Are you a food fanatic? Do you plan your menus weeks in advance, and cruise the produce section for the freshest of the fresh? Do you do the same for your camping meals? Do you read ingredient lists and study the latest in nutrition science? If this describes you, you owe it to yourself to read our full review of the MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set. This is a pair of pots with clever attributes and a ceramic coating that is unique in the field.
MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set Review
Cons: Fragile coating and pots dent easily, no features beyond two basic pots
#3 of 14
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Our Analysis and Test Results
MSR takes state of the art ceramic coatings, only recently receiving extensive use in regular kitchens, and adapts the technology for backcountry use. The pots of this set are otherwise identical to those of the well-scoring MSR Quick 2 System. This form, including the smart lids, clever handle, and overall construction that creates a contained package without a separate carry bag, augments the excellent materials. The result is an award-winning product that is tailor-made for the discerning, health-conscious backcountry chef.
The MSR Ceramic set nearly matches the overall score of the first Editors' Choice award-winning GSI Bugaboo Camper and exactly ties the other Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3, mainly because of the excellent cooking performance and the above-average packability and ease of use,
It is for its cooking performance that the Ceramic 2-Pot Set truly stands out. In fact, we had to add an entirely new consideration to our evaluation. For decades now, camping cookware has been made with inert steel, titanium, and anodized aluminum, or aluminum coated with hazardous-but-easy-to-cook-with Teflon and Teflon-like materials. For lightweight camp cooking, one was forced to choose between poor cooking performance or the debatable dangers of the coatings. A few years back ceramic coatings came to kitchen cookware, with performance that replicates Teflon and elimination of the most likely culprits in the dangers of Teflon.
It took a while, and there are still very few options available, but ceramic has now made its way to camping cookware. The MSR products are the best we have found, and the 2-Pot Set we evaluated is the best way to start your own health-conscious, gourmet-eating, camping kitchen. It is not as comprehensive as some, but these work-horse components form an excellent foundation. Sauces, stir-fries, pasta, grains, and even meats will cook well, with no fear of contamination, in these pots. While our test didn't allow for extensive baking, our lead test editor, mountain guide, and backcountry cinnamon roll connoisseur vouch for the competence of these pots for that sort of task.
Most of the products we tested score poorer, concerning cooking performance than the MSR Ceramic kit. Only the models that included heat exchanging fins on the bottom of the main pot (Optimus Terra HE and Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech) performed better overall. This is because they boil water so much faster, and this attribute is the primary activity in even gourmet camp kitchens. After these two products, which also feature good non-stick coatings (they wouldn't top this metric if they didn't), the MSR Ceramic delivers a solid performance.
MSR makes innovative gear in a variety of categories. Their equipment is reliable and clever, without being overdone in any way. Their hallmark is gimmick-less performance. The packability of the Ceramic 2-Pot Set and MSR Quick 2 System exemplifies this. Take, for instance, the packed form of these cook sets. They are, together, unique in that neither includes a carrying bag. Generally, outlier status like this means the company has tried something that could be gimmicky and ineffective. That is not the case with MSR's innovative approach. These two pot sets pack securely, quietly, and contained without using a bag, which is a nice plus.
For the most part, packability is a function of size. The MSR Ceramic is the same external size as its cousin MSR Quick 2 System. With both, one must be careful about putting things inside that could scratch the non-stick coating. The MSR Ceramic is also similar in size to the Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Camping Cookware Set. It is quite a bit larger than the Top Pick Snow Peak Titanium and the other Best Buy F4Free 4 Piece Set. Both Editors' Choice selections, the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper and the Primus PrimeTech 2.3 are larger than the MSR. The uncoated, rugged MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set is a little bigger than the Ceramic kit and has the added benefit of nearly bulletproof status. You can put anything you want inside without concern for damage.
The main durability issue with backcountry cookware is the integrity of the non-stick coating, if it has one. Uniquely equipped with a ceramic non-stick coating, the MSR Ceramic is in a class of its own. While our testing this time around was not extensive enough to truly compare long-term durability, we have enough experience with this and similar products to make an assessment.
A ceramic coating lasts about the same amount of time and uses as a Teflon or Teflon-style coating. In the case of the Teflon coating, however, the chips that come off have genuine health concerns. Once it is damaged, it chips even faster. Ceramic will scratch and wear off too, but the ongoing damage doesn't add toxic chemicals to your food. We have deduced that the MSR Ceramic pot sets won't necessarily last longer than the Teflon coated products, but that they remain more safely usable through the deterioration. In this way, we score the Ceramic 2-Pot Set higher in durability than the Teflon coated products but lower than the bare metal and anodized products. Regarding other durability variables, the MSR does fine. The metal isn't the thickest nor is it the thinnest. It is vulnerable to warping and denting, but careful packing will manage that. The hardware is reliable and simple enough that it will last at least as long as the coating will.
Let us next compare the non-stick coating factors in durability. These are relatively minor, especially in modern mid to lightweight equipment. All of them are made of metal thinner than your home pots, and they will dent and warp more than your regular kitchen equipment. In comparison to the rest of the tested models, the MSR Ceramic pots will dent and warp about average. They are thinner than the GSI pots we tested, and therefore more vulnerable to denting. The Ceramic pots are thicker and sturdier than the Top Pick Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact and the Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece Set.
The hardware and attachments of the Ceramic pot set are similarly average. There is no heat exchanger ring to get damaged like on the Optimus Terra HE and the Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3. The handle is a little fiddly, with a spring-loaded clip that could fail. The basic pliers of the MSR Alpine 2 and the Optimus are more reliable, while the wire handles on the Snow Peak Pots are far more flimsy than the handle system of the MSR Ceramic.
The MSR Ceramic pots are squarely on the low end, regarding weight. In any human-powered camping situation, weight matters a great deal. In the best comparison we could think of (comparing the main pot, lid, and gripper of all the sets, and then normalizing for volume), the Ceramic 2-Pot Set from MSR is the third lightest product we assessed. The smaller, 1.5L pot in the Ceramic set is the lightest pot of that volume in the entire review. As an entire set, two others are lighter, but this comparison is not apt, as each set includes different components.
Overall, it is only the Top Pick for Ultralight Backpacking Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset and the MalloMe 10 Piece Mess Kit that are lighter. Both of these, though are much smaller and both are unlined which means they only work for boiled water type meals. As part of a car camping or base camp kit, weight doesn't matter nearly as much. In that context, the thicker aluminum, tighter lids, and extra features of the Editors' Choice GSI Bugaboo Camper is worth it. The other Editors' Choice, the Primus PrimeTech is quite a bit heavier at first glance. However, the Primus is much more efficient on fuel. If you are organized and diligent, you can eliminate some fuel weight with the Primus and get some of the overall weight back.
Ease of Use
This is a simple collection of basic cookware. There is little to "figure out" and even less to fail. Every piece is smooth, inside and out, and therefore easily cleaned to the best of your camping abilities. The one compromise that MSR has made, to cut some weight and create their proprietary packing closure system, is to use a proprietary pot handle instead of a universal pliers-style gripper. In most ways, this is a serviceable trade-off, but some will certainly notice the limited compatibility of the MSR handle.
In actual usage, the MSR Ceramic pots are the same as the pots of the MSR Quick 2 System. The lid and handle are the same. The handle of the MSR is easier to use (and lighter, and more versatile) than the handle arrangement on the Editors' Choice GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper cook set. On the other hand, the other Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech comes with a locking pliers grip that optimizes both usability (a locked-on handle is more secure, understandably, than the free hinging pliers used on the Optimus Terra HE) and versatility. The universal Primus pliers work on other pots as well, while the MSR handle system only works with MSR equipment.
Very few features are included with the Ceramic 2-Pot Set. This is a set of high-end, healthy cookware to form the skeleton of a carefully curated camping kitchen. For those attracted to this set of equipment, the process of selecting the accompanying features, individually, will likely be a pleasure of its own.
If you want the performance attributes of this Top Pick cook set, you won't mind the process of selecting the accessories you need. If you want to eliminate some decisions from your life, the Editors' Choice GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper gets you further along than this Top Pick. The MSR Quick 2 System has similarly sized and configured pots, made with traditional Teflon non-stick, and comes with excellent deep plates and insulated coffee mugs.
If you are a "foodie", consider the MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set. For those that enjoy the entire process of cooking, value even the most minuscule improvement in the health of their food, and want to prepare sophisticated vittles in the wild, the MSR Ceramic pots are a great start. You'll need to augment with other accessories, but these pots form the backbone of a camping chef's kit.
These are not inexpensive pots. Nor, though, does their value stand out dramatically from the others we tested. As compared to the Editors Choice Primus PrimeTech, the MSR Ceramic is the same price and basically includes the same features. The performance attributes, of course, are different, but the overall value is about similar. Of course, our Best Buy winners are less expensive, but the cooking performance suffers as compared to the MSR Ceramic.
This is a food connoisseur's set of camping pots. They are lightweight, healthy, and easy to use. If you take care with your nutrition as well as with the aesthetic side of camping food, the health and performance of the MSR Ceramic set will serve you well.
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Most recent review: November 23, 2017
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