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Whether you’ve planned a car camping trip or a week-long backpacking excursion, you’ll need the right tools for cooking outdoors. Without the right supplies, cooking and dining in the elements can be challenging (not to mention unpredictable). Plus, after physically exerting yourself on the trails all day, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is if your campsite is stocked with the right cooking tools to make dinner.
Growing up in California, I spent loads of time camping, hiking, and backpacking. Despite my career as a former chef, I found that I was never properly stocked with the right food storage containers, utensils, or cookware when making meals at a campsite. Once I made other outdoors-oriented friends, however, I quickly discovered the importance of compact and highly portable camping mess kits. These kits include all of the essentials you’ll need to cook at a campsite and nothing you won’t use. You really just need the best camping cookware for the job.
Now, whether I’m cooking over an open fire or setting up a camp stove on the nearest available stump, I make sure I have the right gear to make a delicious meal outdoors. I’ve tested several of the below mess kits and learned quite a bit about what is essential (and what adds bulk to my pack). Here are the best mess kits for campers who love to cook.
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist HS Cookset
This cookware set includes all the basics, is lightweight, and it includes pieces that can be used for a variety of functions.
This kit only has one pot included, so for those looking to cook more than one dish at a time, this can be limiting. We also found that the mugs can be a little awkward to drink from.
In addition to being lightweight, this kit is extremely compact, making it ideal for carrying in your pack (if reconfigured, it even has room to fit a small, 8-ounce fuel canister inside). The two-person set doesn’t skimp on any essential pieces and holds up to other, heavier options. The 1.8-liter nonstick pot comes with a helpful straining lid and is crafted from hard-anodized aluminum, which works well for retaining and distributing heat.
During our tests, we found the mugs to be a bit awkward in shape, but we liked that they can double as bowls, serving four instead of two. Plus, they’re insulated to keep your food or beverage at a safe temperature for longer and prevent your hands from overheating. The entire set is contained in a storage bag that doubles as a portable sink or water bucket, so cleanup is speedy, and transporting water is effortless.
Price at the time of publish: $95
- Material: Silicone, nylon, polypropylene, non-stick coated, and hard-anodized aluminum
- Weight: 1.7 pounds
- What’s Included: One 1.8-liter pot with strainer lid, two 20-ounce mugs with tops and insulated sleeves, two 20-ounce bowls, two folding fork-spoons, and a storage bag/camp sink
Odoland 15pcs Camping Cookware Mess Kit
A great option for those just beginning to spend time outdoors or those shopping within a certain budget, this 2.75-pound kit is complete with three different nonstick, lightweight, aluminum cooking vessels. The set even includes a frying pan, which is unusual for most mess kits. Each pot has thermally insulated handles, and the included foldable spoon doubles as a lever for the lid, so you can safely check on boiling water.
While all the components may not silently nest inside one another, once the kit is fully assembled, it makes for a small and sturdy package at around 8 x 6 inches. The stainless steel cups and plates won’t retain odors or stains and are durable for long-term usage. While we found the folding utensils to be a little flimsy during testing, they still get the job done. Because the set has gaps when it’s stacked, there is extra room to fit a few extraneous personal items like lighters, napkins, or even a mini camping stove.
Price at the time of publish: $36
- Material: Hard-anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and silicone
- Weight: 2.75 pounds
- What’s Included: Two pots, one 5.7-inch fry pan, two stainless steel cups, two stainless steel plates, two cutlery sets with storage bags, one cleaning cloth, and a carrying bag
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper Cookset
This lightweight kit has all the bells and whistles to make what can otherwise be a finicky ordeal nearly as easy as cooking in your home kitchen. The bottoms of the cookware pieces are scored to evenly disperse heat, and a specialized Teflon coating will heat the surface hot more rapidly than other nonstick options, improving fuel efficiency and ensuring a quick meal when after a long day of hiking. The lids are perforated along one side for straining and have silicone seals that retain moisture.
Odor-resistant polypropylene plates and bowls easily nest within the setup, housing a foldable handle for the cookware with extra room for folding utensils, lighters, or other small accouterments. This all-in-one mess kit gets points for its versatility, and in our opinion, it’s worth the splurge for the peace of mind it provides. You’ll have all the cooking tools you’ll need.
Price at the time of publish: $160
- Material: Silicone, nylon, polypropylene, nonstick coated, and hard-anodized aluminum
- Weight: 3.63 pounds
- What’s Included: Two pots with strainer lids, one 9-inch fry pan, four 14-ounce mugs with tops and insulated sleeves, four 14-ounce bowls, four 7.5-inch plates, a folding pot gripper, and a storage bag/camp sink
Best for Backpacking
UCO 6-Piece Camping Mess Kit
When backpacking, weight and size are primary concerns in choosing the gear. At a whopping 0.8 pounds, this UCO Mess Kit is about as light as it gets. Plus, once it’s snapped together, it measures just three inches wide. The top/plate and bottom/bowl seal together with a silicone gasket to contain a collapsible cup, and a tether straps utensils to the outside which can also be used to hang-dry all five pieces after washing.
During our testing, we found the rounded corners made scooping up the last bits of any meal effortless, which is important if you’re quickly downing a bowl of hearty morning oatmeal before hitting the trails. Plus, with only the cup nestled inside, there’s room for spare bits and bobs. This set also works wonderfully as a container for meal prep or mise en place as you cook. As a bonus detail, the cutlery can slide together to create an extra-long utensil for cooking or scooping into dehydrated meal bags.
Price at the time of publish: $28
- Material: Polypropylene, nylon, and TPE
- Weight: 0.8 pounds
- What’s Included: One 23.3-ounce bowl, one lid, one collapsible camp cup, one switch spork, and a tether
Best for Car Camping
Stanley Adventure Base Camp Cookset for 4
The cookware components of this all-inclusive kit are superior in construction and come along with a variety of utensils, accessories, and serveware for outdoor meals made easy.
This durable kit from editor-loved brand Stanley has everything from a large boiling pot to a folding spatula and drying rack. Held together by a bungee and with a clear stacking diagram etched on the lid, all the components fit seamlessly for an easily portable, albeit heavy, kit. The two stainless steel cookware pieces have thick bottoms and aluminum cores that disperse heat evenly without hot spots or discoloration.
Fully stock your base camp with the included four heavy-duty BPA-free plates and bowls, a flexible trivet that doubles as a pot holder, a cutting board, a drying rack, and foldable utensils, including a spatula and spoon). We think this Stanley Cookset makes a great option for car camping, where you won’t need to lug it very far from the trunk to the table. Plus, it looks like cookware we’d use in our home kitchens. Points for aesthetics!
Price at the time of publish: $90
- Material: Stainless steel, BPA-free plastic, and bungee cord
- Weight: 5.7 pounds
- What’s Included: One 3.7-quart pot with a vented lid, one 7.25-inch frying pan, four plates, four bowls, one cutting board, one spatula, one serving spoon, four sporks, one drying rack, and a locking bungee
Best Solo Kit
Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Cookset 1.1
The Alpha Pot Cookset 1.1 is small, compact, and lightweight, and it’s constructed of safe, sturdy materials ideal for just one camper.
This kit is simple and limited, it does not include utensils, and the lid and koozie must be removed from the cup to lock the pot shut.
This cookware set is a no-frills, all-in-one kit practically designed for a single camper. It includes one 1.2-liter anodized aluminum pot, a large bowl, and a mug with a koozie and a top. Thanks to the pot’s locking handle, all the components can be securely contained inside the pot for seamless transportation. The whole kit weighs less than a pound, which makes this pick a great solo backpacking option.
The interior of the pot is non-abrasive, easy to clean, and heats up quickly. Both the bowl and cup are constructed from BPA-free, glass-reinforced polypropylene, meaning they hold up to heavy usage and a wide range of temperatures. The cup’s lid and koozie protect your hands. However, both the corresponding lid and koozie must be fully removed to lock the kit.
Price at the time of publish: $60
- Material: Hard-anodized aluminum alloy and stainless steel, silicone, and BPA-free polypropylene
- Weight: 0.76 pounds
- What’s Included: One 1.2-liter pot, one bowl, and one insulated mug
Best for Picnics
Light My Fire Camping Mess Kit
Light as a feather, this Scandi mess kit boasts extra compartments and containers, making it an optimal choice for picnics and beach days.
Incredibly lightweight, this mess kit makes a great option for camping, but it also works flawlessly for day trips and picnics at the park. It comes in multiple cute colors and doubles as a bento box. Along with its lidded plate and bowl, this kit also contains two airtight containers and a collapsible cup, so you can pack up a full spread without worrying about mixing meal components or running out of room in your picnic basket.
Once you’ve snacked away, just stack all the empty pieces together and secure the whole thing with the included harness for a compact carry. Every included unit is constructed with environmentally-friendly bioplastic and recycled ingredients that significantly lower the carbon footprint of the kit, so you can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about harming the planet. Plus, it’s dishwasher- and microwave-safe, which means you can use it to pack lunches or as food storage containers at home.
Price at the time of publish: $20
- Material: BPA-free biolplastic
- Weight: 0.8 pounds
- What’s Included: One 30.4-ounce stacking bowl, one 16.9-ounce stacking lid, two airtight storage containers with lids, one spork, one foldable cup, one cutting board plus strainer, and one harness
Best Dinnerware Kit
Coleman 24-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set
Coated in classic red speckled enamel, this 24-piece set is a practical and versatile dinnerware set for both grilling burgers in the backyard and sitting down for breakfast at a campsite. Known for its sturdy and long-lasting qualities, enamelware will also retain heat, keeping your meal warm as you eat, even on the chilliest of nights.
Aside from the bowls, plates, and mugs, there is also a full set of table-ready cutlery stowed away in a flatware storage roll, which keeps knives, forks, spoons, and other sharp utensils safely secured. This roll is especially handy if you’re looking for a safe way to store paring knives or other sharp objects while packing or traveling.
Price at the time of publish: $55
- Material: Enamel, stainless steel, and plastic
- Weight: 7.1 pounds
- What’s Included: Four 10-inch dinner plates, four 6-inch bowls, four 12-ounce mugs, four knives, forks, and spoons, and a utensil roll-up storage pouch
Best Cookware Kit
GSI Outdoors Stainless Steel Cookware Set
This set of three high-grade, rust-proof stainless steel pots and pans can be used to cook over an open fire, coals, or a camping stove. This cookware is likely thinner than the stainless steel options in your home kitchen, but it’s surprisingly just as durable. The fry pan’s strong, heat-protected handle won’t collapse or fold while you’re flipping bacon and eggs, and the heatproof pot holders in the lids are handy for straining liquids.
We love that all the pieces stack and lock together for effortless transport and are less noisy than other kits while in transit. If you’re someone who prioritizes meals when spending time outdoors, this set will not disappoint. At under three pounds, this is a quality, lightweight cookware set.
Price at the time of publish: $90
- Material: Stainless steel and silicone
- Weight: 2.86 pounds
- What’s Included: Two pots, one 8-inch fry pan, two straining lids, and a stuff sack
Factors to Consider
If you’ll be carrying your mess kit with you, either when backpacking or hiking, you’ll want to seek out lightweight materials. For cookware, titanium and aluminum are the lightest options. If weight is not a primary deciding factor, you may want to opt for stainless steel cookware, as it lends itself to even, steady heat and a variety of different cooking techniques.
For dinnerware, flatware, and other dining necessities like utensils, because you’ll often be using your mess kit to eat hot, cooked meals, finding a BPA-free plastic or polypropylene material is important for safe consumption. While stainless steel bowls and plates always resist odors and stains, they’re usually heavier. So if you’re looking for a lightweight, sturdy alternative when it comes to plates, bowls, mugs, and utensils, polypropylene is your best bet.
Mess kits range in size, compatibility, and portability. If you plan on traveling great distances or having limited space, you’ll want a kit that seamlessly nests together and locks into place. While we’ve included a variety of options above, each with different levels of transportability, which mess kit you opt for truly depends on if you’ll be carrying it in a pack, and if so, how much room and weight capacity you have.
There are all-inclusive mess kits, eating-only kits, and cooking-only kits. Regardless of which is best suited to your outdoor adventures, purchasing a kit that has versatility, stackability, and food-safe, quality materials will level up your camping experience. A well-designed mess kit will have pieces with multi-use purposes and a configuration that allows for easy transport. Bonus points are allotted for design features like ergonomic handles, measurement etchings, and non-slip bottoms.
For your mess kit to live its longest life, treating its components with care is important. Cooking and eating outdoors can put some wear and tear on cookware and flatware, but most mess kits are designed with materials that have that in mind. Hand-washing and drying the elements of your mess kit after every use and packing them securely will help to extend the life of your gear.
Frequently Asked Questions
What essential pieces should I look for in a camping mess kit?
The pieces that make up your mess kit are contingent upon how you are planning to cook and dine on your outdoor adventure. If you’re organizing a backpacking trip that revolves mostly around boiling water to add to ready-to-eat dried food, you’ll likely need less cookware in your kit to ensure your pack is as light as possible.
If you’re planning on car camping or setting up a serious base camp, you may want a variety of cookware pieces and utensils to make more complex meals. Regardless of the cookware pieces included in your kit, you’ll want to make sure there is a bowl or plate, drinking vessel, and eating utensils at the very least.
Can I boil water in a mess kit?
Every mess kit that includes cookware can (and should!) be used to boil water. How fast your water boils will depend on how big the piece of cookware is (the smaller, the quicker the boil), what material it’s constructed out of (titanium most often boils more quickly than aluminum, and both superseded stainless steel), and how tightly your pot’s top is fastened to the rim.
If you plan on boiling water for pasta or grains, you may want to opt for a mess kit with strainer lids so you won’t need to struggle to pour out excess liquid or have to pack a secondary strainer.
Stella is a former pastry chef turned food writer with years of experience testing and researching all things food. Invested in discovering fun, new flavors, and the tools that help to make them, you can find her work in EdibleLA, Apartment Therapy, and the Kitchn. Stella grew up spending as much time as possible outdoors in the mountains of California and always made food her utmost priority whether she was camping, hiking, or spending the day at the beach.