What’s in my wilderness backpack: The kitchen sink

Our kitchen kit has evolved over the years as Steve and I have lightened up. Like most of the contents in our packs, the food prep equipment isn’t the latest in ultralight (UL) gear, but it’s pretty efficient and works for us. This is probably the one area that changes most frequently, as evidenced by our growing collection of stoves, plates, bowls, and eating implements. Since I almost always hike with Steve we split up some equipment. He carries the stove, fuel, basic dining kit and his snacks. I carry the bear canister, all the food, my insulated cup and our lunch for the day. If it’s an exceptionally long trip, Steve might have to take some food for the first few days which can necessitate carrying a second bear canister. If he has to carry any food I try to take more of the heavy items to even out our pack weights.


Jetboil Flash

Jetboil Flash

We’ve used several different types of stoves and they all have their pros and cons. Currently, we’re  JetBoil Flash (14.9 oz)  fans due to the simplicity of the piezoelectric push-button igniter and unmatched fuel efficiency, which means we can get away with carrying less fuel. We don’t cook food at all; we just boil water for hot drinks and to rehydrate freeze-dried or home dehydrated foods. Water boils in about two minutes, which is surprisingly wonderful when you’re chilled to the bone. A small fuel canister fits inside of the stove so it’s very compact.

In the past, we’ve used a “twig stove”, which saves weight by eliminating the need to bring fuel at all. Steve made his own out of a soup can, which was fun but didn’t last more than one season. He then purchased a stainless steel Solo Stove, which he loves. Kids love gathering the twigs for the stove and it puts out a cheery flame, but takes eight minutes to boil water. When we went above tree-line to the top of Mt. Whitney, Steve brought a little bundle of twigs and cooked up a pot of ramen at 14,500 feet. We have also used Esbit solid fuel tablets (too dirty but good for twig stove backup) and a trusty MSR Superfly, which served us well when we used a pot to cook in.

We always carry a lighter and emergency waterproof matches in case of unforeseen circumstances. We also know that if our stove fails we can hydrate most backpacking foods with cold water if we give it enough time and don’t mind a little crunch.

Bowls, Cups and Utensils

Opsak, Ball Freezer Jars, MSR folding spoon

Opsak, Ball Freezer Jars, MSR folding spoon

We use two GSI polypropylene bowls (2.3 oz each) for breakfast (oatmeal or granola) and dinner (freeze-dried or home-dehydrated)

For lunch, we often stuff a tortilla with various foods, and for rehydrating we use a plastic Ball freezer jar (3.2 oz). We add water before leaving camp and keep the tortillas, jars and other toppings in a sturdy zip-top Opsak in an outside pocket of my pack for easy retrieval. We each carry a GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug (3.5 oz), which is one of my luxuries.  This is a recent change from the ancient Aladdin insulated mugs I used to use (4.5 oz).  I like having my hot tea stay hot in the morning so tin cups that freeze over in an instant didn’t cut it. We sometimes bring a small plastic cup as an extra to mix milk or other powder, and it has the added benefit of having graduated markings in case we need to measure anything.

We use MSR folding spoons (0.35 oz each) and that’s it. Steve also carries a miniature Leatherman Micra multitool that he can use to cut salami or make repairs.


REI pollypropylene bowls, MSR folding spoon and bandana.

REI pollypropylene bowls, MSR folding spoon and bandana.

An adjunct to this article is Meal Planning for the John Muir Trail where I talk extensively about food so I won’t dwell on the topic here. Though it’s written about the JMT, the general concepts are the same for any of my trips.

I’ll just say a little about calories and protein. We hike moderate distances of 6-10 miles a day (may include large elevation gains/losses) so our calorie needs are not huge. I find that my appetite is suppressed initially due to the exertion and altitude so 2,000 calories a day is sufficient. For longer trips of more than a week, my appetite kicks in so I plan for closer to 2,500 calories a day if I can fit it in. According to backpacking experts, 1.5 kg of food per day of typical dehydrated and freeze-dried food should provide 3,000 calories per day. You can estimate your caloric needs by using the Harris-Benedict equation.

I did a rough calculation of the protein content of our typical backcountry diet and found it lacking in protein, at about 40 grams per day. To boost it to 60 grams, I add a protein bar with 20 grams and that solved that problem.

See my book, “The Hungry Spork, A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning” for more information. 

Bear Canister

One weighty item that I am still lugging around is the Garcia bear canister (2 lbs, 12 oz). Gosh, it’s painful even to write that. We got it about 15 years ago and the size still suits us. I splurged on a lightweight Bearikade Scout (1 lb, 12 oz) for my solo trips. I can get six days of food in it for me.  I also have an Ursack Major (7.2 oz) that I use where it’s legal (it’s NOT legal in Yosemite, Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks but is legal in CA National Forests.

Miscellaneous Little Things

  • Platypus Soft Bottles

    Platypus Soft Bottles

    SteriPen for purifying water if water is clear; if silty with glacial milk or mud we’ll take a Katadyn filter.

  • Bandana that I lay out as a tablecloth at lunch
  • Small camp towel
  • Snack size baggie with small bottle of biodegradeable CampSuds and half a sponge for washing dishes and hands
  • Soft Platypus bottles that I store dry powdered drink mixes in
  • Pot cozy to keep food warm while rehydrating (homemade from Reflectix insulating material or Sunshade and duct tape)

Occasional Use

  • Thin, flexible cutting board
  • Water bag if there is a group

Our kitchen kit is fairly streamlined so this will suffice for the time being until some new gadget or gizmo catches our eye.

See related posts:

Jet Boil, Nalgene bottle, GSI mug, Aladdin mug, MSR folding spoons, bowls

Jet Boil, Nalgene bottle, GSI mug, Aladdin mug, MSR folding spoons, bowls