Cooking on the Trail: Our Guide to Hiking Cookware

pot on portable stove in bed of leaves

Come the weekend, if the weather is nice and we don’t have a ballgame but also aren’t camping…you will probably find us on a hiking trail somewhere. We love to take advantage of the multitude of day hikes available to us in Middle Tennessee and will regularly get up early to eat breakfast, throw the kid and the dog in the car, and head out for the day.

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However, setting foot on the trail comes with its own set of challenges, namely all that exercise makes us hungry! And while I have been known to munch on a granola bar as I walk along, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten spoiled. I enjoy real food, good food, and (even when it feels like 100 degrees outside) hot food. Luckily the right cookware can transform the task of preparing food from a chore into a delightful and delicious picnic overlooking some great scenery.

Benefits of Lightweight Cookware

Packing light changes the game on the trail. With lightweight cookware, every step feels easier, letting you cover more ground without feeling dragged down. You hardly notice the difference in your backpack, making climbs and descents more manageable. This advantage becomes particularly noticeable on longer treks where every ounce matters. Or, when you are having to carry the kid who refuses to take another step!

toddler in backpack with smiling mom outdoors in woods

Moreover, lightweight cookware pairs perfectly with minimalist backpacking. Those of us leaning towards a less-is-more approach find that these lighter options don’t compromise on functionality. Whether we’re boiling water on a MSR Windpro II Campstove or whipping up a quick meal with dehydrated food (our favorite comes from the Mary Jane Farms line), the results are just as satisfying. This compatibility with minimalist philosophies ensures we still enjoy the comforts of a warm meal, reaffirming that cutting back on weight doesn’t mean cutting back on quality or enjoyment of hiking food.

Material Matters: Titanium vs. Stainless Steel

Choosing the right cookware material can make or break your hiking experience. Weighing the options between titanium and stainless steel is no small feat. Titanium stands out for its ultralight nature, making it a favorite among those of us keen on trimming our pack weight. Its durability is commendable, resisting dents and scratches through miles of rough and tumble adventures. Yet, its heat distribution often falls short, potentially leading to uneven cooking.

On the other hand, stainless steel brings exceptional heat distribution to the table, ensuring your dehydrated food warms evenly. It’s the go-to for gourmet trail chefs looking to simmer or sauté meals to perfection. Despite its heavier weight compared to titanium, many of us find the cooking performance trade-off worth the extra ounces. Moreover, stainless steel pots are less susceptible to warping over time, promising longevity for countless hikes.

Our Top Hiking Cookware Combo

The MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset remains an indispensable ally on our expeditions. Its durable, non-stick surface ensures a hassle-free cleanup, critical after long days of hiking. Designed to work harmoniously with the MSR Windpro II Campstove, this set simplifies cooking dehydrated food, boiling water for instant meals, or simmering gourmet hiking cuisine. Each piece boasts an efficient heat distribution, eliminating hot spots that can ruin a good meal.

man setting up jetpro stove on wooden table

Weight and space often limit us, but these pots blend lightness with rugged utility. Their capacity suits solo travelers and small groups, offering versatility without the burden of excess weight. We appreciate the detachable handle which means one handle works on all pots. Whether simmering stew or boiling water for instant coffee, here are our suggestions for most hikers.

MSR Windpro II Campstove Compatibility

Picking the right cookware for hiking throws up a bunch of questions. Among them, compatibility with your stove ranks high. Our focus here is the MSR Windpro II Campstove and how well it pairs with our top cookware selections.

This campstove is a favorite for its reliable performance in various conditions. Its design allows it to work seamlessly with different cookware types, including the MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset. The cookset’s lightweight design and efficient heat distribution make it a perfect match. This combination shines when preparing both dehydrated and instant food, keeping you fueled on hikes.

What stands out is not just the compatibility but also the stove’s stability. It three prong stand holds pots securely, reducing the risk of spills. This feature becomes crucial when you’re cooking in the great outdoors. Whether you’re boiling water or simmering hiking food, the precise control over flame adjustment ensures perfectly cooked meals every time.

blonde boy pouring water into black pot under adult male supervision outdoors

Cooking Performance with MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset

The MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset shines when it comes to turning dehydrated food into hearty meals. Its nonstick surface makes cooking and cleanup a breeze. We don’t get bogged down with stubborn food residue clinging to the pans. This feature alone turns meal prep in the wild into a less daunting task.

The conductive properties of the cookset are great. It heats evenly, ensuring that every spoonful of our instant or hiking food is cooked perfectly. There’s no spot left unturned or underserved by heat. This means our dehydrated meals rehydrate thoroughly, offering much-needed nourishment after a long day on the trail.

Pairing it with the MSR Windpro II Campstove enhances its functionality. This combo allows for precise heat control, from simmering soups to boiling water swiftly. We find this essential when dealing with a variety of hiking food options. The versatility and efficiency of the MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset make it a staple in our backpacking kit.

Practical Considerations: Handle Designs

pot showing detachable handle

Handles might seem like a small detail, but they make a big difference when you’re miles from anywhere. Folding or removable handles keep your pack light and your cookware compact. You need them to be sturdy, so they don’t collapse or detach while stirring a pot of dehydrated food. Think about the last thing you want after a long day of hiking. It’s probably struggling with a hot pot because the handle isn’t heat-resistant or comfortable to hold.

Handles should also provide stability. No one enjoys chasing their dinner across a camp stove, especially when using something as slick as an MSR Windpro II Campstove or an MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset. Stability means more than just keeping the pot on the stove; it means safety for you and your group. Also, consider the grip. After a day on the trails, your hands might be tired, or you might be wearing gloves if it’s cold. So, a handle that is easy to grasp improves the experience of preparing instant food or any hiking food, making your outdoor culinary endeavors more enjoyable.

Budget-Friendly Options for Hikers

Finding budget-friendly hiking cookware that doesn’t sacrifice quality or functionality may seem challenging. Yet, affordable options exist. We looked for cookware that strikes a balance between cost and durability, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck. We were able to find our set on a used marketplace and have been thrilled with the quality ever since. In fact, if we were to lose this set, I would promptly buy another set brand new if I couldn’t find it used. The MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset is that good. Its non-stick surface simplifies cooking and cleanup, perfect for preparing a variety of hiking food, from dehydrated meals to instant options.

package of dehydrated food in black pot

The key to selecting affordable cookware is focusing on multi-use items. For instance, a pot that’s compatible with the MSR Windpro II Campstove allows for efficient fuel use, saving money in the long run. These pots are ideal for boiling water swiftly, making them indispensable for hikers reliant on dehydrated or instant food. Lightweight materials such as aluminum offer cost savings without dramatically increasing pack weight.

Hikers on a tight budget should consider not just the initial price but also durability and potential savings in fuel efficiency. Quality cookware ensures meals are cooked efficiently and evenly, reducing wasted fuel and unfinished meals. By prioritizing these aspects, you can discover cookware that enhances your hiking experience without draining your wallet.

Cooking Styles and Recommended Cookware

Selecting the right cookware for your hiking adventures can boil down to your cooking style. If speed and simplicity are your mantras on the trail, consider the lightness of titanium pots, perfectly compatible with the MSR Windpro II Campstove. They heat fast and are ideal for those who favor dehydrated or instant meals. With just a quick boil, you can have a hot meal ready before you know it.

For the gourmets of the great outdoors who prefer simmering stews or crafting more elaborate dishes, the MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset shines. Its stellar heat distribution allows for even cooking, making it easier to manage dishes that require more finesse than just boiling water. Its non-stick surface is a bonus, simplifying cleanup and allowing you to explore a wider range of hiking food.

In essence, aligning cookware with your hiking culinary style elevates your food experience. It transitions the act of eating from merely refueling to a moment of pleasure. Whether you’re in the instant food camp or enjoy the process of meal preparation, there’s cookware out there tailored for your journey. And if, like us, you do both…you can own both although you might choose to only carry one at a time!

Addressing Common Misconceptions

Many believe that when it comes to picking out hiking cookware, the more expensive, the better the quality. This isn’t always the case. Some budget-friendly options perform just as well, if not better, especially for those just starting with hiking. It’s about finding a balance between cost and functionality. We’ve seen this with the MSR Nonstick Ceramic Coated Cookset, a stellar example of quality at a fair price.

Another misconception is that titanium cookware is only for the ultralight backpackers. While titanium is incredibly lightweight, it’s also remarkably durable, making it a smart choice for all types of hikers, whether you’re scaling mountains or enjoying a leisurely weekend hike. This applies to cooking all sorts of hiking food, from dehydrated meals to instant foods, seamlessly on the MSR Windpro II Campstove.

Lastly, some hikers think that specialized hiking cookware is a luxury, not a necessity. On the contrary, the right pot can significantly enhance your outdoor culinary experience. It makes preparing meals easier, quicker, and more enjoyable. After all, sharing a well-cooked meal can be one of the highlights of any hiking trip.

Essential Maintenance Tips for Hiking Cookware

Maintaining your hiking cookware is simpler than you might think. Start with cleaning. After each use, wash your pots and utensils thoroughly with biodegradable soap and warm water. Ensure you remove all food particles to prevent mold and unpleasant smells. Dry them completely before storage. This step prevents rust on metal surfaces and keeps your cookware ready for your next adventure.

Also, check for any fuel residue and clean it off. For pots and pans, wrap them in a soft cloth to prevent scratching. Then, when it comes to storage, find a cool, dry place. Moisture is the enemy of camping gear, leading to corrosion and mildew.

pots stacked with lid and handle

Safety is paramount. Before and after trips, inspect your cookware for damage. Look for cracks in plastic handles or warping in metal surfaces. These could affect heat distribution and compromise your ability to cook meals like dehydrated food, instant food, or other hiking food efficiently. By taking these steps, you ensure your cookware lasts through countless trails and tales.

Elevating Your Trail Culinary Experience

Imagining a delightful meal while hiking conjures up images of instant noodles or simple dehydrated food. Yet, with a dash of ingenuity, we can transform these humble meals into gourmet experiences right on the trail. The trick lies in mastering the art of rehydration and the efficient use of flavorful add-ins from your kit of preferred spices. Beyond just adding water, consider adding spices or herbs. This minor step takes no extra space but significantly enhances flavors. Toasting spices on your campstove before adding them to your meal can release aromatic oils, making a simple instant meal surprisingly savory.

Our Favorite Line of Dehydrated Meals

Some of our favorites come from the Mary Jane Farms line. Not only is their food delicious, but their customer service is also phenomenal! I need to avoid soy and in looking for instant foods we came across this company.

Mary Jane Foods on top of campstove

Aaron sent them a quick email asking “Other than the disclaimer on your website that states- For those with any allergy concerns, please note that all of our food products are processed in a facility that handles dairy products, nuts, peanuts, soy and wheat.- do you have a list of products that are soy free or limited amounts?”

Within two days he received a thorough reply.  They stated  “There are only a few foods we sell that have soy ingredients.  We have soy milk powder in the Outrageous Outback Oatmeal.  There is soy miso powder in the Ginger Sesame Pasta, NW Garden Couscous and Wild Forest Mushroom Couscous.  Finally the Bac’uns in Nick’s Couch Potatoes and Cheesy B.N.T. Pasta are made from soy.  Everything else is soy free.  I hope that helps answer your questions.  If you have any more please feel free to call or email.” 

That was a pretty good bit of customer service that goes a long way.  He decided to purchase the Adventure Sampler and I would just not eat the oatmeal. If you are looking for some tasty hiking food, we definitely recommend the MJF line.

man, woman, and dog sitting in front of brick wall outdoors

Back when Lindy was our steady travel companion, she would usually get some sort of canned wet food. And we would get some sort of hot lunch because Aaron loved to experiment with a variety of instant meals. However, no matter what tasty goodness we brought for Lindy to eat, she always wanted to help us clean our plates! Nowadays Evie gets to delight in the same type of adventure. And, if we are lucky, the adventure wears the dog (and kid) out so they sleep soundly on the way home!

dog and kid asleep in back seats of van
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