Updated November 2017
A summer and autumn of extensive camping and cooking are behind us. You are now making your plans for 2018 and purchasing gifts for the camper in your life. We've updated this review, adding charts and graphs to help you make your decision. In the past few months, we have undertaken the full version of our industry-leading, comparative and objective product review regimen. To get you the best possible information and recommendations, we have developed what we know to be the best review procedure and we continue to refine and elevate the standard. Our camp cookware recommendations for 2017 are objective, well-researched, and based on literally decades of camp cooking experience. We have new award winners, like the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper Cookset and the Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set, which focus on the best overall performance, as well as sets that are friendly on your wallet.
Best Overall Camp Cookset
GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper
: 3.7 lbs | Material
: Aluminum with non-stick coating
Tight Frying pan lid
Excellent non stick coating
Teflon non stick coating wears off and can be unhealthy as it does so.
The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper Cookset
, a nearly comprehensive kit from GSI, will prepare and serve food for up to four people. It does so with features and attributes, like the tight-fitting frying pan lid, that no other products have. It also does so with performance characteristics that match or exceed, in all cases, the average products in this category. The main drawbacks of this kit are the relatively heavy weight and the fact that what GSI calls "bowls" are narrow cups. For pleasurable dining, you will want different eating vessels. Because some camp gourmands will want to assemble their camp kitchen accessories, we granted a second Editors Choice award to a product that offers the best main pot we've ever used. Read below for that EC #2.
Read full review: GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper
Best Overall Camp Cookset
Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set
: 1.6 lbs | Material
Amazing heat transfer efficiency
Excellent non-stick coating
Locking, universal pot grip
No frying pan or other accessories
Heat exchanging ring collects dirt
Yes, we granted two Editors' Choice awards. The GSI kit is for those looking for something closer to "one-stop shopping," while the Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set
kit offers the best camping pot we have ever used. With the Primus kit, you get unparalleled efficiency and performance from the main pot, but you will have to complement it with your own choice of frying pan, cups, and bowls. Either EC product is excellent, and both lead the field. They will simply appeal to different types of consumers.
Read full review: Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set
Best Bang for the Buck
Winterial 11 Piece Camping Set
: 1.8 lbs | Material
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's also the budget version of the GSI Bugaboo Camper. It includes most of the accessories you will need, but these accessories are a little compromised. 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 to take with you while backpacking.
Read review: Winterial 11 Piece Camping Set
Best Bang for the Buck
G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set
: 1.2 lbs | Material
Tall profile packs nicely
Durable anodized construction
Limited non-stick performance
Tall profile focuses heat on base of pot
Just like with the Editors Choice award, we granted two Best Buy Awards. This one, the G4Free 4 Piece Set
, is just two simple pots at a bargain basement price. You will need to collect your bowls and cutlery and whatever else your cooking and eating habits require. This gives you more options both for performance and budget.
Read full review: G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set
Top Pick for Ultralight Backpacking
Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact
: 0.7 lbs | Material
Durable uncoated metal construction
No non-stick performance
No matter how you look at it, the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact
is the lightest we used. The two pots are small, ultralight, and the titanium construction will maintain its characteristics virtually forever. Whether you travel alone or with a partner, this kit can be configured to be lighter than any other option. The cooking performance limits your menu choices to those that involve just boiling water. You won't be simmering sauces or baking pizza or scrambling eggs, but you will keep your backpack ridiculously light.
Read full review: Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact
Top Pick for Health Conscious Foodies
MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set
: 1 lb | Material
Light and versatile
Non-stick, non-toxic construction
Ceramic will wear off
As a piece of equipment that is truly unique in the field, the ceramic cookware from MSR was an easy choice for a Top Pick award. Sophisticated camp cooking requires a nonstick coating. Until recently, that meant either very heavy cast iron or Teflon-style coatings. The health risks of Teflon coatings were not appealing to some. Now, with the MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set
, the health-conscious foodie has something to form the backbone of his or her camping kitchen. Also, available separately, is an MSR frying pan with the same coating.
Read full review: MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set
Analysis and Test Results
To bring you the best camping cookware review, we tested eleven different models to see how they compared side-by-side. Nine of the eleven 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 and how evenly each cooked a scrambled egg.
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 product's review.
Cooking Performance is the 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 the foundation of camp cookery. It is the task that you will perform the most often. Whether you're making hot drinks in the morning or trying to force 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 the main 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 several factors can drastically affect boiling time.
The type of metal the pot is cast from is an essential factor, as well as the diameter and depth of each pot. More than these variables, we found that the presence or absence of heat exchanging rings on the bottom of the pot inform the efficiency in our boil test. The average boil time of pots with flat bottoms was 3 minutes and 50 seconds. For the pots with heat exchange rings, the average boil time was almost a minute faster, at 2:56. Heat exchanging rings decrease the boiling time by nearly 24%. That is significant. You can expect the same sort of efficiency gains while melting snow, except that melting snow, takes even longer than boiling water. The gains compound in that case. If you are melting snow in your camping cook set, you need to consider a pot with heat exchanging rings.
The heat exchanger rings of the PrimeTech add weight, but you get that back if you let your fuel and stove choice reflect the greater efficiency of this pot.
The "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 3 minutes 50 seconds. This was remarkably close, as a "control" should be, to the average time (3:40) of the tested pots.
The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper
took the same amount of time, and the MSR Quick 2 System was only 6 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 45 seconds! The Primus PrimeTech 2.3L
pot also has heat exchanger fins and boiled the water in 3:07. The stainless steel MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set took three minutes and fifty-one seconds to boil, and the titanium set from Snow Peak took the longest at 4 minutes 15 seconds. The unique kettle included with the Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Camping Cookware Set
led the field of "flat bottomed" pots with a boiling time of 3:30.
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 susceptible to temperature differences, and any hot spots created on the pan will quickly burn the eggs - which also produced the second half of this test: ease of clean up! So, for this experiment, we beat eleven eggs and cooked one apiece in each of the skillets if available, or pot 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 performer was the Editors Choice GSI Outdoors Bugaboo model, which has a Teflon non-stick coating on a thick-bottomed, dedicated frying pan. Interestingly, the frying pan of the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker
did not perform nearly as well as the Bugaboo, in this test and our "real life" usage. The non-stick coated frying pan of the Optimus Terra HE
performed very well also. Although prepared in a pot, the MSR Quick 2 System was also an excellent performer during this test and had a natural cleanup afterward. Other models that performed well in this analysis are the Editors' Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L
and the Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2
2017 tested cookware, roughly ordered by performance in the egg test, l-r, from upper left: MSR Ceramic, GSI Bugaboo, Optimus, Primus, GSI Pinnacle, Winterial, MalloMe, Snow Peak, MSR Quick, G4Free, MSR Alpine
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 models 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 ultralight trail. The stainless steel MSR Alpine set also did not conduct heat evenly and therefore burned our eggs easily.
Cleanup wasn't as tricky though, as we were able to use steel wool to scrub the pan. The Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Set
has a dedicated frying pan, but the thin, anodized aluminum construction doesn't lend itself very well to egg cooking. The newcomer MalloMe 10 Piece Set
also has a thin, anodized frying pan, this one even smaller than that of the Winterial. It performed the same as the Winterial.
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.
Check out the packability score of each product in the chart below. The Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cook Set
was the clear winner in this category, followed by the Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set
. The primary determinant of a cook set's packability is size. Smaller kits pack better; this is, of course, opposed to cooking performance. Larger pots are easier to work with, up to a point well beyond the size of anything you'd take camping.
All of the sets of cookware we tested fit into their self-contained systems and wrap up neatly with a sack, except for the MSR Quick 2 System and Top Pick MSR Ceramic Set
, both of which lock 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 carry bag of the Primus PrimeTech
is also insulated.
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.
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 to save space in our pack. We also found the oblong shape of the G4Free set eliminates dead space within our pack better than the Snow Peak cookware. Overall, regardless of what exactly you can fit inside your pot set, make sure that you are filling whatever dead space is there.
For "high and light" camping, your menu should be simple and your cookware even simpler. Heat water in a tiny titanium pot and then both cook and prepare in freeze dried food bags, whether you eat freeze dried food or not.
When purchasing a backpacking specific set, consider looking 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 regarding packability for being the bulkiest sets we tested. However, these two sets fit ingeniously into their system and protect the cookware, rather efficiently, 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 number of pieces you acquire with this set. With the Bugaboo Camper, you can always leave some parts behind to optimize packing size.
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 preparing meals. Titanium is similarly inert and therefore loses little to no cooking performance with wear and age. However, titanium cookware is thinner than steel or aluminum stuff and therefore may dent or warp a little more easily.
None of the sets that we tested experienced many significant 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 surface 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, some trade-offs and sacrifices should be examined, and many options weighed before purchasing.
The Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2 Pot Set
brings an interesting alternative to the market. The ceramic coating is also vulnerable to scratching and chipping, but the material is less damaging to your health and the environment. Many users prefer to discontinue use of their Teflon coated cookware as soon as it becomes scratched. It might continue to be mostly non-stick, but some are concerned with the health effects. The ceramic cookware scratches and degrades just as quickly, but the health effects are minimal or nonexistent. In this way, the MSR Ceramic cook set can be used longer than the Teflon coated ones, and therefore received higher durability scores.
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 2
, 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.
Weight is a key consideration if you plan to carry your cookware for any length of time on your back. If you plan on solely car camping, you can largely 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. Other camping settings are somewhere in between. Deluxe backcountry base camps, like those supplied by canoe, airplane, or even short backpack missions, deserve comfy cookware and weight is less of an issue.
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. Since none of these cook sets include the same components as another, we also devised a mathematical correction to compare the products better. So that we could compare "apples to apples" we weighed one pot of each set, its lid, and its handle. For this metric, we chose the pot in the set closest to 1.5 liters, since that is about the median size for all the pots in all the collections. Finally, to normalize for differences in volume among these pots, we divided the mass by the pot's capacity. Our test team found these "weight per volume" numbers to be quite helpful and to better represent the weight "in use" of each product.
The largest and heaviest set we tested was the GSI Bugaboo Camper Cookset
, which weighs in at 3.7 pounds. This model 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 set up your car camping kitchen entirely, but this also adds a considerable amount of weight, overall. The individual components of this kit are user-friendly and reliable. Even when we weighed just one pot, lid, and handle and normalized for volume, this Editors' Choice was heavier than average.
The GSI Bugaboo Camper comes fully loaded with some great amenities, but also makes it the largest, and heaviest cookware we tested.
The heaviest product, on our mathematically adjusted list, is the Optimus Terra HE
. Now, be even more careful comparing the weight of this pot from this set. While it is indeed heavy, it will use far less fuel than other pots to accomplish the same amount of water boiling or snow melting. If your camping agenda includes lots of these things, over a long time, you could very well save weight with this product, by omitting fuel, as compared to a seemingly lighter "flat bottomed" pan. You could make the same calculations for the Editors Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L set
. It is heavy but efficient.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact, 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. Whether you look at the overall weight or the corrected, calculated weight we devised for comparison, the Snow Peak leads the pack. It is for this reason that we granted it our Top Pick award.
The ultralight, Top Pick winning Snow Peak Titanium pot in action high in Wyoming's Tetons.
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 middleweight 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 Primus PrimeTech 2.3L
, is one such option. Another tremendous mid-weight solution, with a few extra amenities included, is the MSR Quick 2 System
Both of our Best Buy winning products are on the low end of either weight calculation. For backpacking, most will have no problem carrying all or some of the pieces included with the Winterial 11 Piece Set
or the G4Free 4 Piece Set
. Similarly, the affordable and essential MalloMe 10 Piece Set
has a low weight no matter how you look at it.
Ease of Use
During the months of our hands-on testing, we used these eleven 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 were alpine climbing in the Tetons, picnicking in New York's Catskills, and even took some on an expedition to Chile.
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 think you need one, you can purchase an individual Quick Skillet from MSR
. The MSR set tied for the top "ease of use" score with Editors Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L Pot Set
. We liked the insulated cover of the Primus set as well as the universal, locking pot gripper. It may seem silly to the uninitiated, but the widespread and locking pot gripper of the Primus Set sets it apart from everything else we tested.
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 model was 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 model 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 in 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.
The MalloMe 10 Piece Mess Kit
has the features you think you want, but some of those, like the "bowl" and the folding spork, are worth replacing with something more robust. Sturdier versions of these products will not weigh any more than those included with the MalloMe and be far easier to use.
The features of a camping cook set vary considerably. Some of the sets we tested are two pots and a lid, with the corresponding handle. For spartan kits like this, you will need to add everything else in. On the other hand, some products incorporate all but the food, at least for basic camp cooking. For more elaborate culinary pursuits, you will need to supplement every one of the products with at least a sharp knife. Most will need additional spoons and forks. In short, there is no "one-stop shop" regarding camp cookware. Some products save you some shopping, but all require some more thought. The degree to which you need to select other features depends on which kit you choose.
Let's examine what your typical camping kitchen should include. A lightweight backpacking cook kit is a pot for boiling water for every 2-4 people and a spoon for each person. Everyone should then eat out of their freeze-dried food bag and drink from their water bottles. At the other end of the spectrum, gourmet "glamping" menus and kitchens require cookware that could be just taken from your home kitchen. In between is the sweet spot. Whether car camping, base-camping, or collecting a kit that will work for both of these and from which can be selected a subset of backpacking, you need the following.
Assuming a cooking group of 2-3 people, you need a couple of pots around 1.5-2 liters, with lids and handles. A frying pan with a lid is essential to most people. A cutting board, knife, and serving spoon/ladle round out the group gear. Each camper then needs a bowl or deep plate, a cup for hot and cold liquids, a spoon, and a fork. In assembling this standard kitchen kit, you have two primary options in our review. You can choose your pot set and then add the rest on your own, or you can pick a kit that includes some of the additional accessories.
Just under half of the cook sets we tested are two pots, lid(s), and handle(s). All five of these products have no additional features. For each, you will need to acquire cutting board, knife, cutlery, bowls, and cups. In most cases, you will also choose to add a frying pan. These "backbone" kits are the Editors Choice Primus PrimeTech 2.3L
, Top Pick MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set
, Top Pick Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact
, Best Buy G4Free 4 Piece Cooking Set
, and the ultra-durable MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set
To that basic 2-pot foundation, the Optimus Terra HE
adds a perfect frying pan.
Both GSI products, including the Editors' Choice Bugaboo Camper Cookset
match the Optimus and add dedicated lids, insulated coffee cups, narrow "bowls", and the carry bag doubles as water storage and a wash basin.
Of the features that aren't in every set we tested, the frying pan is the most useful. If you want to prepare most types of "real food", including steak, having a frying pan to complement the main pot is clutch.
The MalloMe 10 Piece Mess Kit
and the Best Buy Winterial 11 Piece Camping Cookware Set
are somewhat similar. They are both made of anodized aluminum, their pots and pans have fold-out handles, and both include small, lidded frying pans. They both also have little plastic "bowls" that aren't much bigger than the spoons some people eat with. The Winterial kit also has a cutting board and a clever and much-appreciated kettle for dedicated water heating use.
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.
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.