Updated April 2017
Winter storm clouds are clearing, and that means a summer of camping is on the horizon. We've updated this review as of April 2017, adding charts and graphs to help you make your decision and including any product updates. We've also perused the market, reviewing our award winners' other versions and mentioning them here. In our market review, we also made sure that our Editors' Choice winner still has the features and performance required to take home our top spot.
Best Overall Camping Cookware
MSR Quick 2 System
Straining lid and lip
Deep dish plates
The MSR Quick 2 System
seemingly has it all and comes prepared with everything needed for backcountry cooking. The system works as well over a few nights out as it does in the campground just a few miles from civilization. Thanks to a few included amenities, our testers found the Quick 2 to be the best overall system. Plus, the included deep dish plates were a bonus, especially for overflowing meals. MSR has taken the concept of the Quick 2 and applied it to the Quick Solo System
if you're focused on solo camping.
Read full review: MSR Quick 2 System
Best Bang for the Buck
Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set
Great starter set
Some versatile pieces
The Best Buy award is one of our favorite awards, as we all love to get a good product for a great price. We've given the Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set
our Best Buy award for having the highest value of all the sets tested. It was the only set tested that came with a kettle (no one likes their morning hot drink to taste like last night's dinner) and the pots and pans cook well. The handles are stable and the set can be pared down in order to take with you while backpacking.
Read full review: Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set
Top Pick Award for Backpacking
G4Free Outdoor Camping Set
Useful pieces while backpacking
Can pack cooking system inside
Silicone on handle melts easily
Conducts heat unevenly
Our Top Pick Award for Backpacking goes to the G4Free Outdoor Camping Set
for its high scores in Weight, Ease of Use and Packability. This set is our reviewer's go-to cookware for backpacking specific applications because it can easily fit an entire cooking system within it, as well as the cylindrical shape that helps eliminate dead spots while packing a backpacking pack. And if you're cooking for large groups, check out the G4Free 17 Piece Set
Read full review: G4Free Outdoor Camping Set
Analysis and Test Results
In order to bring you the best camping cookware review, we tested eight different models to see how they compared side-by-side. Six of the eight sets we tested were cast from an aluminum variation, with three made specifically from hard anodized aluminum. We also tested a lightweight titanium set, as well as a durable stainless steel model. The different sets ranged from almost 4 lbs to as light as 11 ounces. In addition to cooking our everyday meals in all the sets to gauge cooking performance and durability, we also tested boiling time, how well each set held food temperature, and how evenly each cooked a scrambled egg.
Selecting the Right Product
With so many different options available it can be difficult to select the right set for you. Will you be preparing meals for your family or guiding larger sized groups? Or are you looking for something that you can throw in a pack and take with you on the Pacific Crest Trail? Do you need a crossover set that isn't too heavy to take out on the trail, but could still be used while cooking at a campground? These are all important questions to consider in order to determine which size of set and what type of material will best fit your needs. To find out more about the pros and cons of each of the metals available, make sure to check out our Buying Advice
article, as well as our How We Tested
section to learn more about the specifics of this review.
The different sets that we tested fit into two categories: Car Camping or Backpacking.
Car camping cookware is typically less focused on concerns with weight, and instead focuses on more amenities and features, such as the addition of cups, bowls and plates. When camping close out of a car, packable size is less of a concern than for someone who is backpacking, while the ability to easily prepare and clean up after making meals, like breakfast burritos or lasagna, is more important.
Most of the sets that we tested fell into this category. The MSR Quick 2 System, GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker, GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set, MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, Optimus Terra HE set and Winterial Camping Cookware are all best used for car camping. Most of these sets can also be used on an overnight trek, which adds both versatility and value to your purchase, but if you plan on mostly backpacking or are thinking of a long thru-hike, then you'll want a more backpacking specific model.
Backpacking specific cookware is exceptionally lightweight so that you barely feel the weight within the pack on your back, and designed to pack up small and take up little room. Cooking while backpacking or thru-hiking is typically focused on meals prepared by simply boiling water; therefore, these types of cooksets probably aren't the best for making complicated meals like chicken marsala. The G4Free Outdoor Camping Set and the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset are the two models of cookware we tested that fit solely into this category. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set is the largest set of cookware we tested, and really the only one that would be difficult to cross over into the backpacking category, unless you are dividing the pieces up among several people.
We tested eight different models for several months by preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner while camping in Western Colorado and the Panhandle of Texas to bring you the Best Camping Cookware Review.
Criteria for Evaluation
We based our scoring of camping cookware on five different criteria: Cooking Performance, Weight, Durability, Ease of Use, and Packability. We discuss each scoring metric in greater detail under their respective headings below as well as in each individual product's review. Check out the chart below to see the Overall Performance score of each set of camping cookware!
Cooking Performance is a chief concern when it comes to finding the best camping cookware. We want a set that doesn't burn our food, boils water efficiently and
minimizes heat loss so that we don't waste precious drops of fuel. So, we carefully created a few tests in an attempt to simulate within a controlled environment cooking situations that arise in the outdoors.
Boiling water is an activity that is most commonly performed by all camping cookware, and quite often at that. Whether you're making hot drinks in the a.m. or trying to down another freeze dried meal in the backcountry, you'll be boiling water frequently and consistently. We timed how long it took to bring two cups of water to a boil with a pot from each set, and also threw in a 2 quart pot from our regular kitchen to see how it compared to the camping cookware. Our results varied considerably, as there are several factors that can drastically affect boiling time. The type of metal the pot is cast from is an important factor, as well as the diameter and depth of each pot.
Our "control" pot from our home kitchen was cast from hard anodized aluminum, which is the same metal used for the MSR Quick 2 System and the Optimus Terra HE Cookset
, with a non-stick Teflon coating (similar to the two GSI Outdoors models). It boiled the two cups of water in 4 minutes 10 seconds. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper took the same amount of time and the MSR Quick 2 System was only 12 seconds longer. The Optimus Terra HE Cookset has a heat exchanger element on the bottom of the largest of the two pots in the set, which helped it boil water in 2 minutes and 12 seconds! The stainless steel MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set took the longest at 5 minutes and 40 seconds to boil, and the titanium set from Snow Peak took 4 minutes 35 seconds.
The heat exchanger on the bottom of the Optimus Terra HE helped it boil two cups of water in 2 minutes and 12 seconds - twice as fast as any of the other pots we tested.
We were also curious how each of the sets would retain or lose heat after boiling. More often than not, it's quite cool out while you're camping, and eating a hot meal can be quite the morale booster. So, after each of the pots brought two cups of water to a boil, we immediately placed them in a 40 degree F walk-in refrigerator for 10 minutes. The control pot lost 60 degrees F in 10 minutes, as did the G4Free Outdoor Camping Set
and the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Cookset
. Our best performers during this test were the Snow Peak Titanium and MSR Alpine sets, which both lost only 50 degrees F. All of the other sets lost 70 degrees F or more.
Finally, after extensive research to learn more about the metals used in cookware for our Buying Advice article, we created a test to see how evenly each of the sets performed while preparing a scrambled egg. Eggs are extremely sensitive to temperature differences, and any hot spots created on the pan will quickly burn the eggs - which also created a second half of this test: ease of clean up! So, for this experiment we beat eight eggs and cooked one apiece in each of the skillets if available, or pots and bowls if the set did not include a skillet, over our two burner propane camping stove.
It was rather obvious which of the sets cooked evenly, and which would clean easily. Our best performers were the two GSI Outdoors models, which both have a Teflon non-stick coating. Although prepared in a pot, the MSR Quick 2 System was also an excellent performer during this test and had an easy cleanup afterwards.
The results from our Scrambled Egg test. The worst offenders were the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, the G4Free Outdoor, and the Snow Peak Titanium cookware. The eggs did not cook evenly and ended up stuck to the bottom of the pan. The two that excelled in this test were the GSI Outdoors skillets (bottom right corner). The Teflon coatings kept the eggs from sticking to the skillets, allowing them to cook evenly and without burning.
The lowest performers for this test were the two backpacking specific models, the Snow Peak Titanium and G4Free Outdoor sets, which wasn't that surprising. These sets are made with boiling water in mind and little else, for the dehydrated meals, cup-o-soups and oatmeal packs you are more likely to be eating on the trail. The stainless steel MSR Alpine set also did not conduct heat evenly and therefore burned our eggs easily. Cleanup wasn't as difficult though, as we were able to use steel wool to scrub the pan.
Cleaning up your latest bean/egg/pepper/cheese breakfast creation can be a hassle when camping. Be careful with how you scrub your pans though, as the wrong scrubbing brush can ruin your set. Stainless steel sets can handle abrasive steel wool pads, but all other sets should be treated more cautiously. For aluminum and titanium sets, green scrubbing pads are the best way to go, but if your pan has a non-stick coating then you'll want to be even more gentle and use a spatula or soft dishcloth to loosen and remove leftover food.
Weight is key consideration if you plan to carry your cookware for any length of time on your back. If you plan on solely car camping than you can disregard this category, but people who enjoy car camping and backpacking (and only want to purchase one set of cookware), will want to carefully consider the weight of the model they purchase. We used a digital food scale to weigh each set as we've noticed in the past that manufacturer's stated weights do not always match up with reality.
The largest and heaviest set we tested was the GSI Bugaboo Camper Cookset, which weighs in at 3.7 pounds. This set comes fully featured with two pots, two straining lids, a skillet, four plates, four mugs with lids, and four bowls, plus a sack that doubles as a washbasin. The amenities are great if you're looking to completely set up your car camping kitchen, but this also adds a considerable amount of weight.
The GSI Bugaboo Camper comes fully loaded with some great amenities, but also makes it the largest, and heaviest cookware we tested.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset, cast from lightweight titanium, weighs in at 10.6 ounces
. This backpacking specific set is ultralight, but it sacrifices cooking performance to achieve it. It does not cook an egg (or much else) evenly, and almost feels as though we were playing tea time.
Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes is where we found the sweet spot for weight that didn't sacrifice too few amenities or a terrible cooking performance. Also in this middle weight range (1.2 - 1.8 lbs), we found the sets were great for car camping, or, when scaled down a bit, even for backpacking. Our Editors' Choice winner, the MSR Quick 2 System
, is one such option. It comes with a few useful features, like deep dish plates and insulated mugs, that can be left behind if going ultralight.
Durability is an important criterion when purchasing camping cookware. Ideally, we'd like for our pots and pans to last a lifetime; however, it's easy to be hard on our camping sets, even if it's unintentional. Metal spoons and spatulas are common around the campground, but are hard on delicate non-stick coatings. Stainless steel pots and pans are the most durable and scratch resistant material available, but as you can see from our results in the cooking performance category, this cookware isn't the best performer when it comes to actually preparing meals.
None of the sets that we tested experienced many major issues in durability, but we did scratch the Teflon coating in the skillet of the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set by stacking another skillet inside of it while cleaning. Once the non-stick coating on a pan is scratched, it begins to deteriorate rather quickly, and ingesting flakes of Teflon is a potential health concern (the debate over the safety of Teflon
has been going on for decades). As with all of our outdoor gear, there are trade-offs and sacrifices that should be examined and many options weighed before purchasing.
We also experienced some durability issues with the handles on the G4Free Outdoor Camping set. They are covered with bright green silicone to protect your hands from a hot handle. Unfortunately, they easily began to melt while cooking over larger burners, including a two burner propane stove that is typically used while car camping. This set is more specifically designed for lightweight backpacking applications in which you'll most likely be using a smaller stove system, like the MSR Pocket Rocket
, which did not produce a flame big enough to melt the handles.
G4Free uses silicone to cover the metal handles, but they are prone to melting on larger sized burners such as most camping stoves. This set is best used with a smaller backpacking stove.
Ease of Use
During the months of our hands-on testing, we used these eight sets in as many ways as we could imagine: making breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends, at home near the trailheads, hiking in for romantic picnics, as well as overnight excursions in the Elk Mountain range of Western Colorado.
We used every single piece in every single set to determine their versatility and practicality. The MSR Quick 2 System ranked the highest within this category for its versatility both in the campground as well as on the backpacking trail. Even though a skillet is not included with this set, these pots still performed well during our scrambled egg test. Typically, we find a skillet unnecessary for overnight trips, and due to how well this set scrambled an egg without one, we felt like anyone could do without a pan while car camping. Although, if you feel you really need one, you can purchase an individual Quick Skillet from MSR
We can't stress enough how much we love the deep dish plates included in the MSR Quick 2 System; they are the ideal plate to use around the campground.
The G4Free Outdoor Camping Set also received a high score in this category, as our reviewers found it to be the most useful in the backcountry. While the Snow Peak Titanium was by far the lightest set, the nesting bowls from the G4Free set was actually a more useful design. The Winterial Camping Cookware and Pot Set
also received a high score its versatility. You can easily shed some pounds from this set by leaving several pieces behind and slip this set into your backpack.
We went the extra mile, in fact about five extra miles, for a backcountry picnic while testing the Snow Peak Titanium cookware. Here, Ryan prepares a Mac and Cheese meal while Great Dane, Page, supervises on the Avalanche Lake trail in Western Colorado near Carbondale.
The lowest competitors within this category were the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, the Snow Peak Titanium set and the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Cookset.
The Snow Peak Titanium set is so small that we felt like we were cooking with a child's tea set. Although we enjoyed the cooking performance of the Pinnacle Backpacker, we are unlikely to backpack with it due to the delicate Teflon coating. The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set scored a little higher than the Pinnacle in this category for being an easy to use set while car camping. It comes with the most pieces of all the cookware we tested, and the two pots and skillet are a great size to use when cooking for four.
Check out the packability score of each product in the chart below. The G4Free was the clear winner in this category, followed by the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact cookset.
All of the sets of cookware we tested fit into their own self-contained systems and wrap up neatly with a sack, except for the MSR Quick 2 System, which locks together by the pot handle flipping over the straining lid. The casing for the GSI Outdoors sets both double as wash basins, and the Optimus Terra set uses a neoprene bag that can help insulate food from dropping temperatures as well as keeping your fingers burn free while eating.
The Optimus set of cookware compacts into its own neoprene bag, with the pot gripper sliding into the top pouch to stow away or slip into your pack.
The backpacking specific sets of cookware scored the best within this category for being the smallest, lightest, and most compact sets we tested. The Snow Peak Titanium set is the most compact set with packable measurements of around 6 x 4 inches. However, it scored a point lower than the G4Free Outdoor set, with measurements of 5.5 inches by over 6 inches, because of the differences in the way these two sets fit inside the space of a backpack.
Snow Peak makes the lightest and most compact set we tested during this review out of titanium metal. The pot hands collapse back around each pot while the lid handles flip up over the top of the system.
The Snow Peak Titanium set is so small that we were only able to fit a small fuel canister with some tea bags within it. We felt it was more useful to fit an entire cooking system (stove and canister) into our cookware in order to save space in our pack. We also found the the oblong shape of the G4Free set eliminates dead space within our pack better than the Snow Peak cookware.
When purchasing a backpacking specific set, look for a unit that can fit your stove and gas canister inside of it. This minimizes the overall volume of your entire cooking system and keeps everything more organized.
One thing we love about the G4Free set is the ability to pack an entire backpacking cooking system into it.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the two GSI Outdoors cookware scored the lowest in terms of packability for being the bulkiest sets we tested. However, these two sets fit ingeniously into their own system and protect the cookware, rather effectively, from scratching while packed. The Bugaboo Camper has packable measurements of over 9 inches by 5.5 inches, but for car camping purposes our reviewers found that packing this set into a vehicle was easy because of its compact system for the amount of pieces you acquire with this set.
Add Cast Iron for Gourmet Cooking
You may have noticed that we recommend the use of a cast iron skillet and dutch ovens in our Buying Advice article and our companion camp kitchen articles:
- Ultimate Camp Kitchen — our comprehensive guide to the full camping dream kitchen, from end-to-end, so you can see how it all comes together.
- Best Camping Food — our guide to creating great camping food, from the simple and pragmatic standards like pasta, burgers, and hot dogs, to gourmet meals prepared in a dutch oven that will leave your crew begging for more.
We'd recommend that you augment a cookware set such as one of the award winners above, with at least a cast iron skillet. Those who want to step into a more gourmet camping kitchen will want to consider a dutch oven as well. One great thing about buying cast iron cookware is that you can use them all year round in everyday cooking as well as camping.
Our Favorite Cast Iron Skillet
We recommend you consider adding the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 10 in
to your camping cookware set. While some of the cookware sets in this review, such as the Winterial
include a skillet, we much prefer a beefy cast iron skillet for car camping situations
where weight is not such a big consideration.The Lodge skillet comes pre-seasoned and can be used on campfire, stove, or BBQ coals to add a gourmet cooking element to camping cooking. It provides a nice even heat and a non-stick surface that is chemical free. Larger sizes are available, such as the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 12 in
version, but going bigger than 10" can get tight to fit on most camping stoves so we prefer the 10" model.
Our Favorite Dutch Oven
When you are ready to step up into gourmet camp cooking, there is nothing better than adding a dutch oven to your cookware arsenal. We recommend the robust Lodge Dutch Oven - 8 quart
, which also comes in a 5 quart and a 10 quart version. The ability to slow cook with the even heat cast iron is known for is the key to many gourmet meals. In our camping food article, we have a section on the Top 10 Camping Meals for the Gourmet Chef
that showcase how a dutch oven can open the door to everything from pizza to lasagna. Clean up is simplified by the natural non-stick ability of seasoned cast iron.
Side-by-side with the Winterial Camping Cookware skillet and the Optimus Terra HE skillet, Ryan prepares a yummy, and colorful, meal of pork fajitas.
Deciding between the many options in materials and amenities can make finding the perfect cookware a struggle. Weight is a key factor in backpacking cookware, while less of a concern if you are planning to cook near your car. We hope that our analysis of these eight cookware sets can assist you in finding the best setup to accommodate your needs. For more tips, have a look at our Buying Advice
article, where we break down the different types of sets available as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the different materials.
The award winners are: Winterial (Best Buy, left), MSR Quick 2 (Editors' Choice, middle) and G4Free (Top Pick for Backpacking, right).