The kitchen seems to be one of the hardest areas for people to exercise control, in both equipment and food. They see those wonderful new nesting pot sets and feel the need to bring every single one along with them. Heaven forbid that they should break up the set—it wouldn’t look as good or nest as perfectly if every piece wasn’t there. Besides they’ve paid good money for them—there’s no way they’re going to leave any of them behind! Never mind the fact that all they will have to do is boil water! So why take along the frying pan and three different saucepans? Then they load up with dishes like cups, plates, bowls, and full sets of silverware.
Having all of this stuff is great for car camping, but when you carry everything on your back, every extra ounce is your mortal enemy. Don’t get in the habit of thinking, “But it’s only a few ounces.” Pounds are made up of ounces! It absolutely amazes me to see the stuff people will carry; often without any thought whatsoever to what they will actually need!
While instructing backcountry courses for the Grand Canyon Field Institute, the backpacker’s kitchen was the area I could reduce much of the weight from the participants’ packs. So avoid these mistakes and even help your pocketbook by determining what items are essential. Purchase and carry only what you will need.
Two of the most important kitchen topics are food and stoves. Since they are so important, I felt it best to cover them on their own pages. In Backcountry Food, I discuss what types of food are best for your backpack trip, both for ease in preparation as well as in being most satisfying on the trail.
In Backpacking Stoves, you’ll find information on the types of stoves available to the lightweight backpacker and the pros and cons of each style.
If you’re interested in being more creative on the trail with your food, be sure to visit the Camper’s Cookbooks page to learn about some of the best cookbooks available for learning about dehydrating, packing, and preparing your own meals on the trail.
Of all of the utensils available to the backpacker, I use only a large soup spoon or “spork.” Nothing else! Think about it carefully, we’re not worrying about Mother telling you not to eat out of the pan! I will boil water for my hot drink first, followed by the preparation of the meal in the saucepan. I eat the meal right from the pan. This has the added benefit of cutting back on washing extra dishes as well.
There is no need to carry a fork; most backpacking foods don’t require the use of one. A Lexan spoon is very lightweight and will not melt or break, and they are available in most backpacking supply stores. Unlike the metal ones (which are heavier anyway) the Lexan spoon will not get too hot to handle. I use the larger soup spoon size rather than the teaspoon.
After you’ve planned the kind of food and stove you will be using, it is time to decide on your dishes and utensils. Many people make the mistake of carrying too many dishes. I carry three items. . . that’s all! I use a lightweight, insulated mug with a lid, a large Lexan spoon, and a saucepan with a lid. I also carry a pocket knife which comes in handy for many things.
When you are sharing your meals with a companion, all they should need is another cup, bowl, and a spoon. How do you eat noodles without a fork? Simply break the pasta into spoon-size bites before cooking.
If your saucepan doesn’t come with a lid, just use a piece of foil. I know it might seem complicated at first, but believe me, the weight you save will make it worth the effort.
For some great ideas and guidelines for choosing your kitchen equipment, be sure to check out Gretchen McHugh’s book, Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking. This cookbook covers stoves, food dehydrators, dishes, and water bottles, as well as tips on menu planning for both short trips to long journeys with different sizes and types of groups, including children. Included in this marvelous book are recipes geared to the special needs of backpackers. Best of all, the recipes are made for real people with real ingredients! Be sure to check it out if you can still find it.