Despite having always being intrigued by the idea of camping, I’ve never actually done it. I was raised by indoor people, and sometimes feel like I missed out on a quintessential family pastime. The thought of spending a long weekend sleeping under the stars and warming food over a fire sounds incredibly grand and romantic, but I wouldn’t know the first place to start. I have so many questions about the overall experience, but as a food lover, I’m most perplexed by how one cooks outdoors. To assuage my curiosity and learn a bit more about camping, I tapped a pair of experts to fill me in on camp kitchen life.
Freelance writer Nicole Kliest has been camping since she was five months old, making her the perfect person to explain the art of camping. The very act of existing in nature is a huge part of the appeal for her. “I really enjoy setting up camp, making food and being surrounded by trees and the sound of birds and all that good sensory stuff,” she told me.
Kliest grew up car camping, but has discovered backpacking in recent years, both of which require different kinds of gear, especially when it comes to cooking.
“If I’m car camping, I’ll usually bring a camp stove, pan, cutting board, knife, coffee mug and plate, cutlery set and tongs. I’ll also pack aluminum foil (great for campfire banana boats) and paper towels, plus stuff for cleanup like a sponge and biodegradable dish soap. I also have a utensil set with a Velcro-closure travel pouch that I love.” Kliest is also a sucker for classic blue-speckled dinnerware and prefers to drink water from her trusty Nalgene bottle.
It’s important to travel light while backpacking, so if you’re leaving your car behind, Kliest recommends bringing just a backpacking stove with a propane canister, a small pan (that often comes with the stove), a dehydrated backpacking dinner that just needs water to be added, and utensils.
Kliest usually only camps with one other person, but blogger and writer Erin Boyle heads out with her husband and three small children in tow. An avid car camper, she notes that “the packing element of camping is my least favorite part, so I try to keep things as pared down as possible.”
She and her family rely largely on things they already have at home and keep their camp kitchen super simple, “bringing one solid cutting board, a foldable Opinel knife, a favorite cast iron skillet, a saucepan, a kettle and our French press.” “If you’re going car camping, you really don’t need to invest in super lightweight camp-specific gear,” she added. “Pack up your favorite cast iron skillet and make the best pancakes of your life. (Everything tastes better outside!)”
The one exception to the rule, however, is her camp stove. “In the past, we’ve borrowed an old Coleman stove from my parents so we didn’t have to store one in our place, but this year we invested in our own.”
Like Kliest, Boyle also turns to enamelware while camping, both for its practicality and because “[it’s] sturdy and shatterproof but … still genuinely enjoyable to use and pretty to look at.” Another practical camp kitchen item that adds to the overall aesthetic is a tablecloth. “I always bring a real cloth tabelcloth camping, too. It makes such a difference on those old campground picnic tables!”
Below, I’ve rounded up a few of these extremely handy items to pick up before heading out on a camping trip. If you’re a newbie like me, then this is a great place to start. Mix and match with what you’ve already got at home to keep things stress-free and enjoy the great outdoors.
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Opinel No. 10 foldable knife
Opinel’s No. 10 stainless steel folding knife is a camping staple. Its lovely and durable beechwood handle also features a corkscrew. The safety ring has two sections, one fixed and one sliding, for secure, safe locking.
Yeti Tundra 45 hard cooler
This solid, all-purpose cooler from Yeti is perfect for camp provisions and drinks. It’s versatile, durable and has three inches of insulation. Kliest believes a well-made, high-quality cooler is essential, and this one is her favorite.
Studio McGee cotton floral tablecloth
Add a bit of flair to your campground with this sweet cotton tablecloth from Target’s collab with Studio McGee. It is 84 by 60 inches, with a rectangular shape, and features a timeless floral pattern that will imprint itself on your heart and in your fond camping memories.
Soto Amicus Stove cookset combo
Kliest recommends a good stove cookset combo for backpacking, and notes that this one from Soto is a good place to start. The cookset includes one small pot and one large pot, with the small pot doubling as a lid for the larger one. The stove is outfitted with a stealth igniter, so that you can light the stove without matches or a lighter. It’s lightweight, sturdy and perfectly compact.
A stainless steel saucepan with glass lid
If you’re going car camping, toss a saucepan in your trunk for all your pasta needs. Made of strong stainless steel, this saucepan comes with a glass lid with a strainer feature, while the pan itself has two side spouts for easy poor and an ergonomic handle. It’s a great, small multipurpose camp kitchen tool.
Package Free Shop
Package Free Shop reusable bamboo cutlery set
Not only are these utensil sets convenient and aesthetically pleasing, but they’re also great for camping, picnics, work lunches and more. The set includes a bamboo fork, knife, spoon and set of chopsticks.
Nalgene water bottle
Pick up one of Nalgene’s bestselling water bottles before your next adventure. It’s BPA, BPS and phthalate-free, with a wide-mouth opening and markings for milliliters and ounces so you can keep track of how much you’ve consumed. It’s practically indestructible and will last you for many trips to come.
Coleman portable butane stove
This cute little butane stove from Coleman comes with its very own carrying case. It’s available in two colors, fits up to 10-inch pans, lasts for over an hour on high with one 8.8-ounce butane gas cylinder and has an adjustable burner for precise temperature control. It features a durable porcelain-coated grate and a rust-proof aluminum burner that will last your for a long time, making it worth the investment.
Mr. Coffee Flintshire stainless whistling steel tea kettle
This sleek tea kettle from Mr. Coffee will heat up water for everything from coffee to soups. It has a flip-up spout cover to avoid boiling splatters and a stay-cool handle and trigger. It’s sure to become a staple in your home and while on the road.
Direct 2 Boater biodegradable camp soap
Safe for both fresh and salt water, this all-purpose biodegradable soap works on everything from hands to dishes and clothing. It’s the perfect way to keep things clean while camping, boating and beyond.
A set of flexible plastic cutting boards
The slim profile of these cutting boards are perfect for tucking into a camp bag. They’re quick-drying, easy to clean and non-slip so you can use them wherever you may be. These colorful cutting boards come in sets of six.
Coleman enamelware mugs and plates
Made of high-quality enamelware, these iconic speckled dishes and mugs from Coleman are camping staples. Pick up as many as you need to get going or build your collection over time.
Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet
Lodge’s strong, high-quality and wildly popular cookware is an absolute must in any kitchen, whether it’s at home or on a campsite. It’s pre-seasoned with natural vegetable oil and can sear, sauté, bake, broil, braise, fry or grill. It’s a versatile wonder that can be used on a stove, in an oven, on a grill, over a campfire and beyond. It’s available in various sizes, starting at 3.5 inches all the way to 15 inches.
Bodum Chambord French press
Don’t miss out on your morning coffee just because you’re out amongst nature. A Bodum French press is just what you need to get your morning fix. It’s made of durable, heat-resistant glass with a BPA-free plastic handle and base and a stainless steel plunger with a mesh filter. It’s easy to use, clean and makes delicious coffee.
Helping Out Mother Earth natural sponge
These sponges are made from plant-based sustainable and biodegradable materials and have a natural coconut fiber scrubber and wood cellulose sponge. They’re tough, long-lasting and made with recyclable packaging. Each package comes with 10 sponges.
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