The Ultimate Guide to Cookware

Regular pot

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: It's the end of a long day hiking in the sun. Sometimes hot food or even a hot chocolate can be super comforting. How will you be cooking (e.g., what kind of stove)? You may want to read our companion guide on stoves.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

Food is essential, but there are many ways to plan food that don't require this (e.g., energy bars or non-perishable foods) .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

We strongly recommend first reading our info on stoves since cookware is heavily impacted by what you're cooking with.

NOTE: Here we refer to cookware as pots & pans. Smaller items that we also carry but that have fewer decision factors are quickly reviewed in the What We Carry section.

Cooking technique Using hot coals or a campfire Using a portable stove
Regular stove (like a portable kitchen stove) Wood burning stove Liquid fuel stove Canister stove Alcohol stove Tablet stove
Cookware Cookware has to tolerate directly sitting on hot coals or in a flame* Use regular cookware you'd use in the kitchen May be able to use regular cookware or small cookware (description at right), depending on stove size Cookware needs to be smaller since the stove top surface is smaller (a heavy, hot pot can tip over!)
Example images Ceramic cookware Regular cookware See note above Lightweight cookware
Effect on secondary factors

Price

Per piece

$20-200 $10-100 $10-70

Capacity

For pots

Heavier & larger (1-10L) Smaller (~500mL to 2L)
Material
  • Cast iron
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
Any
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
Weight & Size Heavier & larger Lighter & smaller
Depends more on material, see section below
Rationale No size restrictions imposed by stove = less technical Size restrictions imposed by stove = more technical

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

To give folks the authentic cook-in-fire experience! Not for sale because these tend to be very expensive

Standard for most outdoor uses in car camping.

On our Catalog, this is indicated with 'for portable stove'

Same as regular or smaller cookware (at left & right)

Standard for most outdoor uses in backpacking.

On our Catalog, this is indicated with 'for pocket stove'

*Regular cookware can get discolored or warped, or have handles that will melt


Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

For the outdoors specifically, durability may be more important than in a home kitchen:

  • Cooking outside is often done in smaller spaces & surfaces; it can be easier to drop coowkare
  • Outdoor-specific utensils, especially ultralight ones, tend to be metal, so you need cookware that won't scratch (e.g., not non-stick)
Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Material

An in-depth discussion of the different materials used in cookware is beyond the scope of our protip. You could look at things such as heat retention vs heat conductivity, risk of material leaching into food & toxicity, and consider that with many cookware, the material isn't pure (e.g., copper, aluminum, and titanium cookware usually have other metals used as liners or as bases to complement functionality), or there are other treatments to cookware to improve it (e.g., anodized aluminum or enameled cast iron). That's why we will only quickly overview 8 materials as they generally are viewed (averaged across composition). Given the variances, the lists should not be viewed as rankings.

How it rates Higher Lower

Non-stick rating

Assuming a chemical non-stick* coating has not been applied

Assuming it's been seasoned

  • Cast iron
  • Carbon steel
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
Effectiveness rating

Heats slowly but retains it well

  • Cast iron
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain

Heats quickly & cools quickly as well

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Carbon steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
Durability rating
  • Cast iron
  • Carbon steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium

Will shatter if dropped

  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain

Can dent or scratch easier

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
Effect on other factors Price
  • Cast iron
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
  • Carbon steel
  • Copper
  • Titanium
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless steel
Weight

Heaviest

  • Cast iron
  • Ceramic
  • Porcelain
  • Carbon steel (lighter than above 3)

Depends on exact composition

  • Stainless steel
  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

All our cookware is stainless steel, which we prefer for durability reasons (you don't need to worry about having a non-metal utensil to avoid scratching it)

*There are many types of non-stick coatings on the market. Some have issues where they scratch easily & could leach into food, and may be toxic

Capacity (size)

For most people who have experience cooking at home, the only new lens with which to think about capacity is when you need smaller cookware imposed by small stoves.

For example, if several people are sharing a single, small backpacking stove that can only take cookware up to 2 liters maximum, you may need several "boils" to get enough hot water for everyone's coffee or backpacking meal. Is it OK then if people eat at different times? Or should you get more stoves? These are exactly the decisions that backpackers think about when planning a trip!

As you can imagine, as capacity increases, so does price and weight & size.

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

Small-stove specific pot

1.5 Liter Capacity

Regular

Stainless Steel Material

Ultralight

Titanium Material

Weight 5.6oz (159g) 4.1oz (116g)
Effect on other factors Price ~$20 ~$70
Rationale Less technical material More technical material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses for durability reasons

Much more expensive relative to the improvements in weight savings
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Is there a handle?
  • Does it come with a lid? If so is the lid transparent?
  • How do the sides taper?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting pricess; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!

Cookware

Type or Style Regular, kitchen-like cookware Small cookware for small stoves Cookware Accessories
Model Xtrema Versa pot Cuisinart French Classic Tri-Ply Stainless Steel pot Cuisinart French Classic Tri-Ply pan MSR Stowaway pot MSR Alpine Fry-pan Cuisinart tools Bambu cutting board with Cuisinart Titan knives
Xtrema Versa pot Cuisinart French Classic Tri-Ply series MSR Stowaway pot MSR Alpine Fry-pan Cuisinart kitchen tools Cuisinart Titan knives & Bambu Undercut board

Buy

MSRP with tax

$217

value

4 quart size

$108

6 quart size

$130

$76

1.1L size

$22

1.6L size

$27

$33

$68 total

  • $17 - Can opener with bottle opener
  • $16 - Tongs
  • $9 - Peeler
  • $14 - Box grater
  • $12 - Whisk

$56 total

  • $24 - Cutting board
  • $16 - Chef's knife (regular or santoku style)
  • $16 - Utility knife
$5 Bambu cooking spoon or spatula $6 Bambu long eating spoon

Rent

includes spoon

$15+ $8+ $3+ $6+, includes all pieces
Online rental Catalog name Dutch oven Regular pot Regular pan Pot for pocket stove Pan for pocket stove Kitchen tools Knives and cutting board
Material Ceramic Stainless steel Titanium & bamboo
Capacities 5.5 quart 4 or 6 quart 10in (25cm) diameter 1.1 or 1.6L 8in (20cm) diameter
Can be used in fire or on coals
Weight

7lbs

3.2kg

4 quart size

4lbs

1.8kg

6 quart size

6lbs

2.7kg

3lbs

1.4kg

1.1L size

16oz

440g

1.6L size

19oz

550g

11oz

320g

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Small cookware for small stoves (for backpacking)

If it's your first time using smaller cookware for the smaller stoves, a few things to keep in mind:

  • They're thin. That means they're quick to heat, it can be easy to burn foods. Keep a close eye & stir consistently
  • They may not come with handles. Seriously, sometimes handles are sold separately to reduce weight & size! Even if they are attached, they may heat up. Always have a plan to take the pot off the stove!
  • They are usually not treated to be non-stick. Save yourself cleaning headaches in the backcountry & avoid foods that require searing, frying, etc.

Therefore, these smaller cookware are generally used for boiling water for beverages or backpacking meals or light simmering (e.g., soups, pasta, oatmeal, etc.). By the way if you're in a pinch, you can use a fully stainless steel water bottle as a pot! Check manufacturer instructions to verify. The bottle must be wide enough to balance on the stove, you will need a way to hold it (the metal will get hot & there's no handle!)

When washing, follow Leave No Trace principles and take water away from the water source to use at camp for washing. Never wash directly in a water source. Even eco-friendly soaps or other personal care products can contaminate water as the compounds present occur in a mucher higher concentration than they would in the wild.

Maintenance tips

Cleaning

It's important to clean between uses. No one wants food pieces to go bad inside! Thoroughly rinse with soap & water after use

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!