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Backpackers – cooking and eating gear for hikers and campers

Backpackers - cooking and eating gear for hikers and campers

What to pack when camping for hiking?
How should I pack for a hiking trip?
What should you not bring backpacking?

One inarguable fact about backpackers: they love food. Outdoor cooking can run the gamut from sticking a hot dog over the fire to cooking mac and cheese out of a package to whipping up a full-fledged gourmet creation on a complete set of premium camping cookware.

Backpacking is great exercise, which means it builds appetites. At the end of a day of hiking, the question of “what’s for dinner” eclipses just about everything else. To make tasty outdoor food requires some culinary creativity and the right outdoor cooking equipment, ranging from very simple cooking pots to outdoor cooking sets including everything but the kitchen sink.

Camping Cookware, Pots and Pans for Outdoor Cooking

Fancy equipment makes sense for car campers and base campers who don’t have to hike very far to a campsite. Backpackers, however, who are (or should be) aiming for a lightweight backpack, need to be a little more selective about their equipment. Here are the basics:

A pot: Aluminum cook pots are light; titanium, although expensive, is even lighter. Make sure the pot has a lid, for retaining heat and cooking more efficiently. Most solo long-distance hikers use a single pot for cooking and eating, whereas hikers with partners usually carry bowls.

Pot sets. Pots designed for outdoor cooking are sometimes sold in sets, but very few hikers use all the elements. The fact is that a nested set of three pots is probably two more pots than are needed.

However, one especially useful configuration is a set of pots that includes a pot for boiling water and such jobs as cooking common backpacking foods such as pasta or rice, and a shallow pan. The pan can be used either as a pan (for cooking up eggs, or frying a trout), but it can also be set on top of a deeper pot to act as a lid.

Pot grabbers are metal implements that can be used to safely remove a pot from a heat source. Some are sold along with the pots, and are designed to work only with those pots; others are generic.

Choosing is merely a matter of making sure the grabber can hold the pot securely; beyond that, select the lightest pot grabber available.

Pot scrubber: A simple plastic dish scrubber is fine. Plastic mesh scrubber is strong enough to get off some of the inevitable burnt-on crud, and won’t hold as many food odors.

Bowls and Utensils, Essential Outdoor Gear for Camping Trips

Once the meal is cooked, there has to be a way to eat it. Solo hikers, of course, can just eat from the pot, but most hikers travel in pairs or groups, so each person needs some utensils.

Utensils: Most hikers simply use spoons, also “sporks” (combinations of spoons and forks) make one utensil do two jobs. Hikers who have aspirations of creating outdoor gourmet meals should bring a lightweight spatula.

Bowls and plates: In recent years, manufacturers of outdoor equipment have come up with some interesting variations on plain old plastic bowls, including plates made of silicone, and foldable, squashable lightweight cups and bowls. You’ll find some of these at outfitting shops such as R.E.I and E.M.S., or independent outdoor retailers.

Storage containers: Plain old storage containers from the supermarket can act as bowls. Many hikers like them because they find that containers with tight-fitting leak-proof lids allow them to soak dried foods like beans while they are hiking, or carry leftovers.

Cups: Cups can be used for measuring different amounts of food, for eating side dishes or deserts, and of course, for hot beverages and soups. Metal cups such as the classic Sierra cup don’t hold the heat, which means that hot drinks and soups quickly turn cold, and at the same time, they are hot to the touch (sometimes hot enough to burn fingers). Plastic or Pyrex may be a better choice.

What Not to Bring Backpacking

When preparing to be away from basic amenities and civilization for a few days, it is tempting to bring along everything needed for every possible scenario. But once the miles start slowly ticking by, all that gear is going to start to feel very, very heavy and backpackers often wish they’d left behind a few unnecessary items. But which ones?

Essential Gear for Backpacking

Every hiker or backpacker should carry a map of the area and a compass. Appropriate clothing, shelter, and enough food and water are necessary. Check out this list of backpacking gear for more specifics on what to bring.

Specifically-designed backpacking gear is usually worth the extra money, as they are often times made lighter and smaller. Trust that after lugging gear on your back for a few miles, you will be feeling every extra ounce.

Clothes, Too Many is Not Necessary for Backpacking

As every experienced hiker knows, layers are key for backpacking. Also check the weather forecast before heading out. Is that extra sweater really necessary if no rain storm is in sight? Bringing a few extra T-shirts that can be layered in cold weather will be lighter and less bulky than a puffy sweater.

Instead of packing a pair of pants and shorts, opt for convertible pants that zip off and become shorts for warmer weather. Hats, gloves, scarves and other accessories might seem necessary in colder weather, but are often usually shed along the trail. Do bring extra socks, as this is a valuable commodity since feet are the first to fall victim to sweat and mud along the trail. Also, extra socks can be used as mittens if that unexpected cold front swings in.

Backpacking Entertainment

Though one might think boredom may occur on a multi-day backpacking trip away from computers, movies, friends and other forms of entertainment, this is often not the case. The temptation to bring books, board games, iPods and other clunky amusement devices must be resisted. Your back will thank you.

Instead, a camera and, at most, a deck of cards will be plenty of entertainment for downtime on a multi-day hike. Beginning backpackers will be surprised at how boredom does not take place; instead their hours are filled with physical activity. When the hiking stops, setting up camp, building a camp fire and preparing meals will likely fill any remaining daylight hours and strength.

If the peaceful solitude of the woods and nature isn’t enough, the best solution is to bring along a friend or two to enjoy the scenery.

Backpacking Food

Dehydrated meals weigh little and are very filling. Trail mix is essential and other hiking staples such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, bananas and oatmeal are delicious backpacking revitalizers. Leave the leftovers and Tupperware at home. Trade candy bars for Power Bars, and DO remember to bring a water filtration device. Packing in all your water is heavy, not efficient, and is dangerous if unforeseen circumstances extend your trip.

Other Non-Essential Backpacking Gear

  • A heavy, cotton towel. Though the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy advises to always bring a towel, trade this bulky item for a lightweight hand towel or use moist towellettes.
  • Extra shoes. Make sure the pair you are wearing is sufficient. Extra shoes are bulky and heavy.
  • Wood. Instead bring fire starter gel or lighter fluid and use nearby fallen twigs and branches.
  • Too many utensils and cookware. A spork, water bottle and one lightweight cooking dish is enough for one person’s meal time.

Swapping a few heavy items for lightweight versions and ditching amusement devices and extra cookware along with other non-essential will significantly lighten the backpack and likely improve the hiker’s experience. But, as always, do a reality check with your gear list and take the advice of park rangers and other people who have done the trail over a general guide such as this.


  1. I think this article is “must – read” quide for nature explorers, photographer and people who love hiking and camping. In my country there are a lot of campers who love to stay in wildernes and get connected with nature.

  2. I love to trek especially Himalayas. I keep on searching essential things which can make these treks memorable . I do lot of research before buying any stuff like weight and life of the product

  3. Really nice blog aims to give advise to explorer. But for me I can utilize the gained knowledge regarding backpacking to my medicine tool kit. It’s really a big help for me. It’s a best idea I think…

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