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GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper Cookset Review

Cooking Potato Cheese Soup in the Pinnacle Camp Cookset
Cooking Potato Cheese Soup in the Pinnacle Camp Cookset

I started car camping with my wife this year and the spartan cook system I use for solo backpacking quickly proved to be insufficient for cooking more elaborate meals. That point has been hammered home by my wife, particularly since she is a foodie, with a wall of cookbooks at home. We started using GSI’s Pinnacle Camper Cookset because it satisfied my wife’s need for a diverse set of cooking pots and pans and my preference for a lightweight, integrated cook system. In the process, we’ve come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Pinnacle Camper Cookset very well, and while overall it is a well-thought out camping cookset, it has a few quirks that are worth knowing about ahead of time.

The GSI Pinnacle Cookset folds up neatly into a highly mobile package.
The GSI Pinnacle Cookset folds up neatly into a highly mobile package.

Car Camping Cookset for 4 People

The Pinnacle Camper Cookset is designed for use by 4 people who are car camping. The contents include a clever nesting system of cook pots, plates, mugs, and bowls including:

  • 3 liter pot with strainer lid
  • 2 liter pot with strainer lid
  • 9″ frying pan
  • 1 interchangeable pot griper
  • 4 x 14 fluid  ounce insulated mugs with sip lids (polypropylene)
  • 4 x 14 fluid ounce bowls  (polypropylene)
  • 4 x 7.5″ plates  (polypropylene)
  • A combination kitchen sink, water carrier, and carrying case

Having purchased and used many other cooksets over the years, the inclusion of plates, mugs, and bowls, really sets the Pinnacle Camper Cookset apart from most other manufacturer’s products. The only thing missing is flatware and cooking implements like a spatula, a large stirring spoon, and a soup ladle.

Cookset Pots and Pans

The cook pots and frying pan in the Pinnacle Camper cookset are made out of hard anodized aluminum and come with a teflon coating, which GSI claims is tough enough to withstand scratching with metal utensils. It seems to scratch pretty easily to me and we recommend you only use plastic cooking utensils with this cook system.

The 3 liter pot, strainer top, pot gripper, and insulated mugs/bowls during recipe testing
The 3 liter pot, strainer top, pot gripper, and insulated mugs/bowls during recipe testing. We recommend that you use a Coleman style cooking stove with a much wider pot stand when using the pots and frying pan included in the Pinnacle Camper Cookset because backpacking stoves (such as the one shown above) are too unstable and the pots are prone to tipping over and spilling hot contents, potentially burning you.

Both the pots and the frying pan are quite wide and should only be used with stoves that have wide pot stand racks or supports such as a Coleman two-burner cook stove or a Coleman Perfect-Flow one-burner stove. Canister-style backpacking stoves like the one shown above are too unstable to use with wide cook pots. Canister stoves also have very narrow flame patterns which can cause hot spots on the bottom of cook pots and burn food onto the bottom of your pot. If this happens, scrubbing the burned food off the bottom of your pot can take days, regardless of whether it has a teflon coating or not. Unfortunately, I know this from experience!

Frying Grilled Cheese and Tomatoe Sandwiches
Frying Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches

The pots and pans in the Pinnacle Camper Cookset have significantly better heat diffusion properties than most simple backpacking pots because they’re made out of a thicker aluminum material. This is quite noticeable when you are cooking with them, especially when stewing ingredients or cooking off extra liquid. Still, you need to be careful to continuously stir foods with certain delicate ingredients like milk, to prevent them from burning on the bottom of the pot.

Pot Gripper

The two pots and the frying pan in the Pinnacle Camper Cookset require the use of a detachable pot gripper. Unfortunately, GSI only includes one of these with the cookset, effectively limiting the number of pots and pans that you can cook with to one at a time. This is a curious omission because car camping meals are often much more elaborate than simple one-pot backpacking meals, and it’s pretty typical to have a main course and a side dish cooking at the same time in different pots and pans.

Pot Gripper System - Unfortunately only one Pot Gripper is supplied with the Pinnacle Camper Cookset
Pot Gripper System – Unfortunately only one Pot Gripper is supplied with the Pinnacle Camper Cookset

Given the design of the pot gripper and the way it locks to the Pinnacle Camper Pots, you shouldn’t try to switch the grippers between different pots and the frying pan while cooking. It takes two hands to detach the gripper from a pot and it’s too easy to burn yourself in the process. If you get the Pinnacle Camper Cookset, we recommend that you buy a second nForm Pot Gripper (sold separately.) This is easily stowed into one of the insulated mugs where the other pot gripper is stored, and won’t interfere with the packability of the integrated cookset system. Please note that this style of pot gripper is different than the ones included in other GSI Outdoors Cooksets – it’s unclear whether these are interchangeable or not.

Pot Lids and Strainers

The Pinnacle Camper Cookset comes with two pot lids that have strainer holes in them to vent steam and pour off excess liquid. But the pot lids don’t attach to the lip of the pots or slot into them to form a complete seal.

Pot lids do not lock onto the pot rim, making it tricky to strain boiling liquids
Pot lids do not lock onto the pot rim, making it tricky to strain boiling liquids

Instead they float on top of the pot rim, making it necessary to push the lid and the pot together with both hands to retain a seal when straining off liquid.  This is potentially dangerous because the hand holding the lid onto the pot is so close to scalding liquid and it’s steam. While the use of plastic lids helps reduce the weight of the cookset, their usefulness is reduced because they can’t be used to cover food during frying like a metal pot lid. There are also warning labels on the inside of the pot lids that advise you not to use them with a wind screen because they can overheat and melt. Since the overall weight of the cookset is less important for car camping than backpacking, it would have made sense for GSI to include a sturdier metal lid system with the Pinnacle Camper Cookset that could be used for frying and which provides for a more secure seal between the pots and pot lids for straining hot water.

Mugs, Bowls, and Plates

The Pinnacle Cookset comes with mugs, bowls, and plates for 4. The mugs and bowl are the exact shape and size, so you can use them interchangeably for drinks or bowls, except that the “mug” has a removable insulating sleeve on the outside so you can grip hot items.

Insulated Bowls
Insulated Bowls slip into outer bowls for easy storage (shown)

The shape of the mugs/bowls is sort of strange since they’re not round, but understandable given the packability requirements of the system. Still, if you try to serve soup or stew using a traditional round ladle, it is easy to overshoot the sides of the bowl and spill food on the ground. Cleaning can also be an issue, because the insulated sleeves absorb water and will get mildewed if you pack the  cookset away while they’re still wet.

The Pinnacle Camp Cooksystem packs a lot of functionality into a small space.
The Pinnacle Camp Cookset packs a lot of functionality into a small space.

Assessment

The Pinnacle Camper Cookset is very convenient to pack up and go car camping with because it has all of the pots, pans, mugs, bowls, and plates that a couple or family of four needs for car camping. The color coding of the plates and mugs makes if easy for campers (and kids) to keep track of their plates and drinks during meals and the non-stick coating on the pots and pans makes cleanup easy. While you could reconfigure the system for backpacking use, the pots are really too large to use with smaller backpacking stoves and their non-stick surface is prone to scratching if handled roughly. overall this is an excellent cookset for basic camp cooking, although you’ll probably want to augment it with a second pot gripper and a standalone colander for maximum flexibility.

Likes

  • Plates, bowls, and cups for 4 people
  • Packs up very compactly
  • Color-coded dishware helps distracted husbands pack the system up properly
  • Integrated kitchen sink/carrier really helps with cookset cleanup

Dislikes

  • Only one pot gripper for three pots
  • Pot lids don’t lock onto pot rims making straining tricky
  • Insulated mug sleeves must be dry before packing to prevent mildew

Manufacturer Specs

  • 4 Person Camping Cookset
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz.
  • Dimensions: 9.10″ x 9.10″ x 5.80″
  • Non-Stick Coated, Hard Anodized Aluminum, Clear Po?
  • Recommended Use: Car Camping
  • Includes: 3 L Pot, 2 L Pot, 2 Strainer Lids, 9” Frypan, 4 14 fl. oz. insulated mugs, 4 14 fl. oz. bowls, 4 7.5” plates, 4 Sip-It Tops, Folding Pot Gripper, Welded Sink.

Disclosure: GSI Outdoors provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a Pinnacle Camper Cookset for this review. 

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15 comments

  1. Yes, it looks like the set would be excelent for base camping. Thanks for the review!

    Those sandwitches look GOOD! Mayo or butter can be used for frying them. You can also add a couple scrambled eggs and bits of bacon to them. Fried greens: onions, dandelions, wild carrots, etc can also be added. What the heck, whatever you have handy…a slice or two of salami, or, capicolla is also good.

    • Those sandwiches were awesome. Brioche bread, aged dry cheddar, and fresh organic tomatoes friend in butter. They disappeared FAST! Maybe we just need backcountry frying pans to up our quality of life! You can do some interesting things with Polenta, for example. So much food, so little time.

      • Those samis are lookin’ GOOD!
        My sami of the week – Pt Reyes blue cheese and apple slices on homemade whole wheat honey sourdough; grilled or not, these will pleasure the ones you love.

  2. Phil,

    Good thorough review. I have the 2-person version (just got it in July) I was planning to review. I didn’t have the same issues you had. The pot gripper switches easily between pots for me, and I generally don’t leave it attached while cooking anyway because it can get hot. The sleeves on the mugs slide off super easy so I just pull them off before washing, then I don’t have to worry about them being wet. Also, the lid that came with mine does have a rubber gasket around the base that fits nicely onto the pot rims creating a solid seal and straining was a breeze.

    I wonder if they’ve made those improvements since you got your set. I haven’t had any of those issues with mine.

    On the other side, I do agree that you have to pay attention when cooking because the nature of thin cookware is to develop hot spots. However, I’ve had great luck with their teflon coating providing a nice non-stick surface…very easy to clean in my experience.

    It’s been a great little cook set for the wife and I camping.

    D

    • It’s a perfectly good cookset and we like it just fine. But it’s for car camping, not backpacking and hence not as rugged as what I’m use to. I think I have the latest model. I had to wait a while for this year’s inventory to come in so I assume I have the latest and greatest. When we encountered the lid issue, I also checked all of the photos of the lids I could find online (for the same model) and mine looked identical to the them.

      I don’t know which model you have, but I’ve observed that GSI’s different product lines don’t have interchangeable or reused components. Perhaps this is on purpose or because they were developed at different times by different designers who had different components available. But the smaller 1-2 person integrated kits look like that have better pot lids than the larger sets from the pictures GSI has on theri web site. Different pot grippers too.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • I have the Pinnacle Backpacker. Looking at it online it is identical to the Pinnacle Camper set just with less stuff. Specifically, the lid and gripper are the same.

        You have two different sized pots in your set though…so it would make sense that the lid could only fit one of the pots well, the other would be off a bit.

        Either way, sounds like we both came to the conclusion that it’s a decent car camping set. One of the better ones that I’ve used. That fry pan might even go backpacking with me if I expect to catch any creek trout…

      • I’m thinking the same thing. Frying pan + trout.

    • Ah, the gasket. In response to your comment I went and looked at our set. We do have that rubber gasket you mention. However, on the pot where we tested straining it had been assembled upside down when we got it. So the internal lip went up the side of the cover rather than inside the pot. It is true that with the gasket correctly fitted you do have a better seal with the pot. However it still requires that you hold the lid on while straining. There are some camping pots where the lid fits quite tightly (more tightly than on a home/indoor use cooking pot) and you can essentially strain liquid with one hand. Needing to hold the lid on is still awkward when straining hot liquid. I future, I’ll bring a hot pad to hold it with.

  3. I bought that set a few months ago and have used it on several car camping and fly & drive expeditions. It does have limitations, but I love it! A year ago, I took the grandkids car camping in Colorado and we had our cooking gear in a series of boxes and duffels and I never did have the situation under control. I saw the Pinnacle Camper, read up on it and ordered it.

    The first time I took the grandkids car camping with it, I didn’t take any other cooking gear because I wanted to force myself to use the system. I figured any inconvenience would only be for a few days. I found the fry pan a little small for making large batches of pancakes, however, I just needed to pace myself, producing smaller pancakes while the little vultures circled. Because I wasn’t using a flat griddle, I didn’t have room to make the dinosaur, horse, dog, cat, surfer, and soccer player shaped pancakes that they love to eat. They had to settle more for fare that looked misshapen planets after cataclysmic cosmic collisions.

    I did buy some silicone spatulas to use when cooking so that the Teflon would not be scratched.

    My wife and I made a fly & drive trip to the Whites a couple months ago. She was absolutely determined to take additional pans (including the flat griddle) and was supremely convinced we would have a miserable time with that “toy” cookset. Weight limitations precluded most of her choices and the Pinnacle Camper went along. The first day or two, I got nothing but complaints about it and she insisted on using the flat griddle. After that, she began to appreciate the even cooking, the modularity of the system, and quit using the griddle (she even commented that the griddle was a waste of space). She became quite impressed with the Pinnacle Camper.

    She also wanted to bring a heavy Coleman propane stove but I convinced her to try a small canister stove (the <$10 JOGR Orange stove), which had too concentrated a flame–it burned things… when it worked. I did use it with an Olicamp pot for boiling water. I have since bought an Optimus Crux, which has a broader flame. On the trip, I also brought along my White Box alcohol stove and a stand I'd fabricated to hold a large pot on it. My wife doesn't like change and wasn't about to try that stove because she missed her propane one. Soon, she really got to liking the wide, even flame of the White Box and how it cooked on the Pinnacle Camper set. The White Box will run 15 to 18 minutes on a fill of alcohol, which would allow fixing bacon and eggs, pancakes, etc. for breakfast, and leisurely cooking of multi pot meals for supper. If the flame ran out, in a couple minutes, I could have it going again. I used my titanium cup as a snuffer on the White Box when we were done cooking. We used yellow HEET, which we’d purchase at auto parts stores and Wally Worlds when we’d start running low.

    My wife is quite fussy about what she will use to cook with and I was very proud of her on this trip for casting preconceived notions aside and actually using and learning to really like the practicality of the Pinnacle Camper and being willing to try a canister and alcohol stove.

    The plastic carrying case for the Pinnacle Camper is designed to be a stand alone water carrier that can be used like a Kitchen Sink, however, mine came apart in the first week of using it. It worked fine for that purpose until it developed a hole on the bottom to match the one on the top.

    Other than the holey case, the only difference between my set and Philip's is that I keep the pot holder clamp in the RED cup.

  4. How would you rate this set compared to the Coghlan’s you reviewed a few months ago? I realize this set comes with mugs, bowls, plates, while the Coglan’s set does not. I’m wondering which would be a better buy for the scout troop. Any thoughts?

    • I think the Coughlans set is probably the better choice because there’s less to lose. The handles are all attached to the pots so you can’t lose the pot grippers so you can use all of the pots at once, and you can’t lose all of the mugs, bowls, and sippy lids. This means that scouts wil have to bring their own, but if you have more than 4 boys and adults, you wouldn’t really have enough anyway. The GSI system has slightly bigger pots and all the plates and bowls, but they’d end up getting packed wet if you are on the move, which is probably undesireable too. I’d base your decision on the size of pot(s) you need. With either system, a 3L pot might not be big enough. Check out Open Country’s pots which are much larger and also less expensive.

  5. I just wanted to add a couple more observations:

    GSI also has a set called the Bugaboo Camper, which has the same components as the Pinnacle Camper and retails for about $30 less. Before I bought the Camper, I read many reviews of both sets and it seems the Camper has better plastics for the plastic parts and some different technology in the pot and pan set to provide more even heating. Several who had experience with both sets said the Camper was well worth the $30 difference. After a careful search, I managed to get the Camper for the same price as the Bugaboo listed for.

    The cups inside the set are great places to store condiments, small bottles of dishwashing soap, and any of many other petite items.

    Although the strainer lids don’t lock on, I was able to easily hold them in place to pour off hot liquid, however, it did scare me at first.

    • I just read my reply and I thing there was a bugaboo or two in the way I tried to make the comparison. GSI makes the Bugaboo Camper and the Pinnacle Camper. Both sets appear at first to be identical, however, there are differences in the plastics used for the plastic components and construction of the pot and pan sets. I kept referring to the Pinnacle Camper as just plain “Camper”, which could confuse one with the Bugaboo Camper. The Pinnacle (which Philip is reviewing) has upgraded materials and construction from the Bugaboo and retails for about $30 more, which most who had experience with both sets thought was worth the difference. I own the Pinnacle and am very pleased.

  6. Dave, looking forward to your review. I’ve been using the same set you have for a few years and enjoy it for car camping. Mine has the plastic lid though which did melt a bit when boiling water, but otherwise, the kit works great! ~Chris

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