I couldn’t even begin to list the myriad of outdoor cooking sets I have accumulated over the years. All are good in their own way but none seem to cover most eventualities well. Do we expect too much? As with most things, a piece of equipment that is designed for a specific task generally does it extremely well but is poor when asked to diversify. Likewise, a piece of equipment that is designed as a good all-rounder is normally only average at lots of things. The lone adventurer, as always, requires many things from his equipment; the list below covers the basics of what the adventurer needs from his cooking gear.
- It needs to be light.
- It needs to be robust.
- It needs to be compact.
- It needs to be versatile.
- It needs to be uncomplicated.
- It needs to be easily cleaned.
- It needs to be reliable.
- It needs to work in all weather.
- It needs to be quick.
Can it be done? I’ll stick my neck out here and say yes, I think so. Over the last few years I have used a system that has not let me down once. It’s this system that we’ll take a closer look at.
Weight: 382 g (13.4 oz) including lid & strap.
This also doubles as a cooking pot. It’s the British Army 1 Litre stainless steel mug. This item is almost indestructible. You can purify your water in it, cook in it, drink from it and collect berries, shoots and small fruits in it; however, the most important thing is that you can use it without damage on an open fire. I have made an aluminum alloy lid so that it holds the rest of the cooking gear when in transit, keeps the ash out when being used on an open fire, keeps the heat in when boiling or cooking and is useful if being used as a container. As it’s stainless steel it’s obviously heavier than an aluminum alloy mug but as we need the strength and durability when being used on an open fire, I feel it’s worth the extra weight.
Weight: 119 g (4.1 oz) including container, liquid and Scotchbrite.
I have succumbed to a little luxury here in the form of a piece of ‘Scotchbrite’ and a small container of washing-up liquid (I must be going soft). One thing I learned early on is that your cooking gear needs to be kept very, very clean. I have termed this a ‘luxury’ because you can use sand on its own to clean your gear if water is a little sparse, if you are close to a flowing stream the sand and silt either on their own or with some sheep’s wool or similar makes an excellent cleaner. If you have burned the food onto the bottom of the mug, try 10mm of water and a little washing-up liquid, then put back on the stove/fire and boil for 30 seconds or so… It will just lift off. (I’ll make someone a belting wife!)
Weight: 125 g (4.4 oz) including case and auto ignition unit.
The one I use is the Primus Alpine Titanium removable canister gas stove. It’s not cheap (not by a long way!) but it is good. For very low temperatures you can use a folding aluminum foil shield that creates a warmer local environment for the gas canister. This is necessary because the gas is under pressure and as such in liquid form when in the canister. As the pressure in the canister is released the liquid wants to turn back into a gas. As the liquid turns back into a gas it uses the external heat to ‘boil off’, that’s why the outside of the canister gets very cold. The colder the canister, the slower the ‘boil off’ and this reduces your stove’s output enormously. That’s why gas canister stoves are normally avoided in really cold conditions. However, removable canister stoves have improved enormously over the last five years and the better ones are really very good. I have used the Primus at -20C (-4F) with a good deal of messing about and it wasn’t ideal but it did provide a hot drink and meal.
Weight: Go for the small ones.
I always take small canisters as opposed to one large one; the thinking behind this is simple. If you damage your only large canister, you lose all of your gas; if you damage one of your small canisters, you only lose some of your gas. The 70 butane/30 Propane seems to be the standard mix now and seems to work well with all stoves.
Gas Canister Spider
Weight: 22 g (0.7 oz).
A gas canister base or ‘spider’ fits all common canister sizes and is a very useful addition. It’s by no means indispensable but gives a good deal of stability on rough ground.
Weight: 46 g (1.6 oz)
This is down to personal choice. I only take a spoon. It’s a good quality, extremely robust, no frills, stainless steel spoon that does everything I need. If I need to cut anything up I have my knife.
Weight: 63 g (2.1 oz)
This, like the spider is dispensable but can be very useful in windy or very cold conditions. You will be carrying other items that will cover for this and there will be other natural stuff about that you can utilize. Another bit of luxury? Maybe.
Stainless Steel and Titanium
I have stuck with stainless steel for the mug and spoon purely for the fact that all the titanium ones I have looked at have been substantially less robust. For me, the increase in weight is worth it but it’s really down to personal choice and what you feel happy with.
The importance of being able to prepare hot food and drinks cannot be overstressed. Apart from the obvious reasons, a hot drink along with a tasty hot meal is comforting and helps you to see the positive side when things are going, shall we say ‘not quite to plan’.
The Last Word
I’m not sure that there can be a ‘last word’ on this. New stuff is coming out all the time; different designs, different materials and different fuels. Total all-up weight (apart from fuel) is 757 g (just under 27oz) This system is basic; indeed, more basic than many would like to tolerate. It is, however, almost ‘bullet proof’. For me it ticks all the boxes for the vast majority of adventures and seems the best all-rounder. I have never had any trouble cooking good meals with this, often in very poor conditions. If I wanted to be a bit more ruthless, say lose the washing-up liquid/container, Scotchbrite, windshield and spider it would bring it down to around 553 g (19.5 oz). Decisions, decisions.
Enjoy your scran!