Cooking in the great outdoors while camping is a thrilling and enjoyable event – if you’re well prepared! There is certainly an art to gathering all of the tools you need, packing them into your car and then setting up camp once at your destination.
Whether you are packing food for 3 days of camping or just one night – If you have the luxury of a vehicle, you can pretty much transport your entire kitchen into the wilderness and enjoy hearty meals at the end of a day’s worth of adventure.
Here is our list of all the cooking equipment you’ll need for your next camping trip. (Note: This article assumes that you are traveling with a vehicle; it is not a list for lightweight backpackers!)
21 pieces of cooking equipment you’ll need for camping:
1. Camp Stove & Fuel
Arguably the most important element of cooking outdoors: heat! Some people prefer to make a campfire and cook on that, but it is always worth packing a decent stove and plenty of fuel. There may be a fire ban in place or simply no good wood for burning when you arrive at your desired spot.
Many choose the small “Jet Boil” style burners, which work great for those carrying a backpack. However, if you have space to play with, we would recommend a large 2-ring propane burner. They are incredibly efficient and you can have two pots on the go at once. Choose one with an added wind-guard for extra thermal protection, like this Coleman stove from REI: Coleman Triton Propane Stove
2. Cooking Pots
Two pots (with different capacities) and one frying pan is a good place to start when packing for a camping trip. With this setup, you should be able to cook most of your favorite meals a-la-outdoors. If you’re new to camp cooking, start with this and only add in more pans once you know you actually need them, so you don’t waste money and space.
For the extra space and weight conscious, many brands offer lightweight, sturdy and stack-able cooking pots for you to enjoy. Make sure you choose ones with an included lid to help things heat up faster, and a foldable handle for easy storage.
Don’t skimp out on pots and pans. Many knock-offs may contain dangerous coatings, or plastics that will melt under direct heat.
3. Cutlery & Utensils
Knives, forks and spoons for eating; wooden spoon, sharp knife & peeler for cooking. Think of all of the utensils you’d use in your kitchen at home, and try to condense the list into the essentials.
You might think that choosing cutlery and utensils is simple, but there are so many to choose from nowadays – almost too many! Depending on the kind of camper you are, you will have your pick of all-titanium, foldable, compact-able cutlery at any high end outdoor store.
Check out the full range at REI: Camping Utensil Sets
4. Plates, Bowls & Mugs
Some more essential eating tools with a myriad of options. Make sure that you have enough for one each for everybody, with a couple of spares – they do come in handy.
When choosing items, don’t feel you need to spend the big bucks to have the best campsite cooking experience. Some people love their everyday items gagetized up to the teeth; others prefer your reliable plastic plate.
Mugs are a little different, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a sucker for a camping mug with a carabiner handle. No judgment, please.
Find your perfect cuppa tea in one of these: Camping Mugs
How many times have you arrived at camp ready to cook your perfect bean chili… only to discover that you’ve forgotten the can-opener? Me – too many to count. Adding a multi-tool to your camping kit is a great way to ensure that you remember all of those niche tools which are often overlooked. Can-opener, bottle opener, scissors, knife… all in one handy pocket-sized package.
I love this Gentlemen’s Hardwear kitchen multi-tool. It even comes with a mini cheese-grater. Enough said.
6. Table & Chairs
Yes, you heard me: table and chairs! We are going all-out for this camping trip. Lots of people will prepare food out the back of their vehicle, which is totally fine but less comfortable.
Camping tables and chairs have actually become really neat over the past decade, and you can find a range of lightweight, compact options which transport well and work really nicely out in the field. The most common and simple are the X-frame designs which essentially flat-pack down to sit neatly in your car.
These days, I’d recommend a soft-top table over a hard one – simply because it is lighter and more transportable. Check out this Mountain Summit Gear Featherlite Table. Also, remember to choose tables and chairs of a similar height to have the most comfortable eating experience!
Most people assume they will be cooking during daylight, but unexpected mishaps can sometimes leave us in the dark. There’s nothing worse than arriving late at your campsite after a lengthy hike, and having to cook dinner in the dark – especially if you don’t have adequate lighting.
Headlamps are fine, but they don’t give you the illuminating power of a lantern, and you also run the risk of blinding your trail buddy every time you look at them.
Even a simple, compact battery lantern will be a great addition to your cooking setup: REI Camping Lanterns.
Coolers are an essential for anyone planning to camp with meat, dairy, vegetables or soft drinks. (Or perhaps stiffer drinks, too.) 35-45L is usually the ideal size for a long weekend trip, and most coolers only require one loading of ice before you set off – and they’ll stay cool for days.
YETI is a hugely popular brand of outdoor cooler: they are rugged, sturdy and certified bear-proof. Perfect for throwing in the car, or taking on a whitewater adventure.
Check out their selection here: YETI Tundra 35 Hard Cooler
9. Dutch Oven
This is really a game changer when it comes to outdoor cooking. Forget the limits set by pots and frying pans – with this piece of equipment you can bake, sear, sauté, broil and fry! Look for a good quality oiled cast iron.
Lodge offer a great range of sizes, and come with a ridged lid for holding charcoal or flipping to use as a griddle, and the sturdy legs mean you can place it directly over hot coals for a high heat. If you’ve never made a loaf of bread in the great outdoors; prepare to have your world changed!
10. Sharp Knife & Cutting Board
Another essential set of tools for those serious about cooking outdoors. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle when preparing meat & vegetables if you invest in a good camp cutting board & sharp knife. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a set from home, but it may be worth checking out some of the dedicated camping sets on the market.
I particularly like the folding cutting boards with a knife compartment inside. This keeps the knife secure and is less cumbersome than a full size board. The Snow Peak Cutting Board Set is a budget-friendly but contains a decently sharp knife and foldable board.
11. Coffee Maker
Not ready to give up your morning shot of caffeine? You don’t have to! There are many ways to brew your perfect cup whilst camping. Pre-grind your coffee beans at home and bring them in an airtight container, or you could even purchase a hind grinder so that you can grind them fresh each morning.
For the coffee maker itself, I love to use the AeroPress whilst on a camping trip. Small, portable and very easy to use (and obviously makes delicious coffee!). Just don’t forget the filters.
If that seems a little too extravagant; consider an all in one coffee press thermos. They may not be barista-quality coffee, but they are good enough for most people! Take a look at the selection in REI here: Coffee Press Thermos
If you’re serious about hot beverages whilst camping then you might want to purchase a stove-top kettle for easy pouring, rather than using a cooking pot.
GSI Outdoors make a great selection of camping kettles in all different sizes, in a lightweight alloy with easy-pour spouts.
13. Egg Holder
There’s nothing worse than opening a food bag up to the sight and smell of cracked eggs. Many people choose to wrap them individually in a paper towel & hope for the best, but if you are wanting to have your eggs in the morning then dedicated egg holders for camping are a great option.
Pro tip: hard-boil eggs in advance for even more secure transportation.
14. Portable Grill
A lot of campsites come with grills you can lay over your fire pit, but often they look less than desirable to cook on – rust, old meat fat and bacteria are often present! I once found a boney fish tail wedged in between two grill bars… yuck.
If you want to have a backcountry cookout, then a simple portable grill is all you need.
Most of them come with foldable legs so that the grill lays flat for packing, and are incredibly budget-friendly. Take a look at this simple folding campfire grill from Rome: Pioneer Camp Grill.
You can’t rely on finding ready-to-go kindling and firewood out in the bush. It is definitely worth preparing or buying your own stash to take with you – even if its just a small starter set. You don’t want to arrive at camp with all of your tools ready to grill out in the open and find wet, green wood no good for burning!
You can pick up a bundle from most garden stores or even yard stores around town. If you live in a city, you might need to travel a little further into the countryside before you start seeing signs for ‘Firewood For Sale’.
16. Spice Jars
Never forget your seasoning! Bland food is never an option, not even when cooking out in the wild. Always pack your salt and pepper, plus those other herbs and spices you can’t do without.
Plastic spice jars will be lighter and less fragile than glass, but if you are traveling with your vehicle then it probably doesn’t matter too much.
I like this option from GSI Outdoors as it comes with a connector keeping the jars together, so that they don’t get separated and lost in the food box.
17. Leftover Containers
It is rare that you’ll have leftover food on a camping trip; in my experience everyone is a lot hungrier at the end of the day when camping as opposed to at home! That being said, disposing of food in the outdoors is both wasteful and tricky – as you have to make sure that it is buried deep enough and far enough from your camp so as not to attract wildlife.
It is much easier and safer to store your leftovers in ziplock bags or plastic tightly-sealed containers and use them for the next day’s lunch.
I usually use these Sea to Summit containers as they come in a good variety of sizes and are collapsible for maximum space-saving efficiency.
18. Bear Canister
A bear canister is an essential item for backpackers, and you may feel it is unnecessary when storing food in your vehicle. It is, however, always advised to travel with a bear canister when out in the backcountry even if you have a car.
If you’ve never seen a video of a bear breaking into a car… well, look it up! It is always much safer to store your food in bear-proof boxes, just in case.
BearVault are a highly trusted and reputable brand – I like their bear canisters in particular because they are translucent, meaning I can see my food without having to rummage through the box aimlessly. They aren’t the cheapest on the market, but they are exactly what you need to stop a wayward bear from getting into your food – well worth the price, I’d say.
Important: Please remember to never, never, never keep any food in your tent while camping!
19. Collapsible Sink
A camping sink makes doing dishes ten times easier and more bearable than any other alternative: and a collapsible sink adds an extra layer of utility.
Most are a decent size and made from silicone, so they are durable and take up next to no space in your car. I prefer the silicone ones to the flexible bag design, as they hold water better and don’t tip over as easily. Something like this Flexware Bucket from Ultimate Survival Technologies.
20. Washing Liquid & Utensils
Another area which is often overlooked – the clean-up. Alongside your camping sink, don’t forget the washing liquid and at least one sponge or scrubbing pad.
I have always used Dr Bronner’s for every type of cleaning. Dishes, laundry, body, hair – the organic castile soap will do it all! The best part is that you only need a couple of drops to have enough for cleaning, so it lasts really well. I’ve used the same 4oz bottle for over a year now on all of my camping trips.
21. Water Filter or Tablets
Depending on the nature of your trip, you may bring enough water with you for the whole duration; or you might be counting on finding a natural source. Even if you plan the former, it is always good to bring a water purification device with you just in case.
There are many different options – from hand pumps to straws to purification tablets, you just need to find the best one for you. Check out our article on the Best Water Purifiers for Backpacking for more information.
My closing thoughts…
You’ll notice that a lot of the links in these article are for REI – and for good reason. I love this store and you can always find great stuff at good prices, even more so if you go for a Garage Sale and join their Membership Program. Just make sure you go with a list and be strict with yourself, otherwise you’ll come out with way more than you need!
I usually travel light as I do most of my outdoors activities with just a backpack, but in recent years I have been on more and more camping trips with a car. It is luxury! I love being able to pack so many things into a trip, and eat delicious meals like I would home; but with a backdrop of beautiful mountains or sunset vista.
My main piece of advice is to practice packing and unpacking your vehicle, making sure everything stays organized and has a proper place. This is especially important if you are moving campsites every day or two. Cars can quickly become disorganized and things get lost, left behind or broken when they’re stored improperly. Other than that, camp cooking is what you make of it – so get out there any enjoy!
Remember to always abide by the “Leave No Trace” principles when out in the backcountry, camping or simply out for a day hike. Help to preserve our green spaces for future generations to enjoy.
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Suzie Hall has a passion for all things wild and is a scuba diver and Orcalab researcher based in Hanson Island off the north coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She spends most of her time exploring this great wide earth and her travels have taken her to some remarkable locations including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and the wild British Columbia coast. Fueled by a drive to protect our wild spaces and their inhabitants, Suzie works in conservation projects around the globe and lives to write about the amazing people, places and wildlife she encounters.