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Best Backpacking Cook Pots: Titanium, Aluminum, or Stainless Steel?

Best Backpacking Cook Pot

Backpacking cook pots are available in titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel but there are significant differences in the cost, performance, and durability between them. What are the pros and cons of each material and other factors that you should consider when choosing a backpacking and camping cook pot?

Titanium Backpacking Pots

Titanium cook pots are the best choice if your top priority is saving weight. But titanium backpacking pots are more expensive than aluminum or stainless steel pots and best used for boiling water to rehydrated food rather than cooking or frying more complex meals.

Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot (1L) 4.1 oz
Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot (1L) 4.1 oz
  • Pros
    • Ultralight weight
    • Stronger than steel or aluminum
    • Corrosion resistant
    • Cools quickly, so you can use your cook pot as a multi-purpose bowl or mug
  • Cons
    • Heats unevenly, so not good for slow cooking or frying
    • Most expensive

Look for models with folding handles and colander or pressure relief holes in the lid to help prevent messy boil overs like the Evernew 1L Titanium Pasta Pot (4.1 oz; $66), Toaks 650ml Titanium Pot (2.8 oz; $37) or Evernew 500ml Titanium Mug Pot (2.6 oz; $55).

Aluminum Backpacking Pots

Aluminum cook pots strike a good balance between low-cost and light weight. They retain heat well and cook evenly, making them ideal for more complex meals and group meals. While you can use them to boil water for simple meals, they take longer to cool than titanium and are more difficult to eat or sip from if you’re in a rush. Most aluminum cook pots are hard anodized (HA). This process makes aluminum more durable and corrosion resistant. This is important for backpacking when you’re likely to pack a wet or damp cook pot. Some aluminum frying pans and cook pots also come with non-stick surfaces, which makes sense if you plan on cooking real food like bacon, eggs, or pancakes, although the non-stick surface will eventually wear out if they’re heavily used or abused.

GSI 1.1 Boiler Hard Anodized Pot
GSI 1.1 Boiler Hard Anodized Pot
  • Pros
    • Lightweight
    • Less expensive than titanium
    • Heats evenly, so good for cooking more complex meals and group cooking
    • Hard anodized aluminum pots are corrosion resistant
    • Non-stick pots are available
  • Cons
    • Takes longer to cool
    • Not as light as titanium

Look for models with sturdy handles and locking lids like the GSI Halulite 1.1L Boiler (HA, 8.6 oz; $30), MSR Solo 1.3L Ceramic Pot (Non-stick, 7.5 oz; $60) or the MSR Ceramic 2.5L Pot (Non-stick, 11 oz; $65) when cooking for a couple or group. The budget Olicamp 1L XTS Lite Pot (HA, 6.3 oz; $20) is another option worth considering, although it has a plastic lid. You can also buy a non-anodized 0.7L IMUSA aluminum mug (2.4 oz; $6) and make a lid for it out of a pie tin. But it’s pretty thin aluminum and will dent easily.

Stainless Steel Backpacking Pots

Stainless Steel backpacking and camping pots are the workhorses of the backcountry. They’re ideal for people who are very hard on their gear, including guides, scout groups, and outdoor organizations. Performance-wise, stainless steel pots are more heat efficient than titanium, but not as easy to cook with as aluminum. Stainless steel pots are also heavier than both titanium and aluminum, but by far the toughest choice and the most affordable.

MSR Stowaway Stainless Steel Pot
MSR Stowaway Stainless Steel Pot
  • Pros
    • Super durable. Lasts forever
    • Least expensive
  • Cons
    • Subject to hot spots like titanium.
    • Not as light as titanium

Look for pots with sturdy long, locking handles that let you store your stove and cooking supplies inside like the 1.6L MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot (19.5oz; $25), which is available in several smaller sizes. Stainless steel pots are also commonly sold in sets like the Snow Peak 3-piece Personal Cookset ($36). Larger size pots with a wire bail or hanging kit like the 1.8L Solo Stove 1800 (12.5 oz; $46) or the mammoth 12.3L GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Kettle (6.5 lbs; $100) are also good when cooking over campfires.

Additional Selection Tips

Here are some additional features and tips to consider when selecting a backpacking cook pot or camping cookware.

  1. If you plan to measure liquid, get a pot that has liquid quantity markings scored in ounces and ml.
  2. If you plan on boiling water and pouring it into a cook-in-the-pouch freeze-dried or dehydrated meal, get a pot that has a pour spout.
  3. Most commercially prepared backpacking meals require 2 cups of water or 473 ml. When sizing a pot, don’t forget that your food will displace some water if you cook food inside the pot and don’t just boil water with it.
  4. If you buy a titanium cook pot, make sure the pot lid is made of titanium and not steel.
  5. Avoid pots that don’t have fold away handles and require the use of a pot gripper. The grippers are easy to lose or forget.
  6. The Halulite pots made by GSI Outdoors are hard anodized. Halulite is their confusing way of branding a hard anodization process.
  7. If you cook with gas, make sure the cook pot you choose can hold a small or medium-sized gas canister and your stove when packed.
  8. If you use a wind screen when cooking, get one made of titanium foil that will roll up inside your pot when packed.
  9. Most integrated cook systems like those from Jetboil (Flash, Zip, etc) and the MSR Windburner come with hard anodized aluminum pots.
  10. Wide pots capture more stove heat than narrow pots.

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27 comments

  1. Philip, I am afraid I must fill you in on pots.
    1) Aluminum is lighter than titanium. Al has an atomic mass of about 27. Ti is about 48. For the same dimensioned pot, Al is lighter.
    2) Conductance (ability to transfer heat from a stove) is higher with Al. Al thermal conductance is 237W/m.k
    . Ti is 21W/m.k.
    3) Al is cheaper. A 1qt/~1L pot is around $7 retail. A similar Ti pot runs about $70. Roughly 10x price difference.
    4) Maleability/ductility are roughly the same, but Ti requires a rather high heat. Dents in Al pots are common.
    5) Both are considered low reactivity, however, AL can be damaged by acidic foods such as tomatoes.
    6) Al is the third most abundant material in the earth’s crust. People are not effected by it. The old myth/scare was caused by a tester using an Al instrument during testing and could never be repeated. Soo, special coatings are NOT required.
    7) Al and Ti both form rather impervious oxide coatings. Don’t scrape this coating off, it helps with cleaning and both are fairly resistant to a normal backpacking scrubbie.
    8) Al melts at a lower temperature than Ti, but both are well above the boiling point of water.

    • Grumpy this morning? I wasn’t making any value judgements about titanium vs. aluminum pots. I own and use plenty of both.

      • Phil,

        Take this advice and say thank you. You ALWAYS have to put your two cents in to other commenters. It seems that you can dish it, but can’t take it.

        Thanks, James. Keep up the good work!

      • Actually, Jim is an old, old, friend of mine. He can criticize me and what I write any time he wants (and he does.)

      • Philip, no problems, and no, I wasn’t grumpy (at least no more than I usually am, ;-)
        Teapot, Thanks for the thought! Trust me, Philip can take it…

        As Hikin Jim says, there is a valid point to using either. That coupled with the conductivity, which also distributes heat around the pot as well as transfers it a bit quicker, the additional denting, bends and other dings creating friction to heat flow, just makes then a somewhat better choice, unless you plan on cooking tomato sauce/spaghetti in the back country. And you can buy about 7 more AL pots to replace the ones that get destroyed for the same cost, but they do take a beating…

        Nick in Mass, yes, I suppose you could say that. But the same could be said of plain old water, too. Too much will make you sick and can kill you. It is a matter of degree. While water is necessary to life, in any normal amount, aluminum does nothing, unless you believe the old study. You really cannot help ingesting it. Dust from dirt alone contributes a lethal dose if you believe it. Thanks, J Ramos, been really busy…!

        Eric Fahlgren, Actually the molecules/atoms making up the AL are lighter than Ti ones. Conductance is related to electron disbursal. As electrons pick up heat they will “transfer” it much easier in AL than Ti. Capacitance is a measure of heat potential for similar weights. Not the heat potential for a pair of pots that do not weigh (mass) the same. And low heat capacitance is also a measure of insulating ability. I prefer a pot to conduct heat to the contents, not insulate the contents from the heat.

        In actual fact, outside of a lab, I have never noticed much difference. I did break my ti pot when I know my al pot would just have bent. (Yup, I have had one al pot for more than 10 years.)

        Rob Kelly, A simple piece of 10ga al wire will fix the no handle on the Stanco, aka K-Mart Grease Pot. Only adds a few grams of weight…

    • James makes some interesting and valid points. As James says in his point #1, aluminum actually is lighter. However, it is point #4 that is key: Aluminum isn’t as durable and gets beat up more easily. In order to have an effective aluminum pot, the walls have to be thicker. With titanium, the walls can be much thinner, therefore, even though titanium is the heavier material, a titanium pot can be lighter overall, simply because there is so much less material.

      HOWEVER, one should never automatically assume that a titanium pot of a given volume will be lighter than an aluminum pot of the same volume. I learned that the hard way when I bought a 1 L Snow Peak titanium pot — which actually, much to my dismay, turned out to be heavier than my old aluminum 1 L pot.

      It’s all in the construction — which is why Evernew is so sought after. Evernew has found a way to draw titanium pots exceptionally thin while still being strong and practical.

      HJ

      • Well, if we want to get all pedantic, Al is not lighter than Ti, it’s less dense.

        Y’all neglected heat capacitance, too, which is very important when considering cookware. The higher the capacitance of the pot mass, the more energy you waste just heating the pot to get to a given temperature. Al has a capacitance of 0.921 Joule/(gram degreeC) and Ti is 0.544, so if your pots mass out the same, you’ll spend about 40% more fuel heating the pot. Couple that with better conductivity in the Al, and it’s probably closer to 50% (the top edge of the pot will get hotter and the higher thermal gradient there will dissipate more energy during cooking).

        Not that any of this makes any difference in the real world… :)

    • I used a $7 AL cup I bought from Amazon for years and years.

      As others have mentioned it got dented and bent and deformed, but I’m just a water boiler and I didn’t mind.

      A few years ago I bought an expensive GSI titanium pot. It held up much better, but I eventually broke the plastic lid and still managed to give it some pretty good dents.

      Now I’m back to a little AL pot / lid I got with an esbit stove kit. For what it’s worth, that little pot is my favorite. It’s cheap and light, it’s more durable than the super cheap AL cups and it’s compact.

    • “Al is the third most abundant material in the earth’s crust. People are not effected by it. …

      Nonsense. Aluminum is toxic in humans at high enough concentrations. Aluminum exposure can occur via a number of pathways, including ingestion of food and water which might contain aluminum. Acid foods cooked in aluminum cookware leach small amounts of aluminum into the food. Whether these amounts are enough to have the potential for health effects in a particular individual obviously depends on many factors.

      And the verb in that sentence should be “affected,” not “effected.”

  2. I like my chespo almond tin for boiling water. If I need more than one cup, my diy pot from an old beer can works.

  3. Gearheads and the UL crew prefer the extravagance of titanium, while those of us budget conscious backpackers stick with the tried and true value of aluminum: light enough without breaking the bank.
    If it’s all about the weight, sure, go with titanium.
    On the other hand, when being UL is not a priority, there are certain prerogatives that one makes. As someone who prefers to have the luxury of morning coffee, my old Coleman aluminum percolator (9 oz) finds its way into my backpack every time. Personal preference, it’s worth carrying that extra weight, and I enjoy watching the jealous trekkers who catch a whiff of my morning brew…

  4. I have often wondered about the shape of the pot as well as the material its made out of. My Trangia Mini has a very rounded shape on the bottom edges that seems more conductive the heating than any of my Titanium pots with handles and hard bottom edges.

  5. Good comprehensive article. Thanks Philip. A few additional points: It is well-established that aluminum is a neurotoxin. Multiple scientific studies have indicated a link between aluminum and human pathologies such as alzheimers and autism. Aluminum bio-accumulates over time in the human body. If you’re still inclined to use an aluminum pot for cooking, the anodization process mitigates much of the risk in using aluminum cookware, so be sure your pot is anodized. Some non-stick coatings such as teflon have their own issues, environmental as well as biological. See the following links for more info.

    • Would encourage a further education about both aluminum and teflon coatings. Aluminum/Alzheimer’s/autism is linkless which has been investigated so much. Recent news does show a probable link between certain bacteria and Alzheimer’s, however…some real breaking scientific information there that will most likely pan out to be very important. You may be aware that over a decade ago Dupont and other manufacturers of non-sticks that use PFOA as an ingredient in the formation of PTFE agreed to minimize and phase it out as well as taking additional steps to remove it from consumer food products before they are released for sale as well as some substantial efforts to keep it from getting into the environment. Teflon coatings will not harm you unless you A) abuse them terribly with high heat and dry or no food/liquid content, and B) put your face right over the pan while inhaling deeply for a whle. The PFOA is only released from the PTFE when it is heated over something like 650F and it’s somewhat minimal – but worthy of consideration. You should never be getting your cookware that hot anyway. At normal cooking and eating temperatures we are not at risk, and while I am not a chemist, what I do know and with additional input of a friend who is a doctoral chemist, I feel at ease regarding any potential ingestion of teflon coatings (it is an inert material and not dissolved nor absorbed in any fashion. It requires high heat to make the chemical reactions that can release any residual PFOA). I believe it was two or three years ago that the final steps in the PFOA program (which was imposed (cooperatively, if that’s true…haha) by the EPA) were to have been finalized. Science is well established and we are still always investigating and learning. The previous “science” that attempted to link aluminum and those or other ailments has been debunked and unable to be proven in any way, and the original fellow who proposed those links has since admitted it was incorrect and unscientific. It’s unfortunate because that one man probably set back legitimate research on those conditions at least a decade and maybe what “they” just learned about this bacterial connection might have been discovered earlier. And now we’re stuck with incorrect “science” and conspiracy theories that will last lifetimes. Personally I like titanium for my needs anyway…….

  6. I have noticed that my aluminum pot boils water significantly faster than a titanium pot filled with the same amount of water. While titanium does cool at a faster rate so you can hold it, the same properties mean that it takes longer to get food on the proverbial table. I would assume it also requires more fuel for this reason.

  7. From the past 10 comments, I will extrapolate that 100% of scientific-esque sounding posts on SectionHiker.com have already forgotten the lesson learned from the theme of the Thanksgiving Holiday which was only 10 days ago.

    THANK YOU PHILLIP.

    Reading your articles satisfies my daily intellectual requirements for stimulus. …And motivates me to plan my next escape from my geometric ecosystem.

    • Your extrapolation of 100% is incorrect. I won’t venture to say what the correct percentage is, but i am certain it is not 100. :)

    • Also, Thanksgiving was 14 days ago (as of the date of your post), not 10. And… you spelled Philip’s name wrong.

      I hope you have a sense of humor Rodney… I’m just having some fun with you!

  8. I have an expensive Ti pot that I use for boiling water for freezer bag “cooking.” I eat out of the freezer bag. I put an herbal tea bag in the leftover water and drink my tea out of the pot. The only dish to wash is my spoon! (As you may have deduced, I hate washing dishes!) However, if I had it to do over, I probably would not have bought the Ti pot.

    I started out in 2005 with the good old KMart grease pot. It worked fine for two years but by that time was pretty battered. However, the cost of replacing it every two years means it would take close to 10 years to equal the cost of one Ti pot. I don’t know if those grease pots are still available or how much they now cost, though.

    If I’m going to do real cooking, instead of boiling water, I want aluminum! I have a small aluminum fry pan that I take when I’m fishing (on the off chance that I might actually catch something, ha ha). It is almost as light as a Ti fry pan but cost less.

    I have a Leatherman Squirt with pliers (I need those anyway because I don’t have a lot of finger strength), which works fine as a pot gripper.

    There are, as everyone here has pointed out, lots of alternatives!

    • The KMart grease pot was and still is made by Stanco. You can still buy em. Less than $10 typically. IMHO this is the least expensive UL pot worth considering. You will need a pot gripper/grabber as it has no handles. Holds about 4 cups, which is a nice size.

  9. I highly recommend you peek at this article (on this topic) at https://bushwalkingnsw.org.au/clubsites/FAQ/FAQ_StovesTech.htm#StoveCost
    by Roger Caffin? at Bushwalking New South Wales (Australia.)

    [Xavier – out of respect for Roger’s copyright, I’ve deleted the enormous excerpt you cut and pasted into my comment form. It just seems like a very large part of his article, far beyond a short 2-3 line quote. – Philip]

  10. I use them all in different situations. But I find that low/wide pots boil water faster than tall/narrow cups. Also, check out the Goodwill type stores. Lots of good backpacking/camping pots there for cheap sometimes.

  11. Lots o Laughs.. I’ve backpacking so long I have a complete set of each and more. From the 6 inch Cast Iron pan and aluminum pot I stole from my Mothers Pantry to a Boy Scout Set, to Stainless Steel Military Set, a cast Iron set, Stainless Steel Coleman Set, right up my current set of a Quart size titanium pot from Ever New to the Solo set from Sno-Peak.. I always carry a Stainless Steel cup which fits snugly under my Nalgene bottle. I’ve been carrying that one for some 20 years. My Real favorite for Hot drinks is a Cup that came off the Top of a Thermos from about 30 years ago I found at a Flea Market.. It holds exactly one cup of water. I had to buy the Plaid Lunchbox and the Thermos to get the Cup… I love them all… For easy trails, like the PCT and AT, I will carry the Titanium sets. But for Cross Country Desert and Forest and Mountain, I switch them out to Stainless Steel.. Why? I have crushed two sets of Titanium in falls and using an Anvil and Hammer I could not bring them back to usable life…. If I am going to be Fishing or eating wild meat I bring a 6 inch coated aluminum pan and occasionally a six inch cast iron pan which should be shocking to some..I wasted $58 on a Titanium frying pan when they first came out… Wish I could get my money back for it…. And Occasionally I bring a 1 quart size Dutch Oven used for Baking in company of two other people who will carry the lighter weight kits on in and out trips. Love freshly Baked Biscuits, Bread, and Pies etc. etc. CI also makes great Stews for two or three…. Impresses the girls…Lols..

  12. Regardless of all the jibber-jabber above (which I gained knowledge from), that was a great headway regarding cooking pots. We all camp, hone our survival skills and backpack different and therefore we all carry different gear to suite our preferences.

    Thanks Phillip for a great intro to cooking pots for us beginners.

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