Packing Cookware for a Camping Trip: What Should I Take?
More than 57 million families went camping last year in America alone based on the latest outdoor recreation reports. That number has been surging annually for quite some time with numerous people discovering the joys of camping each year. Of course, bringing along the right equipment for a camping trip can make or break the entire experience.
For many families, deciding which items qualify as essential equipment isn’t easy. That’s particularly true for those with children of varying ages who have different interests. Still, one factor all camping enthusiasts have in common is the need for dishes and cookware. Quite a few fall back on disposable dishes and utensils and whatever spare pots and pans they can round up. When it comes to dinnerware for camping, though, those aren’t the only options available.
Packing Mealtime Essentials for Camping
Having a variety of cookware, dinnerware, and utensils at your fingertips is certainly helpful at mealtime. When you’re on a camping trip, though, that’s not always possible. Every item you pack adds weight and takes up space. As such, choosing a few basics that cover all the most important bases is crucial.
Standard Cookware for Camping
Let’s start with cookware and utensils. There’s a virtually endless selection of cookware on the market at this point. Pots and pans range from $20 or so per set to more than $3,000. Obviously, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a set of cookware for a camper or backpack isn’t practical. On the other hand, if you purchase a cheap set of cookware for camping, you’ll get exactly what you pay for.
Pots and Pans
When purchasing cookware for camping, you don’t need to spend a fortune or choose a 20-piece set to prepare elaborate meals. A few basic pieces will more than suffice. Those include a sturdy frying pan, a medium-sized pot, and perhaps a boiler. Think about how many people you’ll typically be feeding to determine the right sizes of pots and pans for your collection.
While aluminum is a lightweight material for cookware, it doesn’t always hold up to the hazards of camping. Consider purchasing stainless steel cookware for a nice blend of affordability, durability, and portability. Stainless steel pots and pans can hold up to stoves in motorhomes, portable gas cookstoves, and campfires. Choose pieces that aren’t at the bottom of the price spectrum but also won’t break the bank.
Additionally, no kitchen, even a mobile one, would be complete without a high-quality cast-iron skillet. Cast iron is heavy and bulky, but it’s also incredibly versatile. It can withstand the flames and high temperatures of an open fire and easily go from the stovetop to the oven and back again. It also gives food an amazing flavor you just can’t get from any other type of cookware.
If you’re venturing out in a camper or motorhome, you might want to add a cast-iron dutch oven to the mix as well. They’re great for all types of foods, including chilis and stews that are perfect for chilly evenings in the great outdoors. Be sure to season cast-iron pieces at home before taking them camping. Even those that claim to be pre-seasoned need a little extra love and attention to bring out their full glory.
Wipe down cast-iron cookware with oil or bacon grease after each use, too. Doing so will help to maintain their non-stick finishes. It’ll keep them from rusting when exposed to moisture as well. Cast iron needs care, but the results are well worth the minimal time and effort that go into the process.
Choosing cooking utensils for camping trips is fairly simple. All you really need is a good spatula and a large spoon. If you have plenty of space, there’s no harm in adding extra tools to your selection, like a ladle and a slotted spoon. When camping, though, space is often precious, and keeping things as simple as possible is recommended.
The rules for choosing cooking utensils for camping are basically the same as they are in a home kitchen. If you’re using cookware with non-stick coatings, choose plastic or wood spoons and spatulas to avoid damaging the surface of the pots and pans. For stainless steel and cast iron, metal utensils are perfectly acceptable.
Dinnerware for Camping
That brings us to dinnerware. As mentioned, people often turn to disposable dishes and utensils. They’re cheap and readily available. They also make cleanup much simpler. That said, they aren’t ideal for the environment. They create a great deal of waste. Even if you’re diligent about bagging trash and properly disposing of it, disposable dishes could still end up scattered in all the wrong places.
Reusable dinnerware and utensils are a better alternative. They’re always on hand, and you don’t have to continuously remember to buy extra disposable plates, cups, forks, and spoons if you have a decent set of reusables at your disposal. Besides that, numerous styles and designs are available, so you can easily find one that dovetails with your personality and even the interior decor of your RV.
Plates and Bowls
At a bare minimum, you’ll need a few plates and bowls. Be sure to stock enough for everyone you’ll be feeding. Though you don’t want to take up too much storage space with unnecessary extras, having a couple more than you think you’ll need isn’t a bad idea.
You’ll find an array of dinnerware on the market that’s specifically designed for camping. Many options are made of thin metal. Though they’re lightweight and capable of holding up to hearty meals, they also pose a few problems. They bend easily, and they can burn your hands or lap when they’re holding hot foods.
Collapsible bowls and cups are also an option. They’re easy to carry, and they collapse to save space. Unfortunately, though, they can quickly wear out. Some leak around their collapsible seams as well. Sometimes, what sounds good in theory just doesn’t always pan out in practice.
Melamine dinnerware is highly recommended for camping. It’s light, durable, and shatterproof. It also resists stains and scratches. At the same time, it stays cool to the touch, so it’s safer than metal dishes. Melamine dishes are also affordable and easy to clean.
In terms of forks, spoons, and other utensils, both metal and reusable plastic work well for camping. Neither option is overly heavy or bulky, and both are available in inexpensive versions. Again, be sure to stockpile enough pieces for everyone without going overboard on extras.
If you choose reusable plastic utensils, make sure they’re thick and sturdy. If they’re flimsy, you’ll end up spending more on replacements in the long run than you would initially on a more expensive heavy-duty set. Consider adding a few steak knives to the mix as well. Stainless steel knives work nicely. Those with plastic or wood handles may be slightly less expensive than those made up wholly of stainless steel, but they probably won’t last as long.
Cups are essential camping equipment, too. Glass and ceramic aren’t optimal choices for camping trips because of their weight and fragility. Plenty of sturdy, reusable, shatterproof plastic cups are available. You can even find versions to match the melamine dinnerware you choose for your camper or motorhome.
For most people, coffee cups could be considered standard equipment. As is the case with plates, cheap metal camping coffee mugs are available, but once the coffee heats them up, they’re notoriously difficult to hold onto. Melamine mugs and insulated coffee cups offer an array of advantages over ceramic and metal. If space is tight, you can use coffee mugs as all-purpose drinkware.
If you’d like to branch out beyond the basics, a few additional necessities will serve you well. A set of plastic measuring cups and spoons will certainly be helpful for all your campsite culinary experiences. Another must-have is a large knife for cutting various types of foods. Steak knives won’t cover all your cutting needs.
Metal tongs for the grill come in handy, too. You may even want to add a whisk to your kitchen arsenal. A set of mixing and serving bowls in various sizes will make matters much more convenient as well.
Bottle openers and corkscrews are essential equipment for some avid campers. Keep in mind, combination units are available. They eliminate the problem of having to keep up with two separate tools. At the same time, every camper needs a manual can opener. Can openers are among the most important, but also the most often forgotten, kitchen tools in the world of camping.
Arming Yourself with the Right Tools for Cooking and Dining While Camping
Many minimalists might argue that all you really need for cooking and eating during camping trips are an iron skillet, a tin plate and cup, and a good pocket knife. These days, though, camping has evolved well beyond the minimalistic experience it once was. The market for camping cookware and dinnerware has followed suit.
When you’re the one doing the cooking, you have the power to decide which items are essential additions to your repertoire. It’s possible to arm yourself with an array of tools for cooking and dining while enjoying camping adventures. Space is your only limitation. Furthermore, you don’t have to spend a fortune or sacrifice style and functionality when building up your camping cookware and dinnerware collection.