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Cookware: How to Choose

Cookware: How to Choose Collecting your cookware and utensils piece by piece gives you the freedom to choose exactly what you want. You can use items from home, borrow pieces from friends or even raid garage sales

Cookware: How to Choose

Step #1: Consider the Trips You have Planned

The basics (per person)

  • Single pot, with a lid that can double as a plate
  • Cup
  • Basic utensils (spoon and knife)
  • Some way to pick the pot up (either a handle, bail or pot-grabber)

Step #2: Decide Between a Cook Set or Individual Pieces

Collecting your cookware and utensils piece by piece gives you the freedom to choose exactly what you want. You can use items from home, borrow pieces from friends or even raid garage sales.

But purchasing a backpacking cook set will save you space, weight and time. Cook sets (specially designed collections of pots, pans and lids) are designed to "nest" together so the entire set takes up only the space of the largest pot. Many are also designed so stoves (and other utensils) fit inside for even more space efficiency. Because they're designed specifically for outdoor uses like backpacking, most cook sets are made of lightweight, durable materials that weigh very little but last season after season.

Step #3: Consider the Material Options

  • Aluminum Positives: Lightweight, affordable, a good conductor of heat. Good for simmering foods without scorching. Negatives: Breaks down slowly when exposed to acidic foods. Dents and scratches easily.
  • Stainless steel Positives: Tougher, more scratch-resistant than aluminum. Negatives: Heavier than aluminum, doesn't conduct heat as uniformly (can cause hot spots that scorch food).
  • Titanium Positives: Super lightweight, extremely tough. A must if weight is your number one concern. Negatives: More expensive than other options. Conducts heat less evenly than stainless steel.
  • Nonstick coatings (available on some metal cookware) Positives: Make clean up a breeze. Negatives: Less durable than regular metal surfaces. Most can be scratched by metal utensils.
  • Plastic Positives: Lightweight, cheap, non-abrasive. Perfect for utensils and air-tight food containers. Negatives: Not as durable or heat-resistant as metal. Some plastics can pick up and retain food flavors/odors.

Notes on Aluminum

Some people wonder if using aluminum cookware is unhealthful. Based on reports from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the London-based Alzheimer's Society, no health risks are associated with the use of aluminum pots, pans or skillets. States the Alzheimer's Society: "There is no conclusive medical or scientific evidence of a link between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease."

An FDA report estimates that a person using uncoated aluminum pans for all cooking would ingest 3.5mg of aluminum per day. Meanwhile, a person consuming antacids (at approximately 50mg per tablet) may accumulate up to 1,000mg of aluminum per day.

A fact sheet published by the Alzheimer's Society states: "Cooking in uncoated aluminum utensils can increase the amount of aluminum in certain foods such as fruits that are high in acid. [Example: tomatoes.] Cooking foods in coated, non-stick or hard anodized aluminum pans adds virtually no aluminum to food."

While not a health concern, cooking leafy greens in aluminum cookware is not recommended since it can impact the taste and appearance of greens. In addition,  a belief that greens cooked in aluminum cookware can cause stomach distress. Cauliflower is another vegetable to keep out of aluminum pots. Because it contains sulfur compounds, cauliflower may turn yellow when cooked in aluminum cookware.

Sourced By T.D. Wood