Right , you’ve got the big 3 bangs to rights. That means nothing until you control that beast of miscellany that fills every nook and cranny of your sac with ne’er a second look. Yep, that crap you take with you that has no purpose or reason. When I first filled a rucksack for overnight camps when I was in my teens, I shudder to think what it weighed! Now I know I don’t need 2 or 3 spare trousers and shirts, and that one or two pans is enough to cook in.
Before that, we’ll look at cooking options. Gas is the obvious choice, and the MSR Pocket Rocket is one of the lightest and cheapest available at around 80g. It costs only £30, with a number of clones now available by Gelert and the like. It really does live up to the name, and boils water really quickly. Other fuels are more practical if you trek abroad, or need to carry more than 4 day’s fuel with you at a time. Gas is also useless in freezing conditions. You may or may not want to invest in a windshield – primus do one that I’ve found to stabilise the flame when it’s a little breezy. Remember that the gas canister weighs a lot more than your stove. An empty 250g canister is still around 130g, so take it as nearly 400g full. You can get smaller 100g canisters if you want to save weight. Most backpacking stoves take the screw on canisters that are standard in the UK (but not abroad), make sure you get the right canister for your stove before your first trip as there are some incompatible ones available.
You then need to add the weight of pans and so on. There are too many pan sets available to list here including 2 or 3 pots, lids and sometimes a fry pan. For a solo effort you could carry just the one pan, which saves weight, as opposed to two. You could invest in a titanium one-pot thing which could cost between £25 and £50, depending on make (Search for Snowpeak, MSR Titan Kettle and the usual offerings from Alpkit are reasonable). I’ve used the MSR Titan ‘Kettley Thing’ as it’s affectionately known, for over five years and I expect it to last that much at least again. These solo pots double as a mug too, so you save weight there, and they also have a lid. The lid is one item I wouldn’t leave at home as it can save its own weight in fuel. This is especially true for rice, which you can bring to the boil and then leave to soften in the pan with a lid. Some even use a piece of foil as a lid, saving further weight. This I might try on a non critical trip next year, but it would appear too flimsy to last. If you want a cheaper option, then there are anodised aluminium options from the like of Gelert that still do the job, but you’ll get a full cook set for less than the price of a single titanium pot.
While probably not an immediate option if you’re starting out, remember that you can get ovens that fit into your rucksack. Yes, you read that right, click on this link for our review of the Backpacker’s Oven where we cook a pie on a mountain! Mine doubles as a frying pan (yes, I’m serious) so not only can I have bread, pie and pizza; but also bacon for breakfast. Other than that, I’m not a big fan of taking a frying pan.
If you’re only cooking dehydrated meals, then you’ll only need one pan, and that’s all. Same goes for boil in the bag meals. If you’re going for more advance d food then it’s more likely that you’ll need 2 pans, depending on the food. You need to work out what kind of meals you cook and how many pans you need. Bowls and plates are a waste of time for a solo walker as you can eat out of the pan, but will be needed if you’re in a group. Cheap plates and bowls are usually available in supermarkets for next to nothing. Folding and collapsing bowls and plates are an option worth looking at too.
If you really don’t want to take 2 pots, then you may be able to make a pasta/rice cooker. This is essentially just a pouch that holds a plastic food bag into which you pour your partially cooked rice/pasta. It should finish cooking in there while you prepare the rest of the meal. All you need is some sort of insulated material that you can tape together and keep upright and won’t melt with boiling water. I used laminate floor underlay and it worked fine. A pot cosy means you can do the same in your main pot, boiling the rice and leaving it to finish cooking in the pot cosy. This saves gas and you can just leave it without stirring. This is one of the most important items in my camp kitchen!
I like the thought of eating properly at camp, and after all those hard years of learning to eat with KFS (Knife, Fork, Spoon) that my mother drilled into me, I wouldn’t want to disappoint her. and there are plenty of reasonably cheap titanium cutlery from the likes of Lifeventure, MSR and Alpkit and even more cheaper stainless steel versions. Alternatively get a light my fire spork for a few quid.
You may now be ready to both cook and eat your food, but you’ll need water as well. A cheap soft drink bottle will suffice, but even better are the soft bladders by Source or Platypus. They aren’t cheap, but they last for years and pack to nothing. Drinking the water from the stream is often frowned upon, but if you’re high enough on the mountain and it’s rained heavily recently, I tend to go for it, even in Snowdonia. Fresh stream water is the sweetest water you’ll ever taste! I don’t recommend this though! You should treat your water, and I use tablets now (aquaclear) if uncertain but they do taint the water. Water purifying pumps are better, but a lot of effort to use. The best option seems to be the Steri Pen, utilising UV light to kill the nasties. If you’ve got enough fuel, or ar making a cuppa anyway then boiling’s as good as any way of making the water safe to drink.
You’ll then need to do the washing up. At most you’ll need the smallest nalgene bottle (25ml) of washing up liquid (environmentally friendly) and a small non-stick sponge scourer, or to be exact, a quarter of one. The only other thing you may need is a cut down wooden spoon (or a plastic equivalent). This is essential if you have non-stick cookware and want to look after it, or if you are cooking for a group. Otherwise a spoon to eat and cook is all you need. However, if you cook boil in the bag meals, or rehydrate in the bag meals, you won’t need a wash kit, just lick the fork clean afterwards!
Alternatively, you can use lake or river gravel to scrub non-stick pans and use wipes and water to clean out pans. I can’t remember the last time I took anything more than wipes and a microfibre duster (for drying) on a trip. Make sure you get the unfragranced baby wipes! If you just need to wipe sauce and stuff off, then they are ideal. You don’t pollute the land with your wasted food or detergent, and a quick rinse leaves the pans clean. They are good to wipe your hands with and they have an excellent secondary use, being much nicer than Toilet Paper (just keep the supplies separate!). The downside is that you have to carry them out with you, and cannot bury them. You’ll need to have a rubbish bag of sorts anyway, and the Ziploc sandwich bags are an essential for camp management (if not the greenest option).
So, as a summary, your basic solo kitchen weight shouldn’t be more than 1kg if possible. Mine comes in as well under this, including fuel. Remember, that fuel weight is very important, as a petrol stove will be much lighter overall when you include fuel, over longer distances. As I tend to do shorter trips, gas serves my purpose and if you’re looking to start out in summer in the UK then it’s probably the best bet. Just don’t forget something to light it with!