Camping can be a wonderful and invigorating way to spend the weekend, whether going at it solo or with a group of friends. What you eat when you’re out in nature, though, can make or break the experience.
Instead of dining on processed junk food, why not enjoy a nourishing homemade meal? Mess kits can help you out, as they provide a variety of eating essentials such as dining ware and cooking implements. They come in a variety of styles and we’ve gathered them up for you.
The best camping mess kits include:
With careful research and personal experience behind us, we bring you the top 7 mess kits for your use in the great outdoors:
MalloMe Camping Cookware Mess Kit brings us an 18-piece mess kit that collapses into an easy-to-carry bundle. It includes a non-stick, 1-liter pot, two BPA-free bowls, a soup spoon, wooden spatula, stainless steel spork, nylon carry pouch and cleaning sponge. You’ll even receive some convenient recipes to enjoy on your trip.
The company uses a non-toxic, anodized aluminum for fast heat conduction. This means the material is thicker than your traditional aluminum options. It’s also FDA-approved, so there’s no need to worry about harmful chemicals leaking into your delicious eats.
It’s the perfect size for a solo camper, whether you’re an adult looking for a weekend of solitude or you have a youngster heading out on their first camping trip. The cooking set weighs just under 2 pounds, so it shouldn’t add too heavy of a load to the overall gear.
- Attractive color duo of lime and gray.
- Made from thick aluminum.
- Recipes included.
- Only suitable for one.
This epic backpacking mess kit from MSR is the perfect unit for one person or a camping / backpacking duo. It packs up nice and neat into one bundle, weighing just 1.7 pounds. The dimensions are 7.75 inches by 5 inches when stored to give you an idea of what you’ll be toting around.
Like the other options on our list so far, the cooking components are made of anodized aluminum, including two pots (1.5 liters and 2.5 liters). The smaller unit features a non-stick coating while the larger one doesn’t. This means you can use the former for frying and the latter for boiling water or otherwise.
There’s an interchangeable strainer lid included, which makes for an awesome addition if you’re making something like pasta. Two insulated mugs, deep dish plates (necessary for saucy dishes) and a detachable pot handle also come with this cooking set.
The only downside is that you’ll have to purchase your utensils separately, but it’s not the end of the world as they’re readily available at most outdoor stores. Other than that, the MSR Quick 2 really is on of the best backpacking mess kits out there!
- An essential item in your backpacking gear
- Cool accessories included.
- Perfect for one person or two.
- No utensils or cleaning items
GSI Outdoors is a family company that specializes in camping and backpacking equipment. This nesting mess kit can conveniently fit into the included pot that you’ll pack into the strapped bag. You can then clip the unit onto your pack, how easy is that?
One of the coolest things about this option is that the waterproof-welded carrying bag can also double as a sink for quick washing out in nature. This means you can soak anything that has sticky bits after cooking, too.
A heavy-duty pot and pan come with this kit and they both feature a triple-layer of non-stick Teflon coating for durability and even heat distribution. Also included are: two insulated mugs, a folding handle and a strainer lid made from nylon.
You’ll also receive two nesting bowls and sip-through lids that you could use for enjoying something like soup. Keep it hot and don’t get burned in the process.
The design of this cooking set takes the cake with its understated color hues and functionality to boot. We appreciate the looks and while it’s not the most important thing, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
- Best overall design.
- Non-stick Teflon coating.
- Carry bag that doubles as a sink.
- No cutlery included
If this is out of your budget range, then the next best survival mess kit (IMO) would be the MSR Quick 2 System. Lightweight, durable and will totally do the job.
This choice from Winterial won the award of Best Buy Choice from OutdoorGearLab, so you know it’s a popular option.
It’s actually an unusual camping cookware mess kit in that it includes a kettle. Not only can you enjoy a piping hot cup of tea or joe, but this allows you to boil water in a jiffy for other uses too, such as cleaning purposes or for additional cooking liquid.
Overall, it weighs just 1.5 pounds and includes 10 pieces: 1-quart frying pan (1.25 inches by 6.4 inches), 2-quart pot with lid (3 inches by 6.5 inches), two bowls, serving ladle, spatula/spoon and a plate which also acts as a cutting board.
The pan and pot feature an aluminum oxide material with a non-stick Teflon coating. This is useful for those that aren’t confident they’ll manage the task without ruining a dish or two. It also makes for a simple clean-up, which you’ll manage easily with the included sponge.
Furthermore, the company claims this material features high thermal conductivity, indicating quick and even heat distribution. You won’t be stuck waiting forever to throw your eggs into the frying pan.
You’ll also receive a carry bag, which is par for the course, at this point.
- Quick and even heating.
- A plate/cutting board combo.
- Includes a kettle.
- Award-winning choice.
- Heat-resistant handles.
- Only suitable for small groups.
Coleman brings us a five-piece camping cookware mess kit that’s budget-friendly and will work for a variety of simple meals. There’s nothing fancy or extra about this unit, so don’t expect luxury here.
All in all, the entire kit weighs just 10 ounces, so rest assured you won’t feel the load on the trail. The pieces nest together, much like the others on our list. They even snap once in place, so they shouldn’t fall apart mid-hike.
You’ll receive one of each: 8-ounce cup, 16-ounce pot with a lid, 7-inch frying pan and a 6-inch deep dish plate. These pieces are made from basic aluminum and offer nothing in the way of a coating.
Keep in mind that with this lightweight cooking set, you’ll get what you pay for. Many complain that the material isn’t durable, for example. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though, given the cost of the kit. If you want something that's going to last, spring for something like the MSR Quick 2 System.
Do be careful when you’re handling the items over an open fire. They don’t have the sturdiness that other materials do. This indicates they could easily tip over or go flying, which you want to avoid.
It’d be perfect for a one or two-time use situation that doesn’t require the frills that some of the other mess kits offer.
- As budget-friendly as they come.
- No coating, but cleans easily.
- Heats up and cools quickly.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Lacking durability.
- No implements or utensils.
If you’re into matching up the colors of your camping equipment, this brand offers a selection including black, blue, green and orange.
It’s another viable cook set to suit one or two individuals max. This mess kit would work best for short trips, whether hiking or camping in one location.
There are 16 pieces with this one, including a mini-stove, which is excellent if you’re stuck somewhere without the option to build a fire. Other supplies are as follows: anodized aluminum, non-stick pot and frying pan, utensils made from stainless steel, rice ladle, bowls, cleaning materials and more.
The heat-resistant folding handles could save you from burns and the materials are BPA-free and FDA-approved to boot. This company claims that the aluminum is made to withstand a lot of wear, as well, which is essential when you’re roughing it.
Do keep in mind that customers chimed in on how small the pot is with this unit. It may pose an inconvenience if you’re looking to cook a meal that’ll last you for a few servings throughout the trip.
- Non-stick and easy to clean.
- 100-percent money-back guarantee.
- Graduated markings for accurate measuring.
- Heat-resistant handles.
- Lightweight at 1.6 pounds.
- The pot is more like a cup in terms of sizing.
Are you looking to cook up some serious meals? REDCAMP presents the largest mess kit on our list, yet it still only weighs in at 3.3 pounds. It’ll be bulkier to carry than the rest, but then again, you get all these supplies.
You’ll receive: three anodized aluminum pots with covers, one frying pan, six bowls, one ladle, two stainless steel folding spoons and a loofah among other items. The variety of pots indicates you can cook multiple dishes at once if you’re a larger group of campers.
While the material warms up quickly, you’ll want to be sure to keep the handles away from the fire as they’re not heat-resistant. Keep the flame low and you should be good.
REDCAMP states the kit is suitable for four to five individuals, but you’ll need to bring extra utensils and plates along.
- 360-day warranty and money-back guarantee.
- Enough bowls for six people.
- Variety of pots included.
- Mesh carry sack for quick drying.
- Handles aren’t heat-resistant
What Is a Mess Kit?
This is a collection of devices and accessories made for camp cooking and serving food when you’re camping. They contain culinary components such as pans, utensils and more, while some even offer mini-stoves.
Mess kits differ greatly in what’s included, from larger sets to serve families or more basic options for solo or couple camping. Regardless of the size, the brilliance here is that they allow you to enjoy a nourishing meal, no matter where you are.
You may be thinking, “why don’t I just bring some kitchen equipment from home?” It’s a valid question, but did you forget about all the walking you’ll be doing?
Even if you’re not, you’ll already be lugging a heavy load from the car, onto the site and back again. Every pound counts. Mess kits are lightweight and compact for this reason.
Secondly, outdoor living can be rough and you won’t want to ruin your regular kitchenware in such circumstances. Mess kits come explicitly designed to hold up in a way that your home implements aren’t cut out to withstand. Leave your valuable kitchen tools where they belong and purchase a separate set for camping.
You’ll want to know what to look for and how to shop, according to your camping style.
Mess Kits 101
Every individual or group of campers will have specific requirements when it comes to an eating regime. Some mess kits lean more towards serving needs, while others offer the whole shebang from beginning-to-end, including cookware and more.
The first thing you’ll want to think about is how many mouths you need to feed. Solo mess kits are straightforward and typically won’t contain more than one or two sets of utensils, along with a pot or skillet for smaller meals.
For larger groups, you can find a larger variety of implements like a variety of pots and pans, cleaning supplies, and cups, among other items.
If you prefer a smaller mess kit, you can always purchase additional cutlery and smaller pieces of equipment separately. There’s no harm in starting simple and collecting what you need over time. However, do keep in mind this means your extra supplies won’t fit nice and neat into the storage system (eg a mesh bag) provided by the original kit.
Your materials affect the mess kit in a few different ways, including the overall weight, durability and efficiency of the camp cooking process. Much like you’d choose, for example, a non-stick skillet for your home, the same considerations apply in the great outdoors.
Some of the materials used for mess kits include the following and the great news is that all are suitable for use over an open fire:
- Stainless steel.
If what you’re after is durability above all, titanium fits the bill. It’s known for having the highest weight-to-strength ratio, being lightweight, but strong enough to last you through the years.
The downside is that titanium may heat unevenly and create a sticky mess in the pan. Avoid this by opting for cookware that has a ceramic or non-stick coating.
Do note that this material isn’t a popular option, due to its hefty price tag.
It’s one of the most commonly used materials due to its affordability and durability, not to mention it’s often scratch-resistant and easy to clean. You’ll often find stainless steel utensils and other small implements crafted from the same.
On the downside, stainless steel is heavy and when you’re camping, every ounce counts. If you’re heading to a site where you’ll stay put all weekend, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.
Aluminum is another popular option because it combines a lighter weight with a budget-friendly cost. You’ll often see an anodized variety, which means it’s thicker and more durable than your basic varieties.
However, with that in mind, it’s important to note that standard aluminum won’t hold up as long as the two options above. It has the potential to dent and scratch easily and you don’t want shards of it ending up in your food. This may not be an issue if you use it infrequently, though.
On the plus side, many find it heats evenly and for beginner cooks, this could make it easier to handle than something like titanium.
These specialized kits come in all shapes and sizes and some offer unique features that you won’t find across the board. Personal preference will determine what’s most important and here are a few other things to look for:
- Storage: If you’re car camping and staying in one location, this factor won’t be such a big deal. Are you moving from site to site and on your feet a lot? You need a unit that packs up easily and doesn’t take up much space in your bag. Otherwise, you might regret bringing it along at all.
- Stove: All of this cookware is suitable for use over an open fire in the great outdoors. You don’t always have the option of building one, though, which is why some mess kits come with a mini-stove. This means you’ll need a fuel source, which adds to the overall weight of your bag.
- Cleaning supplies: Suffice it to say, the cooking components need to stay clean at all times. Many mess kits offer things like specific a specific cleaning sponge or brushes for the included equipment. If you prefer to purchase these separately, make sure they’re safe to use on the given materials. But do make sure that the reviews mention easy cleaning, otherwise you'll be stuffed.
- Extras: Sometimes, the seemingly insignificant features can make or break the experience. There are mess kits that offer a drawstring mesh bag for portability and carabiners for clipping the kits onto your luggage, among other supplemental items. If these tidbits matter for you, read the fine print. Also, be aware that if not a mesh bag, it could be some other type of carry case.
It’s normal to have a slew of questions when preparing for your cooking experience out in nature. A few commonly answered inquiries include:
Q: What Does a Standard Mess Kit Contain?
The typical mess kit comes with pots and pans (possibly one of each, or one of either). Also included is at least one set of utensils and a spatula or something similar, among other small items.
Keep in mind that every mess kit offers different pieces of equipment and some even add other useful accessories like bottle openers and firestarters.
Q: What Are the Usual Pot Sizes Included in a Mess Kit?
Don’t expect them to be the same size as the ones in your kitchen. You’ll be toting them around in nature, after all, so they’re significantly smaller on purpose.
The most common units range between 1 and 2 liters or 0.25 and 0.5 gallons. An average pot will be around five to 6-inches wide.
Q: Can I Wash My Mess Kit in the Dishwasher?
Not all mess kits are dishwasher-safe, so it’s better to check the manufacturer’s instructions before embarking on such a mission. It’s no big deal if you can’t. There’s no dishwasher out in nature, anyway.
Instead, take advantage of a little soap-and-sponge action to rid the camping cookware mess kit of any remaining grease or dirty bits that are leftover after cooking. If something gets stuck (it happens), soak the pot or pan in boiling water and add a little vinegar to help lift away the grime.
Q: Can I Make My Own Mess Kit?
You might find loads of videos online that advertise instructions for creating a DIY mess kit. It’s possible and could be a budget-friendly option. However, there’s much to consider, such as storage, materials and more.
One of the best things about mess kits is that everything comes ready for your adventure. There’s much less thought that goes into the purchase.
Camping and Food Tips
Are you a newbie when it comes to cooking while camping? You might be wondering how to go about it. Some of our go-to tips include the following:
- Prep beforehand: Much like when you’re preparing for a busy work week at home, organizing some items in advance can save you loads of time in the long run. We recommend you pre-cut things like vegetables and meats, then store them in baggies before you hit the road. Cutting boards are a bulky item to pack and this way you won’t be stuck with loads of cutting on-site, either.
- Don’t forget the snacks: Have you ever heard the term “hangry?” It’s a combination of hungry and angry. It may sound like a joke, but you don’t want growling tummies midday. Easily-packable items like nuts and fruits will keep you full between meals and happier, as well.
- Make a splurge or two: There’s something about living the simple life in nature that’s appealing. You also don’t have to forego every luxury that home offers. We advise you to think about one or two special treats to enjoy over the open fire. Smores are a popular option, of course, but you can great creative with it. Try different chocolates or flavored marshmallows, for example.
- Hygiene is essential: Life outdoors can get a bit messy, we get it. When it comes to your food, though, it’s not something you want to risk. Prepare your meats far away from the fresh items, so there’s no cross-contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water, don’t count on sanitizer to do the trick. These are just two ways you can enjoy cleaner and safer meals.
For other meal hacks:
Time to Eat
As you can see, the best backpacking mess kits come with different elements, according to the number of campers and more. Keep your needs in mind while you’re shopping, along with your budget. Maybe you’re after straightforward camping cookware mess kit or prefer to have some additional components for convenience.
The materials play a crucial role in how well your pots, pans and serving utensils hold up over time. You also don’t want everything sticking during the cooking process, which not only ruins the food, but makes the clean-up process annoying.
Anodized aluminum seems to be the go-to choice here, with standard aluminum and stainless steel as runner-ups. It’s popular for both durability and even heat distribution.We’ve chosen the MalloMe Camping Cookware Mess Kit as our top favorite because it comes with a variety of items including an anodized aluminum pot and pan. There are bowls, a spatula and a set of utensils, among other components.
It makes for a well-rounded option, suitable for one or two campers maximum. All the items in the kit are FDA-approved and non-toxic.