How Camping Cookware Works

Camping Cookware Material

Camping equipment manufacturers make camping cookware in aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and cast iron. There's a relationship between cookware weight and cooking results. Heavier cookware yields faster, more even cooking. Cast iron offers the best heat distribution and versatility, but it's very heavy, so it's best for base camp or car camping. You'll need to make a trade-off if you, your kayak or your horse will pack the cookware to your outdoor adventure destination.

Plain aluminum is the lightest and cheapest material. You can pick up a scout-style mess kit for less than $10. If you're a budget backpacker whose culinary aspirations stop at boiling water for summer backcountry meals, plain aluminum is your pick. Foods with more body than broth, however, will stick to unmodified aluminum and stainless steel. They'll also suffer from uneven heating, and the shiny material doesn't retain heat as well as darkened cookware does. But there are some good upgrades on both materials that make them more user-friendly without breaking the bank:

  • Hard, anodized aluminum has thicker walls, and its dark color absorbs and evenly distributes heat.
  • Ceramic coated aluminum is a brightly colored, baked-on ceramic that provides even heat distribution and a chemical-free non-stick cooking surface. This typically offers easy clean-up without adding too much weight [source: Hostetter]. A 30.4 ounce (0.9 liter) deep pot with an 8.8 ounce (0.26 liter) lid and fry pan weighs 7.4 ounces (210 grams) [source: Evernew].
  • Copper bottoms help distribute heat more evenly on stainless steel cookware, but they add noticeable weight.

Corrosion-resistant titanium is light like aluminum, strong like stainless steel, and sticky like both of them. It's also expensive, however. Non-stick coatings are available on all of these except cast iron. Because it's a bit delicate, you'll need to handle this type of cookware carefully to avoid scratching the non-stick surfaces.

Learn about camping stoves, fuel sources and using your camping cookware on the next page.