Camping is a great way to disconnect from your day-to-day and reconnect with yourself, loved ones, and nature.
While you may be getting away from some of your creature comforts, camping doesn’t have to be all hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. In fact, taking that time away from the TV, phone, and computer can be incredibly nourishing-- and your food can be too. With the right gear, you can turn your next trip into a 5-star meal experience à la belle étoile.
For the past several years, my partner, Alex, and I have been exploring the ultimate setup for a camp kitchen. Every year, we end up exploring newer, lighter weight gear, and whittling it down to the minimum products, for maximum impact. As we’ve continued to build out our own set up there are a few things that we’ve learned along the way through lots of research, but mostly trial and error. Another key component we’ve looked at is being able to set up and break down camp in about 10-30 minutes. (Who wants to work on vacay, amirite?)
Here, we will walk you through the most simple setup to a kitchen that can easily feed 10+ people, along with gear recommendations for cooking, clean up, and types of meals you can prepare.
The first two questions you will want to ask yourself is:
The first thing you have to be really clear about is what kind of camping you will be doing: backpacking, canoeing, overlanding, tent camping, bicycling trips? Likely a mix of a few of these? Ultimately, you want to establish if you need to have some ultralight gear that you can comfortably carry, and then assess what other set ups you may be doing, like tent camping or canoeing.
Between 1-4 people or more than 4 people? If you’re cooking for more than four people, you’ll want to go with a larger kitchen set up. There are a few key pieces that will make meal time go as smoothly as possible.
We’ve found that since we tend to do a variety of camping excursions,from backpacking to longer trips with large groups, we have three set ups: small, medium, and large. When we are packing for the specific trip, then we pull the gear accordingly. Most often, we are tent camping or overlanding by ourselves or with a small group, so our medium sized kitchen is typically what we have when we are out. That being said, while it sometimes is only the two of us, we will carry a set of four dishes so that we have them available for friends.
The essential three tiered set up can look something like this:
There are all kinds of outdoor cooking product brands to choose from, and here we will outline our favorite outdoor cooking products, where to get them, and why. These are all items that are on the road with us 1-4 weekends a month when we are out camping, and have worked exceedingly well.
Your small cooler is the one you want to bring on a smaller overnight trip when you don’t want to lug around the big cooler, only feeding 1-4 people, and don’t need a ton of extra space for drinks. We went with the Pelican QT Elite Cooler, which is on the heavier side, but it locks up tightly, and can double over as extra seating as well.
A good cooler is absolutely essential to a camping trip. There are a ton of great coolers out there, and the price tags will vary. We went with the Pelican 70 QT and frequently have ice stay frozen for 5 days without needing a refill. We love the baskets that come with this cooler, so you can put things like condiments, butter, eggs, etc on top without fear of it leaking out into the water, or having to shove your hand deep into the ice to find something. This cooler comes with a places for tie downs and a lock, so it works for anyone spending time in bear country.
The jetboil is the quintessential backpacking stove, able to boil water in under one minute and weighing about 13 ounces. It’s perfect for heating water for coffee or tea, or for your freeze-dried packs if you’re going backpacking or just want to travel ultralight. This comes with us on every trip we go on because everything happens after coffee.
Technically, you can use an attachment to the jet boil to make it a single burner to fit a pan on, but having a simple single burner stove makes room for a lot more meals. Especially if you want to get pancakes going while the coffee is being made. And for about $20, this old school Coleman single burner works great! For our double burner, we kept it in the family and opted for the classic Coleman Double Burner with the wine shield. One of the things we love about this one is that you can pick up the propane refills easily at Walmart or Ace Hardware (which are in most smaller towns across the United States).
This base kit set covers your pot, pan, plates, bowls, cutting board, spatula, extendable serving spoon, sporks and drying rack. The best part is that it all nests together in a nice little package and weighs just under 6 pounds. We have tried a few other sets, but this one takes the cake for versatility and durability with the stainless steel pot and pan and dishwasher safe BPA free plastic serving utensils.
The GSI outdoor spice kit is absolutely perfect for having your goto spices, or spice blends ready on the fly. We keep this stocked, and then added some velcro and labels to make it user friendly for when we are with a group, and quickly checking to see if anything needs to be refilled before we head out the door.
The Stanley adventure base kit comes with a spatula and spoon, but they are plastic. The Splitter is a titanium 3-in-1 multi tool of a spork, spatula, and tongs! It’s super lightweight and can work with a multitude of cooking surfaces, especially if you plan on doing any cooking on the grill or on the fire.
So this one is a little extra, but it makes washing dishes and cleans up (for yourself as well) so much easier! We added the Nemo Helio Shower to our gear, and it’s a total game-changer. It’s pressurized and even heats up when left in the sun.
So this is designed for tools, but works perfectly to keep all of our kitchen gear organized! This Blue Ridge Overland bag is modular, so we can have a few pieces that get traded out if we want, but mostly, it just stays packed. Also, it easily hangs wherever you have your kitchen set up-- it’s basically like your kitchen drawers and cabinets in a super sturdy bag.
Bring a notebook with you when you go out and write down anything you were missing when you’re out, or anything that you didn’t use. This will help to curate your own perfect camp kitchen unique to you and your family.
We keep some general first aid in our camp kit, and highly recommend it for anyone going out, especially with kiddos!
It’s best practice to set up the kitchen and kitchen cleaning away from your sleeping area and depending on where you are that might look differently.
Be considerate of your footprint. Leave no trace is a good policy to operate by and in some places 100% necessary. Depending on where you are camping, you may have different rules for disposing of greywater from dishwashing, packing trash out or if there is trash collection provided, and what kind of wildlife you need to be mindful of. (hello bear boxes!)
Another fun outdoor cooking gear piece we recently added to our arsenal is the TemboTusk skottle, which looks like it may come to replace our single stove burner, but the verdict is still out on that.
Cast iron dutch ovens are a fun tool to bring along camping and are super versatile! While not the most lightweight piece of gear, it definitely can expand what you are cooking.