Stanley Adventure Base Camp Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Durable, excellent frying pan for discerning cooks, great lid, great value for the set
Cons: Heavy, no non-stick coating
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Stanley makes a great, fully-nesting, and nearly-comprehensive car camping cook set. All you need to add is a knife for chopping and drinking vessels of your choice. It excels in durability, cooking performance, included features, and value. It suffers a little, given the above, when it comes to weight, portability, and cooking performance. Cooking performance, though, will depend on your diet. This earns a Best Buy Award for its stellar price and amazing durability that'll last through the decades.
All cooking surfaces of the various parts of the Base Camp are stainless steel. For cooking performance, steel has its pros and cons. In the main pot, and with a car camping stove, the material doesn't matter a whole ton. Steel doesn't disperse heat as well as aluminum does. On a small-burner backpacking stove, the steel bottom of the main pot risks scorching. However, in its element, on a wider-burner car camping stove (and with sautéing and simmering done on the frying pan, see below), the main pot of the Stanley cooked pasta and rice and reheated soups just fine for us.
The frying pan of the Base Camp deserves special mention. The internal cooking surface is bare stainless steel. Whether in your home kitchen or on the go, frying pan cooking surfaces all have their pros and cons. Stainless steel isn't as non-stick as Teflon or seasoned cast iron. However, there is no better way to pan-sear a steak than in stainless steel, and the cooking performance of this surface will remain constant for your whole life and beyond. The real advantage of this frying pan is in its "3-layer" base construction.
Stanley doesn't elaborate on what exactly the three layers are. The inner and outer are stainless steel, somehow bonded together. We can deduce that the inner layer is copper. Copper-cored stainless steel frying pans are a home kitchen staple, and of great value for sensitive cooking. Whether the core is copper or not, this pan cooks very similarly to a copper-cored home frying pan, which is a good thing. The thick, 3-layer construction spreads heat evenly across the pan, dampening the temperature regulation swings of your camp stove and wind effects.
For sautéing vegetables and browning meat, this pan is excellent. Great chefs have figured out how to cook easy-release eggs in a stainless steel pan, but we aren't that good. We have yet to, whether at home with kitchen equipment or on the road with the Stanley, nail the sequence that makes for non-stick stainless eggs. In short, our failed scrambled egg test isn't the pan's fault. It is difficult, but not impossible, to cook non-stick eggs in a frying pan of this sort. Outside of eggs and other super-sensitive foods, the 3-layer Stanley frying pan, with a tight-fitting lid, will serve you very, very well.
For attentive foodies, the Stanley cook set better approximates high-end home kitchen equipment than anything else we tested. If your culinary skill, though leans more toward the practical, you will be challenged at times with the full stainless construction.
You don't choose the Base Camp for ultimate packability. A set like this, of course, is way, way better than a collection of your home kitchen equipment.
It all nests together and seals with a tight bungee lid keeper. The parts sit tightly enough together, with enough of the plastic parts separating metal parts (provided you pack it in the right order.
Thankfully there are packing instructions etched into the inside of the lid (brilliant) that eliminates rattling, even in the back of a jostling Jeep.
Stanley comes to the camp cooking market from the sturdy insulated drink container business. Rugged is part of the deal. If you've been seeking a set that you won't need to buy again in the next ten years, this is the one.
The Base Camp Cook Set, in full stainless steel construction, is very durable. The cooking performance is tough to nail down, but the good news is that the performance will remain constant for its entire lifespan. No maintenance other than washing is required, and you can scrub with steel wool or sand or anything else. The plastic parts are rigid enough to work but soft enough to deflect damage without cracking. In our testing, we weren't able to break or crack any of the plastic parts with rigorous effort. The cooking surfaces of the Stanley pot and pan are quite robust and durable. Expect it to last for many, many years.
We speak highly of many attributes of the Stanley, but weight is not an attribute where the Stanley excels. This is too heavy for human-powered adventures, for a single person to carry. If you have a large group, you can parse out the different parts to each camper to get it into a base camp in the backcountry.
The large size, stainless construction, and three-layer frying pan construction add up to a weighty package. Its heavy weight makes it best for car camping missions. While you could probably borrow a few components for a lightweight mission, even the pots themselves are quite heavy.
Ease of Use
With nearly full-size components and a carefully designed integration, the Stanley is quite easy to use. We like that the frying pan handle locks, that the one lid is easily interchanged between the pot and pan, and that the dual handles on the main pot are rigid, symmetrical, and positive to grip. The lid serves as a pasta strainer. The "drying rack" is an interesting addition that, at first, seems a little gimmicky. When, however, you are trying to air dry slippery little plastic plates, having something to stand them on does indeed help.
The use of the Stanley set is entirely different from that of others we test. The other products we tested seem to be designed with some sort of weight compromise in mind. With that weight, compromise comes usability disadvantages. Hinged or removable handles are inherently less useful than the rigid ones on the main pot of the Stanley. Overall, this is a well-crafted set that is quite easy to use.
Many features come with this set. The "4x" qualifier suggests that this is designed for four people to cook and eat with. However, depending on the diet of your group, you can probably cook for a few more bodies if the meals aren't bulky, requiring the need for a lot of volume in each pot.
The frying pan capacity is a little small for most four-person car camping meals; otherwise, it seems like an appropriate estimation. There are four bowls, four plates, and four sporks. The two-part spatula and serving spoon work almost as well as the versions you use at home.
Many sets we tested are more expensive and don't perform as well. The beauty of stainless steel construction is that it is both inexpensive and durable. Other cookware materials are more expensive and less durable. Value is a Stanley strong suit. Those that will find the most value in this product is looking for a durable and rugged complete kitchen that they'll be using at a base camp or straight from their car. Not only that, but the initial price is much lower than other base camp sets that we've tested. As a result, it's our Best Buy Award, not only for its lower initial price but durable construction.
There are a few dedicated car camping cook sets on the market. Many people choose to just use regular kitchen supplies for car camping; this works well but takes up extra space. The Stanley approximates home kitchen equipment performance and weight with the space-savings cleverness of dedicated camping equipment. While it's best for car camping, you can get it into the backcountry if your partners are willing to carry a little extra weight, or split it up amongst the group.
— Amber King & Jediah Porter