Simple one pot backpacking meals are a great option if you want more variety in your backpacking diet, you want to eat real food with less preservatives, or you want to adapt your meals to seasonal or locally available ingredients that you encounter on your hike. But if your existing stove and cook pot are only designed for boiling water, you may need to upgrade your cooking system with a stove that can simmer and a pot that has the capacity to hold food and water at the same time.
Best Stoves for One Pot Meals
In order to cook one pot meals, you need to get a stove that is designed for cooking food and not just boiling water. This includes the ability to simmer, which eliminates all-or-nothing alcohol stoves from consideration. You will also want a stove with the widest possible burner head so that the heat from your stove is spread out as evenly as possibly on the bottom of your cook pot. This is the most effective way to avoid burning meals that start out soupy like polenta, rice, and bulgur, but absorb all of the liquid that you cook them.
Most canister, white gas, or multi-fuel stoves have a simmering capability. Many white gas stoves also have fairly wide burner heads, as do multi-fuel stoves with remote canisters. Wood stoves can also be a surprisingly good option because you can simmer them by reducing how much wood you feed them and because they produce a fairly wide heat source under your cook pot.
Here are a few stoves of each type that can simmer and have fairly wide burner heads that are good to cook one pot meals with.
- Remote canister stoves
- Upright Canister Stoves
- White Gas and Multi-Fuel Stoves
- Wood Stoves
Worst comes to worse, you don’t absolutely need a stove with a wide burner head to cook one pot meals with, but you will have to be a lot more careful about burning the ingredients in your cook pot. The best way to avoid this is to frequently stir your meal with a flat-bottomed stirrer (not a spoon), so you can prevent the ingredients from sticking to the bottom of your cook pot and burning. There are also certain ingredients like milk powder that burn more easily than others and that you’ll always want to avoid cooking with.
Best Cook Pots for One Pot Backpacking Meals
The best cook pots for making one pot meals are between 1 liter and 1.5 liters in size. Your cook pot should have liquid measurements embossed on the inside of the pot, insulated fold out handles, and a strainer lid. Wider pots are much better than narrow tall pots because they are easier to mix your ingredients in and because they have a larger cooking surface. But the material your pots is made out of, be it aluminum, titanium or steel, is far less important because all backpacking pots are so thin.
Personally, I prefer uncoated pots to ones with non-stick coatings because they stand up to the abuses of the trail (such as cleaning with river sand) and frequent stirring with titanium utensils, far better than pots with teflon or ceramic coatings.
Pots with heat exchange fins welded to their bottoms can be tricky to use because they retain heat far longer than ordinary pots. While more fuel-efficient, they make it harder to use shared cooking recipes because they have such different heat retention properties from other pots. I’d steer away from them to keep things simple.
I also recommend that you steer away from the smaller 0.8 liter Jetboil pots. They are awful for cooking anything less soupy than ramen noodles, which is about as soupy as you can get. They’re too small and narrow to boil water and cook food with and the stove’s burner head projects such a narrow flame that you’re much more likely to burn your food.
My favorite cooking pot for making one pot meals is the 1 liter Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot, which has embossed measurements stamped on the pot, a locking strainer lid so you can strain with one hand, and insulated folding handles. With a width of 4.3″ and a height of 4.25″, it’s large enough to hold 2 cups of water plus my meal ingredients without boiling over and an 8 ounce isobutane canister or a Solo Wood Stove can fit into it for ease of packing.
If eating one pot backpacking meals sounds like an interesting way to make your backpacking meals more enjoyable, you will probably need to upgrade your stove and cook pot if your cook system can only boil water. Cooking actual food in a pot requires a stove or heat source capable of simmering and a pot that is large enough to hold about two cups of water and your meals’ ingredients. There are many existing lightweight options that fulfill these requirements and which can also be used to boil water for the freezer bag meals or commercial dehydrated backpacking food you eat today.
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