Cooking food on the trail goes hand in hand with the type of meals you plan for. Want to eat all cold meals? Congrats, you can save the weight of a stove and fuel. Want a hot breakfast and hot dinner? Better have a stove that can take the punishment of twice-daily use and the weight of enough fuel. Most gear in my cook kit is pretty basic, with tiny homemade (DIY) accessories to supplement. Overall, the whole mess kit comes in at 12.5 ounces, plus 4.5 ounces of fuel for 4 days use. Not too bad, plus I really enjoy cooking this way … it’s way more fun. Hello Neiman!
Any political questions for this section? Only one of the most debated ones, of course!
Alcohol or Canister Stove (or Stoveless)?
The absolute lightest option is to go stoveless, which many recommend. Especially if you don’t mind eating cold ramen, drinking cold coffee, or experimenting with body heat from your crotch to rehydrate meals (yes, that is absolutely a thing). However, I just can’t stomach it. I want a hot meal at night, if nothing else for the comfort it brings. And I want to look forward to a hot cup of coffee on a bitter cold morning to motivate a good start to the day. It’s personal preference. Now, I absolutely LOVE the JetBoil MiniMo system for its simplicity and versatility. The amount of time to boil water, ability to simmer, and efficiency of fuel it creates is genius. But its expensive and heavy. On the other hand, one can spend years in a rabbit hole studying Zen and the Art of the Alcohol Stove to find a perfect solution. Trading time for weight/simplicity, I use a 0.25 ounce DIY Fancy Feast stove and 1 tablespoon of alcohol to boil 2 cups water in about 6 minutes. But I’ll also carry a 1 oz backup canister stove in case I can only find canister fuel at a resupply point.
Cooking Gear Items
Cook Pot. The requirements for my cook pot are simple: have a lid, have handles, be big enough to cook ramen, and be titanium. There are many options to choose from, a popular one being the MSR Titan Tea Kettle, but I went with the Keith Ti3209 900ml Titanium Mug. Mainly because it was on sale when I was researching and it has stood up to my testing so far. At 4.3 ounces, it works fine. For anyone looking to buy this, I don’t love the feel of this titanium, but that’s personal preference. One big feature missing is measurement notches on the inside. So, I had to create a DIY measuring stick out of tinfoil to show where to fill for 2 cups of water (see below).
Stove (Alcohol and Canister). I started playing with DIY alcohol stoves a few years back, and after some fine-tuning, I still like what the Can Food Can Stove offers. It weighs 0.25 ounces and boils 2 cups water easily. I have a few other DIY components below that supplement this stove to help with wind resistance, fuel measurements, etc., but they combine for less than an ounce. Lastly, I am bringing the BRS Ultralight stove as an emergency backup. If I get to a town resupply and can’t find denatured alcohol or HEET, hopefully a canister is available in a hiker box. This could be considered luxury, as it’s an item I hope to never use, so we’ll see if I keep the BRS after a few weeks.
DIY Stove Accessories. Ok, so here’s what I’m adding to my basic stove setup. 1) A DIY windscreen of aluminum that wraps around the stove and pot. 2) A thin strip of aluminum with notches for measuring 1 or 2 cups of water in the pot. 3) A tiny 1″ square of kitchen sponge, and 2″ of hard plastic for scraping and cleaning the pot after use. 4) A cough syrup cup for measuring 2 tbsp of alcohol. And lastly, 5) a small bottle to hold denatured alcohol.
Fire Starter. Nothing fancy here, just a good ole’ orange Bic mini lighter. I usually carry two, just to be safe, but I’m not worried about it on a trip like this. If for some reason it fails, I’m sure there is someone kind nearby that will let me borrow a light until I find another in town.
Eating Utensil. Like the cook pot, there is not much to talk about here. I want my utensil to be a spork, be foldable for packing, and be sturdy for months of use. I may switch this out for the Vargo Titanium Folding Spork, or the Light My Fire Spork for better durability, but my MSR Folding Plastic Spork has done well so far.
Water Bottles. For water bottles, I’ll be using 1L SmartWater bottles. I like the tall slimness of them, and they work well with Aquamira drops or a Sawyer Squeeze. You should not reuse plastic bottles like this for too long, so I’ll replace them every couple of weeks in town. A permanent water bottle from Nalgene is nice, and I use it daily at home, but every ounce matters and these are very light.
Hanging Rope. Lastly, because of the importance of safety, while backpacking in the wilderness, my mess kit always includes at least 50 ft of hanging rope with a titanium carabiner. On the AT, some people hang their food bags in the shelter … please don’t. It helps attract mice, and does not follow basic bear safety of hanging food at least 100 ft away from your bed. This rope is used to hang my food in a tree. Rope is always a good thing to have on hand anyways.