11 Essentials to Complete Your Backcountry Kitchen

By Sam Cook

Jul 21, 2016

Having a complete cooking for camping set does not come easy. Outdoor gear can be expensive, and usually has to be bought in small doses. You might have a stove, but no spice kit. You may have a knife, but no fry-bake.

It’s a smart idea to figure out which friends have which items so you can divide and conquer, but if you are on a mission to have your own complete cook set, here are the essentials you will need.


Camp stove

Photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition.

First, invest in a stove. Go for something lightweight and reliable (MSR has plenty of affordable options). Check out the Pocket Rocket, Whisperlite (a NOLS classic), or make your own!



Photo courtesy of Charlotte Klein.

Next, you will need something to cook with on your stove. You will definitely need a pot with a lid for boiling water and other simple meals. (Consider getting pot grips too, they are great if your pot doesn’t have a handle to prevent burnt fingers.)


You need to have something to flip your pancakes and stir your mac and cheese. Spatulas can also double as knives for cutting cheese.


Camp knife

Photo by Anton.

A knife is useful for cutting your veggies and cheese. I don’t know what a backcountry chef would do without one!

Cutting Board (Improvised)

You can improvise and use the lid of your Nalgene bowl for a cutting board, or pack a small one if you are car camping and don’t care about extra weight.

Spice kit


Photo from Pixabay.

Spice kits are 100% necessary, and will rock your world if you don’t want bland food. Great additions to spice kits: salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, sugar, oil, yeast, hot sauce, soy sauce, and cinnamon, just to name a few.

Get creative and decide how you want to store them: small bottles, bags, straws, or pill containers work great. And make sure you label them; no one wants to mix up the soy sauce and the vanilla!



Photo from Pixabay.

Gotta stay clean, especially in the kitchen. Make sure to wash your hands before cooking and eating every time!

Bowl + Spork

Get a bowl with a lid. If it’s a short trip, your own tupperware works fine. If it’s longer, invest in a sturdy bowl with a lid. Having a lid is great for your leftovers and keeping dirt out of your bowl. For the spork (or spoon), get one that’s tough and won’t break. (I prefer titanium over plastic).



Cinnamon Rolls in a Fry-Bake

Photo by Charlotte Klein.

If you are going to be out for longer than a weekend or want to eat like a king, get a fry-bake. Spend a little extra money and get a lightweight one—it will make all the difference. You can virtually make anything you want on a fry-bake: grilled chicken, cake, quiche, pizza ... you name it.

Food bags

You can use these to keep your food organized. TIP: If you don’t want to spend money on an expensive dry bag, waterproof your food bags by lining them with a trash bag to protect your precious food.


Great for drying your dishes or wiping your hands after eating greasy food.

What are your backcountry kitchen essentials?


Photo by Autumn Mott.

Practice your backcountry cooking skills on a NOLS Expedition.

Written By

Sam Cook

Sam is a student at Western Carolina University who likes to do fun activities outside, from long walks in the mountains to cooking extravagant meals on her stove. She was a student on a NOLS Mexico semester in 2013, earned her Wilderness First Responder certification in 2016, and was the summer 2016 NOLS Alumni Relations intern.

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