BEST MESS KITS FOR CAMPING AND BACKPACKING IN 2021

by | Gear Guides

When you are out camping and hiking, there are few better things than a delicious hot meal to fill your belly and replenish your energy. You’ll need a small, lightweight set of cookware to take with you on all of your adventures. In this guide, we look at the best mess kits for camping and backpacking to make sure you are equipped with the right gear to cook yourself up a storm at the end of the day.

The great thing about the best camp cookware sets is that you don’t have to break the bank to buy them. While there are some pricier options on the list, some of the best backpacking cookware will cost you much less than you might expect and are perfect for people looking for a great budget option.

Our guide will show you the overall best backpacking mess kit, plus a look at some other great choices for compact camping cookware, including stainless steel and car camping alternatives. In this guide, we will also help you understand what to look for when buying your backpacking cooking kit.

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Our Top Pick for the Best Mess Kits for Camping

NameMaterialWeightRatingPrice
Best Overall Mess Kit - MSR Quick 2 SystemAluminum794g4.8/5See Price
Best Stainless Steel Mess Kit - MSR Alpine 2 Pot SetStainless Steel601g4.6/5See Price
Best Budget Mess Kit - Honest Portable Camping Cookware Mess KitAluminum647g4.2/5See Price

MSR Quick 2 System

MSR makes some of our favourite gear, including the tent that comes on all of our backcountry adventures, the MSR Elixir 2 (check out our full guide on the best tents for camping and backpacking). It’s no surprise that their MSR Quick 2 System tops our list as it is an excellent backpacking cook kit that you will love. MSR is a well-trusted brand that is renowned for making top-quality products that will last the test of time.

It comes with a 1.5L non-stick aluminum camping cooking pot, 2.5L aluminum pot, strainer lid, 2 deep dish plates, 2 insulated mugs and a removable pot handle. This nesting camp cookware all fits into the 2.5L pot to make it easy to pack away. This set is best suited for up to 2 people.

This 2 person cook set weighs in at 794g (1lb 12oz) and has a packed size of 7.75 x 5 inches. While this may not be the absolute smallest compact mess kit, it’s still small and light enough to fit in your backpack so you can take it on all of your backcountry adventures. A nesting camping cookware kit is a great way to save space in your bag and almost all small and lightweight options will pack inside the main camp cooking pot just like the MSR Quick 2 System does.

What we like:

  • Lightweight and compact cooking set
  • Two pot sizes
  • 1.5L pot is non-stick
  • Plates deep enough to double as bowls
  • Insulated cups work really well

What we don’t like:

  • Only comes with one handle so cooking with both pots can be a pain
  • Non-stick surface on the 1.5L is easy to scratch
  • No saucepan

>> See the latest prices for the MSR Quick 2 System

Best Stainless Steel Mess Kit

Stainless steel camping cookware is a great alternative material to choose for a mess kit. While it may not have the same non-stick coating that makes other mess kits super easy to clean, you are pretty much guaranteed that stainless steel mess kits will last a lifetime. Stainless steel is designed to take a beating which means no matter how much you throw it around, tossing it in and out of your backpack, it will stand the test of time.

An excellent choice for those looking for a simple stainless steel mess kit for camping should consider the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set. It is designed for a lifetime of hard use, rather than gourmet cooking. One of the great things about this set is that you can scrub it out using sand or pebbles without having to worry about ruining this set.

This set includes a 1.5L pot, a 2L pot, detachable pot handle, nylon stuff sack and a lid that fits both pots and can be used as a plate. The whole set packs up quite small and weighs in at only 601g. The biggest drawback with this set is that it is very basic. You don’t get plates, bowls, mugs or utensils with it.

A cheaper alternative is the Coleman Stainless Steel Mess Kit which you can learn more about here.

Stainless steel isn’t as good for cooking as aluminum and titanium but it is much less fragile. If you want to cook up impressive camp meals then stainless steel may not be the best choice. But if all you need is to boil some water or heat some soup when camping, stainless steel cookware is an excellent choice.

What we like:

  • Extremely durable
  • Lightweight at 601g

What we don’t like:

  • Stainless steel isn’t as good for cooking actual meals
  • No plates, bowls or mugs with this set

>>See the latest prices for the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set

Best Cheap Mess Kit

You really don’t have to break the bank to get a decent compact camping cooking set. Cheaper options may not last a lifetime and won’t spread the heat as well but they can still be a great option for those looking to buy their gear on a tighter budget.

The Honest Portable Camping Cookware Mess Kit is a fantastic choice for those really looking for something at the cheapest end of the scale. You can choose either a 1L or 2L pot depending on your needs and the set includes a pot, lid, frying pan, soup spoon, bamboo spoon, sponge, 2 metal sporks, 2 bowls and a nylon carrying bag.

As far as cheap mess kits go, this is a whole lot of bang for your buck and if you treat it carefully it should still last you quite a few years. It obviously won’t be as durable as the more expensive choices but this is actually quite a good set for the money.

What we like:

  • Exceptional value for money
  • Compact and lightweight – 647g

What we don’t like:

  • The built in plastic handles will melt if you aren’t careful
  • Some of the utensils are unnecessary and you will never take them with you

>>See the latest prices for the Honest Portable Camping Cookware Mess Kit here

Best Camping Cookware for Car Camping

NameMaterialWeightRatingPrice
GSI Pinnacle CamperAluminum1.64kg4.6/5See Price
GSI Bugaboo CamperAluminum1.45kg4.5/5See Price
Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro CooksetStainless Steel3.81kg4.5/5See Price
Stanley Adventure Base Camp Cookset 4Stainless Steel2.59kg4.5/5See Price

GSI Pinnacle Camper

GSI make some of the best mess kits around and this was narrowly beaten to our top spot by the MSR Quick 2 System. This GSI mess kit is one of the best choices in terms of cooking performance and it is also one of the most versatile as it comes with so many pieces.

You can easily pack everything and it makes a great 4 person camping cook set, or pick and choose what to bring for a smaller group. This set includes a 3L pot, 2L pot, 9” frying pan, 2 nylon strainer lids, 4 insulated mugs, 4 bowls, 4 plates, 4 sip through lids, a folding pot handle, and a stuff sack/welded sink.

Even with all of these pieces, the intelligent design allows you to nest everything together in a small package for a set that can serve four people although it does weigh 1.64kg when fully packed.

GSI make excellent quality gear and this cook set comes with a really nice non-stick teflon finish so you can feel safe cooking up some fancier meals while you are out camping with friends. You will need to be careful with this set as the non-stick surfaces will scratch relatively easily.

This is an amazing camping mess kit but it can only really be used for camping where you don’t have to carry your gear very far, so ideally a campsite that you can drive your car right into. It is probably too heavy to consider taking deep into the backcountry but it is so versatile that it had to top our list of the best of the rest and is the best car camping cookware around.

What we like:

  • Comes with everything you need
  • High-quality non-stick coating
  • One of the best sets to cook proper meals

What we don’t like:

  • It’s heavy so only good for front country camping
  • Easy to scratch the non-stick surface

>>See the latest prices for the GSI Pinnacle Camper

GSI Bugaboo Camper

Another excellent offering from GSI Outdoors is their GSI Bugaboo Camper set which is designed to cook for up to 4 people. Similar to the GSI Pinnacle mentioned above, this is one of the best cooking sets for camping if you want to cook up some more gourmet meals as the set is so versatile.

The GSI Bugaboo mess kit comes with a 3L pot, a 2L pot, 9″ frying pan, 2 nylon strainer lids, 4 plates, 4 mugs, 4 sip-through lids, 4 bowls, a pot handle, and a stuff sack/sink. You’ll be able to cook up an outdoor feast with so many pieces included plus you can customize the set each time you head out based on the number of people.

The non-stick camping pans come with a classic Teflon finish to make cooking and clean up nice and easy and the nylon stuff sack doubles as a sink to make cleaning the dishes a breeze. Like the GSI Pinnacle, this set is slightly heavier, at 1.45kg, making it better for camping where you don’t have to carry your gear too far.

What we like:

  • The large set means you can cook almost anything while out camping
  • Non-stick coating makes for easy cooking and cleaning

What we don’t like:

  • It’s heavy so not good for backcountry adventures
  • Non-stick coating is scratched easily

>> See the latest prices for the GSI Bugaboo Camper

Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro Cookset

For the ultimate camping cook set that will allow you to cook almost any meal while outdoors you should consider the Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro Cookset. This is like taking the majority of your kitchen with you on your adventure except it all packs up into a relatively small package. This set is made from thicker steel so it heats much more evenly making it great for cooking more gourmet meals.

This 11- piece stainless steel set comes with a stock pot, sauce pan, vented lids, frying pan, collapsible cutting board, spatula, spoon, trivets and locking bungee. If you take your camp cooking seriously then this set has you covered. While this is one of the best overall sets on the list it is also one of the heaviest at a hefty 3.7kg. You’ll only want to get this set if you only have to carry it a few metres from your car.

This is a set that will genuinely last a lifetime as Stanley make high-quality, stainless steel products you can rely on. While it will last a long time, it is quite pricey so if you are looking for something to car camp with on a budget there are better options on the list like the Stanley Adventure Base Camp Cookset 4 mentioned below.

What we like:

  • Everything you need to cook a quality camp meal
  • Top-quality, durable set that will last a lifetime
  • Thicker steel distributes heat better making it better to cook with

What we don’t like:

  • Extremely heavy
  • Expensive compared to some of the other sets on the list
  • Doesn’t come with plates, bowls or mugs even at the high price point

>> See the latest prices for the Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro Cookset

Stanley Adventure Base Camp Cookset 4

This is a more budget-friendly option than the Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro Cookset but still offers everything you need to cook some amazing meals while camping. While the steel isn’t as thick as the Even-Heat model you will still be getting a fairly indestructible, high-quality stainless steel set of pots and pans.

Unlike the Even-Heat set, this does come with plates, bowls and cutlery. This set includes 3.7 qt. pot with vented lid, 7.25 in. frying pan, 4 plates, 4 bowls, 1 cutting board, 1 spatula, 1 serving spoon, 4 sporks, 1 drying rack and 1 locking bungee.

It is another heavy set that is ideal for car camping as it weighs 2.54kg and while it does all nest into the large pot it is still a bulky option.

What we like:

  • Exceptional value for money
  • Has everything you need to cook delicious camp meals
  • The stainless steel set will last a lifetime

What we don’t like:

  • Doesn’t spread heat as evenly as the stainless steel is thinner than other sets on the list
  • Very heavy
  • Plastic utensils melt easily while cooking

>> See the latest prices for the Stanley Adventure Base Camp Cookset 4

Best Backpacking Cookware

Name MaterialWeightRatingPrice
GSI Bugaboo BackpackerAluminum816g4.6/5See Price
MSR Ceramic 2-Pot SetAluminum428g4.6/5See Price
Sea to Summit X Series Pot SetAluminum Base, Silicone Sides607g4.5/5See Price
Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset 2.2Aluminum765g4.5/5See Price
Sea to Summit Sigma Set 2.2Stainless Steel816g4.3/5See Price
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist II CooksetAluminum309g4.6/5See Price
Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium CooksetTitanium 170g4/5See Price

GSI Bugaboo Backpacker

While the GSI Bugaboo Camper may not be designed for heading into the backcountry, the GSI Bugaboo Backpacker is designed with exactly this sort of trip in mind. The backpacker version of the Bugaboo line is a slightly stripped-down version, designed to be a 2 person mess kit that will easily fit into your backpack.

With the backpacker version of this set you get a 2L pot, an 8″ frying pan, a crushproof nylon strainer lid, 2 mugs with insulating sleeves, 2 sip-through lids, 2 nesting bowls, and a folding pot handle. All of this kit weighs in at just 816g which doesn’t make it the lightest set out there but you can easily carry this as part of your backpacking kit.

This is one of the best all-round sets for backcountry camping as it has lots of pieces, has a non-stick coating and it is relatively light.

What we like:

  • Lots of pieces in a backcountry kit
  • Good compromise of weight and features

What we don’t like:

  • Not the lightest if you are looking for a true backcountry set
  • Pot handle can be tricky to clip on

>> See the latest prices for the GSI Bugaboo Backpacker

MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set

Another close contender for the top spot was the MSR Ceramic 2-pot set. One of the reasons that this wasn’t our top choice is that it comes with fewer pieces but is still a great backpacking cooking set. This set comes with a 1.5L and a 2.5L pot, strainer lid and MSR Talon pot handle. The ceramic coating is used instead of Teflon which some people like to avoid.

The pots feature a premium ceramic non-stick coating for cooking gourmet meals. The best thing about this non-stick coating is that it is scratch-resistant with metal utensils. Loads of campers and backpackers use metal sporks and utensils while cooking and this is usually the death of most non-stick pans. The durable coating on the MSR mess kit can still be scratched if you are really rough with it but overall it is very durable.

The construction and non-stick coating of this pot set do make it great to cook with, especially if you are doing something a little fancier than just boiling some water for your freeze-dried meals. While there is room for cups and utensils inside the pots when it is packed away, the set doesn’t actually come with any of these things so you will have to buy them separately.

What we like:

  • Non-stick ceramic coating
  • Lightweight at 428g

What we don’t like:

  • Very basic. No mugs, plates, bowls or utensils
  • No saucepan

>>See the latest prices for the MSR Ceramic 2-pot set

Sea to Summit X Series Pot Set

If you are looking for a great collapsible mess kit then the Sea to Summit X Series is the way to go. Sea to Summit are renowned for making high-quality, durable gear and their X Series is no different. This set comes with a 2.8L X-Pot, 2 X-Bowls and 2 X-Mugs. The set collapses down and it all nests together inside the pot making it one of the smallest sets to fit into your backpack.

It weighs in at a lightweight 595g which means it is definitely light enough to be a part of your backcountry setup, particularly if you want something that folds down as close to flat as possible.

As the pot has foldable silicone sides it does have the potential to get melted by open flames if you aren’t paying close enough attention as you are cooking. This should be quite easy to avoid on most lightweight camp stoves.

This is actually an awesome cookware set but the big drawback is the hefty price tag. While we love the clever design and packability, we feel like there are better options out there for the same and in most cases, less money.

What we like:

  • Collapsible design makes it very packable
  • Heats up very quickly
  • Easy to clean

What we don’t like:

  • Really expensive
  • Not the most versatile set

>>See the latest prices for the Sea to Summit X Series

Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset 2.2

Sea to Summit has a couple of great non-collapsible cooksets and we are a big fan of their gear in general. The Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset 2.2 is an awesome lightweight aluminum set that you can take on your backpacking missions into the mountains.

It comes with a 2.7L pot, 1.2L pot, 2 strainer lids, 2 bowls and 2 insulated mugs and it weighs 850g. While there are lighter options out there, this is still an easy one to carry on longer trips and it packs down and nests in the larger pot for good packability.

One of our favourite features on this set is the handles that lock into place to ensure no accidents happen. They are also wrapped in silicone to make them easy and safe to hold when the pots are hot.

What we like:

  • Excellent nesting design with almost everything you need in one set
  • Locking handles are really cool

What we don’t like:

  • Slightly heavier than some true backcountry sets
  • Doesn’t have a non-stick coating

>> See the latest prices for the Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset 2.2

Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset

Sea to Summit Sigma Set 2.2

This set is quite similar to the Alpha Cookset but the pots are stainless steel rather than aluminum. The set still nests away really nicely and has similar locking handles for secure grip which we love. It also has a powder-coated base for even heat distribution to improve cooking efficiency.

The stainless steel construction does add a bit of weight and makes this set weigh 936g which is getting close to too heavy for a lot of backcountry explorers. It is also a little bit more expensive for a stainless steel set although you know you are getting a high-quality product from Sea to Summit.

What we like:

  • Excellent nesting design
  • More even heat distribution for better cooking experience

What we don’t like:

  • Heavy. On the edge of the acceptable limit for backcountry trips
  • A little expensive

>> See the latest prices for the Sea to Summit Sigma Set 2.2

Sea to Summit Sigma cookset

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist II Cookset

Another great option for solo travelers is the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist II Cookset. It comes with a 1.1L pot, strainer lid, a mug/bowl with insulated sleeve, folding spork and stuff sack that doubles as a sink. While not quite as lightweight as a titanium set, this still only weighs 309g and the aluminum construction makes it better to cook with than titanium.

The set nests together nicely and there is even space left for a small gas canister to help you pack small and light. The integrated handle snaps into place to secure your set and stop it rattling around as you hike.

What we like:

  • Small and lightweight for solo backcountry trips
  • Can fit a 220g gas canister and small stove inside the pot

What we don’t like:

  • The spork and bowl lid aren’t the best

>> See the latest prices for the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist II Cookset

Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset

If you are determined to shed weight and have the best ultralight backcountry setup possible then you will most likely want to consider a very simple, titanium cookset. The Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset is a great option when considering mess kits for backpacking. It comes with only a 900ml pot and mini frying pan that doubles as the pot lid. This tiny set weighs in at an incredible 170g which is ridiculously light.

Titanium is extremely light, durable, won’t rust and has no metallic smell or taste. This set has enough space for a very small stove and gas canister to fit inside it. This is really a no-frills setup so isn’t ideal for cooking anything too fancy. But if a basic, lightweight set is what you are after then this is a superb choice.

What we like:

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Very small footprint so great for smaller pack sizes

What we don’t like:

  • Very basic set. No bells and whistles
  • Heat doesn’t transfer well over titanium so isn’t a great cooking experience

>> See the latest prices for the Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset

Things to Consider When Buying a Camping Cooking Kit

Size and Weight

Probably the main factor when deciding what camp mess kit to buy is the activity you need it for. If you are going to be car camping then you don’t have to worry too much about the size and weight of your camping mess kits and you may want something much more functional. This means you can easily get a heavier set with all the bells and whistles.

However, if you are backpacking then you really need to find a set that will pack up nice and small and that doesn’t weigh too much so you can hike with it in your pack. Getting an ultralight set is one of the key considerations for hiking.

Material

The main materials used for a camp cooking set are hard-anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. Most people have a material that they prefer to cook with so this choice often comes down to personal preference. Stainless Steel and Titanium are close to indestructible yet their cooking performance is not the greatest.

Aluminum on the other hand often spreads the heat better and comes with a non-stick surface to make cooking and clean up much easier. The non-stick surface can be easy to scratch, especially with metal utensils that are commonplace around the campsite which usually means aluminum sets don’t last quite as long.

Features

How fancy do you like to get with your meals while you are enjoying the great outdoors? If you really enjoy cooking and still want to make great meals then you may want to consider a camp cooking kit with more pieces, so you can have multiple pots and pans on the go at once. Either of the Stanley cooksets would be great for this.

If you are a die-hard backcountry hiker looking to shed weight and all you need to do is boil some water, then you can look for something super simple, like the Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset.

Budget

One of the great things about choosing your camping cook kit is that there are options for any budget. You can buy an outdoor cooking kit for next to nothing so you can get out and adventure without having to spend a fortune. And on the flip side if you want to buy a really high quality set that can last a lifetime there are plenty of options for this too.

Number of People

How many people you are going to need to cook for will also play a big role in your decision. If you have to cook for a whole family you will need a larger set while if you are traveling solo, or with just one other person you really don’t need much to get by.

Best camp cookware

Final Thoughts

There are so many good options when deciding the best mess kits for camping. The MSR Quick 2 System is our overall recommendation but you would be happy with any of the sets on this list. They all come from reputable brands (minus the budget-friendly Honest Portable Camping Cookware Mess Kit) that make great quality products you will be happy with.

There is no one size fits all set so you just need to decide exactly what you want but we are confident there is something on this list for every type of camper.


Interested in picking up some new gear? Check out some of our other gear guides:

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Wild About BC About Us

Hi, we’re Luke and Roxy, a couple of adventurers that are head over heels in love with British Columbia, Canada.

We share our activities and outdoor adventures with the hope of inspiring others to get out and enjoy beautiful BC!

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