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A Canoe Camping Cookset

A Canoe Camping Cookset

I love travelling by canoe. And I love campfire cooking. I definitely prefer cooking over a campfire to cooking indoors at home and, moreover, I think some of the dishes I cook are actually better over the fire than in the more controlled domestic setting.

So it is I have accumulated a range of cookware that is really suited to canoe-camping and turning out decent meals over a campfire. The cookware outfit I will explain to you here is one suited to small groups, ideally 2-4 people. It is the cookware outfit that we used on the River Tay canoe trip for example.

This set-up doesn’t include a Dutch oven, which I often take when I am leading larger groups (albeit an aluminium one). When doing personal trips, I tend to try to keep the weight down while still maximising the functionality of the cookware as much as possible.

The set up I have assembled here is based on my experience travelling in Canada and Scandinavia as well as the UK, and the selected items reflect this. If you seek to replicate the set-up I’ve described below, I apologise if some of the items are hard to track down in any one geography, whichever side of the Atlantic you live.

The items I’ve selected for my personal canoe-camping kitchen also allow flexibility. My pots can be suspended on tripods, pot hangers or wauguns, as well as placed on gas or petrol stoves. In addition I carry a light-weight grill (which is useful in itself) but is also sturdy and stiff enough to hold pots over a fire, while spanning between rocks or logs. More details on this below.

A canoe camping cookset – numbers explained below. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

1. Folding Wash Bowl

This is a folding bowl made of similar material to canoe dry bags. These bowls are quite robust and hold a similar volume to a domestic washing-up bowl. One just needs to be mindful of not piercing them with a knife tip. They have more rigidity than the smaller “dog bowl” type of camping bowl, and have handles, which can be useful for both collecting water as well as transporting the bowl to a place where you want to dispose of dirty dish-wash water.

While a good size, these bowls fold down flat for packing. The model pictured is by Ortlieb. I also have a similar one by Seattle Sports.

2. Wooden Utensils

Utensils for use with the various pots. Wood or plastic is better with non-stick surfaces than metal. Plastic melts more readily than wood, so I favour wood. It’s a nice project to carve your own utensils.

3. Portable Grill

The portable grill I use is a completely different beast to those saggy, rusty grills you see left in fire-pits around the globe. TIG-welded tubular steel makes a light and stiff grill that will hold a substantial weight. These excellent grills are made by Purcell Trench. They come with their own slip sleeve and will fit perfectly down the side of a portage pack. This is a next level cooking-ninja piece of kit most bushcrafters or canoe-campers have never even heard of. They are not cheap but just buy one. You won’t regret it.

Purcell Trench Voyageurs Grill spanning between two rocks. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

4. Mors Pot

Named after Mors Kochanski, these pots are available via Four Dog Stoves. The pot I have is now my basic personal billy can and has replaced my Zebra pot in my bushcraft camping outfit. It is lighter and larger than the pot I was using. It is of a similar size to the 14cm Zebra pot and so good for two people. It makes an excellent coffee pot! These are hard anodised aluminium with some interesting additional features. Find out more about the 1.8 litre pot here. The Cordura cover completes the set up. If you were going super-light, this is the only pot you’d need. In the context of this canoe-camping kitchen set-up it forms an integral and important part of the whole.

A nearly-new 1.8 litre Mors Pot over the fire in 2015. This has been my core personal cooking pot ever since. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

5. Metal Plates

I don’t mind plastic plates but they do tend to hold food flavours and remain greasy even after washing. Plastic plates are also easily damaged by heat (for example once I accidentally put a plastic plate down onto an ember that had strayed from the nearby fire and burned a hole straight through the plate). Metal plates allow you to keep food (well, bacon mainly) warm near to the fire. Enough said. The ones I favour are by the mountain plate by MSR. They fit inside my main cooking pot (see number 9 below). I take 2, 3 or 4 of these metal plates with this canoe-camping cookset depending on how many people are travelling.

MSr Mountain Plates
MSR metal plates – I take as many as I need for the group size. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

6. Fry Pan

A frying pan is a good addition to a cook set if you plan to do any sort of cooking that strays away from purely boiling. As well as giving you the ability to saute ingredients for main meals, you can make pancakes, omlettes, pan breads, french toast and many more canoe-trip dietary mainstays. A fry pan with a folding handle is ideal and the pans by GSI Outdoors are remarkably resilient, despite being non-stick coated, rather than black iron. The GSI fry pans are also relatively light weight and a good shape. They come in a few sizes. In this canoe-camping cookware set-up, I use the smaller 8 inch frypan.

7. Leather Gloves

Leather gloves are prolific these days. It’s become popular to use work gloves to protect hands when gathering and chopping wood (aw, bless). However tough your hands are, though, they don’t become much more heat resistant even if you spend a lot of time outdoors (well a little bit). Leather gloves, therefore, are useful in handling hot pans and hot plates. In the context of canoeing (summer + water = bugs), leather gloves are useful for keeping the bugs off while you are working around camp (and they like biting the backs of your hands in particular).

8. Chopping Board

There’s not much to say here really. A chopping board is useful. If you don’t believe me, do a trip without one where you are cooking from first principles, rather than just packet/dehydrated food. Of course you can take a wooden one and you can make your own if you wish (a project we complete on my Woodcrafter course for example).

9. Cooking Pot (Large)

At first glance this cooking pot is of the type commonly found in many outdoor stores these days (stainless steel, relatively shallow vs its diameter) and indeed works well on a stove such as an MSR Whisperlite, which is my favourite stove. BUT the pot I favour has two significant advantages over your average, generic pot. First, this pot by Eagle Products of Norway has a sturdy bail that makes it function really well on a tripod or waugun; second, it has a copper bottom. The heat transfer is ridiculous. On our Tay trip, for example, we repeatedly commented on how quick the boil times over a fire were. I should also add the lid is a lovely shape and the pot comes with a stuff sack (they know you are going to use it over a fire). This is really good design by people who understand its purpose.

Eagle Products pot on a simple waugun. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Everything about Eagle Products cook pots is well-thought through, even the lids. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

10. Cooking Pot (Medium)

The cooking pot in use in this set is a Coleman stainless steel pot with a locking bail. It is the middle pot from a three-pot nested set I bought in Toronto, Canada in 2012. It seemed like an end-of-line item at the time and as far as I can tell, these sets are no longer available. The largest pot in the set was a similar size to the Eagle Products pot detailed above (number 9) but the Eagle Products pot is better. The medium Coleman pot fits inside the latter Eagle Products large pot really well, though. This is great for packing but also for baking. It’s easy to make a simple oven with a smaller pot inside a larger pot, as long as you create an air gap between the base of the two. So, you can bake bread with these two pots.

While I could also nest the smaller pot of the three Coleman pots inside this medium pot, I find I don’t use it much even when I do, especially when I’m carrying the Mors Pot (item 4) as the latter is superior in every respect. Hence, I just reduce the weight of the overall outfit by leaving out the smallest pot. This also increases room for packing other items inside the medium pot, such as washing-up liquid, sponge-scourers, etc.

The medium-sized Coleman pot fits perfectly inside the Eagle Products pot. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

This canoe-camping cookware outfit allows me to do everything from boil water quickly and make fresh coffee each morning, through to frying and baking. It’s light in weight and flexible in its application, as well as being robust.

I hope you find the explication of this set-up useful and even if you can’t get hold of the exact items listed, I’m confident the above will give you a good basis on which to build your own canoe camping cookset.

Well-chosen items make up this canoe-camping campfire cookset, right down to the stuffsacks. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Check out any of the links below for more canoe-camping cooking content or canoe trip articles and videos. You’ll find campfire cooking in each article or video, as well as a bunch of context for the above outfit. Remember, context is everything.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

How To Cook Pancakes On A Campfire

How To Make Garlic Pan Bread On A Campfire

Six Men, Three Boats and The Bloodvein: Canoeing A Wilderness River

French River Eighteen Mile Island Loop

Canoeing The River Spey With Kevin Callan, Ray Goodwin and Justine Curgenven

Canoeing The River Tay โ€“ Wonderful Water And Wild Camping

32 thoughts on “A Canoe Camping Cookset

  1. Great article.

    Often easy to tell if someone’s American by their use of work gloves.

  2. A great list with excellent equipment. I have found that the tatonka stainless kettles are very similar to the coleman outfitter pots that as you say are no longer available as far as i can find. I love the mors pot, I am very jealous. Might just have to order one, I’m tempted by the slightly smaller version for solo trips wether it be backpacking, wild Camping or “bustcrafty” trips.

    1. Cheers Nick. I’m glad you liked the list. The Mors pot is great. I’ve not tried the smaller version but quite a few people at the recent GBS were singing its praises.

  3. Excellent article, thanks Paul. My kids are just getting to the point of asking if they can have their own billy (and tarp and hammock and axe…). I might make this a family cook kit rather than canoeing. Then they can see what they use and like and save their own pennies!

    1. Hi Russell,

      It’s good to hear from you. Using this as a model for a family campfire cookery kit is a really good idea.

      Let us know how you (and the kids) get on with it…

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  4. hi Paul thanks again for sharing your best practices. I wonder how the gsi pan keeps, because of the non-stick coating) on โ€‹โ€‹open fire. I understand you cook on the coals but still. In addition, I wondered where you store the individual items. Do you have a stuff sack for that or do you store them separately.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Edward,

      The GSI pan coatings are remarkably durable. We have several of the larger models in use on Frontier Bushcraft trips as well as the small one that I own, and my experience with all of them is that they are both durable and heat-resistant.

      As for how this is all packed, it somewhat depends on the length of trip (and amount of food packed) but I usually pack this gear in a canoe pack with the food.

      Hope this helps.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

      1. Not for me Paul I only use titanium gear now and some stainless steel balls which I’ve had since I was a kid don’t like aluminium anymore get a funny taste out of it ps all my stuff fits in one stuff sack

        1. Have you found any Ti pots of decent size with bails/handles for hanging over the fire (similar size to the Coleman/Eagle Products)?

          Thanks,

          Paul

  5. Hi Paul, that is a well thought out kit for your canoe trips. I love my Mors pots. I also have the small one which certainly has its place and gets a fair bit of use. When does the recipe article come out with your top 5 meals for canoe journeys? Safe travels!

    1. Hi Alex,

      It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for your comments.

      We are planning on putting some of the recipes we use on the Frontier Bushcraft trips up on the Frontier blog over time. We have a lot of photos taken, it’s just a case of finding time to write the text and format the blogs… I fear I have a book to finish first though ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Cheers,

      Paul

  6. Hi Paul

    I donโ€™t often comment but I canโ€™t tell you how timely and useful this article is. I am very grateful for the experience and knowledge youโ€™ve passed on. Thank you for another great article.

    1. My pleasure Jason. I’m glad it wasn’t just useful but also timely. Thanks for the feedback.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  7. Couldn’t agree more about the Purcell Trench grill. I have the same one, but without the mesh, just over a year. Found it after days of online rssearch. It is standard kit on all overnights. This is a five star piece of kit, fabricated by a real gentleman. Well worth the price. Light enough for backpacking/hiking/bushcraft …

    Thanks Paul

  8. Those MSR plates fit neatly under the Trangia 25 stove; the stove plus 4 plates will nest inside the Trangia 4.5l billy too. The billy is a good bit of kit with a rolled edge that can be gripped by the Trangia pot-grab and also has a locking bail with a ‘hanging notch’ like the Eagle Products one. Those Purcell Trench grills are wonderful and will slide down into the hydration sleeve in Karrimor SF bergans, so are easy to pack for hiking too. Now that they accept payment by PayPal they are easier to get hold of outside North America too. Anyone thinking about ordering one won’t be disappointed, but watch out for customs import duty! I’ve been using a Mors Pot for several years now too, another really good bit of kit and much lighter than a comparable Zebra pot. Are you still using your hard-anodised Mk2 Crusader Mug Paul? Both the Crusader mug and Mors Pot will fit neatly on top of a Honey Stove if anyone is looking for something to use with a small ‘twig’ stove.

  9. Nice cooking set Paul. What is your favorite breakfast recipe? Thank you for the valuable content of your blog.

    1. Hi Michal,

      I really like eggs for breakfast as they keep me going, particularly if combined with some bread or beans. Otherwise, in terms of canoe trips, it’s hard to beat porridge. Again, oats are relatively slow release and keep you going (and not too hungry) for most of the morning.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  10. Hi Paul
    Good little article.
    Having just returned from Woodland Caribou (with a newly purchased trench grille!) inspired by your trip along the Bloodvein I just want to say how uniquely inspirational and useful your output is. A focus on simplicity and what works in the field as opposed to the kit and complexity approach of so many ‘experts’.
    Please keep doing what you do.
    Best
    Steve

    1. Thank you for your feedback Steve.

      And well done to you for getting out there to somewhere like Woodland Caribou. Isn’t it fantastic? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  11. I’m not a ‘kit person’ but more of a buy smart buy once type. So I’ll research till my head hurts. You’ve just made a few decisions a lot easier as I know you’ve done the research for me.

    Cheers for the effort in this article Paul and all the best chap

    1. Hi Matt,

      It’s good to hear from you here. And thanks for your kind words of feedback on the usefulness of this article. I’m glad it’s saved you some time and headaches ๐Ÿ™‚

      Cheers,

      Paul

  12. Hi Paul,

    Another very informative article!

    I add the MSR Alpine Nesting Bowl as an addition to the MSR Alpine plate. And as Steve already said, the Alpine plates fit perfecly under the big Trangia.

    All that said, I am curious what Dutch Ovens you are using. I am currently undecided between the Petromax ft6 and the aluminium GSI 12 inch dutch oven.

    Many thanks and best regards,

    Guenther

    1. Hi Guenther,

      Thanks for your comments. The Nesting Bowls are nice too, I agree.

      As for Dutch Ovens, I use the GSI aluminium oven as part of the group kitchen on canoe trips when we have reasonable numbers (8 or 10 people). I don’t usually take a cast iron oven as they are just too heavy generally. I have occasionally used them for groups when there are no portages but these days I just use the aluminium oven instead. Also a little known fact is that the GSI alu Dutch oven fits perfectly in a standard square washing up bowl. Great for packing group camp kit…

      Warm regards,

      Paul

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