The Best Camping Gear for Campers Who Love to Cook

These options will ensure that making meals is anything but roughing it.

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RTIC Ultra Light 52 Quart Ice Chest Cooler

Food & Wine / Henry Wortock

Next to a warm and dry place to sleep, what to eat while camping is top of mind when overnighting it outdoors. And while you can certainly rough it with a tin of beans or a freeze-dried meal, you don’t have to. What started as heavy cast iron-covered pots and hot dogs speared by branches has evolved. There is now a camp-worthy option for nearly any element your indoor kitchen has, from a portable refrigerator to utensils. With the right gear, quality isn’t much of a sacrifice when you cook outside.

But finding the best camping stove or knife set can be tricky. What you pack to cook with should match the kind of outdoor adventure you’re planning. Car camping means bringing along bigger, heavier, and more capable equipment that can feed a group, while backpacking cookware is designed to prioritize weight and portability while preparing meals for one or two people.

With either style, pack with a plan in mind. “It’s important to have enough for meals and snacks, but focus your meal plan on a couple of tasty dishes rather than packing the whole fridge,” says Chef Steve Corso, founder of Outdoor Eats, a recipe site for those cooking on the trail or at camp. Read on to learn what matters when it comes to camping cookware, and find the right version for just about every outdoor adventure.

Best Stove for Car Camping

Camp Chef Everest 2x Camping Stove

Camp Chef Everest 2x Camping Stove


The two-burner camp stove is a crowded category, but the Camp Chef stands apart for its sturdy design. At 12 pounds, the suitcase-style burner accommodates two pans, pots, or a combination of the two. It starts with a twist of a knob using a matchless ignition system. With 40,000 BTUs combined, there is plenty of power to heat dense cast iron.

But cooking on high isn’t the whole story. “I like the sturdy construction compared to some other brands, plus this has some nice simmer control,” Corso says. “It’s nice having consistent, even heat for cooking up scrambled eggs or a batch of queso for happy hour.” Note that the stove needs a table or a wide, flat patch of ground to ensure safe cooking. A pair of fold-up side screens, along with the lid, help protect the flame from the wind. 

Price at time of publish: $190

  • Dimensions: 25.2 x 12.7 x 5.6 inches
  • Weight: 12 pounds

Best Stove for Backpacking

Near Zero Mini Stove

Near Zero Mini Stove


When you’re carrying a kitchen on your back, every ounce matters. This barley-there Near Zero weighs just over 1.5 ounces — about as much as a slice of white bread — so it fits in the palm of your hand. Folded down, it’s about two inches tall and half as wide. “It fits right in your pocket, it’s really small, compact, and extremely lightweight,” says Corso. 

When threaded onto an isobutane-propane fuel cell, this stove will boil two cups of water in about two minutes to make coffee, hydrate meals, or cook more elaborate dishes. The three fold-out arms can support a wide range of small to medium pots and pans with a wide metal tab to control the flame.  Like similar stoves, this one needs a flat space to work well and to avoid spilling the contents. You’ll need to carry a lighter with you to start cooking.

Price at time of publish: $25

  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.5 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 ounces

Best Camping Pan

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron


“This is the classic option in cast iron,” says Corso. “You don’t have to spend three times as much because you’re not going to get that much better than this.” For car campers, where the trunk is doing all the heavy lifting, a Lodge can pitch in to cook just about every meal. Stick this on the burner of a stove, nestle it into glowing hot charcoal embers, or over a grill to sear or sauté without fear. And because it arrives seasoned, you can start cooking immediately.

The line comes in a range of sizes, from 3.5- to 15-inch pans, but the 12-inch option is a good size when cooking for three or more people. Note that the short handle can be difficult to grab, especially when loaded with food, and it will take more time to evenly heat cast iron compared to thinner steel or aluminum cookware. Also, you likely don’t need a lid. “I’ve found that a piece of aluminum foil works just as well as a lid at times,” says Corso. 

 Price at time of publish: $40

  • Dimensions: 18 x 12.56 x 2.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.89 pounds

Best Cookware for Backpacking

MSR Trail Mini Duo Cook Set

MSR Trail Mini Duo Cook Set


When weight and space are hard to come by in a backpack, this MSR set nests together, leaving room for a camp stove and an MSR fuel canister. The set’s 1.2-liter hard-anodized aluminum pot heats quickly with enough volume to hydrate two freeze-dried pouch meals or enough water for a couple of cups of coffee. You can’t use the pot directly over a fire, however, because the plastic ring that protects your fingers from the heat can melt. “This kit should put out enough food for two people, and if you need to feed three to four people, then getting a pot that’s well over a liter in capacity is wise,” Corso says. Eat from the pot or the included polypropylene bowl.

Price at time of publish: $56

  • Dimensions: 5 x 5.5 inches
  • Weight: 9.5 ounces 

Best Portable Kitchen

Thiessens Foldable Kitchen

Thiessens Foldable Kitchen

Camping World

If you’re on a car camping trip with a group of people for more than a couple of days, a portable kitchen setup can make meal prep, cooking, and serving much easier. This 32-pound, portable station stands at a comfortable working height of 41 inches, yet it packs down flat and comes with a carry case so it’s easy to toss into the trunk of a car. A bamboo top and metal windscreen surround your favorite camp stove, with enough room for prep next to that, plus a sink area to help with cleanup.

“For most state or national parks, they're going to have a picnic table set up for you,” says Corso. “But if you want some more prep space, or you're going somewhere where there is no table provided, having something like this is really helpful. What I like about this one is it’s only a table, but it also is a little bit of a pantry and storage area. So you can keep your equipment in there and keep the food away from the critters.” If you only camp once or twice a year, you might justify this splurge for tailgating or even backyard cookouts.

Price at time of publish: $299

  • Dimensions: 84 x 18 x 41 inches
  • Weight: 32 pounds

Best Camping Cooler

RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Hard Cooler

RTIC 52 Quart Ultra-Light Cooler


Our pick for the overall best cooler, the 52-quart RTIC has everything you need and nothing you won’t while weighing about 30 percent less than rotomolded coolers with the same capacity. Up to three inches of foam surround the contents, with a beefy rubber gasket on the lid to seal out the hot air. In our tests, ice had barely melted after 24 hours, and the temperature inside hovered at 32 degrees on a hot day. Handles make it easy for one or two people to grab and move, with secure T-latches to keep the lid tightly sealed. Inside, a basket can keep food cold but out of the ice, and a divider can segment raw meat from produce. Our main con: for shorter weekend trips, the performance might be overkill.

Price at time of publish: $220

  • Dimensions: 27 x 18 x 15 inches
  • Weight: 21 pounds

Best Portable Refrigerator

Dometic CFX3 55IM Portable Refrigerator and Freezer

Dometic CFX3 55IM Portable Refrigerator and Freezer


For those who routinely car camp, hit the beach, or enjoy entertaining on the back patio, a portable, electric refrigerator can be a welcome upgrade. It keeps food at exact temperatures without ice or draining, and it’s all controlled through a Bluetooth app. Powered by an AC adapter and a wall outlet (or a portable power station), a DC plug in the car, or solar panels. The nearly 50-pound cooler can keep food down to negative seven degrees Fahrenheit with a 53-liter capacity, which is a little smaller than your dorm fridge. Packed properly, that's enough room to keep about five days of food fresh for four people, or 83 cans for a summer backyard cookout. It also makes its own ice.

“If you’re outdoors frequently and going into your cooler to get hot dogs, beers, and sausage over multiple days, then this just makes it really easy and clean without multiple bags of ice,” says Corso, who also recommends it for tailgating. The cons: it’s heavy, expensive, and it requires electricity to work, which may not always be an option. 

Price at time of publish: $1,080

  • Dimensions: 17.91 x 18.90 x 25.98 inches
  • Weight: 47 pounds

Best Camping Knives

Senbon Folding Knives

Senbon Folding Knives


Spend enough time outdoors, and you’ll realize quickly it’s easier to have a dedicated set of knives for the task instead of taking your prized chef’s knife and hoping it doesn't get dinged. “If you don’t want to buy a whole second set for camp cooking, this is a very economical set that gives you pretty much all the knives you need to cook at camp,” says Corso. Each of the olive wood-handled, stainless steel knives in this four-piece set folds to protect the edge in transit and at camp. The blades range from just over four inches to nearly five inches long, including the chef’s knife, two pairing blades, and a serrated bread knife.

Price at time of publish: $127

  • Dimensions: 10.2 x 7 x 1.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds

Best Camping Utensils

Outdoor Element Omni-Tensil

Outdoor Element Omni-Tensil


A spork is a good start, but this kit’s handles allow it to convert from chopsticks to a spoon and fork, or into a stainless-steel straw. Weighing just over three ounces, this multi-piece kit includes a recycled plastic placemat that helps prevent you from losing pieces. The silicone elbow, designed to act as a drinking straw, can connect the two hollow metal handles together and act as a bellow to fuel a campfire. There’s also a toothbrush head for after dinner.

“I love the versatility of it,” says Corso. “The stainless steel and titanium cutlery are a little more expensive than plastic, but I would rather eat with metal.” The attachable heads all thread on for a secure connection no matter what you're eating.

Price at time of publish: $35

  • Dimensions: 1.75 x 6 inches
  • Weight: 3.2 ounces

Best Camping Plate

Hydro Flask 10" Plate

Hydro Flask 10-Inch Plate

Hydro Flask

“Having a solid plate is great for car camping,” says Corso. “Bowls are nice to have, too, but a plate is essential.” These Hydro Flask versions come in a couple of colors and, like the brand's mugs, are double-wall insulated. That means a hot steak or a ladle full of chili won’t scorch your hands. Plus, it won’t buckle or sog out like plastic or paper.

The 18/8 stainless steel plate nests together with a powder-coated finish underneath that provides a sure grip, which you’ll appreciate when loaded down with a hearty portion. At about 1.3 pounds each, these will add some weight and bulk to a car camping trip.

Price at time of publish: $17

  • Dimensions: 9.9 x .86 inches
  • Weight: 1.35 pounds

Best Camping Cup

Miir Camp Cup 16 Oz

Miir Camp Cup


From coffee or oatmeal in the morning to soup for lunch and a stiff drink around the campfire at night, there isn’t much the insulated Mirr can’t do. Available in four sizes, from 8 to 20 ounces, in six colors, this mug is minimalist and comfortable. The big, wide mouth makes it easy to drink from and pour into, and the vented lid can prevent spills and help you adjust how fast the contents cool down. These work great for your morning cup of coffee at home, too.

Price at time of publish: $23

  • Dimensions: 4.13 x 2.93 inches
  • Weight: 7.7 ounces

Factors to Consider

Frequency of Use

With any culinary task, it makes more sense to splurge on higher quality and durability when you expect to frequently use an item. For nearly every product on this list, there is a less expensive version that would likely perform admirably in the short term. But over the long haul with frequent use camping, backpacking, or even entertaining in your backyard, the higher quality picks mentioned here should prove a smart investment.


When it comes to camping, focusing on gear that is easy to clean makes a lot of sense. Some, but not all, campsites offer running water to wash up, so the fewer nooks and crannies you need to flush food out of, the better. It makes sense to pick elements for cooking that are simply designed and easy to disable and reassemble, like a stove or hard-to-scratch cast iron pan.


While this is less of a concern when car camping, where your trunk or back seat won’t complain about the weight, how neatly things condense down and how light they are is a vital detail when backpacking. And even when car camping, pick items that come with a bag or nest together whenever possible. That helps keep the gear organized in transit, at camp, and when you unload it all back into a garage or shed.

The Research

We extensively researched various brands and models across all the basic camp gear categories. We asked outdoor chef Steve Corso about the gear he uses and what he looks for in products that will last and perform well. We weighted the information against factors like portability, durability, and ease of use.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can you use normal pans on a camping stove?

    Yes. Just about any pan you’d use indoors — from aluminum to stainless or carbon steel to cast iron and tri-ply — will work on a standard camp stove. Camp cooking tends to mean things getting knocked around, so if you have a very expensive skillet you don’t want to risk getting dropped, you might want to leave it behind. But that’s not the same as cooking over a live fire, where the temperatures can reach beyond the thresholds of things like non-stick cookware or pans with plastic handles. 

  • What is a mess kit?

    A mess kit combines all of the essentials to eat a meal into a convenient package. These kits often include a plate, bowl, and cup that can nest together, along with the essential utensils. Typically made of plastic, they are easy to toss into a camp kit, so you can have just about everything on hand to eat nearly any meal.

  • What else do I need for cooking while camping?

    Aside from the basics of a pan and a stove, you might want to bring sovereign wear that makes it easier for campers to help themselves: large bowls for salads or family-style sides and smaller ones for pasta or granola and yogurt in the morning. Then consider post-cooking cleanup: bring scrub pads to wash up with, towels to try the cookware, and soap. If your campsite doesn’t have a water source, you can bring your own to make washing up after meals easier.

Our Expertise

Sal Vaglica is a gear tester and food writer with nearly 15 years of experience working with and covering outdoor cooking equipment. For this story, he interviewed experts who have extensive experience cooking outdoors, including chef Steve Corso, founder of Outdoor Eats.

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