Building an effective camp kitchen can be overwhelming. I feel like every time I go on a trip, there’s always something missing from the kitchen. Moreover, different styles of camping involve different camp kitchen builds and when moving from trip to trip and location to location gear can get shuffled and confused.
In 2011, while living out of the back of my truck I started to get frustrated with the endless lack of organization and decided to build myself a proper camp kitchen that was compact and compatible with all forms of camping.
The whole kit starts with the box you keep it in. It’s important to get a box that is highly durable, easy to move and secure. I prefer to use the Rubbermaid Clever Store line. They aren’t the most durable, but they’re large, stack well and fairly inexpensive. They also have a secure locking lid system that will keep water and small animals out. I have different sized boxes for different combinations of items (food storage, kitchen storage, camp accessories, etc.), but my kitchen storage box is large, it measures out at 29”x18”x13.5”. As a unique note: When you’re staying at large campgrounds with communal kitchen/food storage areas, there will be a lot of kitchen boxes. I recommend decorating / customizing your box somehow. I use stickers.
The Box Contents
Once you’ve effectively chosen the right box, it’s time to narrow down what you keep inside. Remember: This list is designed to reach across all camping styles, from base camp/car camping to backpacking. It’s versatile enough that in the midst of an 8-month road trip, I have all the items needed for living in my car and going backpacking (leaving items behind).
Stansport 2 Burner Stove – This is my main car camping stove. It hooks up to most propane lines and has an auto start and two full burners. Highly durable, easy to clean, easy to assemble and it’s never failed to work.
MSR Whisperlite – You cannot beat a Whisperlite. They’re the most durable, long lasting, unbreakable, easy to clean, bomb proof, never failing, always lighting, super stove. When nothing else works, your Whisperlite will. I carry this for multi-day backpacking trips and because sometimes it’s nice to have a 3rd burner when in camp. When backpacking, I leave behind my other stoves and just carry the Whisperlite and a fuel bottle or two.
Jetboil – Well, my Jetboil is so old they don’t have a model name for it, but it looks similar to the Jetboil Flash Java Kit. I carry this for big wall climbs that require super light weight cooking, easy single night backpacking trips, and anytime I’ll be making coffee. If I’m being honest, 95% of its use goes into making coffee, but that’s only because of the ratio of nights spent in my truck vs. nights spend on my portaledge.
Pots and Pans:
MSR BlackLite Cook Set – Easy and lightweight. This cook set comes with 2 pots, 1 lid, 1 fry pan, and a set of pot-grips. It includes a 1.5ltr and 2ltr pot which is plenty for cooking up to 4 people. I keep these stored in the mesh ditty bag that they came with, plus some basic utensils, a firestarter, scrub pad and a bandana that dampens the clanking sound and helps as a drying agent.
Dollar Store Fry Pan w/ Handle – When I’m car camping I like to have an actual, normal fry pan (as opposed to my BlackLite backpacking fry pan). They cook better, are easy to clean and don’t take up much space in the box. Don’t get anything fancy; the $3 pan I bought at the dollar store has been great for me.
Double Burner Backpacking Skillet – Amazing for making scrambles, bacon, or frying lots of food. These are made specifically for camping so they don’t weigh much or cost much. This is one of my favorite additions to my backcountry cooking.
Bowls, Plates Utensils:
Lexan Bowls & Plates – These are inexpensive plastic plates and bowls that are light weight and easy to clean. I carry a set of 4, just in case I end up cooking for a group. They stack well inside the frying pan and don’t take any room.
Lexan Bowl w/ Lid – I carry 1 Lexan bowl with a lid. This looks more like a Tupperware than a bowl, but I use it for storing leftovers, carrying lunches in my pack for day hikes and for using when backpacking. I like the bowl w/ lid combo because they’re secure, don’t leak and are incredibly easy to clean. After eating, boil a little bit of water, pour it in the bowl, affix lid and shake, shake, shake. The boiling water will sterilize and clean the bowl at the same time.
Cups / Mugs – Generally I have my own coffee mug with me, however, it’s also nice to include a couple of cheap, durable camping mugs/cups in your camp kitchen. These should be stainless steel, Lexan or some other form of indestructible material.
Lexan Spoons, Forks, and Sporks – I carry 4 sets of spoons and forks for eating and a couple of sporks for backpacking. These cost $0.79 so if they’re lost it doesn’t hurt me. I use sporks when backpacking and leave the others behind.
Cooking Utensils – I store my cooking utensils in a mesh bag for organization. Here’s a list of what’s included:
- Spatula (1 Flat, 1 Rubber)
- Serving spoon
- MSR Strainer
- MSR Backcountry Knife
- Garlic Press
- Cheese Grater (small, compact)
- Can Opener
- 1 Lexan Knife
All the other random items that are included:
- Cutting Board (thin, lightweight)
- Aluminum Foil
- Paper Towel
- Toilet Paper
- Wet Wipes
- Zip Lock Bags (various Sizes)
- Garbage Bags
- Small Lantern
- Biodegradable Soap
- Solar Shower (for doing dishes and bathing – great!)
- Duct Tape
- Water Purifying Tablets
- Fuel (respective to your stove setups)
The box also contains what I consider “cooking essentials.” These are food based products that I want to have with me no matter what I’m doing.
Small Bottle of Oil – I carry both butter and oil with me for cooking, but my go to is a small bottle of olive oil. I use a refillable squeeze bottle and keep it in my kitchen box so it’s always readily available.
Spice Rack – I also carry a number of spices with me for flavoring food. Everyone’s palate is different, so pick what you like, but I highly recommend a permanent supply of spices for your camp kitchen. You can store these in old film canisters, empty Tic-Tac containers, or in their original containers.
Hot Sauce – NEVER forget the hot sauce. ‘Nuff said.
Soy Sauce – Again, nothing big, but a tiny bottle of soy sauce can really improve your cooking.
Using Your Camp Kitchen
Now that you’ve built the perfect camp kitchen, you’ll need to spend some time using it. Everyone has different cooking habits, so your respective kitchen setup should be similar to mine, but will undoubtedly include some differences. When you’re on the road, be ready to pick and choose as your trips change. For me, when I’m backpacking, I’ll pull out just my Whisperlite, pots, bowl w/ lid, spork, fuel, and spices. When I’m climbing I’ll use even less. It all depends on upon what you’re going to be doing and where you’re going to be going.
If you have other tips and tricks, please post them. We always enjoy hearing feedback, especially when it involves personal preferences.