This is your ultimate guide to putting together a lightweight and affordable campfire cooking kit, with all the outdoor cooking equipment you’ll need to whip up delicious campfire meals!
I’m not sure any food tastes as good as that which is made at a campsite. If you are driving into your campsite, knowing what to pack is pretty easy. Everything!
But, if you are hiking or skiing in this is, of course, a different story. Assembling a lightweight & compact campfire cooking kit tailored to your plans is critical.
Confession, I am not a lifelong backpacker, so I have made a lot of mistakes. In 2014 a few friends and I were invited to participate in the Red Bull Challenge hiking from London to Berlin and all across Europe with only Red Bull for currency. This wasn’t strictly camping, but boy did we make some mistakes with what we brought (see the Hitchhikers Guide to Europe). Now that I live in Denver and hike the Rockies all the time, we have learned a thing or two about what to bring and cook.
Camping Cooking Kit: The Basics
Today we just want to look at a few options for seriously lightweight cooking essentials. We will leave other lightweight camping gear (like fishing gear, clothes, etc) to the complete experts, but cooking is our forte here at Live Eat Learn so we will only look at necessities for campfire cooking kits.
Cook pots, Frying pans, and complete sets
Again, if you are driving in you may be able to use this as a checklist and just pack most of the needed cooking equipment from your kitchen. No need to maintain two of everything if weight and size aren’t an issue, and let’s face it, cast iron is just meant for cooking over an open fire, but not for carrying.
Otherwise, there is an abundance of super lightweight cooking products out there for backpack camping. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra for ultra light weight then look at brands like Snow Peak. They have a nice assortment of pots and pans that weigh next to nothing. We are impressed with their Snow Peak Titanium Cookware, or this Titanium Pot Set at 6 oz. We are also fond of the line from TOAKS which are lightweight and well designed without breaking the bank.
There are cheaper ways to get a full camping kit together like this Stanley Base Camp Kit. It could be a bit bulky for hiking (which is why it is a base camp kit) but weighs very little. You can outfit your campfire cooking kit even more cheaply at a marginal weight increase with sets like the highly value rated Bis Gear Set or Outdoor Anywhere Set.
If you are driving in to camp, this is a no brainer. Breakout the inexpensive Coleman Stove and start making pancakes. For your backpack kit we like three options at different price points but all similar ultra lightweight points. These Jet Boil Stoves stoves are our favorite, but perhaps a bit pricier than some other options like this Camping Stove by MSR or from Snow Peak Stove who have a nice line of ultra lightweight compatible camping gear.
Unless you are going to cook everything on top of a one pot camping stove, you really need a grill rack of some sort particularly if you prefer cooking over a fire as we do. There are plenty of light weight racks, but space in your pack is the trick. There are a variety of small racks you can place over a fire that are relatively inexpensive (see backpackable grill racks).
Your camp set, of course, has to have eating utensils and again we like the Snow Peak Camping Utensils for their light-weight and durability, but there are cheaper options. We collect sturdy plasticware wherever we find it. The hard plastic utensils on Delta Airlines’ longer flights are great. Very light weight, extremely hard, and free.
Unless you are a hardcore backpacker, you can generally get away with just using light weight utensils. I know I am going to hear from some folks on this one, and that is okay but we live in Denver and hike the Rockies all the time using a selection of silicon cooking utensils we grab from the kitchen to match our backpacking plans. If you are looking for the lightest possible utensils, here are a few recommendations we have seen others use.
Snow Peak Spatula at 19g (2/3 ounce) is as light as we have seen. For a set we like the MSR 3 Utensil Set which comes in at only 3 ounces for all three and includes a folding spatula, spoon, and strainer/cheese grater. A fourth camping essential are AMG Titanium Tongs at 22g (¾ ounce). if tongs are instrumental to your campfire cooking kit, these feather-lite tongs at about $20 are a good option.
Plates and Bowls
The Stanley Base Camp Kit we mentioned above has plates and bowls that fit neatly into the cooking set and add little to the weight. For short hikes we prefer to just use paper as it is easily hiked back out or burned.
Confession time. Normally we just camp with instant coffee. My coffee loving friends often chafe at this, and there are super lightweight alternatives that allow you to enjoy your favorite brewed coffee miles from nowhere. One of the more inventive is the JoGo Brewing Straw. For more traditional methods Jet Boil makes an inexpensive backpackable coffee press.
Unless you are the queen of camping meal prep, you are going to need some sort of cutting board. We use flexible plastic mats that weigh about an ounce and can be stored in a variety of ways in your pack. These Inexpensive Flexible Cutting Boards are a great option.
The lightest saw we know of is made by Opinel who makes a nice selection of knives. Their Opinel #12 Folding Saw weighs in at only 102g or 3.6 ounces. Second up and a little less expensive is Folding Saw from Wicked Tree Gear that comes in at 8 ounces. If you prefer to use a camping ax, Gerber makes a nice line of axes weighing in as low as 20 ounces (Gerber Camping Ax Options).
My usual advice to friends on firestarters is “don’t overthink it” Bring a lighter or perhaps waterproof matches and use them in conjunction with pieces of commercial fire starters. If you want to teach the kids “survival skills” sure go with a magnesium flint or ferro rods, and Girl Scout dryer lint fire starters..
Seasonings & Powdered Drinks
Everything from salt, pepper, spices, coffee/tea/hot chocolate, and sweeteners (sugar, honey, sugar substitute)!
I lump all of these together as I like to have a bag that I fill with these based on how many days we will be out and what we are planning. You can get a small container that holds six or more spices like this inexpensive Multi-Spice Kit, and you can also use paper salt, pepper, sugar, stevia packs.
Cooking oilS & sauces
Nalgene makes an inexpensive selection of different sized containers perfect for taking small amounts of oils, sauces, etc. Just get a set and select what you need for the trip (see Nalgene Lightweight Bottles).
For cooking you can always boil water, but having potable water readily at hand is, of course, a must for any camping gear set. Membrane Solutions Straw Set is a highly rated option as is LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle. A few inexpensive iodine tablets as an emergency survival backup is always prudent.
I know we all carry multi-tools with a can opener and we generally don’t bring cans camping unless we go by truck, but when we do there is one can opener we just love. It came from the US Army during WWII and is still available for next to nothing. It is called the P38. Check it out. Most sellers only sell them in packages of 10 as they are so inexpensive, but they make great stocking stuffers (see P38 Can Opener).
Ultra Lightweight Doggie Dishes
There are a lot of fancy kits for sale online for feeding your best buddy when camping, but I assert they generally take up too much space for little benefit. Just use a pair of Collapsible Dog Bowls, or portage along a few extra paper bowls.
Obviously, there is a whole lot more you may need as camp chef. What works for me is maintaining a shelf, okay shelves, in the basement loaded with camping stuff. Based on what we are planning I pick and choose, load the pack and off we go.
Some campfire cooking kit items to consider also include:
- Pot holders/pot lifter
- Your favorite multi-tool (always)
- Sharp knife.
- Grilling basket
- Cheese grater
- Stirring spoon
- Aluminum foil
- Marshmallow/hot dog roasting forks
- Water bottles
- Dish Soap
- Scrub brush or pad
- Ziplock bags or Tupperware
- Coffee/tea/hot chocolate
- Sweeteners (sugar, honey, sugar substitute)
- Fire tending equipment such as a poker, fire rake, and fire dousing bucket.
- Stainless Steel Pots & Pans if you prefer to not use cast iron cookware
- Tablecloth and clips
- You favorite campfire chef apron
Drive In Camping Supplies
If you are driving into your campsite and weight is NOT an issue, your camping cookware options open up dramatically and heavy duty cookware from your everyday kitchenware becomes an option. For these trips also consider some other essentials for outdoor cooking.
Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware
If you don’t already have a cast iron skillet, a griddle and perhaps other options, we are big fans of The Lodge Line of Cast Iron Cookware. There is just something about cast iron camping that feels right to most people.
We have never carried these on a backpacking trip, but Pie Irons are great for campfire desserts like “Hobo Pie”.
Long Metal skewers for hotdogs or marshmallows. These come at all price points and disposable bamboo sticks are a good option as well.
This sounds like a no brainer, but so often popular drive-in campsites have been picked clean of usable deadfall. If you don’t want to vacuum your car after the trip, you probably want something to carrying your wood in. We generally just use the large blue IKEA bags, but if you want something more rugged of better looking their are a lot of sturdy options for Firewood Hauling Bags.
We aren’t going to touch on what food to bring in this article, but one option we always consider is campfire meal prep. This is particularly the case if you are driving into the site. Some of our favorites include:
Campfire Roasted Veggies to go with any meat main course you might have in mind. If you prep these veggies in advance, you can easily cut your cooking time in half. Another great meal prep option that is always a winner with the kids is Campfire Mac & Cheese and our final side dish recommendation is Campfire Feta Bake.
While no camping trip is complete without pancakes on a cast iron griddle, sweet breakfast rolls on a chilly morning are our favorite camping breakfast, we have never had to bring home leftovers of these Campfire Orange Rolls, and they are so much easier to prep at home in advance than at your campsite.
For camping snacks we usually bring an easily packable charcuterie tray whether hiking or driving. We started this skiing as a way to pack in an easy option that everyone would like, but use it for backpacking as well Ski Hill Charcuterie. For summer camping trips, these Campfire Nachos are a must!