Mess kits – these can range widely from the super-duper, extra fancy and lightweight titanium nesting sets from a manufacturer like Snow Peak all the way to the super cheap plastic dinnerware sets. When we first started camping we bought most of our gear from Wal-mart, this was the most convenient and cheapest way to go and you can still find some really good deals there. The very first mess kit we bought was this 5 piece set from Coleman. Super cheap and light I thought this was the perfect set but it unfortunately did not live up to our needs and we ended up using them as just plates and bowls and cooking in actual pots and pans we raided from the kitchen.
This led to us purchasing some Coleman enamelware to use as plates and dishes and while we found that they were very durable, they were too heavy and bulky,meant more for a backyard BBQ or picnic rather than camping, especially if we were going to do some backpacking. This led us back to the store to check out other lightweight options and we found the Coleman Max anodized cook set. This set was similar to other much more expensive sets but at the Coleman price point it was perfect for us. Unfortunately for you they no longer carry this model and they did not make a replacement but there are several off-brand types available on Amazon like this very similar set here.
For a single person or couple this is the perfect setup for heating and cooking individual meals. That is unless you are a real camp cook gourmet, then you’ll need to have your Lodge Cast Iron set! I’ve seen my niece cook some AMAZING things in her cast iron pots and pans and there is no better smell in the world than bacon cooking on a cast iron pan in the morning!
If you are looking for something a little nicer or you have a family this setup from Mountain Summit Gear is really nice and at a midrange budget the perfect set if you plan on doing a lot of camping. We still use the Coleman Max set as our personal cups and bowls but we have gotten very simple and eating dehydrated food that only requires boiling a cup of water and so we have reduced the need for cookware. If this is your first time camping you could always steal a pot from the kitchen and bring some plastic utensils and paper plates, it can be that simple! But, if you plan on camping with any regularity you should invest in a simple cookware and utensil set. This is better overall for the environment and gives you flexibility in your food prep as well.
Utensils – If you are my wife this section is totally useless, no matter what nifty tool I get or light, flexible, foldable, indestructible utensil I find, my wife uses a pair of disposable chopsticks to cook, eat and prep food. She believes that all of her ancestors have cooked outdoors using nothing but chopsticks so that’s all she needs about 99% of the time. The other 1% she begrudgingly uses a couple of inexpensive .$99 store nylon tools that for the most part work okay and you won’t feel bad if they melt, break or walk away.
One item that I have found is really useful is a cheap pair of metal tongs. Metal and not plastic or nylon as those tend to bend and flex too much. Again, you don’t need to spend much on them as they will break or get lost sooner or later. I have been thinking about replacing our current set of tools with these from JetBoil since they break down to fit into the pot and they are relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, my wife has a point about the chopsticks… once you are done with them you can just throw them into the fire!
The last two items really make campsite cooking easier as well. We’ve been using a small ceramic cooking knife with cover and flexible cutting boards and they work out great. From cutting up fruit and vegetables to slicing cheese or a nice steak, having a nice sharp blade is very useful and the cover keeps the blade clean and safely stored. The cutting boards are great for throwing down on a nasty old picnic table to keep your food prep area relatively sanitary. We’ve found these two items really useful in general.
Now that we have covered cooking utensils you’ll also want something to eat with. Again, according to my wife you would just eat with the chopsticks that you cooked with… and she does have a point. But once in awhile you’ll need something more than a pair of sticks. When we first started camping I bought a pair of military style fork, spoon and knife sets in the center picture. These worked great and we still have them in our kit but they are little big and bulky so when we went backpacking we upgraded to the nylon fork and spoon combo at the bottom. These combo utensils are light and nearly indestructible but they come up a little short when you are trying to dig out the last bites of that Mountain House bag! Later on we ended up getting a couple of titanium utensils when they were on sale. Super light and super strong but also not cheap. In the end, for car camping or new campers, grabbing a set of the military or nylon combos are great. If this is your first trip, go with a set of plastic and wash them after your meal!
Cleaning – This of course is everyone’s favorite part of camping! This can really be a chore, especially at a campsite with no running water but we have found that cleaning up pots and dishes are a lot easier with this simple folding camp sink. Ours is an old military style collapsible wash basin and are harder to find. The newer styles are a little better at holding up after they are filled but ours is super light and small once folded up. Along with the wash basin is a simple squeeze bottle of dishwash soap and a Scotchbrite Blue sponge that I cut into quarters and stuff into a Nalgene container to keep it clean and from getting other stuff wet.
Some like to use rubbermaid containers, plastic shoeboxes, all the way up to this contraption here. Whatever you use just remember to get rid of your dirty dishwater away from your campsite and disperse the water so the scent is not concentrated in one area and well away from any water sources. Soaps and detergents can be harmful to aquatic life and the scent can and will attract rodents and even larger animals like coyotes to your campsite so keeping clean and following “Tread Lightly” principles are important.
What? You don’t know what Tread Lightly means? Well, check out this site for more information and look for a future blog post on the subject. Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!