The Best Camping Cookware Review
What's the best camping cookware to use for whipping up your tasty camping and backpacking meals? The outdoor industry is continually improving and enhancing the gear they produce, and even camping cookware has vastly improved in the past ten years or so. With a full array of metals to choose from, from stainless steel to titanium, and many variations of aluminum in between, it's difficult to know which one is the best and how to choose a set that adequately fits your needs. In order to help you select your next pots and pans, we chose eight of the top rated and most popular camping cookware sets out there to see how they compared side-by-side. We put each set through the wringer, cooking several months worth of meals as well as specific cooking challenges and boil tests. Then we rated them on Cooking Performance, Weight, Durability, Ease of Use and Packability. Keep reading to see which ones were our top winners.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
In order to bring you the best camping cookware review, we tested eight different models to see how they compared side-by-side. Six of the eight sets we tested were cast from an aluminum variation, with three made specifically from hard anodized aluminum. We also tested a lightweight titanium set, as well as a durable stainless steel model. The different sets ranged from almost 4 lbs to as light as 11 ounces. In addition to cooking our everyday meals in all the sets to gauge cooking performance and durability, we also tested boiling time, how well each set held food temperature, and how evenly each cooked a scrambled egg.
Selecting the Right Product
With so many different options available it can be difficult to select the right set for you. Will you be preparing meals for your family or guiding larger sized groups? Or are you looking for something that you can throw in a pack and take with you on the Pacific Crest Trail? Do you need a crossover set that isn't too heavy to take out on the trail, but could still be used while cooking at a campground? These are all important questions to consider in order to determine which size of set and what type of material will best fit your needs. To find out more about the pros and cons of each of the metals available, make sure to check out our Buying Advice article, as well as our How We Tested section to learn more about the specifics of this review.
The different sets that we tested fit into two categories: Car Camping or Backpacking.
Car camping cookware is typically less focused on concerns with weight, and instead focuses on more amenities and features, such as the addition of cups, bowls and plates. When camping close out of a car, packable size is less of a concern than for someone who is backpacking, while the ability to easily prepare and clean up after making meals, like breakfast burritos or lasagna, is more important.
Most of the sets that we tested fell into this category. The MSR Quick 2 System, GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker, GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set, MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, Optimus Terra HE set and Winterial Camping Cookware are all best used for car camping. Most of these sets can also be used on an overnight trek, which adds both versatility and value to your purchase, but if you plan on mostly backpacking or are thinking of a long thru-hike, then you'll want a more backpacking specific model.
Backpacking specific cookware is exceptionally lightweight so that you barely feel the weight within the pack on your back, and designed to pack up small and take up little room. Cooking while backpacking or thru-hiking is typically focused on meals prepared by simply boiling water; therefore, these types of cooksets probably aren't the best for making complicated meals like chicken marsala. The G4Free Outdoor Camping Set and the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset are the two models of cookware we tested that fit solely into this category. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set is the largest set of cookware we tested, and really the only one that would be difficult to cross over into the backpacking category, unless you are dividing the pieces up among several people.
Criteria for Evaluation
Cooking Performance is a chief concern when it comes to finding the best camping cookware. We want a set that doesn't burn our food, boils water efficiently and minimizes heat loss so that we don't waste precious drops of fuel. So, we carefully created a few tests in an attempt to simulate within a controlled environment cooking situations that arise in the outdoors.
Boiling water is an activity that is most commonly performed by all camping cookware, and quite often at that. Whether you're making hot drinks in the a.m. or trying to down another freeze dried meal in the backcountry, you'll be boiling water frequently and consistently. We timed how long it took to bring two cups of water to a boil with a pot from each set, and also threw in a 2 quart pot from our regular kitchen to see how it compared to the camping cookware. Our results varied considerably, as there are several factors that can drastically affect boiling time. The type of metal the pot is cast from is an important factor, as well as the diameter and depth of each pot.
Our "control" pot from our home kitchen was cast from hard anodized aluminum, which is the same metal used for the MSR Quick 2 System and the Optimus Terra HE Cookset, with a non-stick Teflon coating (similar to the two GSI Outdoors models). It boiled the two cups of water in 4 minutes 10 seconds. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper took the same amount of time and the MSR Quick 2 System was only 12 seconds longer. The Optimus Terra HE Cookset has a heat exchanger element on the bottom of the largest of the two pots in the set, which helped it boil water in 2 minutes and 12 seconds! The stainless steel MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set took the longest at 5 minutes and 40 seconds to boil, and the titanium set from Snow Peak took 4 minutes 35 seconds.
We were also curious how each of the sets would retain or lose heat after boiling. More often than not, it's quite cool out while you're camping, and eating a hot meal can be quite the morale booster. So, after each of the pots brought two cups of water to a boil, we immediately placed them in a 40 degree F walk-in refrigerator for 10 minutes. The control pot lost 60 degrees F in 10 minutes, as did the G4Free Outdoor Camping Set and the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Cookset. Our best performers during this test were the Snow Peak Titanium and MSR Alpine sets, which both lost only 50 degrees F. All of the other sets lost 70 degrees F or more.
Finally, after extensive research to learn more about the metals used in cookware for our Buying Advice article, we created a test to see how evenly each of the sets performed while preparing a scrambled egg. Eggs are extremely sensitive to temperature differences, and any hot spots created on the pan will quickly burn the eggs - which also created a second half of this test: ease of clean up! So, for this experiment we beat eight eggs and cooked one apiece in each of the skillets if available, or pots and bowls if the set did not include a skillet, over our two burner propane camping stove.
It was rather obvious which of the sets cooked evenly, and which would clean easily. Our best performers were the two GSI Outdoors models, which both have a Teflon non-stick coating. Although prepared in a pot, the MSR Quick 2 System was also an excellent performer during this test and had an easy cleanup afterwards.
The lowest performers for this test were the two backpacking specific models, the Snow Peak Titanium and G4Free Outdoor sets, which wasn't that surprising. These sets are made with boiling water in mind and little else, for the dehydrated meals, cup-o-soups and oatmeal packs you are more likely to be eating on the trail. The stainless steel MSR Alpine set also did not conduct heat evenly and therefore burned our eggs easily. Cleanup wasn't as difficult though, as we were able to use steel wool to scrub the pan.
Cleaning up your latest bean/egg/pepper/cheese breakfast creation can be a hassle when camping. Be careful with how you scrub your pans though, as the wrong scrubbing brush can ruin your set. Stainless steel sets can handle abrasive steel wool pads, but all other sets should be treated more cautiously. For aluminum and titanium sets, green scrubbing pads are the best way to go, but if your pan has a non-stick coating then you'll want to be even more gentle and use a spatula or soft dishcloth to loosen and remove leftover food.
Weight is key consideration if you plan to carry your cookware for any length of time on your back. If you plan on solely car camping than you can disregard this category, but people who enjoy car camping and backpacking (and only want to purchase one set of cookware), will want to carefully consider the weight of the model they purchase. We used a digital food scale to weigh each set as we've noticed in the past that manufacturer's stated weights do not always match up with reality.
The largest and heaviest set we tested was the GSI Bugaboo Camper Cookset, which weighs in at 3.7 pounds. This set comes fully featured with two pots, two straining lids, a skillet, four plates, four mugs with lids, and four bowls, plus a sack that doubles as a washbasin. The amenities are great if you're looking to completely set up your car camping kitchen, but this also adds a considerable amount of weight.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset, cast from lightweight titanium, weighs in at 10.6 ounces. This backpacking specific set is ultralight, but it sacrifices cooking performance to achieve it. It does not cook an egg (or much else) evenly, and almost feels as though we were playing tea time.
Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes is where we found the sweet spot for weight that didn't sacrifice too few amenities or a terrible cooking performance. Also in this middle weight range (1.2 - 1.8 lbs), we found the sets were great for car camping, or, when scaled down a bit, even for backpacking. Our Editors' Choice winner, the MSR Quick 2 System, is one such option. It comes with a few useful features, like deep dish plates and insulated mugs, that can be left behind if going ultralight.
Durability is an important criteria when purchasing camping cookware. Ideally, we'd like for our pots and pans to last a lifetime; however, it's easy to be hard on our camping sets, even if it's unintentional. Metal spoons and spatulas are common around the campground, but are hard on delicate non-stick coatings. Stainless steel pots and pans are the most durable and scratch resistant material available, but as you can see from our results in the cooking performance category, this cookware isn't the best performer when it comes to actually preparing meals.
None of the sets that we tested experienced many major issues in durability, but we did scratch the Teflon coating in the skillet of the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set by stacking another skillet inside of it while cleaning. Once the non-stick coating on a pan is scratched, it begins to deteriorate rather quickly, and ingesting flakes of Teflon is a potential health concern (the debate over the safety of Teflon has been going on for decades). As with all of our outdoor gear, there are trade-offs and sacrifices that should be examined and many options weighed before purchasing.
We also experienced some durability issues with the handles on the G4Free Outdoor Camping set. They are covered with bright green silicone to protect your hands from a hot handle. Unfortunately, they easily began to melt while cooking over larger burners, including a two burner propane stove that is typically used while car camping. This set is more specifically designed for lightweight backpacking applications in which you'll most likely be using a smaller stove system, like the MSR MicroRocket, which did not produce a flame big enough to melt the handles.
Ease of Use
During the months of our hands on testing, we used these eight sets in as many ways as we could imagine: making breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends, at home near the trailheads, hiking in for romantic picnics, as well as overnight excursions in the Elk Mountain range of Western Colorado.
We used every single piece in every single set to determine their versatility and practicality. The MSR Quick 2 System ranked the highest within this category for its versatility both in the campground as well as on the backpacking trail. Even though a skillet is not included with this set, these pots still performed well during our scrambled egg test. Typically, we find a skillet unnecessary for overnight trips, and due to how well this set scrambled an egg without one, we felt like anyone could do without a pan while car camping. Although, if you feel you really need one, you can purchase an individual Quick Skillet from MSR.
The G4Free Outdoor Camping Set also received a high score in this category, as our reviewers found it to be the most useful in the backcountry. While the Snow Peak Titanium was by far the lightest set, the nesting bowls from the G4Free set was actually a more useful design. The Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set also received a high score its versatility. You can easily shed some pounds from this set by leaving several pieces behind and slip this set into your backpack.
The lowest competitors within this category were the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, the Snow Peak Titanium set and the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Cookset.
The Snow Peak Titanium set is so small that we felt like we were cooking with a child's tea set. Although we enjoyed the cooking performance of the Pinnacle Backpacker, we are unlikely to backpack with it due to the delicate Teflon coating. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set scored a little higher than the Pinnacle in this category for being an easy to use set while car camping. It comes with the most pieces of all the cookware we tested, and the two pots and skillet are a great size to use when cooking for four.
All of the sets of cookware we tested fit into their own self-contained systems and wrap up neatly with a sack, except for the MSR Quick 2 System, which locks together by the pot handle flipping over the straining lid. The casing for the GSI Outdoors sets both double as wash basins, and the Optimus Terra set uses a neoprene bag that can help insulate food from dropping temperatures as well as keeping your fingers burn free while eating.
The backpacking specific sets of cookware scored the best within this category for being the smallest, lightest, and most compact sets we tested. The Snow Peak Titanium set is the most compact set with packable measurements of around 6 x 4 inches. However, it scored a point lower than the G4Free Outdoor set, with measurements of 5.5 inches by over 6 inches, because of the differences in the way these two sets fit inside the space of a backpack.
The Snow Peak Titanium set is so small that we were only able to fit a small fuel canister with some tea bags within it. We felt it was more useful to fit an entire cooking system (stove and canister) into our cookware in order to save space in our pack. We also found the the oblong shape of the G4Free set eliminates dead space within our pack better than the Snow Peak cookware.
When purchasing a backpacking specific set, look for a unit that can fit your stove and gas canister inside of it. This minimizes the overall volume of your entire cooking system and keeps everything more organized.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the two GSI Outdoors cookware scored the lowest in terms of packability for being the bulkiest sets we tested. However, these two sets fit ingeniously into their own system and protect the cookware, rather effectively, from scratching while packed. The Bugaboo Camper has packable measurements of over 9 inches by 5.5 inches, but for car camping purposes our reviewers found that packing this set into a vehicle was easy because of it's compact system for the amount of pieces you acquire with this set.
Add Cast Iron for Gourmet Cooking
You may have noticed that we recommend the use of a cast iron skillet and dutch ovens in our buying advice and our companion camp kitchen articles:
We'd recommend that you augment a cookware set such as one of the award winners above, with at least a cast iron skillet. Those who want to step into a more gourmet camping kitchen will want to consider a dutch oven as well. One great thing about buying cast iron cookware is that you can use them all year round in everyday cooking as well as camping.
Our Favorite Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 10 in to your camping cookware set. While some of the cookware sets in this review, such as the Winterial include a skillet, we much prefer a beefy cast iron skillet for car camping situations where weight is not such a big consideration.The Lodge skillet comes pre-seasoned and can be used on campfire, stove, or BBQ coals to add a gourmet cooking element to camping cooking. It provides a nice even heat and a non-stick surface that is chemical free. Larger sizes are available, such as the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 12 in version, but going bigger than 10" can get tight to fit on most camping stoves so we prefer the 10" model.
Our Favorite Dutch Oven
Lodge Dutch Oven - 8 quart, which also comes in a 5 quart and a 10 quart version. The ability to slow cook with the even heat cast iron is known for is the key to many gourmet meals. In our camping food article, we have a section on the Top 10 Camping Meals for the Gourmet Chef that showcase how a dutch oven can open the door to everything from pizza to lasagna. Clean up is simplified by the natural non-stick ability of seasoned cast iron.
Related Articles with Tips and Tricks
If you want some tips for outfitting your camping kitchen, be sure to check out our Ultimate Camp Kitchen article. We also have reviews for Camping Stoves, Backpacking Stoves, Portable Grills, Camping Tables and Camping Coffee Makers to help you in your decision making.
If you are already outfitted with a camping kitchen and are looking for some recipes and ideas to put all your gear to good use, check out our Best Camping Food and Best Backpacking Food articles for some tasty recipes and ideas on how to fuel your body during your next adventure.
Buying Advice article, where we break down the different types of sets available as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the different materials.
— Gentrye Houghton
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