The Infamous "Grease Pot"
So what's cooking without cookware? Hikers have lots of options these days for lightweight cookware.
There are several manufacturers that produce aluminum and/or titanium cookware suitable for most lightweight backpacking needs. See Lightweight Pots for more information.
For those in search of extremely lightweight cookware or ways to keep their back loads light without spending a fortune, there are several DIY (Do It Yourself) options. See CanPots for more information.
Pot Accessories list some of the modifications and accessories for cookware.
Aluminum is the lightest of the common materials used for backpacking cookware. It is soft, and not nearly as durable as steel or titanium. Over time, it will age, pit and feel nasty.
Stainless steel is a nice material for cooking with. It is durable, easy to find and generally inexpensive. It wears like iron and is a reasonable heat conductor. It also tends to be heavier than titanium and aluminum cookware.
Titanium cookware can be very durable while still being lightweight. It tends to be pricey and more difficult to find. Titanium cookware tends to not evenly distribute the heat from your stove and may create hot spots and burn your food. Hot spots are not a real concern if you are just boiling water.
Plain steel is used for making food packing cans. These cans tend to be made of minimal thickness material, which makes them light weight. They are prone to rusting, but can be easily replaced.
Cast iron heats up evenly and retains heat. This is good for actually cook many types of foods, but cast iron cooking utensils are generally too heavy for backpacking. But you may be an option for car camping.
Dual metal clad cookware is another option. These pots are usually made of durable stainless steel on the side contacting your food and made of aluminum or copper on the side that doesn't. The aluminum or copper conducts heat better than steel and will distribute it much better. As these tend to be higher end cookware options, these are made to last and will be much heavier than the basic thin hiking cookware available.
Cookware Materials and Heat Conduction
Aluminum conducts heat much better than stainless steel, which conducts heat far better than titanium. Aluminum cookware should be able to utilize more heat generated by a stove for heating its contents than titanium. How does this affect stove/fuel efficiency? It depends on your set up and many factors, but likely by an insignificant amount.
If you are just boiling water, it probably doesn't really matter what material you use. But if on the other hand, you are frying up a special meal, you may find that aluminum cooks your food pretty evenly, while titanium may have hot spots that burn food in the pattern of the flames from your stove.
Wider pots tend to maximize heat from camp stoves compared to narrower pots. Narrower pots may be easier to balance on narrow stoves, such as sideburner alcohol stoves.
Short pots may be more stable than tall ones. Tall pots may be able to maximize more of the heat from a stove if a tight windscreen is used. Taller pots are also able to store taller windscreens more easily. Tall narrow pots will benefit from a tight cone shaped windscreen.
There are a few concerns that go along with choosing the right cookware for you.
The most popular cookware questions in the backpacking community deals with the safety of aluminum pots. Much of this concern deals with an old and outdated theory that suggests aluminum from cookware may be the cause of Alzheimer's disease. This is based on findings in the 1970's of high concentrations of aluminum in brain tissues of patient's with Alzheimer's disease. There are also many old urban myths floating around about the hazards of aluminum cookware, most notably Rudolph Valentino's death attributed to eating food prepared in aluminum cookware. The exact role of aluminum in Alzheimerís Disease isnít clear yet, and current research suggests that aluminum cookware doesnít pose a real risk to developing Alzheimerís or dementia.
There may be a hazard with the coatings often
found on them. Teflon has been know to cause
Teflon Flu (AKA metal fume fever or
polymer fume fever). This happens when you heat up your cookware enough
that the Teflon separates from your cookware and is inhaled. There are
also concerns about blood levels of Teflon and a possible risk of cancer. If you use
Teflon or other coated cookware, avoid overheating it, such as melting snow
without first adding some water.
Galvanized steel containers should never be used for cooking, as it may cause heavy metal poisoning.
Aluminum cans have a heat cured coating inside and out. There may be some health concern with using this to cook with, but who knows?
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