My Guide to Backcountry Cooking Part 4 – Camp Kitchens

Last year I shared how I meal plan, some meal ideas and a few dehydrator recipes for backcountry cooking. We’re out on an impromptu (for us) backpacking trip for the weekend so I thought now was a good time to share what I use to cook up all our yummy meals when we’re out on the trail or the water.

My backcountry kitchen is something that I’ve been working on for the better part of a decade (yikes) and while I make small changes all the time, I think I’ve got the major parts down. I’ve got two variations so I’ll share my basic kitchen (for backpacking) and then how I modify it for canoeing.

camp kitchen

Just another kitchen with a view – Floe Lake on the Rockwall

The Basics
Stove and Fuel
We went with a canister stove (almost 8 years ago) and I love it. There is lots of debate over stove types and they all seem to have their pluses and minuses but I like our canister stove because it was inexpensive and is easy to use.

camp stove

Our large canoe pots on the stove on the Lakeland Park canoe circuit

I always bring at least two canisters with me on a trip (even if just for the weekend) and after I will label any partial containers with the date and number of meals cooked so I can judge when to best use it up. One fuel canister is usually good for three days or so.

Pots and Dishes
I have a small pot set of two nesting pots from MEC and while they are some of the cheapest you can buy, they have served us well. I like having two pots – one to cook in and one to boil water. The set also has a frying pan but I rarely use it. The smallest pot is 0.5L and the larger is 1L – which I find big enough to cook for up to 3 people.

small pots

Cooking spanish rice on the Juan de Fuca trail

We have two small bowls that fit inside the pot set to eat out of. I got them at the dollar store (4 for $1) and they have lasted forever. We recently bought two insulated plastic mugs with lids and use these for hot beverages or soup. I will bring one or two Nalgene screw top jars (1L or 0.5 L) to rehydrate food in.


Modeling our insulated mugs on the Skoki Loop

Water Purification
We bring a Katadyn Combi water filter with us on all our trips. I also pack chemical treatment as back up although we’ve never had to use it. We carry one or two hard 1L wide mouth Nalgene bottles (to pump into) and 2 3L drinking bags.

Food Storage
I have several 15L roll top bags I made that we use to carry food in when it is in our packs or to hang/store food in the bear-proof storage. The bags are mostly waterproof, help me keep organised and are easy to pack. I also bring 3-4 carabiners and lots of rope. We’ve only had to hang food a handful of times (bear bins are much more popular) but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Utensils and Other Items
Everything else we need for our kitchen goes into my “utensil bag”. You can buy pre-assembled “camp kitchens” but I just made my own. The case is actually a travel case for toiletries but works perfectly for keeping things organized. The only thing not pictured here are the various knives we bring – I have the most adorable little Gerber but Jon will always bring a practical Swiss Army knife for cutting items and spreading things.

Utensil bag

1. Sporks – for stirring and eating. I usually carry four, even though there are just two of us.
2. Collapsable strainer – for draining pasta
3. Small jar of pepper
4. Matches (and lighter)
5. Water filter repair kit
6. Clothes pegs – handy for keeping wet items on your drying line and at worst, tinder for a fire
7. Small candles – help to get a fire going or in an emergency
8. Spare plastic bag
9. Scrubbie pad
10. Micro fibre cloth for drying dishes
11. Salt
12. Camp suds
13. Hand sanitizer

Canoe Trip Modifications

I switch up a few items for canoeing because we usually have more pack space and if we aren’t portaging we can carry more weight.

1. A larger pot set

I have something that I think MEC used to call their base camp set. It is 3 larger pots – I bring the smaller two canoeing and use the largest one when we are car camping. The smaller pot is approximately 1L and the larger one is 2L.

2. Bigger dishes

We have a set of camping dishes that all pack in together – 4 cups, 4 bowls, 4 plates all inside a tub with a lid. I will bring the whole set canoeing – then we have a tub for doing dishes as well. I also use this for car camping. I also have one of those soft collapsable strainers for pasta.

3. Wine Glasses (and Wine)

Collapsable wine glasses are a classy touch to any campsite and we also have some special liquid bags for wine.

4. Gravity Water Treatment System

When we were canoeing last year our friends brought a gravity water filter system and it was so convenient that Jon gave me one for Christmas. We haven’t got to use it yet but you can bet it will be on our next canoe trip.


So that’s my basic set up for a camp kitchen – it is just my opinion and since I’m not an expert I recomend that you spend some time trying out what works for you. It seems (is?) a fair amount of stuff but I think a lot of it truely falls into the nice to have category and could be cut out if needed. Setting up a nice camp kitchen costs money and takes time but since most of the gear has been with us for almost 9 years I feel like it is worth it!


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