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Currently there are three major materials for hiking/lightweight cookware ruling the market:

  • Aluminium
  • Titanium
  • Stainless Steel

Each of those materials has several advantages and disadvantages:

  • Aluminium is very lightweight, cheap, has a great heat conductivity but it stands in discussion about dangers of Alzheimer's Disease. At least, it is easy to clean.
  • Titanium is lightweight also, is not poisonous but is a bad heat conductor and difficult to clean.
  • Stainless Steel is more heavy than the others, is hygienically great but is also not a good heat conductor (at least, better than titanium).

So my question is:

Why are we not using Copper instead of the three materials above?

  • Copper is lightweight.
  • Copper is the best heat conductor you can get.
  • Copper seems to not cause any risk to health.
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  • 9
    Aluminium isn't actually all that easy to clean, partly because it scratches easily and dirt sticks to the scratches
    – Chris H
    Sep 25 at 19:09
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    Available evidence suggests that aluminum doesn't cause Alzheimer's; rather, Alzheimer's plaques attract aluminum.
    – Mark
    Sep 26 at 0:31
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    ‘not any risk to health’ You have not done almost any practical research if you think that. Pure copper is relatively low health risk, but the same is also true of pure lead. However, copper ions in solution are toxic at a concentration as low as 1 mg/L. The problem is that if the food is even remotely acidic, it will readily dissolve some amount of the copper. This is why the traditional copper mugs used to serve Moscow mules (a cocktail made with vodka and ginger beer) are almost always steel plated on the inside and lip these days. Sep 26 at 2:34
  • 3
    Further to Mark's correct point that aluminium isn't now thought to be a cause, aluminium's oxide layer is also very tough and prevents aluminium entering the food unless you cook anything very acidic.. And further to that, I highly recommend Tefal's Teflon camping cookware - mine has lasted 20 years without damage. The Teflon coating of course will stop anything getting through.
    – Graham
    Sep 26 at 8:04
  • @Graham: Of course, the teflon itself (and the PFOA used in its production) is under suspicion for toxicity as well (it might not be hugely toxic, but your body eliminates it excruciatingly slowly, so if it has any negative effects, they last for decades). Arguably better off consuming the metals. Sep 26 at 14:48
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Copper is about the same density as stainless. It is relatively toxic so is always coated for cooking. Copper and copper compounds are used for sea water boat hulls because it kills or repels barnacles, etc. The traditional pewter/tin coating on copper cookware can fairly easily be melted on an open fire leaving some bare copper. Stainless clad copper is very durable but a very expensive alternative to lighter aluminum. PS ; it is not easy to recoat with pewter and get a good looking result.

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    Copper is also rather weak, and might have to be thicker than stainless (=heavier). The toxicity is only a problem in certain cases, after all it's used for drinking water pipes. Jam-making pans are traditionally uncoated copper too, but it does react with certain food acids.
    – Chris H
    Sep 25 at 19:05
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    In addition to acids it usually corrodes ( releasing toxic ions) when salts are present. As it is difficult to make a listing of possible acids and salts , it is likely better to use some other material . But copper is good for heating potable water , eg teapots. Sep 25 at 19:25
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    +1 for the poisoning risk. Copper is also very expensive. You really only need a slab for homogenising the BTU distribution. You also need to keep uncoated Copper out of contact with Aluminium in storage.
    – mckenzm
    Sep 26 at 6:40
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    "The toxicity is only a problem in certain cases, after all it's used for drinking water pipes." Lead was also used for making drinking water pipes. That's not really an argument in copper's favor!
    – nick012000
    Sep 26 at 7:40
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    @nick012000 I mean, that's a neat fact, I suppose. Glad they stopped putting them in new houses before over half of that country was born, and that we have controls on the toxicity of the pipes on the water (for both lead and copper.) I'm not sure why you think it or your link supports your peculiar claim, but you DO realize we only use copper because we found out lead was toxic, right? Lead is cheaper, easier to work with, it's better in every way except for the whole killing people part. Heck, we still call people who work with pipes plumbers, even though they never work with lead anymore.
    – corsiKa
    Sep 27 at 6:54
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In the question, you have stated several false and-or dubious claims:

Copper is lightweight

Copper is more dense ("heavier") than all of the three listed alternatives; it has density of 8.9 g/cm3, which is higher than aluminum (2.7 g/cm3), steel (7.7 to 8.1 g/cm3) and titanium (4.5 g/cm3).

Copper is the best heat conducter [sic] you can get

There actually are better heat conductors than copper, they are just not applicable: for example silver (expensive), diamond (prohibitively expensive and challenging to machine into shapes resembling cookware), boron arsenide (used for cooling systems of electronic components; while arsenic itself is highly toxic and carcinogenic, boron arsenide is supposedly inert and non-toxic, but brittle and difficult to machine, and even if it was possible to make cookware from it, I wouldn't trust it). What is more, thermal conductivity does not really matter that much in cooking because the limiting factor for cooking speed is the amount of heat generated per time unit by the burner, not the thermal conductivity of the cookware. This is not an overclocked processor nor a nuclear reactor, just an ordinary gas burner with a metal pot.

Copper seems to not cause any risk to health

Please do at least minimum amount of research before asking questions on SE. A quick few-minutes-long read on Wikipedia proves that it is not true. It is an essential element and is not hyper-toxic (you won't drop dead after eating a single dish cooked in copper pot), but excess intake causes a wide range of adverse effects, so yes, copper can definitely harm one's health.

Copper is not that reactive, but nonetheless it can slowly leach from the cookware into foods and liquids being cooked. Low pH and presence of anions such as chloride facilitates this process.

One of the reasons is that pure copper is soft and mechanically inferior to the listed alternatives, especially steel. What it more, water-soluble copper salts have an unpleasant bitter taste, so besides toxicity risks, they can also adversely affect taste of the food and fluids being cooked in the pot.

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  • Great, so let's make cookware out of boron arsenide! Arsenic certainly doesn't cause Alzheimer's, right? Sep 25 at 23:08
  • 1
    @leftaroundabout Understood the concern, updated my answer, thanks for comment. Sep 25 at 23:19
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    @leftaroundabout: Please try to understand the difference between an element (or a compound such as arsenic trioxide), and that element in a compound. For instance, elemental sodium is a highly reactive metal (it will react explosively with water), and elemental chlorine is a deadly gas (used as a weapon in WWI), yet their combination is ordinary table salt.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 26 at 2:59
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    @jamesqf quite a few elements are toxic in any (or almost any) form. Even profoundly insoluble forms like barium sulphate (a common contrast substance in medical x-ray practice) can take some unexpected route to becoming soluble and toxic.
    – fraxinus
    Sep 26 at 7:27
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    I think the statement "Copper is the best heat conducter you can get" is actually a fairly reasonable approximation in the context of this question. At least a lot more reasonable than fantasising about cookware made from boron arsenide or pure diamond. IMHO that whole section of this answer should be removed.
    – fgysin
    Sep 27 at 8:26
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Copper cookware IS used for cooking (at least, in the mediterranean culture I am native to). For people familiar with this, it is considered obvious that:

  1. It is not lightweight at any rate. The copper is both denser than the steel and less rigid, so the same container must be made from thicker metal sheet.

  2. It HAS to be tin-coated. Tin coating is not very durable, so it has to be periodically maintained. Tin cover is also particularily vulnerable to harsh cleaning methods.

Compromised tin coating makes the food blue (it becomes untasty before it is really dangerous to eat). Sour things are not to be left in copper containers for any substantial amount of time.

  1. The only reason these things exist is that it was once easier to make them from copper. They are inferior to anything modern.

All these things combined make copper cookware quite unsuitable for hiking, even if it is sometimes used for cooking at home.

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    Are you saying that people use copper cookware for hiking/backpacking purposes? It’s my understanding at least, that the question is focused on hiking more than in general cookware usage Sep 26 at 8:42
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    I am explaining why people do use copper cookware, but not for hiking.
    – fraxinus
    Sep 26 at 10:04
  • @fyrepenguin I have seen a copper cezve (Turkish coffee pot) used on a campsite, but presumably car camping (when I'd take my moka pot) rather than backpacking (coffee sock or brew Turkish style in my enamel mug)
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 21:22
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Copper has another undesirable property: it's an excellent electrical conductor and also has a quite high standard electrode potential, which means it will happily create electrochemical cells when in contact with other metals. This usually happens when you put different utensils together in a dish washer: metals which normally don't oxydize, such as stainless steel, may oxydize when they are in contact with materials with a higher potential, such as silver or copper.

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  • While true, I'm not sure I see how this is all that relevant to the current discussion. I certainly don't have a dishwasher while camping
    – noah
    Sep 27 at 16:34
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    @noah, you don't need a dishwasher, you just need a copper pot, a steel spoon, and a salty or acidic food.
    – Mark
    Sep 27 at 23:15
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I joined this community, because I fel no one has answered the question. There's a few answers about "diamond being more conductive than copper" and "copper is slightly toxic, but so are other metals" which I found un-helpful. More people criticizing the asker than answering the intent of the question.

Answer: Copper is Expensive

Surprised this was not mentioned. Copper is superior for cookware, but is expensive. You'll notice in high quality cookware they use copper cores, e.g. "All-Clad Copper Core Cookware".

Copper provides the highest thermal conductivity among non-noble metals and is therefore fast heating with unparalleled heat distribution

Using modern metal bonding techniques, such as cladding, copper is frequently incorporated into cookware constructed of primarily dissimilar metal, such as stainless steel, often as an enclosed diffusion layer

Stainless steel is sometimes critiqued for compromising the efficacy of the copper.

Aluminum has 61 percent of the conductivity of copper, but has only 30 percent of the weight of copper.

Stainless steel has 10 percent of the conductivity of copper, and has about 88 percent of the weight of copper.

So the negatives for copper are: (1) it is heavier, (2) more expensive. Copper is more reactive, but pretty much all modern cookware coats copper. Is it also worth mentioning that copper looks cooler.

Copper is lightweight. [True-ish] It is the heaviest of all the common cookware metals, but only marginally heavier than stainless steal. Should pose no carrying issues, unless you are carrying a ton of pats/pans.

Copper is the best heat conductor you can get. [True] Within reason of course.

Copper seems to not cause any risk to health. [True-ish] Yes, modern copper pots and pans will not pose and serious health risks, no-more-so than other metals.

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  • It's a good point, but plenty of people will pay premium prices for camping gear. The thing is they normally do it to save weight and buy titanium. Compared to Ti copper is cheap at 1/4 the price per tonne, and if you can find a solid copper pan (excluding handmade - they do exist) it's cheaper than a Ti pan of the same size. But it's far heavier.
    – Chris H
    Sep 29 at 11:05
  • BTW for copper to look cool, use stainless with a thin plating. I have a pan like that, not for how it looks but because it was cheap when I was looking for one that wasn't non-stick
    – Chris H
    Sep 29 at 11:06
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Drinking water and eating food from copper utensils is considered safe, although copper can keep meals warm for an extended period. Cooking salty foods in copper vessels, on the other hand, is not recommended because the iodin in salt quickly reacts with copper, releasing more copper particles. As a result, you must exercise caution when cooking with such equipment. Excessive copper consumption can be lethal. Ingesting excessive amounts of copper salts through your skin could result in serious poisoning. Copper can accumulate in your brain, liver, and lungs after passing through your internal organs. Copper poisoning can make people extremely ill.

The material is stainless steel. Stainless steel is one of the most widely available and excellent cooking vessels that you should consider.

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  • Copper is certainly used in cookware (including high-end professional kitchens) despite the possibility of contamination. The toxicity of copper alone is not really a reason why it might not be used for camping cookware. As others have pointed out there is a toxicity issue of tin melting at campfire heat exposing copper, but without that aspect there is no inherent issue with copper being dangerous.
    – noah
    Sep 27 at 16:38

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