Editors’ Choice: Best Overlanding Kitchen Gear

Most overlanders would agree that meals you cook and eat outside taste better than the same dish eaten at home. Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment after a long day on the trail that adds an extra bit of spice. Or maybe, it’s the clean air and beautiful views of the campsite that enhance our dining experience. Honestly, it’s probably a combination of both.

Regardless if you’re a dehydrated meal type of adventurer, or an aficionado of epicurean delights on your overland trips, there are a few indispensable items that will elevate your backcountry cooking experience when you’re out on the trail.

Refrigeration

When considering fridges versus coolers, there is no correct answer. 

If the majority of your trips are on the shorter side and your routes include opportunities to refill your ice, then a cooler might be a great option for you.

Modern coolers have excellent insulation properties, and many can keep ice frozen and your food safe on a long weekend trip without issue. While soft-sided coolers are great for short trips, a hard-sided cooler allows for better organization of the contents, and you can use them as an extra food prep surface in camp.

RTIC 45 | Image by RTIC

The RTIC 45 is a durable, economical, and popular option. Weighing in at 29 lbs. it’s also sturdy enough to be used as a step stool, bench, or tabletop. It can be accessorized with organization baskets and a cutting board that doubles as a divider.

If you decide to go the fridge route, you have a wide array of options in terms of size, features, and cost. Most overlanders opt for something in the 35 and 55-liter range unless they expect to be out for an extended time between resupplying opportunities, or they’re preparing food and drinks for a large group.

Dometic CFX3 45 | Image by Dometic

The Dometic CFX3 45 offers temperature control and performance history via the CFX3 app. Thanks to the three-stage dynamic battery protection system, you don’t have to worry about the fridge killing your battery. The sleek design doesn’t just look good, the rounded fender frames add durability to the fridge. If you’re looking to keep things cool on extended trips, the CFX3 series is a great option.

Dry Goods Storage

A lot of overlanders focus on the fridge, and then skimp on how they store and organize their dry goods and other cooking supplies that don’t require refrigeration.

Sauces, oils, and canned food deserve better than riding around in hastily knotted grocery bags or a tote propped up in the back of your rig. 

Wolf Pack | Image by Frontrunner

A single place to store all of those items to avoid spillage is critical – especially when you’re on a rocky trail or driving down washboard sections. The Wolf Pack from Front Runner Outfitters is the solution I use to make sure these items stay protected and organized. The cases are easily stackable, and the lids securely latch. 

Developed after the South African military ammo can, these boxes have a low center of gravity and can easily be strapped down using bungees and d-rings.

READ MORE: Overland Vehicle Storage

Meal Prep

If you’ve been following along, you now have a way to keep your food cold, and you have a place for dry goods. You also need a way to prepare your food for cooking. 

While it’s tempting to use household pots and pans, they rarely pack well and often times they aren’t up the rigors of extended travel over rough terrain. However, a high-quality nesting cook set like the Alpha Pot Set from Sea to Summit packs down small and will help you prepare countless backcountry meals.

Nesting camp cookset
Alpha Pot Set | Image by Sea to Summit

The Alpha Pot Set utilizes clever technology like the Pivot-Lock™ handle that locks firmly in place, a unique slotted strainer pattern in the lid, and the silicone Lid Keep™ to rest your pot lid on the side of your pot and not on the ground. With the addition of the Delta Light™ dinnerware pieces and the ability to nest together, you’ll be creating mouth-watering gourmet dishes for every outdoor meal.

READ MORE: Industry Spotlight: Sea to Summit

The sturdy cast iron skillet might be the single item most synonymous with cooking in the wilderness. Countless explorers ranging from settlers looking to strike gold to scouts on their first camping trip have enjoyed a dinner that was cooked in a cast iron pan.

Lodge Cast Iron Cook-It-All | Image by REI

The Lodge brand produces a wide range of cast iron pans and skillets, but if you’re looking to add just one to your overland gear, the Cast Iron Cook-It-All is a great option. It can be used for grilling, griddling, sautéing, and baking. The lid doubles as a 14-inch grill/griddle, and the whole package can be used for classic Dutch oven recipes. The included stainless steel handles make sure that you can safely transfer it from the fire or stovetop to the table.

Even if you have all of the best camp kitchen gear, if you’re trying to cram all of it onto a tailgate, you’re going to have a bad time. We highly suggest you add a table to your camp kitchen equipment. Not only are tables great for prep, but they improve the dining experience, and they’re perfect for after-dinner cards by headlamp.

Kovea AL Bamboo One Action Table | Image by Nomadica Outfitters

The Kovea AL Bamboo One Action Table was part of the loadout for the 2021 Ultimate Overland 4Runner. This table provides a sturdy surface for cooking and dining. Plus, it adjusts to three different heights, so you can customize it to your camp furniture preferences. When not in use, it folds up into its own carrying bag for easy transport into and out of your rig.

Stoves

This category tends to be where overlanders vary greatly. While some want a large griddle surface suitable for preparing group meals, others prefer a small burner that’s easy to pack away, and extreme minimalists want a quick and convenient way to boil water. 

Jetboil Flash Java Kit | Image by REI

Even if you have a dedicated stove, it’s nice to have hot water on demand. The Jetboil Flash Java Kit gives you two cups of boiled water in 100 seconds. Better yet, you can use the integrated French press to steep your favorite coffee right in the pot. 

The classic two-burner camp stove is still a major contender for overlanding camp stoves. In recent years, models that have debuted are more compact, fuel-efficient, and offer excellent heat control compared to vintage stoves.

Eureka Ignite Plus | Image by REI

The Eureka Ignite Plus offers 10,000 BTUs and excellent simmer control. It also features a stainless steel drip tray, so clean-up is easy. The adjustable nonslip rubber feet keep the Ignite Plus stable and even on your chosen cooking surface. 

Open Fire Cooking

Few things are better than a meal cooked over an open fire. The open fire imparts amazing smokiness to anything you cook. Plus, cooking over a campfire is the quintessential choice when you’re out in the backcountry.

If a campsite doesn’t have a preexisting fire ring, it’s best to use a portable one to minimize the fire scar. Plus, portable rings are usually easier to cook over and offer greater control of the heat the fire produces.

FIRESIDE Pop-Up Fire Pit | Image by REI

The Pop-Fire Pit from FIRESIDE OUTDOOR packs away small while in transit, but once at camp, it provides a 24 x 24-inch pit that meets all USFS and BLM fire pan regulations. It includes a weather-resistant carry bag and a Leave No Trace Heat Shield that protects the surface below the pit from any fire damage. 

READ MORE: How to Cook Over an Open Fire

Clean Up

Quick and easy clean-up is always a great way to end a camp meal. Some overland rigs might be equipped with a sink, but for those that aren’t, a lightweight and packable vessel is a huge plus.

The aptly named Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink holds 20 liters of water, so you’ll have more than adequate room to wash up after a big dinner. When you’re done it packs away to the size of a small bowl. When it isn’t used for washing dishes, it can pull double duty as a pet bowl or a container for collecting water for purification.

There’s no need to rush into assembling a truckload of camp kitchen gear. It’s rare that you’ll need the proverbial kitchen sink in the backcountry. If you find that the clean-up process sucks the fun out of the evening, or you’re constantly frustrated because you’re digging through tons of gear, it might be time to slim down your camp kitchen set up. A good philosophy is to reaccess your gear after every trip. If you haven’t used something while cooking on the last two or three trips, you’re probably justified in removing it from the gear box.

Cooking, especially in camp, should be a fun and creative experience. Hopefully these gear choices will help you make the most of your backcountry meals.

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