking cooking gear.

Classification and Rating

Best Backpacking Gear
It is hard to imagine that this is what we have the potential of packing into our backpacks.

Obviously, food is important for staying energized while backpacking. Dry food can be carried that requires no cooking gear at all. However, this can be a real bland challenge and in our opinion isn’t a great way to enjoy the backcountry. For this reason, we find the best backpacking cooking gear to be necessary but not essential. Some pieces are even optional. Our A-F rating is to help newcomers to backpacking know where to best spend their budget. Quality cooking gear can last a lifetime if it is maintained properly. There is usually a quality, useability, packability, and weight tradeoff with cheaper products. Check out our best backpacking gear post to see how we rank and rate all backpacking gear in one place.

Quick Links for the Best Backpacking Cooking Gear

Best Backpacking Cooking Gear
A Jetboil, spork, coffee mug, and a few freeze-dried meals are all you need to stay fueled up in the backcountry.

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The Best Backpacking Cooking Gear


If you are going to do anything longer than a two-night backpack you are going to need to eat rehydrated food or a lot of trail mix and trail bars. Many backpackers actually dehydrate their own food. Because we are nomads and a dehydrator is bulky and not all that energy efficient we buy manufactured freeze-dried meals. Freeze-dried foods have an insane nutrient-to-weight ratio and a lot of them even taste very good. We intend to do a full post on backpacking food including our favorite freeze-dried meals but for this post, we need to mention this because the need to rehydrate food dictates what is the best backpacking cooking gear. We do cook some things like roasting hot dogs or boiling noodles but rehydrating freeze-dried food is the go-to for any trips longer than two nights. The reason for this is everything revolves around a single pot which greatly reduces our pack weight.

Backpacking Stoves

Our Jetboil has been our backpacking stove since 2012.
  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

The first and most important piece to have when choosing the best backpacking cooking gear is a camp stove. Obviously, the lightest option is to source rocks locally and build a fire pit where the fuel source (wood) is sourced locally as well, but this isn’t allowed in many parks. A traditional campfire is also subject to the weather as wet wood is very difficult to ignite. For these reasons, you will need to have a camp stove as a part of your backpacking gear.

Solo Stove Lite (REI)

The Solo Stove Lite is a modern backpacking adaptation of the traditional campfire. It uses locally sourced fuel like twigs and pinecones to cook food or boil water. This is a nice cooking solution because there is no need to carry fuel in your backpack. So at 9oz, the Solo Stove is an extremely lightweight stove. The downside is that many places prohibit backpackers from collecting any material for use in cooking. They also have the same issue with wet fuel being unusable. However, these stoves can be supplemented with an alcohol fuel source (REI) when twigs aren’t available or allowed to be collected. The other downside is that they cook slowly and are subject to windy conditions.

Isobutane/Propane Canister Stoves

The other backpacking stoves we will recommend here are isobutane/propane canister stoves. This fuel source is relatively lightweight, efficient, and fairly cheap. However, buy these canisters at your local recreational store as ordering them online is expensive because of the shipment risks. I only put this amazon link here for reference and maybe for those who live far removed from areas where these types of stores are located.

MSR PocketRocket (Backcountry, REI)

The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Ultralight is a backpacking Isobutane/propane canister stove designed with the bare minimum in mind. It is ultra-compact, comes with a plastic storage container that can also house a small lighter and without a canister, weighs 2.6oz. You will of course half to have the fuel canister as well as a pot or pan to do any kind of cooking, but this is an awesome little stove complete with simmer control.

Jetboil Flash (Backcountry, REI)

The Jetboil, in my opinion, is one of the best backpacking cooking gear products available, because it comes with a pot that is designed to focus the heat and minimize fuel consumption by reaching boiling temperatures extremely fast. It is able to be used everywhere and in all kinds of weather conditions. As we have discussed you will need a pot with any of the above stoves. The Jetboil Flash (13oz weight) boils water, 16oz of water in 100 seconds. If you have never seen one of these it is astonishing how fast they boil water. The Jetboil Flash packs within itself (including the 100g fuel tank, not included with purchase) to protect the more venerable pieces when shoving it into your backpack. The downside of the Jetboil Flash is there is no simmer control.

Jetboil MiniMo (Backcountry, REI)

For simmer control, Jetboil manufactures the MiniMo (14oz weight) which also packs within itself. It isn’t as fast to boil water as the Jetboil Flash but it is still twice as fast as comparable stoves like the Pocket Rocket with a more traditional pot design. The weight on the Jetboils are deceptive when compared with the Pocket Rocket and Solo Stove but don’t forget the Jetboil has the pot built-in and it saves fuel which saves both pack weight and money.


  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • F-Rating: Save money as this product often needs to be replaced regardless of the quality.

Many backpacking stoves come with an igniter built in but even so, I recommend carrying a backup lighter. The ability to create a fire not only for cooking but in case of an emergency is paramount to survival. Jennifer and I hike with a lighter in each of our packs just in case we get separated, lose one, or one stops working. We used to carry waterproof matches but a small lighter has proven to be more reliable. Hardcore backpackers even carry flint stones but I find two lighters are sufficient for redundancy. Plus lighting a portable stove with a piece of flint is crazy difficult. Although we have found some fellow backpackers who are incredibly good at it.

Cooking Pot

  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.

We bought the original Jetboil early in our backpacking adventures. Prior to this we carried a kitchen pot and cooked over a campfire, which was really heavy and not recommended. However, recently we purchased a titanium pot and a pocket rocket to have simmer capabilities for cooking some Right on Trek backcountry meals. This is a very nice combination for shorter backpacking trips. For longer journeys, we still prefer our Jetboil because it uses less fuel. Again for most backpackers, you are using a pot to boil water. The typical freeze-dried meal needs 400ml – 650ml of water. So a 700ml to 1L pot is going to be sufficient for this.

Stainless Steel

The Solo Stove Pot 900 adds 7.8oz to the Solo Stove setup but the stove itself nests inside the pot. This stove/pot combo becomes a very reasonable set up at just over 1lb and no need to carry any fuel if you are allowed to source it onsite.


Titanium is lighter than stainless steel and many manufacturers construct their backpacking pots with titanium. We choose the 1.2L (6.6oz) Sea to Summit Alpha Pot (REI) for our simmer-controlled backpacking needs. I really like how the pot’s handle stores over the lid, holding everything in place. This allows us to store the isobutane/propane fuel canister and pocket rocket case safely inside the pot. The lid also has a tab on the underside that clips to the edge of the pot. This keeps you from having to place the lid on the ground while using two hands to steady and stir the food inside the pot.

If you really want a pan in addition to a pot when backpacking, purchase the Toaks Titanium 1100ml Pot and Pan combo (REI). The combination weighs only 5.6oz. It can also nest a 200g fuel canister inside. I’ve thought long and hard about switching to this one day so I can pan-fry small pieces of fish sourced while backpacking. Remember that the downside to this over a Jetboil is that it doesn’t focus the heat and will take twice as much fuel to boil the same amount of water. The handles will also inevitably get hot so you will probably need to have some kind of potholder.

Collapsable Pots

The final style of pot is a collapsable pot. When I first spotted these in REI, I thought they were crazy. I really thought the silicone sides would just melt over time. I’ve seen several of the Sea to Summit collapsable pots used out on the trail now and they are kind of amazing. The base is aluminum and the sides are silicone. The obvious advantage is that they collapse to a relatively small size and the silicone will resist getting hot making it a pot that is easy to handle. They must be used on a controlled flame. They will melt on an open campfire.

I’ve listed the 9oz X-pot (Backcountry, REI) as well as the 6.5oz kettle (Backcountry, REI). The 1.3L kettle is all you need to boil water and packs down very small with only a 5.7″ diameter. The 1.4L X-pot, however, would be a better choice for cooking things like pasta since it has a wider opening and a drain lid. It packs down to a 7.5″ disk.


  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • B-Rating: Prioritize weight savings and design on a quality product if you can.

Sea to Summit Alpha Light (Backcountry, REI)

I feel like I can hear you saying “What! $12 for a spork?” Yeah, the Sea to Summit Alpha Light Long Spork is a bit pricey when compared to a regular $2 plastic spork but the long handle (make sure to order the long handle version) and titanium material is worth every penny. Backpacking gear is about lightweight efficiency. You need a long spoon or spork to mix the contents of a freeze-dried meal after adding in the water. The bags can be deep and a regular-sized utensil is not sufficient. Titanium is lightweight but it is also strong. Jennifer and I were on a backpacking trip with a plastic spork in Canada when the spork broke in half inside our pack. There are few things worse when backpacking than having a broken utensil 30 miles from civilization. This is one product I really suggest splurging on.

Backpacking Mug

Bugaboo Coffee Cup
Our lightweight Bugaboo coffee mug is an awesome piece of backpacking gear.
  • Classification: Necessary Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

The Jetboil’s lid has a spout built-in so that it makes a great mug as well but since we like to drink coffee and eat our oatmeal at the same time we do backpack with a lightweight titanium mug. This, along with the Jetboil pot, gives us two mugs to enjoy hot chocolate at night because what is a camping trip without hot chocolate?

Bugaboo Mug (Backcountry)

After years of hiking with a traditional coffee mug, we finally broke down and bought the less than 2oz GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Cup which is made out of lightweight aluminum and has folding handles. While I do like this mug it doesn’t hold the heat in the liquid very well, but it does hold the heat inside the aluminum. Typically you will burn your lips while drinking lukewarm beverages. That being said the Snow Peak Hot Lips (REI) attaches to the side so you can drink out of an aluminum mug before the beverage goes cold. One thing I really like about the Bugaboo is that it doesn’t hold the flavors. Many plastic mugs will always taste like coffee. The aluminum doesn’t hold the flavor so we can drink coffee in the morning, flavored water at lunch, and hot chocolate at dinner without the mug mixing the flavors.

An Alternative Backpacking Mug

I have seen many backpackers carrying the 3.5oz GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug (REI). I like the look of this mug even though it weighs a bit more than the Bugaboo. It has a lid and seems like it fixes many of the issues I have with our Bugaboo mug. If I were in the market today I would give this mug much consideration but for ultralight backpacking, the Bugaboo is almost impossible to beat.

Coffee Maker

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

Coffee, optional! Blasphemy! 🙂 When we backpack we carry instant coffee to keep the weight down in our packs. However, if you are one of those people who believe that instant coffee is indeed blasphemous we understand and got you covered. If you need that fresh cup of ground beans, we recommend grounding the coffee before setting out and packing it into a reusable plastic baggy. At 2.9oz and a collapsable frame, the Sea to Summit X-brew (Backcountry, REI) is the best way to make a drip coffee in the backcountry. Unlike most of the other collapsible coffee cones on the market, the X-brew has a built-in wire mesh, so no paper filters are needed. This is the lightest way to have a fresh cup of joe on the trail.

Backpacking Bowls or Plates

  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • D-Rating: Save some money as the difference in a name-brand product isn’t necessarily worth the cost.

The pot part of our Jetboil also doubles as a bowl. It cools down amazingly fast and has a plastic cover to put on the base as well as a sleeve cover around it that is cool to the touch. Freeze-dried meals are eaten directly from the pouch but we usually have instant oatmeal packets for breakfasts that go directly into the Jetboil pot. If you backpack with kids you might need a few bowls or plates but we just pass the Jetboil back and forth between us. If you find that you need a bowl these 2.8oz collapsable Sea to Summit X-bowls (Backcountry, REI) are really nice. We’ve had fellow backpackers rave about how much they love them and the 4.9 X-plates. The base of the X-plate even doubles as a cutting board.


  • Classification: Optional Gear
  • C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.

We typically do not carry a knife on the trail or a hatchet for that matter. In our early backpacking days, I did carry a knife and a hatchet but found that I never used either. The only thing we might ever need a knife for is filleting a freshly caught fish. We do have a fillet knife that we own and sometimes use but it is an old knife passed down to me from my dad. However, at 1.3oz this aluminum-handled foldable Leatherman Skeletool KBX Knife (Backcountry) would make a good all-around, tough backpacking knife.

Best Backpacking Cooking Gear

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The best backpacking cooking gear will not include everything and the kitchen sink, although there are manufacturers out there that will try to sell you a portable kitchen sink. Cooking while backpacking is all about lightweight, efficient gear that gets the job done. Backpacking food usually isn’t glamorous but it can be surprisingly tasty and we will do a post on that soon.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. This is quite interesting!!! This is what anyone would want to get. In fact, on an ideal trip, backpacking cooking is an incomparable gift. I am quite specter expectant some nice to the author. I can read this article 1st then feel the backpacking cooking needs. I will source you for the next trip, may my trip be more relaxed. Thanks ALL

  2. Karim says:

    I have always thought that while backpacking you should eat food grilled on charcoal and drink tea that is prepared also on charcoal. This is the standard for me, never thought of it in any other terms but it’s nice to have a different approach to it. I don’t backpack a lot though.

    1. NomadicMoments says:

      That sounds nice and we enjoy building a campfire whenever it is allowed. However, in a lot of parks having a campfires in the backcountry isn’t allowed.

  3. My favorite food when I go out in nature is baked potato and corn… Delicious 🙂 and for that we don’t use anything but fire and coals or wood that we find. But it takes a while to cook.

    These gadgets look very handy if you quickly want to warm up a pot of noodles hehe.

    Great Post Jake,


    1. NomadicMoments says:

      Yeah, when we are allowed to source fuel on the trail we like to slow cook potatoes, corn, and brats but that is a heavy meal for backpacking and not realistic on many of the popular National Park trails.

  4. Without sipping coffee at travel makes me think that I have missed something to joy. I love coffee this is the reason I love your coffee maker part in this article. True speaking I was never giving importance to cooking gear when I’m going to tour but now after reading this I will definitely considering them as a essential for better experience.

    Thanks for sharing this kind of information. I think now I will be your permanent reader. Keep sharing such kind of information.

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