Camping is by far one of my favorite things to do with my family. It gives us time to disconnect from our every day lives and reconnect with each other in an outdoor setting. One of the things that used to be a crazy mess for me though was packing all of our cooking essentials. I used to grow frustrated as to where everything went, why utensils were in the suitcase and why it wasn’t organized one bit. We all know camping can be a little unorganized at times especially when it comes to a hungry family of four. Well I’m here to tell you how I have managed to bring down the chaos of a camp kitchen and be more organized and effective as well as more conscious about our waste.
As you may already know, I like to be as conscious as possible when it comes to our waste. It seriously feels like going zero-waste is not an option when you have a family but I try my best to greatly reduce it as much as possible and recycle all I can. One way to do this is by reusing old containers such as coffee creamer jugs, milks jugs, dryer lint, and other items. Another things I do is buy items we can reuse over and over again versus bringing single use plastic or styrofoam kitchenware. Here is how I am able to keep my sanity in my camp kitchen.
CAMP KITCHEN ESSENTIALS
Please keep note that my list of camp kitchen essentials may be slightly different than yours. This all depends on your meal plans for the trip and how many people are going. This is more of a guide of what works for me and my family of four.
Pots and Pans
I try to bring an old set of pots and pans. Not a lot. I’m not bringing my whole kitchen but I do make sure to have at least one skillet or frying pan and one small pot to boil water in.
Camp Kitchen Bowl and Pot Set
I also take along with me a backpacking/camping set of bowls and pots like this one. This helps me boil water quickly when we just want to make a quick meal. This set also brings a measuring cup making it easy for me to measure out water or milk if needed. I also use the new MSR Pika Teapot and absolutely love it. It’s so convenient to have and very lightweight.
I firmly believe that having clean water is a must. I always like to take with me a water filter cause you never know when you will run out of jugs of water and need to filter clean water to drink. The water filter that I use is the MSR Trailshot Pocket-Sized Water Filter which is small and compact so it doesn’t take up to much space in my tote and it is easy to use. Another option is a HydroBlu water bottle and filter combo which I like to carry on my backpacking trips as well.
Related Articles: HydroBlu Clearflow Water Bottle
I currently use two coolers that were gifted to us. We haven’t bought a new cause these are still good but if I had to get a new one I would so get a YETI Tundra Cooler so I won’t have to switch my ice out so often and my things can stay much colder in the summer months.
We tend to also bring one of those huge drink coolers if we are staying there for a week or so as a family or a group. This really helps keep the water nice and cold and at easy access for everyone to use. We actually got ours from a neighbor who offered to give it to me before she threw it out to the curb during their move.
I have come to find that ice packs are so useful during your camping trips. My mom is a nurse and works at a dialysis clinic so in their packaging they receive overloads of ice packs. They usually just throw them away but my mom is very conscious so she takes hers home and even brings me some. These ice packs keep the coller very nice and cold and they last a very long time. Best of all, you have no mess of water all in your cooler. I get so annoyed with how much water can get in your cooler and sometimes even ruin some of your food. You can ask your local health clinic or hospital to see if they have any ice packs from their packages that they can donate or giveaway.
Another tip is that you can freeze your water jugs and stick them in your cooler. They will serve as a gigantic ice block and keep everything nice and cold. I try to have one frozen jug of water in each cooler (depending on length of trip).
I currently use my old plastic utensils. I’ll be using those till they break and I can get me some bamboo or metal ones. I make sure to have some tongs, a spatula, and at least two styles of serving spoons (one with holes and one without for draining). This camp kitchen utensil set from Rei is a good one to start off with.
I currently take knives from home to use in my camp kitchen. I do highly recommend always having a knife with you for cutting things or just for safety. This is completely up to you on which types of knives you will be bringing. It all depends on what you plan on cooking and using it for. REI has this camp kitchen set of knives that makes for a great starter kit.
I got this egg container for my birthday a few years back from my dad. I highly recommend using one similar to this one. A quick tip is to put cotton balls on the top and bottom of each hole to avoid cracks in the eggs during the trip. This happened to us once and we had a mess of eggs in our egg container. No fun.
I always try to keep some hand sanitizer handy for my girls. If their hands aren’t that dirty then hand sanitizer before eating it is. If not a quick walk to the bathroom to wash the dirt and mud off will be next to do on my list. It is good to have it in your kitchen area as well when cooking especially if you are cooking raw meats.
A cutting board, or as some call it, a chopping board, is a good item to have. It gives you a clean cutting surface to use when cutting up your foods such as meats, veggies, and fruits. One chopping board that I recommend it the MSR Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board. If you are looking for a set that includes a cutting board and some other cooking essentials then I recommend the MSR Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set.
We usually use a Bialetti Moka Express to make our coffees which works great. I love it! I just recently got for Christmas this Bodum 4 Cup pour over coffee maker which works amazing as well. Either way you make your coffee, you can never leave home without your coffee maker. You can also try these eco-friendly pour over coffee packets from Coffee Blenders. These are very convenient for backpacking trips.
I bring from home one coffee mug for each person. I use them for oatmeal, coffee, hot cocoa, and sometimes even mashed potatoes on the go. At the moment I am using ceramic ones but have been dying to get some metal ones instead just in case I drop them or my children. So far we’ve done good in not dropping them or breaking them (knock on wood).
Plates, Cups and Eating Utensils
Can’t eat with these right? Instead of using single use plates and producing more waste, I bring with me reusable plates, bowls, spoons, forks, and butter knives. I bought two sets at Wal-Mart several years ago that we are still currently using that are similar to these REI GSI Outdoors Cascadian Mess Kits.
Coffee Creamer Containers
I use these to store milk, pre-made pancake mix, scrambled eggs (if I don’t want to take the other egg container), and other liquids. Beats taking the entire amount. This way I can pack less and have less waste when out camping. I also have more control of what goes in to our landfill and what goes to the recycling center. This is completely optional though and also depends on your meal plan.
I use two style stoves. One of the stoves I use is this Coleman single iron. Looking into investing in a two iron one. This stove comes handy when cooking in pots and pans for bigger meals. I also take with me my two backpacking stoves. These little ones come in handy for breakfast when all you want to do is boil some water for your oatmeal or coffee. I currently own the MSR Gear Pocket Rocket 2 and the Coleman Peak.
Like I pack two different stoves I also have to pack two different fuel tanks. They are both small and don’t take a whole lot of space but make sure to always pack two for each and plan according to the length of your trip. Better to have extra then not enough. I usually purchase these in stores such as Walmart, Dicks, and other outdoor sports stores. Just make sure you purchase the right one for your stove.
This one is completely optional. We sometimes take our old electric skillet so we can make our breakfast all on one thing. Beats using so many fuel tanks. This way we can plug it in to our car or portable energy transport device and have less to clean. This is convenient when making pancakes, eggs, and bacon. We like to eat when we are camping!
Reusable Table Cloth With Metal Hooks
I always make sure to take a reusable table cloth with me cause sometimes those tables at the campsites can be moldy, dirty, or even wet. Having a dry table cloth can make a world of a difference when you are eating. Completely optional though. The metal hooks are great to have as well to help keep the table cloth hooked to the table versus fighting with the wind and the table cloth while you cook or eat.
Two Medium Sized Plastic Containers
I use two plastic containers that I bought for less than a dollar each at Wal-Mart. I was lucky to find these so cheap that day. These are perfect to wash my dishes in. One for water and soap to wash and the other one to rinse. Some people use three, the third one is to rinse out the food before putting it in the soapy water but I usually try to do this in the trash. Whichever way works best for you is fine. There is also this set that is perfect as well and can prevent cuts with knives when reaching in to your tub. Sadly, this has happened to us before. REI also has a good selection of outdoor dish washing essentials here.
Cleaning Sponge, Dish Soap, and Strainer
I have a little bag where I keep my sponge and soap in. Currently I am reusing an old plastic handsoap dispenser and just keep refilling it with dish soap to save on room. I always keep this by my dish washing area. As for the strainer I use it when dumping out the dirty water. This helps catch any food that may have ended up in the water so I can properly dispose of it. Leaving this food on your campground can attract unwanted visitors at night.
You can also use biodegradable soap if you are going to be deep in the woods when washing a few dishes or even your hands. This helps prevent any possible damage to the delicate plants in that area. Please be mindful of the items you use and where you will be using them.
Big Mesh Bag
I have a big laundry mesh bag that I use to hang all of my dishes to dry. This way they are all in one place and I don’t have to worry about them getting lost. I wash, rinse, put it in the bag, and then hang to dry.
Bring more than one towel for sure. I usually bring about 3-5 towels and just hang them to dry. I try my best not ot use paper towel to limit my waste. The towels is helpful for when washing your hands, drying dishes that didn’t fit in the bag or haven’t dried yet, or even drying up a spill.
I also bring with me a rag that I can use to clean off the table cloth or other dirty surfaces that I may find. This way we don’t use our clean drying towels.
The good thing about paper is that it biodegrades fairly quickly. I try to use paper towels just for eating times or to clean up my children’s dirty faces after eating so we can still limit the waste we are throwing away during our trip. You can also use reusable paper towels such as this one but I feel like I end up with overloads of laundry to do before the end of our trip.
I always make sure to bring one roll of aluminum foil with me. This comes handy when we decide to cook out on the fire instead. It also helps when you want to store some food items in the cooler that weren’t eaten.
Headlamp & Flashlight
I prefer to use a headlamp when in the camp kitchen at night. It is very convenient to use when you need both hands to look for something or get a quick snack together before bed. I currently use the UCO Gear Headlamps.
I always make sure to bring 2-3 lighters with me. We tend to misplace these all the time so bringing extras makes life a little easier. You can also bring some lighter fluid if you have one of those lighters that you can refill and reuse.
We usually use fire starters and I have heard mixed things about their environmental impact so I’m still doing more research on this. We do currently use them cause it makes it so much easier to make a fire when you are trying to prepare food on the rush for your kiddos. Another thing we tried was empty toilet paper rolls with dryer lint in them. They did help some but aren’t as effective as a fire starter.
I highly recommend bringing some reusable bags to store any extra food items in in your cooler. They are more durable, reusable, and come in cute designs as well.
This is where I’m not so conscious at. I know. I’m sorry. When we are outdoors we deal with a lot of water, humidity, dew, etc. When using trashbags we want to make sure we use something that will not break. Sadly all of the bags that I have used that are plant based or eco-friendly either break, spill, leak, or tear completely open all over the floor. I ended up going back to a plastic back (as I cringe writing that) because I know the bag won’t break as we walk from our campsite to the trash disposal area. The last thing you want to do is have trash everywhere and attract the wrong company to the campground. I am still keeping an eye out to try some better and more effective eco-friendly trashbags so if you know of any please let me know in the comments.
One tote may work for you and that is great but for our family of four, two totes seems to work best for us or even just one big tote. I use one tote to put all of our camp kitchen essentials in such as stove, fuel, dishes, pots, pans, utensils, cups, etc. Pretty much everything that is non-perishable. The other tote will be food. Depending on the length of our trip and our meal plan we can sometimes pack it all in to one tote.
Bringing a canopy is completely optional but it comes very handy when you are expecting rain or when you have kids. We always take our canopy cause you never know when the weather is just going to randomly change up on you. I love being able to have a dry table to eat at with my family while still enjoying our rainy days.
A Folding Table
A folding table is completely optional to bring as well. It all depends on the size of your family or group, how long you are going to be camping for, and how comfortable you want to be. If I’m camping with just my husband or doing an overnight or two night camping trip, I usually leave this behind. I find it convenient to have when I am camping in groups and we set up one main kitchen area for everyone to eat together at. The table I use it to cook on mainly. We will set up all the stoves on top, plates, utensils, paper towels, and other things. Under the table we will have the cooler and the totes for storage.
Another good option to have is your camping chairs. They are portable, lightweight and convenient when you need a place to sit and eat. A camping chair is also good for when you are roasting marshmallows or even cooking by the fire.
If you have a campground that has electricity and you are using the electricity for cooking such as a skillet, then I recommend bringing an extension cable. I highly recommend bringing one that is between 20 to 50 feet in length as the outlet for the electricity is usually quite a ways from your camp kitchen area. Make sure to put it away after use to avoid tripping over it.
Of course you need food but this is all depending on your meal plan. I will go more in to more detail about this topic on a different post along with a few meal plan ideas that you can use. Usually I will stick all of my food in to one tote for easy finding. I also try my best to prep anything needed before heading out to camp. This makes cooking outdoors a breeze.
SUSTAINABLE CAMP KITCHEN TIPS
Want to make a more conscious approach to your camp kitchen? Here are a few tips I want to share with you to help you out. One good thing to do is reuse and reduce. Know of someone who is moving or just doing a major clean up? Ask if you can see what they are throwing away before they put it on the curb. Believe it or not, the tables, coolers, many of our fuel tanks, ice packs, and other big items were given to use before hitting the curb. Remember that once that trash truck comes, these items will end up in our landfills. If they are in good conditions, take them and save yourself some money. A good cooler can cost you easily 20 dollars of more. We have two coolers to store things in and one cooler for drinks and didn’t pay anything. We also got two folding tables for free that were going to be thrown away.
You can also go to garage sales and see what they are selling or even Facebook Buy, Sell, and Trade groups so you can buy items that you need at a good price. Many of these items just need a quick cleaning and you are good to go.
Another option that you have is buying used gear from big retail companies. REI now has a used gear resale section on their website which gives you the opportunity to buy used gear in amazing and almost new conditions for a low price. You can learn more about it here.
HOW TO REUSE PLASTIC CONTAINERS
I kind of touched on this a little earlier as well but I want to go more in to detail about it. I use milk jugs, glass sauce jars, coffee creamer containers, etc. to store various items. This really helps save on room in my cooler and limits my waste. With the milk jugs, I make sure to clean them out very well with water and soap. I then fill them up with filtered water and freeze them. This serves for two purposes. One, you don’t have to buy more jugs of water. And two, it serves as a gigantic ice pack for your cooler.
I also reuse the coffee creamer jugs to store pre-made pancake mix. All you have to do is turn on your stove and pour the pancake mix to your pan. Easy, mess free, and more sustainable. I also use the glass sauce jars for this as well. Instead of pancake mix, you can also do scrambled eggs. Pre-mix the eggs, milk, and seasoning and you are ready for a quick breakfast in the morning.
Another item that I reuse is the handsoap container. I have an old one that I continue to wash and reuse for soap. It’s small and comes handy when washing dishes.
BENEFITS OF AN ORGANIZED CAMP KITCHEN
The benefits are amazing. Instead of winging it or taking so much time searching for items through your bags, tent, and car, you are more organized and can easily find exactly what you need, when you need it. Plus you have more peace of mind in the long run. No more worrying if you lost something or left something where it can attract unwanted friends. Everything is sealed in the totes and put away. Also, if you plan your food for the next few days than it makes it easier for you to keep up with the eating schedule for the trip and avoid over packing or bringing items that you dind’t need.
I am curious to know. How do you set up your camp kitchen? Do you reuse any items or plan ahead? I would love to hear what works best for you. Let us know in the comments. We love to chat.
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