March 2008 Essentials Review: Camp Kitchen - Backpacker

March 2008 Essentials Review: Camp Kitchen

Packs, tents, boots, and bags--that's easy. Now comes the hard part: Everything else. Below, you'll find our top picks for all the lust-worthy backcountry essentials you'll need to make your trip safe, fun, and simple.

Best Buy
GSI Outdoors Dualist

It's not often that anyone–even us gear wonks–covets a cook kit. But that's exactly what several testers did when the Dualist arrived. It's not any single component of this nine-piece kitchen ensemble that makes it stand out, but rather the total package, which is smart, compact, and beautifully integrated. The tall, billy-can-style 1.8-liter pot fits nicely on the tiniest burners, and a sturdy locking handle keeps the whole unit intact in your pack. (When it's all packed up, the Dualist still has room for a mini stove and fuel canister inside.) The clear plastic lid has a built-in pasta strainer. Two mugs, different colors and with snap-on lids, nest inside the pot. The bowl-shaped mugs felt a bit strange at first, but their low center of gravity kept spills to a minimum. Cool feature: It all nests in a waterproof, bucket-shaped stuff sack, which is great for hauling water from creek to camp. Also available in a one-person version (Soloist, $30). $50; 1 lb. 4 oz.;

Snow Peak Lite Max
This hot little titanium stove packs up so small a five-year-old could palm it, and it weighs a mere 2 ounces. In controlled tests and in fair-weather field conditions, it consistently boiled a liter of water in less than five minutes, and there's enough flame adjustment to simmer soup. It proved balky and unreliable, though, in temps below freezing (this despite using warm fuel canisters, which we slept with–a good trick for all cold-weather canister stove users). But if you're a warm-weather, long-distance hiker looking for a stove that packs to the size and weight of a well-fed grasshopper, check this sweet cooker out (in retail stores in April). $55; 2 oz.;

Evernew Titanium Mug 400
Featherweight titanium cups have been around for years. But that doesn't mean they can't be improved. Because titanium conducts heat so quickly, hot drinks go cold faster than with insulated mugs. This cup comes with a plastic sipper lid that keeps coffee hot a little longer. Bonus: The foldaway handles are plastic-coated so you won't burn your fingers. $22.50; 2.6 oz.;

Clif Shot Hot Drinks
Straight from the no-brainer department: a drink mix that combines electrolytes for recovery (what your body needs) and the cozy comfort of a sweet, hot drink (what your body wants). In addition to electrolytes and carbs, these drinks have plenty of antioxidants to boost immunity. They come in handy single-serving packets in two classic flavors: hot chocolate and hot apple cider. $1.50 each;

Sea to Summit X-Bowl
It's a bowl. It's a cup. It's a cutting board. Made from a hard plastic base (that's the cutting board part) with collapsible silicone sides, this bowl springs to life to accept your pile of Ramen, then smashes pancake flat to slip into your pack. It's nifty, versatile, easy to clean, and rugged, but a bit heavier than most bowls. $15; 2.9 oz.;

Laken Iso 70 Thermos
Keep soup hot for up to five hours in this double-walled aluminum thermos. It holds almost a liter and weighs less than 10 ounces, so you can use it as a water bottle once your soup is sipped. It also doubles as one of the best hot-water bottles we've used. On frigid November nights high in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, our gear editor snuggled up with her aluminum teddy bear and snoozed blissfully while others shivered. $29; 9.5 oz.;

Primus EtaExpress
The Primus EtaPower group cooking system won an Editors' Choice Award last year (4/07) for its amazing fuel efficiency. Now solo hikers can get the same fuel miser in a lightweight, low-bulk package. The EtaExpress yields lightning-fast boil times (three minutes for a liter) and includes a 1-liter pot with integral heat exchanger, a frypan lid, and a clever clip-on windscreen that wraps only partially around the stove, so you can adjust it according to wind direction. The piezo ignition is more reliable than most, and the flame adjuster dials heat down to sauté temps. The system is versatile, too: Just remove the windscreen to use the burner with larger pots from any brand. The whole thing, including a 230-gram fuel canister, packs up neatly into itself (about 4.5 x 6 inches tall). $89; 15.4 oz.;