What are the relative advantages / dangers of different cooking wear? I'm a one-pot gourmet that has been using the same stainless steel pot for 15 years, but am considering an upgrade.

Some things I have heard but not substantiated: teflon flakes off and you might ingest it. Aluminum can leech into acidic foods. Titanium shatters in cold? Cast iron makes the best flap-jacks...

5 Answers 5


The absolute best is going to be titanium, but it also happens to be the most expensive. I'm not sure where you heard that it shatters in the cold, but being a space age metal I would think it can handle cold Earth's temperatures just fine.

If you can't shell out the cash for titanium it's more or less a toss up between aluminum and stainless steel. Technically aluminum leaches, but so slowly that for just your backpacking gear it's not a problem. Stainless steel doesn't leach but also doesn't distribute heat as well, so you need to be sure to stir your food more, but that's not a big downside in my book. I use stainless steel myself.

One other recommendation I need to make is, no matter what the material, find a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Getting water to a boil with a tight-fitting lid is MUCH quicker and saves you fuel.

As for cast iron, it gives your food the best flavor but is extremely heavy. Use it for camping trips but not backpacking.

  • 1
    Yes, cast iron is extremely heavy. I highly recommend not carrying that for backpacking. Feb 27, 2012 at 19:45
  • The only time I've seen cast iron packed was in 1978 our Philmont guide, Beverly, who packed in dutch oven so she could make some peach cobbler for our group. It was just an overnighter, ~16 miles round trip. What a treat! Jan 25, 2013 at 19:48
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    @Don - my scoutmasters would pick one short hike a year so they could pack a cast iron dutch oven and make a cobbler. It's a rare treat that can convince 13 year-olds to carry extra weight!
    – Justin C
    Jan 27, 2013 at 15:46

One advantage teflon brings to the wilderness is how easy it is to clean. The heat on backpacker stoves can be hard to regulate, it's not uncommon for hot spots that get food stuck to the bottom of the pot or worse, burnt to the bottom (I'm looking at you pasta + sauce packets!). Teflon makes it less likely to get stuck, often needing only to be wiped off and then rinsed, it really shines when water and soap are in limited supply and you want to spend the least amount of time cleaning dishes.

Having said that, if you really want to make dishes (and cooking) a breeze then go for the "add boiling water to packet" freeze-dried meals and you won't need teflon because all you'll ever do is boil water.

As far as health goes, as long as the teflon surface is not scratched or flaking you don't need to worry about any health risks, so use plastic utensils and don't cut food in the pot. If you're going to nest teflon pots (like the popular MSR set) put washcloths between each pot to avoid further scratching.

  • You need to use more fat in your backcountry cooking; it adds flavour and makes it unsticky, plus most of us need the extra calories up on the mountains :)
    – Nisan.H
    Apr 26, 2013 at 17:42

What type of cookware you choose depends on what type of cooking you do. Titanium is certainly the lightest, and it's great if all you do in your pot is boil water to add to dehydrated foods (Lipton noodles, Mountain House, homemade boil-in-bag meals, etc.) or to make beverages. I've never seen or heard of a titanium pot shattering at low temperatures. However, any super-thin, uncoated pan will have trouble distributing heat evenly which leads to hot spots and burned food. A titanium mug works great for me, but then, I prefer to keep my meals as simple and no-cook as possible when I'm backpacking. If you enjoy backcountry cooking, you may be disappointed in ti cookware, especially considering the price point.

If you plan on doing anything more involved, such as eggs or pancakes or stirfry, take a look at hard anodized aluminum cookware, such as the MSR Aplinist or GSI Pinnacle series. Hard anodized aluminum weighs only a little more than titanium, is cheaper, and offers several advantages over other aluminum pots. It is durable, offers excellent heat distribution, and is easier to clean as it possesses some nonstick properties of its own even without a Teflon coating. Some hard anodized pans are sold with a Teflon finish, so if that's an issue for you, shop around or examine them in person before buying. If you do go with nonstick cookware, be sure to use bamboo or Lexan utensils to avoid scratching the finish.

I use hard-anodized aluminum pans from Calphalon for home cooking and I love them. They heat very evenly and are virtually nonstick. The material is much less reactive than plain aluminum (e.g. it doesn't turn the sulphur in your cauliflower yellow!), and leeches virtually no aluminum into your food. For perspective: there are about 50 mg of aluminum in an antacid tablet; if you do all your cooking in uncoated aluminum pans, you'll consume about 3.5 mg of aluminum per day, and with a hard anodized pan that number is even lower.

Bon appetit!


I have had both a titanium and Teflon pot for backpacking and like the titanium for the weight factor but they do cost more money. Teflon pots are great, they are fairly light, super easy to clean, and come is various sizes. They are also normally affordable. I have an Optimus Crux stove and it is AMAZING!!! It folds up to fit in the bottom of a fuel cylinder and they both fit inside my cooking pot.


Freezer bag cooking eliminates the hassle and environmental impact of washing your pot and dishes. You simply boil the water in the pot, then pour it into the ziplock freezer bag where the ingredients are. You eat out of the bag, so you don't need to carry separate dishes that are heavy and have to be washed.

If you're using this technique, then the only criteria for a cooking pot are size, weight, and cost. You don't have to worry about even heat distribution, cleaning off burned food, or the pot material leaching into your food. If you have the bucks, titanium is optimal.

If you use an alcohol stove with clean-burning alcohol, you don't get all that black soot on the pot, either. It may take a little trial and error to find a source of alcohol that burns cleanly. Alcohol stoves are also really nice because the fuel is lightweight, and if you spill or leak fuel, it's inoffensive and relatively nontoxic, and evaporates completely. I find that about 6 oz of fuel is enough for me for several days. The only reason I use any other type of stove anymore is if I'm snow camping and need to melt snow.

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