Lightweight Cooking Systems
When Choosing a cooking system make sure you can fulfill the needs of the group size but keep weight to a minimum.
A great place to reduce weight is the cookset or cookware. Many lightweight backpackers choose to use a single piece of titanium cookware. A great example is the MSR Titan Kettle or the Snowpeak Trek 700 Mug. These mugs weigh just over 4 oz and are large enough to cook in, eat out of, or drink from. Many ultralight backpackers will replace the lid with a piece of aluminum foil to further reduce weight. These are great items to have when traveling solo or with one other person. Mugs of this size will also hold a canister or alcohol stove.
For groups of 2-3 a 1.5 or 2 liter pot is the perfect size. This is large enough to cook pasta or rice for a few people and offers simplicity and relatively low weights. A great size cookset for a group will include a 1.5 and 2 liter pot. The 2 liter pot can be used for boiling water and cooking pasta while the 1.5 liter pot is used for side dishes and sauces. A 4 liter pot is best suited for groups of 4 or more.
It is important to choose the right material for your cookware. Lightweight backpackers usually choose titanium because it is the lightest option. Titanium offers very low weights with good durability. Unfortunately titanium does not transfer heat quite as well as aluminum. Aluminum can be lighter to carry on longer trips, this is because aluminum has the best heat transfer properties. On longer trips carrying an aluminum pot can be lighter because aluminum is more efficient. This allows the user to carry less fuel and thus have a lighter load to carry.
There are four different stove options for the lightweight backpacker. Liquid fuel stoves also called multi fuel stoves, canister stoves, alcohol stoves, and solid fuel stoves.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid fuel stoves are expensive in the beginning but are very inexpensive to fuel. These stoves typically burn white gas, however many models can also burn kerosene, diesel, jet fuel, and automotive fuel. This makes them a great option when traveling to different parts of the world because fuel is much easier to find. Liquid fuel stoves tend to perform the better than any other stove in cold conditions or at altitude. For this reason they are very popular with winter campers and mountaineers. Lightweight liquid fuel stoves weigh between 7 and 14 oz. You will also need a fuel bottle for these stoves, fuel bottles tend to be a bit heavy because metal is the only option.
Canister stoves are very popular with lightweight backpackers because they are lightweight (around 3 oz) less expensive, and very simple to operate. Canister stoves are best for three season use and work well for a variety of cooking because the have a good range of flame control. Unfortunately you must purchase 4-8 oz fuel canisters at about 4 bucks each. This makes the stoves more expensive to operate, but much easier (no priming is necessary). Good canister stoves are made by brands such as MSR, Snow Peak, and Optimus.
Alcohol stoves offer very lightweights (around 1 oz) and are very popular with ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers. These stoves are inexpensive (about $30) and can also be made at home using cat food cans, tuna cans, or soda pop cans. These stoves also burn denatured alcohol which is inexpensive and easy to find, they will also burn Heet in the yellow bottle, alcohol stoves are also very quiet. The downside of these stoves is that they are very slow. Good alcohol stoves are made by Vargo and Brasslite. The best fuel bottles for alcohol stoves are water or soda pop bottles that are made of plastic.
Solid Fuel Stoves
Solid fuel stoves are very simple, lightweight, and inexpensive. These stoves burn highly flammable tablets made by Esbit and a few other manufacturers. These stoves are very similar in performance to alcohol stoves. The advantage these stoves have over alcohol is that the fuel can not be spilled or leak in you pack.
There are a variety of accessories available for cooking set ups. We recommend just a spork for the solo ultralight backpacker. Lightweight backpackers often choose to use utensil sets made of titanium or plastic. Many people choose to carry lightweight towels and folding spoons and spatulas for more gourmet cooking. Lightweight spice kits can also be assembled using film canisters instead of bringing a whole container of garlic powder.