The Best Camping Cookware of 2018

Camp cooking with the large and carefully designed pieces of the GSI is a joy.

For just the latest iteration of our review update, we've put in over 40 hours with three pot sets, along with making comparisons to equipment we've reviewed prior. Cooking away from the amenities of your kitchen is a complicated task. Allow us to smooth the process and help you choose your camping cookware. We've applied decades of experience to this review and sorted through dozens of pot sets to pick the 14 best. Our test regimen requires extensive use of the equipment in both real life and special testing. We've ranked overall performance regarding cooking performance, packability, durability, weight, ease of use, and features, and we're confident that our fleet includes something for your cooking habits, no matter your preference or camp cooking habits.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor

Last Updated:
Monday
July 2, 2018

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Updated June 2018
For 2018 we added three new products and compared them to the existing products in our review. Of the three new cook sets, one displaces a Top Pick, and another opens a new Top Pick sub-category. The MSR Trail Mini Duo uproots the Snow Peak Titanium Multi-Compact as our Top Pick for Ultralight Backpacking. Read our full review of the MSR for full elaboration, but realize that the Trail Mini Duo delivers greater performance, easier use, and better packing considerations at half the price. The only compromise is that the MSR is heavier than the Snow Peak set up. Long-time insulated bottle maker Stanley enters the fray with their Base Camp Cook Set 4x. This is a cook set that considers bulk and portability, but otherwise effectively replicates the function and cooking performance of your home kitchen equipment. The result is a heavy, but very nicely performing cook set for car camping and other mechanized camping trips. It is too heavy for basically any sort of backpacking, but we appreciate the nesting structure and the excellent cooking performance. Read our full review to see where the three new products fit in the market.

Best Overall Camp Cookset


GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper


Editors' Choice Award

$109.42
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 3.7 lbs | Material: Aluminum with non-stick coating
Extensive accessories
Tight frying pan lid
Excellent nonstick coating
Teflon nonstick coating wears off
Relatively heavy

The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper Cookset, a nearly comprehensive kit from GSI, will prepare and serve food for up to four people. It does so with features and attributes, like the tight-fitting frying pan lid, that no other products have. It also does so with performance characteristics that match or exceed, in all cases, the average products in this category.

The main drawbacks of this kit are the relatively heavy weight and the fact that what GSI calls "bowls" are more like what most would call cups. For pleasurable dining, you will want different eating vessels. The GSI Bugaboo Camper is an attempt at packaging an "all in one" set up. These sort of kitchen kits pack nicely, but you don't get to leverage different sizes nor can you pick and choose to optimize the performance of one component or another. Because some camp gourmands will want to assemble their camp kitchen components from different brands and systems, we granted a second Editors' Choice award to a product that offers the best main pot we've ever used, which you'll find below.

Read review: GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper

Best for One-Stop Shopping


Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set


Editors' Choice Award

$61.99
(23% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 1.6 lbs | Material: Aluminum
Amazing heat transfer efficiency
Excellent non-stick coating
Locking, universal pot grip
No frying pan or other accessories
Heat exchanging ring collects dirt

Yes, we granted two Editors' Choice awards this go around. The GSI kit is for those looking for something closer to "one-stop shopping," while the Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set kit offers the best camping pot we have ever used. The main pot has a clever lid to optimize efficiency. The real perk, though, is on the base of that main pot. Primus augments the bottom with heat transfer fins that greatly reduce boiling time and fuel consumption. In our head-to-head testing of boil times, the Primus led the field.

With the Primus kit, you get unparalleled efficiency and performance from the main pot, but you will have to complement it with your own choice of frying pan, cups, and bowls. Either EC product is excellent, and both lead the field. They will simply appeal to different types of consumers. If you want "one-stop shopping", the GSI is better. If you prefer to pick and choose your components, optimizing one attribute or another, starting with the Primus is the way to go.

Read review: Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set

Best Bang for the Buck


Winterial 11 Piece Camping Set


Best Buy Award

$44.99
(25% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 1.8 lbs | Material: Aluminum
Great starter set
Stable handles
Some versatile pieces
Small bowls
Unnecessary accessories

The Best Buy award is one of our favorite awards, as we all love to purchase a good product at a great price. We've given the Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set our Best Buy award for having the highest value of all the sets tested. It's also the budget version of the GSI Bugaboo Camper. It was the only set tested that came with a kettle (no one likes their morning hot drink to taste like last night's dinner), and the pots and pans cook well. The handles are stable, and the set can be pared down to take with you while backpacking.

The Winterial kit includes most of the accessories you will need, but these accessories are a little compromised. The "bowls" are tiny, as are the utensils. For the price, this is easily overlooked. Nonetheless, it must be noted. For more sophisticated cooking, the non-stick coating and larger footprint of the GSI pots and pans work much better.

Read review: Winterial 11 Piece Camping Set

Best on a Tight Budget


G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set


The G4Free Outdoor Camping Cookset comes with two pots and two lids that can also double as bowls.
Best Buy Award

$18.99
(47% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 1.2 lbs | Material: Aluminum
Tall profile packs nicely
Integrated handles
Durable anodized construction
Limited non-stick performance
Tall profile focuses heat on base of pot

Just like with the Editors' Choice award, we granted two Best Buy Awards. This one, the G4Free 4 Piece Set, is just two simple pots at a bargain basement price. The two pots nest together, and the lids are each deep enough to work as small mugs or mini bowls.

You will need to separately collect your main bowls, frying pan, cutlery and whatever else your cooking and eating habits require. This gives you more options both for performance and budget. At its simplest, you might need nothing more than a spoon from your home kitchen to complement the budget package of the G4Free.

Read review: G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set

Top Pick for Ultralight Backpacking


MSR Trail Mini Duo


Weight: 0.7 lbs | Material: Aluminum
Light
Integrated rubber pot grip
Just the right features
Limited non-stick performance
Tall and narrow profile focuses heat on the bottom.

The MSR Trail Mini Duo is nearly the lightest cook set we tested. When you correct for efficiency advantages of the aluminum construction over a long enough trip, you may find that the MSR is the lightest way to construct a camp kitchen. The Trail Mini Duo, at its simplest, is just one small pot and lid. However, it comes with just the right suite of accessories to optimize performance without weighing you down. With certain cooking habits, the included rubber ring around the outside rim of the pot is all you need to lift the pot from your stove burner and pour water into your freeze-dried container. If you want to hold the pot steady for longer, while stirring something, for instance, MSR includes the tiniest pot gripping pliers we have ever seen. Finally, you can put a compact stove and its 8-ounce fuel canister inside the Trail Mini Duo. This whole package fits into the light mesh stuff sack that MSR includes with the Trial Mini Duo.

For any sort of "proper" cooking (basically, anything that isn't freeze-dried or pasta) the MSR Trail Mini Duo won't work. The pot is small, tall, and narrow. The anodized coating works ok as a non-stick treatment, but it isn't perfect; this is a specialized piece of kit for limited applications.

Read review: MSR Trail Mini Duo

Top Pick for Health Conscious Foodies


MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set


Top Pick Award

$64.95
(19% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 1 lb | Material: Aluminum
Light and versatile
Non-stick, non-toxic construction
No accessories
Ceramic will wear off

As a piece of equipment that is truly unique in the field, the ceramic camping cookware from MSR was an easy choice for a Top Pick award. Sophisticated camp cooking requires a nonstick coating. Until recently, that meant either very heavy cast iron or Teflon-style coatings. The health risks of Teflon coatings are not appealing to some. Now, with the MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set, the health-conscious foodie has something to form the backbone of his or her camping kitchen. Also, available separately, is an MSR frying pan with the same coating.

This kit is expensive and relatively specialized. To fully assemble a camp kitchen at this level of performance and health consideration is an expensive proposition that requires quite a bit of attention. This set up will only appeal to those that care a great deal about the health effects of non-stick coatings yet want lightweight performance.

Read review: MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set

Top Pick for Car Camping


Stanley Adventure Base Camp


Stanley Adventure Base Camp
Top Pick Award

$64.00
(20% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 4.8 lbs | Material: Stainless steel
Large pot with rigid handles and great lid
Nests together well
Frying pan rivals what you'd use at home
Heavy
Plates are smaller than what you'd use at home

A new award category for a new product that fills a niche that hasn't really been filled before. Stanley's Adventure Series Base Camp cook set is a camping cook kit made with essentially no compromises for weight. Taking weight out of the equation, so to speak, frees Stanley to optimize cooking performance further while maintaining packability. This entire set of pot, frying pan (with a lid that works on both) and service for four people nests together to easily tuck into the corner of your car trunk or canoe duffel.

It is too heavy to go very far as part of a human-powered cook kit, and the plates are a bit small. For true "glamping", some will want to grab a few plates from their home kitchen. For backpacking, almost any of the other products we assessed are a better choice. Some will say, about the Stanley, "what's the point, when I can just use home kitchen equipment for just a little more weight and bulk?". Well, first, even when a car is carrying your stuff, bulk matters. Next, this kit can remain packed and ready to go, without tearing apart your kitchen to find all the parts. On a car or canoe camping trip, the Stanley set is just right.

Read review: Stanley Adventure Base Camp

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
72
$110
Editors' Choice Award
In its complete form, the Bugaboo is as close to your home cookware as we can envision; it is also heavy and bulky, but it makes great food.
72
$80
Editors' Choice Award
Primus set up this basic pot set with some attributes and features that optimize efficiency without bogging you down with finicky performance or gimmicky additions.
72
$80
Top Pick Award
The ceramic construction of these pots is what sets them apart; they are the only equipment in our test that feature this technology.
71
$80
Top Pick Award
For mechanically-supported adventures (read, for most people: car camping) where space might be at a premium but weight is less an issue, the Base Camp Cook Set is for you.
69
$60
Best Buy Award
This is an affordable way to get almost all you need all at once, provided your menu is basic and your group is small.
67
$100
Reasonable performance in a kit that has some of what you need and none that you don’t.
67
$95
Your average cookset, with most of what you’ll need and little you don’t.
66
$90
As long as you don’t require a frying pan as part of your integrated set, the Alpha 2.2 offers innovative refinements and a close competition to some of our top scorers.
63
$70
This is a compact, nearly complete cook and dining set; the components are all small and compromised, making it appropriate mostly for solo campers.
63
$50
Top Pick Award
The Trail Mini Duo is well suited and carefully designed for ultralight backpacking.
61
$60
A boiling-optimized pot forms the centerpiece of this kit that is largely worthy.
57
$96
As long as your menu is simple and your group is small, the Snow Peak is a great choice.
50
$36
Best Buy Award
A budget, compact start to a comprehensive backpacking and basic camping kitchen kit.
46
$50
The Alpine Set is a classic product with long-lasting performance and apocalypse-ready durability.

Analysis and Test Results


To bring you the best camping cookware review, we tested fourteen different models to see how they compared side-by-side. Eleven of the fourteen sets we tested were cast aluminum and then anodized for hardness. Five of the aluminum sets feature one or more components with a non-stick coating. We also tested a lightweight titanium set, as well as two durable stainless steel models. The different sets ranged from about five pounds 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 and how evenly each cooked a scrambled egg.

We based our scoring of camping cookware on five different criteria: Cooking Performance, Weight, Durability, Ease of Use, and Packability. We discuss each scoring metric in greater detail under their respective headings below as well as in each product's review.

Value


What's the "best bang for your buck" in camp cookware? How much does and should value matter to you? The biggest variable in camp cookware performance, across the price spectrum, is in cooking performance. Weight and packability have an almost negative correlation with price. Less expensive models are lighter and more packable, generally speaking. Cooking performance, though, rewards more sophisticated and more expensive materials. Whether that is better non-stick coatings (the most expensive nonstick coating is also the best: ceramic pans like the Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set) work very, very well, but are costly) or laminated stainless steel pot and pan bottoms, more expensive construction cooks better. Other variables like ease of use and features seem to have a largely independent relationship to cost. Of course, you may find an economy of scale in purchasing a manufacturer's "kit" vs. purchasing the same parts individually. This is fairly logical.


Cooking Performance


Cooking performance is the chief concern when it comes to finding the best camping cookware. We want a set that doesn't burn the food we choose to cook, boils water efficiently, and minimizes heat loss so that we don't waste precious drops of fuel. 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 the foundation of camp cookery. It is the task that you will perform the most often. Whether you're making hot drinks on your bumper in the morning or trying to force 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 the main 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 several factors can drastically affect boiling time.

The type of metal the pot is cast from is an essential factor, as well as the diameter and depth of each pot. More than these variables, we found that the presence or absence of heat exchanging rings on the bottom of the pot inform the efficiency in our boil test. The average boil time of pots with flat bottoms was 3 minutes and 50 seconds. For the pots with heat exchange rings, the average boil time was almost a minute faster, at 2:56. (Note, of course, that the sample size of pots with heat exchange rings is much smaller. Nonetheless, we have confidence in our data).

Heat exchanging rings decrease the boiling time by 24%. That is significant. You can expect the same sort of efficiency gains while melting snow, except that melting snow, takes even longer than boiling water. The gains compound in that case. If you are melting snow in your camping cook set, you need to consider a pot with heat exchanging rings.

The heat exchanger rings of the PrimeTech add weight  but you get that back if you let your fuel and stove choice reflect the greater efficiency of this pot.
The heat exchanger rings of the PrimeTech add weight, but you get that back if you let your fuel and stove choice reflect the greater efficiency of this pot.

The "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 3 minutes 50 seconds. This was remarkably close, as a "control" should be, to the average time (3:40) of the tested pots.

The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper took the same amount of time, and the MSR Quick 2 System was only 6 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 45 seconds! The Primus PrimeTech 2.3L pot also has heat exchanger fins and boiled the water in 3:07. The stainless steel MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set took three minutes and fifty-one seconds to boil, and the titanium set from Snow Peak took the longest at 4 minutes 15 seconds. The unique kettle included with the Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Camping Cookware Set led the field of "flat bottomed" pots with a boiling time of 3:30.

Aside from individual variations in boil time, there was a clear correlation between pot size and boil time. Narrower pots clearly boil more slowly than mid-sized pots, with another drop in performance for the biggest pot in our test. It seems that boiling time has a bell-curve correlation with pot bottom size. The narrowest pots (those with the Snow Peak Titanium Multi-Compact Cookset, Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece, and Top Pick MSR Trail Mini Duo) have an average boiling time of 4:06. This is about 26 seconds (12%) slower than average. Similarly, the large main pot included with the Top Pick Stanley Adventure Series boiled water in 4:07.

Testing the boil time of the Stanley Adventure Series main pot in a semi-controlled environment  but with a real camp stove.
Testing the boil time of the Stanley Adventure Series main pot in a semi-controlled environment, but with a real camp stove.

Finally, we created a test to see how each of the sets performed while preparing a scrambled egg. Eggs are susceptible to temperature differences, and any hot spots created on the pan will quickly burn the eggs. For this experiment, we beat fourteen eggs and cooked them individually in each of the skillets, if available, or pot 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 with minimal sticking. Our best performer was the Editors' Choice GSI Outdoors Bugaboo model, which has a Teflon non-stick coating on a thick-bottomed, dedicated frying pan. Interestingly, the frying pan of the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker did not perform nearly as well as the Bugaboo, in this test and our "real life" usage. The non-stick coated frying pan of the Optimus Terra HE performed very well also. Although prepared in a pot, the MSR Quick 2 System was also an excellent performer during this test and had a natural cleanup afterward. Other models that performed well in this analysis are the Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L and the Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2.

Some of our tested cookware  roughly ordered by performance in the egg test  L-R  from upper left: MSR Ceramic  GSI Bugaboo  Optimus  Primus  GSI Pinnacle  Winterial  MalloMe  Snow Peak  MSR Quick  G4Free  MSR Alpine
Some of our tested cookware, roughly ordered by performance in the egg test, L-R, from upper left: MSR Ceramic, GSI Bugaboo, Optimus, Primus, GSI Pinnacle, Winterial, MalloMe, Snow Peak, MSR Quick, G4Free, MSR Alpine

The lowest performers for this test were the backpacking specific models. Again, the narrow profile of the Snow Peak Titanium, MSR Trail Mini Duo, and G4Free Outdoor sets compromise cooking performance. The narrow profile concentrates heat on the bottom and, at least in the taller pots, compromises stirring efficacy. These models are made with packing easily in mind. They're mainly intended to boil water for dehydrated meals, cup-o-soups, and oatmeal packs, as this the diet you are more likely to be eating on the ultralight trail.

The stainless steel MSR Alpine set also did not conduct heat evenly and therefore burned our eggs easily. The stainless steel surface of the Top Pick Stanley Adventure Series frying pan performed better than that of the MSR Alpine because the Stanley includes their otherwise undescribed "three-layer" bottom construction. We guess that the third, hidden layer, of the Stanley is copper. Performance and weight suggest this, and this is how home-kitchen stainless frying pans are made. It is, apparently, possible to cook a non-stick egg in a laminated stainless frying pan. However, we weren't able to accomplish that task. Our camp chefs cannot recreate this feat in expensive home stainless skillets either.

The results of conducting our scrambled egg test in the larger pot of the Sea to Summit set.
The results of conducting our scrambled egg test in the larger pot of the Sea to Summit set.

Between the egg test and the boil time test, we can deduce much of what we need to know about cooking performance of a cook set. If a pot set does these two things well, our anecdotal evidence suggests that pretty much all other cooking performance attributes will fall in line. One exception is the meat-browning performance of the laminated Stanley Adventure Series skillet. Whether steak or chicken, meat browned in a skillet like this, at home or on the trail, is beaten only by grilled meat. Nonstick aluminum nor even cast iron exceeds the performance of laminated stainless for browning meat.

Packability


Check out the packability score of each product in the chart below. The Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cook Set was the clear winner in this category, followed by the Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set and the Top Pick MSR Trail Mini Duo. The primary determinant of a cook set's packability is size. Smaller kits pack better; this is, of course, opposed to cooking performance. Larger pots are easier to work with, up to a point well beyond the size of anything you'd take camping. The other packability criteria we investigate is the "rattle factor". If a pot set has loose parts that bang and jostle against one another, it will be, at best, annoying in your backpack.


All of the sets of cookware we tested nest together and slide neatly into a sack. Exceptions are the MSR Quick 2 System, Sea to Summit Alpha 2.2, and Top Pick MSR Ceramic Set, all of which of which lock together by the pot handle flipping over the straining lid. The Top Pick Stanley Adventure Series closes not with a bag but with an elastic strap that, with remarkable security, holds the lid on the main pot, thereby containing all the other parts. The casings for the GSI Outdoors sets both double as wash basins/water storage, 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 carry bag of the Primus PrimeTech is also insulated.

The Optimus set of cookware compacts into its own neoprene bag  with the pot gripper sliding into the top pouch to stow away or slip into your pack.
The Optimus set of cookware compacts into its own neoprene bag, with the pot gripper sliding into the top pouch to stow away or slip into your pack.

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. The Top Pick MSR Trail Mini Duo is similar in overall size, but is shaped such that the user can fit a fuel can and stove inside. It edges ahead this way of the Snow Peak in packability.

Snow Peak makes the lightest and most compact set we tested during this review out of titanium metal. The pot hands collapse back around each pot while the lid handles flip up over the top of the system.
Snow Peak makes the lightest and most compact set we tested during this review out of titanium metal. The pot hands collapse back around each pot while the lid handles flip up over the top of the system.

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 to save space in our pack. We also found the oblong shape of the G4Free set eliminates dead space within our pack better than the Snow Peak cookware. Overall, regardless of what exactly you can fit inside your pot set, make sure that you are filling whatever dead space is there.

Light and fast travel requires light and fast food and kitchen supplies. The Trail Mini Duo is just what the doctor ordered. Here our lead test editor Jediah Porter bulks up his ultralight kitchen with a frying pan for night one steak time. Otherwise  his kit is uber light with the Trail Mini Duo.
Light and fast travel requires light and fast food and kitchen supplies. The Trail Mini Duo is just what the doctor ordered. Here our lead test editor Jediah Porter bulks up his ultralight kitchen with a frying pan for night one steak time. Otherwise, his kit is uber light with the Trail Mini Duo.

When purchasing a backpacking specific set, consider looking 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.

One thing we love about the G4Free set is the ability to pack an entire backpacking cooking system into it.
One thing we love about the G4Free set is the ability to pack an entire backpacking cooking system into it.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the two GSI Outdoors cookware and the Top Pick Stanley Adventure scored the lowest regarding packability for being the bulkiest sets we tested. However, these sets fit ingeniously into their system and protect the cookware, rather efficiently, 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 its compact system for the number of pieces you acquire with this set. With the Bugaboo Camper, you can always leave some parts behind to optimize packing size and weight.

MSR gives thought to overall packability. Their Pocket Rocket 2 stove and an 8 ounce fuel canister fit right inside the Trail Mini Duo pot  along with the pot gripper and maybe a couple oatmeal packets.
MSR gives thought to overall packability. Their Pocket Rocket 2 stove and an 8 ounce fuel canister fit right inside the Trail Mini Duo pot, along with the pot gripper and maybe a couple oatmeal packets.

Durability


Durability is an important criterion 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 preparing meals. Titanium is similarly inert and therefore loses little to no cooking performance with wear and age. However, titanium cookware is thinner than steel or aluminum stuff. Titanium is stronger than these two. The thinner, but stronger, construction of the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact seems equally prone to denting as the other backpacking options.


None of the sets that we tested experienced many significant 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 surface 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, some trade-offs and sacrifices should be examined, and many options weighed before purchasing.

Cooking in a wild setting with the beefy pot and pan of the Stanley Adventure Series set is a joy.
Cooking in a wild setting with the beefy pot and pan of the Stanley Adventure Series set is a joy.

The Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2 Pot Set brings an interesting alternative to the market. The ceramic coating is also vulnerable to scratching and chipping, but the material is less damaging to your health and the environment. Many users prefer to discontinue use of their Teflon coated cookware as soon as it becomes scratched. It might continue to be mostly non-stick, but some are concerned with the health effects. The ceramic cookware scratches and degrades just as quickly, but the health effects are minimal or nonexistent. In this way, the MSR Ceramic cook set can be used longer than the Teflon coated ones, and therefore received higher durability scores.

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 Pocket Rocket 2, which did not produce a flame big enough to melt the handles.

G4Free uses silicone to cover the metal handles  but they are prone to melting on larger sized burners such as most camping stoves. This set is best used with a smaller backpacking stove.
G4Free uses silicone to cover the metal handles, but they are prone to melting on larger sized burners such as most camping stoves. This set is best used with a smaller backpacking stove.

The stainless steel construction of the Top Pick Stanley Adventure Series Cookset will last virtually forever. We had no issues with the plastic parts of this set and can envision that the chosen polymer strikes the right balance of flexibility and strength.

Weight


Weight is a key consideration if you plan to carry your cookware for any length of time on your back. If you plan on solely car camping, you can largely disregard this category, but people who enjoy car camping and backpacking (and only want to purchase one set of cookware), will want to consider the weight of the model they purchase carefully. Other camping settings are somewhere in between. Deluxe backcountry base camps, like those supplied by canoe, airplane, or even short backpack missions, deserve comfy cookware and weight is less of an issue.

We used a digital postal scale to weigh each set. Since none of these cook sets include the same components as another, we also devised a mathematical correction to compare the products better. So that we could compare "apples to apples" we weighed one pot of each set, its lid, and its handle. For this metric, we chose the pot in the set closest to 1.5 liters, since that is approximately the median size for all the pots in all the collections. Finally, to normalize for differences in volume among these pots, we divided the mass by the pot's capacity. Our test team found these "weight per volume" numbers to be quite helpful and to better represent the weight "in use" of each product.


The second largest and heaviest set we tested was the GSI Bugaboo Camper Cookset, which weighs in at 3.7 pounds. This model 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 set up your car camping kitchen entirely, but this also adds a considerable amount of weight, overall. The individual components of this kit are user-friendly and reliable. Even when we weighed just one pot, lid, and handle and normalized for volume, this Editors' Choice was heavier than average.

The GSI Bugaboo Camper comes fully loaded with some great amenities  but also makes it the largest  and heaviest cookware we tested.
The GSI Bugaboo Camper comes fully loaded with some great amenities, but also makes it the largest, and heaviest cookware we tested.

The absolute heaviest set is the Top Pick for Car Camping Stanley Adventure Series Base Camp. Those that will choose this set will be looking not for minimum weight but cooking performance in a clever packing combination.

The heaviest product on our mathematically adjusted list is the Optimus Terra HE. Now, be even more careful comparing the weight of this pot from this set. While it is indeed heavy, it will use far less fuel than other pots to accomplish the same amount of water boiling or snow melting. If your camping agenda includes lots of these things, over a long time, you could very well save weight with this product, by omitting fuel, as compared to a seemingly lighter "flat bottomed" pan. You could make the same calculations for the Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L set. It is heavy but efficient.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact, 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. Whether you look at the overall weight or the corrected, calculated weight we devised for comparison, the Snow Peak leads the pack.

The MSR Trail Mini Duo, no matter how you look at its weight, is just a little behind the Snow Peak. The MSR is a little easier to use, and a far more packable shape. It also comes with a few accessories that set it apart from the Snow Peak. It is for these reasons that we grant it our Top Pick award for Ultralight Backpacking.

The ultralight Snow Peak Titanium pot in action high in Wyoming's Tetons.
The ultralight Snow Peak Titanium pot in action high in Wyoming's Tetons.

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 middleweight range (1.2 - 1.8 lbs), the sets were great for car camping, or, when scaled down a bit, even for backpacking. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Primus PrimeTech 2.3L, is one such option. Another tremendous mid-weight solution, with a few extra amenities included, is the MSR Quick 2 System.

Both of our Best Buy winning products are on the low end of either weight calculation. For backpacking, most will have no problem carrying all or some of the pieces included with the Winterial 11 Piece Set or the G4Free 4 Piece Set. Similarly, the affordable and essential MalloMe 10 Piece Set has a low weight no matter how you look at it.

Ease of Use


During the months of our hands-on testing, we used these eleven 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 were alpine climbing in the Tetons, picnicking in New York's Catskills, and even took some on an expedition to Chile.


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 think you need one, you can purchase an individual Quick Skillet from MSR. The MSR set tied for the top "ease of use" score with Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set. We liked the insulated cover of the Primus set as well as the universal, locking pot gripper. It may seem silly to the uninitiated, but the widespread and locking pot gripper of the Primus Set sets it apart from everything else we tested.

We can't stress enough how much we love the deep dish plates included in the MSR Quick 2 System; they are the ideal plate to use around the campground.
We can't stress enough how much we love the deep dish plates included in the MSR Quick 2 System; they are the ideal plate to use around the campground.

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 model was a more useful design. The Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set also received a high score for its versatility. You can easily shed some pounds from this set by leaving several pieces behind and slip this model into your backpack.

We went the extra mile  in fact about five extra miles  for a backcountry picnic while testing the Snow Peak Titanium cookware. Here  Ryan prepares a Mac and Cheese meal while Great Dane  Page  supervises on the Avalanche Lake trail in Western Colorado near Carbondale.
We went the extra mile, in fact about five extra miles, for a backcountry picnic while testing the Snow Peak Titanium cookware. Here, Ryan prepares a Mac and Cheese meal while Great Dane, Page, supervises on the Avalanche Lake trail in Western Colorado near Carbondale.

The lowest competitors in 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.

The MalloMe 10 Piece Mess Kit has the features you think you want, but some of those, like the "bowl" and the folding spork, are worth replacing with something more robust. Sturdier versions of these products will not weigh any more than those included with the MalloMe and be far easier to use. Cleanup wasn't as tricky though, as we were able to use steel wool to scrub the pan. The Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Set has a dedicated frying pan, but the thin, anodized aluminum construction doesn't lend itself very well to egg cooking. The newcomer MalloMe 10 Piece Set also has a thin, anodized frying pan, this one even smaller than that of the Winterial; it performed the same as the Winterial.

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.

Features


The features of a camping cook set vary considerably. Some of the sets we tested are as simple as two pots and a lid, with the corresponding handle. For spartan kits like this, you will need to add everything else in. The Top Pick MSR Trail Mini Duo is one pot, one lid, a plastic bowl, a pot gripping pliers, and a bag. The pot is equipped with a removable rubber band around the upper portion as another grip option. This set of features, plus your stove and fuel is all that a team of two needs on an ultralight backpacking trip, provided their food is correspondingly simple and light.

On the other hand, some products incorporate all but the food, at least for basic camp cooking. For more elaborate culinary pursuits, you will need to supplement every one of the products with at least a sharp knife. Most will need additional spoons and forks. In short, there is no "one-stop shop" regarding camp cookware. Some products save you some shopping, but all require some more thought. The degree to which you need to select other features depends on which kit you choose.

All the components of the Sea to Summit Alpha 2.2. The printing on the cups is actually on the insulated covers. In order for the cups to nest together and fit inside the smaller pot  these printed insulating covers must be removed.
All the components of the Sea to Summit Alpha 2.2. The printing on the cups is actually on the insulated covers. In order for the cups to nest together and fit inside the smaller pot, these printed insulating covers must be removed.

Let's examine what your typical camping kitchen should include. A lightweight backpacking cook kit is a pot for boiling water for every 2-4 people and a spoon for each person. Everyone should then eat out of their freeze-dried food bag and drink from their water bottles. At the other end of the spectrum, gourmet "glamping" menus and kitchens require cookware that could be just taken from your home kitchen. In between is the sweet spot. Whether car camping, base-camping, or collecting a kit that will work for all of these and from which can be selected as a subset of backpacking, you need the following.

Assuming a cooking group of 2-3 people, you need a couple of pots around 1.5-2 liters, with lids and handles. A frying pan with a lid is essential to most people. A cutting board, knife, and serving spoon/ladle round out the group gear. Each camper then needs a bowl or deep plate, a cup for hot and cold liquids, a spoon, and a fork. In assembling this standard kitchen kit, you have two primary options in our review. You can choose your pot set and then add the rest on your own, or you can pick a kit that includes some of the additional accessories.


Just under half of the cook sets we tested are two pots, lid(s), and handle(s). All of these products have no additional features. For each, you will need to acquire cutting board, knife, cutlery, bowls, and cups. In most cases, you will also choose to add a frying pan. These "backbone" kits are the Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L, Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set, Top Pick Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact, Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set, and the ultra-durable MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set.

To that basic 2-pot foundation, the Optimus Terra HE adds a perfect frying pan. Both GSI products, including the Editors' Choice Bugaboo Camper Cookset match the Optimus and add dedicated lids, insulated coffee cups, narrow "bowls", and the carry bag doubles as water storage and a wash basin. The MSR Quick 2 System and Sea to Summit Alpha 2.2 have similar feature sets. Each is basically two pots with lids, a couple bowl/plates, and insulated mugs. For backpacking, even when preparing relatively nice food, this is a great start, if not all you will need.

Of the features that aren't in every set we tested  the frying pan is the most useful. If you want to prepare most types of "real food"  including steak  having a frying pan to complement the main pot is clutch.
Of the features that aren't in every set we tested, the frying pan is the most useful. If you want to prepare most types of "real food", including steak, having a frying pan to complement the main pot is clutch.

The MalloMe 10 Piece Mess Kit and the Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Camping Cookware Set are somewhat similar. They are both made of anodized aluminum, their pots and pans have fold-out handles, and both include small, lidded frying pans. They both also have little plastic "bowls" that aren't much bigger than the spoons some people eat with. The Winterial kit also has a cutting board and a clever and much-appreciated kettle for dedicated water heating use.

Conclusion


Deciding between the many options in materials and amenities can make finding the perfect cookware a struggle. Weight is a key factor in backpacking cookware, while less of a concern if you are planning to cook near your car. We hope that our analysis of these 14 cookware sets can assist you in finding the best setup to accommodate your needs. For more tips, have a look at our Buying Advice article, where we break down the different types of sets available as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the different materials.

Side-by-side with the Winterial Camping Cookware skillet and the Optimus Terra HE skillet  Ryan prepares a yummy  and colorful  meal of pork fajitas.
Side-by-side with the Winterial Camping Cookware skillet and the Optimus Terra HE skillet, Ryan prepares a yummy, and colorful, meal of pork fajitas.

Jediah Porter

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