Camping Utensils and Packing Light

A camping or touring trip should be about enjoyment. The packing, unpacking and use of your camping utensils can complement the whole experience.

troop carrier on sand dune

If you arrived here from Great Camping Pots and Pans you will know that we need to take the selection of our camping equipment pretty seriously.

We’ve discarded and discounted a variety of equipment in the process of streamlining and minimizing the arsenal of utensils required to set up an effective camp.

It is easy to pack for a camping trip and slip into a ‘kitchen sink mentality’ ie: to take everything you may possibly need, including the kitchen sink. Go and look through your kitchen, open and evaluate the second and third drawers and then get down on your hands and knees and check out the back of the cupboards. How much of this stuff do you really use on a regular basis? If you are similar to most people, then the answer is probably - not much.

It is interesting to see how much can be achieved with a minimum of equipment. Often, people approach a camping expedition with the mindset of re-creating a regular household environment in the bush. Do you really need to take a bread knife when a cooking knife does the job nearly as well?

If in Doubt - Leave it Out

It is far more important to select and take a few choice utensils than madly fill a huge box with the complete contents of that second drawer ‘just in case’. Always be mindful of the weight and the volume of anything you plan to take and assess honestly the things you intend to pack. If you suspect you won’t use it, don’t take it. If in doubt – leave it out.

Luckily as the world shrinks and living space gets smaller and smaller, the manufacturers of household utensils get cleverer. Look for equipment that folds up into itself and packs away compactly. A perfect example that has been around for a long time are folding gauze camping toasters. Not only do they fold into a package only a few millimetres thick they also make toast far better than any electric toaster ever could.

Implements like pots and pans, bowls and buckets, trays and tubs should all come bought with stumpy inbuilt handles to maximize space. Avoid utensils with a long single frypan style handle. These types of handles, unless they unscrew, can take up to twice as much room. Check out collapsible, silicone strainers, bowls and tubs. Again, a normal sized, fully functional item, can fold away to dinner plate dimensions when not on use.

We make a lot of breads on the road and when camping, so we carry a small rolling pin about 5 inches long. If we could we would use a round bottle and save carrying a pin at all. Likewise, it is possible to buy reasonable quality combination salt and pepper grinders. Twist to the left for salt and to the right for pepper. At about the same size as a single grinder it is one less thing to pack and unpack and one less thing to carry around.

Try and get light weight bowls and plates that fit inside each other. If you have to take 3 different size bowls then make sure they sleeve together and only take up as much space as the footprint of the largest. We survive on just one plastic bowl and lid. It mixes and rests dough, acts as a salad bowl, stores leftovers, scrambles raw eggs and stores the eating bowls and salt/pepper grinder when travelling. Items like wine glasses with removable stems that store inside the glass can be purchased cheaply at most variety stores. They save room and avoid being damaged while travelling.

Avoid carrying big bulky pots if possible. Many campers use a big pot for heating shower water or doing the dishes and in this case it can serve for cooking as well. Assess just how large a pot or pan needs to be to cook for the camping party. A 20cm round pot with 10cm high walls holds a sauce containing a kilogram of meat with room for more. It may not be necessary to cart a bigger pot around.

The Holy Trinity

It is possible to comfortably cook and serve any meal with just an eggslice, a wooden spoon and a pair of tongs. Improvisation with just these three utensils will see you accomplish any cooking task with ease. Taking anything else is overkill and it could be argued that the tongs could be left at home as well. Choose a cooking spoon that can be used to stir, ladle and serve with.

By selecting the quantity and type of cooking utensils you take camping, you can dramatically reduce the time you spend packing, unpacking and cleaning. If you only take one cooking spoon, there can only ever be one that requires washing.

There is no need to sacrifice quality when selecting camp cooking equipment. Most of the lightweight, collapsible style equipment is made to be robust and durable. Assess each item you intend to take or purchase on it’s individual merits and select based on size, weight and quality of construction. Camping gear tends to get abused. Don’t automatically head for a camping store if you need to buy cooking utensils. While much of the specialised gear works great there are many things sold in regular kitchenware shops that may serve your purpose better. Because a camping manufacturer labels a product ‘camping’ it doesn’t necessarily follow that it works or is made any better than non-camping equipment. Have a look at the camping tips and hints page for other ideas on saving weight and space and generally making a camping trip easier.

I have personally witnessed someone feed their dog and proceed to clean the empty tin so they could boil water for their morning cup of tea. I don’t suggest anyone takes things to this extreme, but by leaving at home more than we take, we can simplify a camping trip and reduce the workload.

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