Essential Camping Kitchen Gear

cooking over a camp fire

As full-time vanlifers (SUVlifers to be specific) that love cooking, it’s really important for us to have the right camp kitchen equipment to prepare a variety of delicious meals at our campsite.

In this guide to camp kitchen gear, we go through the full list of our camping cooking essentials, plus some extra stuff to help make your next camp cooking experience enjoyable and hassle-free!

We also give our honest reviews of everything we use so you know what you need (and don’t need) for your car camping kitchen.

You can use this as a camping kitchen checklist or as a guide to figuring out exactly what you need to pack in your camp kitchen box.


Things to Keep in Mind About Camping Kitchen Gear

Before we get into the exact gear you need, I wanted to mention a few key points you’ll want to keep in mind when beginning to build your camping kitchen.

  • Keep everything in a storage bin and ready to go. It’ll also keep you organized at the campsite.
  • Don’t forget anything! Keep a checklist in your camp kitchen box and use it.
  • Stackable, collapsible, nesting, multi-use, and lightweight: look for these things when choosing your camp cooking gear
  • Lids are super important for keeping bugs out of your food
  • Stick with sustainable and eco-friendly kitchen gear that’s better for the environment.

This camping kitchen guide goes into detail about each item. If you only need info on one piece of gear, then use the links below to skip to that section.

JUMP TO: Water Jug | Cooler | Table | Stove | Fuel | Cookware | Dishware| Flatware | Cooking Utensils | Additional Gear | Cleanup

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Water Jug

We store our water in two 6-gallon water containers for camping. They’re sturdy, easy to carry, BPA-free, and come with a spout that stores inside the cap.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon

Cooler

This Yeti cooler is the perfect size for car camping. It fits almost two bags of ice, a six-pack of beer and plenty of food.

And yes, Yetis actually ARE worth all the hype.

Depending on the climate, how many times you open it, and how much stuff you’re storing inside, the ice will last from several days up to a week.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI


TIP: Prep the cooler by filling it up with ice the night before your camping trip and chill any food or drinks before you put them in. Also, block or dry ice will last the longest, especially somewhere hot like Baja. And if you have the space, get a second cooler just for drinks and frequently accessed items so the food one stays colder longer.


Roll-up Table

We love dispersed (or wild) camping. The only problem is that there aren’t any picnic tables around to put the stove on! 

The solution? This ALPS Mountaineering Dining Table. It’s awesome! It’s made from aluminum which makes it super lightweight and rolls up into a carry bag the same size as our chairs. It comes in three sizes and we have the regular size, which is perfect for two to four people.

We typically set up our kitchen on this table and just eat in our chairs with our plates in our laps while enjoying the amazing view of the day. 

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | Moosejaw


Camping Stove

We started off camping with a cheap charcoal grill. It was such a pain to use and clean. After 2 failed attempts at cooking with that thing, I vowed to never use it again and began my search for a much better camping stove to replace it. Enter the Camp Chef Everest Stove.

It has two 20,000 BTU burners, matchless ignition, and (most importantly) it simmers!!! It enhanced my camp cooking abilities by 1000% and added so many items to our menu that we just couldn’t make before.

CHECK PRICE: REI (new version) | Amazon

Fuel

After going through several single-use propane bottles on our camping trips and feeling really guilty about the amount of waste we produced. Considered hazardous waste? Are a pain to dispose of properly. We searched for a more sustainable option and discovered what I call “baby” propane tanks. 

Now we have a small refillable propane tank that we fill up at the closest U-Haul for little to nothing. It’s less waste and way cheaper! We were so excited with our discovery that we wrote an entire post about the why you need a 5 lb propane tank.


Cookware

The types of pots and pans you’ll need to cook at your campsite depends on what you like to eat and how many mouths you are feeding. Some people love preparing big pots of chili for everyone at camp to share. Some eat solo and rely on pre-packaged dehydrated meals pre-made sandwiches. 

And some, like us, are couples that love to cook and eat well in the great outdoors!

Below we’ve listed what we use, along with some good alternatives. 


Small Pot

This quick-boil pot a great versatile sauce pan that heats up fast! We initially bought this to make oatmeal and boil water on our backpacking trips, but now we use it all the time for car camping aka our daily life.

Its non-stick ceramic surface and lightweight aluminum construction make it easy to clean up and quick to heat up. Plus, it has a space-saving, removable handle and drain holes on the lid! We love that it has measuring lines inside to make life easier.

Get this if you’re looking for a lightweight, non-stick, multi-purpose pot that you can also take backpacking. 

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI


Non-Stick Skillet

We use a regular non-stick ceramic pan that’s leftover from our pre-vanlife home. It works fine, but it’s heavy and its handle makes it a hassle to pack. That may not matter if you’re only packing things up for the occasional weekend camping trip, but when you have to make every square inch of your car count, it does matter.

We want to upgrade soon and are looking at this 8” ceramic non-stick skillet with a folding handle that’s made for camping. It’s so much easier to pack and it comes with a spatula! 

This pan is perfect if you want a lightweight, easily packable non-stick pan (under 11 ounces) which you can use for both car camping and backpacking. 

COMPARE PRICE: Amazon | REI

The other pan we’re considering getting is a 10.25” cast iron skillet. Cast iron is fantastic because its seasoning makes it naturally non-stick and you can cook directly over the campfire or put it in the oven in your RV.

This skillet works best for you if you want a heavy duty, durable non-stick pan that goes from home kitchen to campsite and back again, and can be used over the campfire or on the stove. 

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI


Cast Iron Dutch Oven

You can make everything from nachos to pizza to sourdough to pie in this beauty! Oh, and you can also cook healthy stuff too, like lentil vegetable soup, chili, and curries. But that’s not nearly as exciting as eating pizza while camping.

A cast iron dutch oven is perfect for camping because it retains and distributes heat evenly, and it can tolerate extremely high heat which means you can put it right on top of the fire. It’s also easy to clean (no soap needed) and will last you a lifetime. 

We have a cast iron dutch oven that can be used at both at home and camp kitchens. It comes pre-seasoned so it’s pretty much ready to cook out of the box. This version is best if you want a dutch oven you can also use over the stove at home.

For those of you cooking directly over the campfire, we suggest getting the camping version that’s featured in the photo above: the 5-Quart Lodge Camp Dutch Oven. It has little legs that keep it steady on hot coals, a metal handle for easy carrying, and a lid with raised edges to hold coals on top. You can also turn the lid over to use it as a griddle!

This is the pot to get if you want a heavy duty, durable pot for cooking over the campfire that can also be used for oven recipes at camp.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Dishware

Our ideal set of camping dishes and utensils are nesting, stackable, lightweight, and durable.

Two of the most important things to consider before buying camping plates and utensils are materials and budget:

  • Paper & Single-Use Plastic: Please, please, please don’t use disposable paper plates or single-use plastic utensils. It’s extremely wasteful and bad for the environment. 
  • Reusable Plastic: Inexpensive and lightweight, but not as long-lasting as the materials below. Not heat resistant. 
  • Enamel & Stainless Steel: Affordable, durable, heat-resistant, but not lightweight. Classic blue camping plates are made of stainless steel with an enamel finish for increased scratch-resistance.
  • Aluminum: Mid-range price. Ultra lightweight, but dents and scratches easily. Transfers heat quickly to hands.
  • Titanium: Expensive, ultra lightweight, and more durable than aluminum. Transfers heat quickly to hands.

Dishes

We use classic enamelware camping plates. They are lighter than regular dishes, easy to clean, durable, and scratch-resistant. They also serve as lids for our non-stick pan when melting the cheese on top of our breakfast chilaquiles. 

Although we’re happy with the flat enamel plates, we’d also like to try out these high-sided stainless steel plates that double as bowls. It would prevent spills when eating around the campfire and we could just have one plate for every meal, instead of a plate and a bowl each. 

CHECK PRICE: Amazon| REI

Bowls

Titanium bowls are super lightweight and fantastic for backpacking. We also use them for car camping since we carry all our backpacking gear with us. They do transfer heat to the hands quickly. If we’re eating something hot, we either sit at the table or use dish towels to hold them.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Cups

We love a cup that keeps things hot when it’s cold outside and cold when it’s hot. This tumbler does exactly that! And it does it extremely well.

It is vacuum insulated and it has a lid with a locking slider to keep the dirt and bugs out. We use it to keep tea, coffee, and hot chocolate warm. And keep other drinks like water, juice, beer, and mixed drinks, ice cold.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Mugs

We use the same mugs for car camping and backpacking. They’re amazingly lightweight and they come with lids to keep the bugs out! They also serve as our cups for everything from tea to tequila.

These titanium mugs come with a removable silicone piece to save your lips from burning when sipping hot liquids.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI


Flatware

We just use a mismatched set of regular silverware. A constant reminder that you don’t need the perfect camp kitchen gear to go camping.

We can’t wait to upgrade because they’re kind of heavy. But mostly it’s annoying that they don’t match. Is that just me or would anyone else consider that a serious offense?

We’d love to upgrade our mismatched utensils to this titanium cutlery set which is super lightweight, durable, and comes with a carabiner for hang drying.

CHECK PRICE: REI


Cloth Napkins

Using cloth napkins is eco-friendly and it cuts down on the trash you have to pack out.

We use small cloth napkins taken from a picnic set we used to have. They can be used multiple times if you’re not a messy eater (unlike me) and washed along with your dishes and hung to dry. 

CHECK PRICE: AMAZON

Camp Cooking Utensils

Knives

In our experience, the best knife set for camping includes a chef knife, a serrated utility knife, and a paring knife. Of course, you can get by with just one knife. But, having a variety makes chopping and cutting easier. This knife set with covers has all three types of knives and is super budget-friendly!

We use the knife set Michael gave me for my birthday years ago. We wrap the three knives in a dish towel to protect them and our fingers. It’s one of the few “luxury” items we kept from our old lifestyle.

That and my pepper mill. Yes, fresh ground black pepper is a necessity for me, even while camping. Please don’t judge.

Cutting Board

While it may be tempting to purchase a set of cheap disposable plastic boards, it’s best to stick with a durable wooden cutting board for camping that’ll last for years to come. 

We use a set of large and small bamboo cutting boards that we love! 

They’re naturally antibacterial and you can hang them up to air dry. We like to keep the small cutting board in an easy to access spot for snacking on the road. 

Colander

Some people get by without a colander at camp, but we use ours daily. We rinse our fruits and veggies in it, dry our utensils in it, and use it for its intended purpose once in a while to drain pasta.

To save space, try to find one that will nest inside your largest pot or get a silicone collapsible colander one.

Spatula

Don’t forget to bring a silicone spatula if you’re using a non-stick pan or you’ll end up scratching the pan!

Spoon

We have this wooden corner spoon that’s perfect for scraping the last bit of food out of any pot. 

Tongs

All-metal tongs are best for cooking with campfires. We use them for turning our foil-wrapped potatoes in the campfire coals. 

Metal Skewers

Essential for grilling veggies or making smores over the campfire.

Grater

Get a flat grater instead of a box grater to save space. You can use it for grating cheese, potatoes, and salad ingredients like carrots. It’s also useful as a citrus zester.

Peeler

For peeling potatoes and vegetables. You can also use it for slicing cheese really thin or topping off campfire desserts with chocolate shavings.

Can Opener

We have a tiny can opener that we carry as a backup in case our regular can opener breaks.  

Bottle & Wine Opener

This space-saving waiter’s corkscrew bottle opener has a foil cutter, easy-to-use corkscrew, and bottle opener.

Lighter

Don’t forget to pack a lighter and backup matches to light the stove and campfire!

Dish Towels

We use regular dish towels instead of paper towels to reduce the amount of trash we create and stay sustainable.


Additional Camp Kitchen Gear

The items below aren’t necessarily essential for cooking at a campsite, but they are really nice to have should you need them. 


Kitchen Cleanup Equipment 

Having the right kitchen equipment can make cleanup less time-consuming so you can spend more time enjoying your camping trip and less time washing dishes!

Camp Sink

It’s best to have two wash basins for cleaning dishes at camp. One for soaping up and one for rinsing with hot water. 

We use two generic white bins I picked up at Target that nest inside each other. They work just fine, but we’d like to upgrade to collapsible sinks to save space (plus, they have handles for easy carrying).

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Dish Scraper & Brush

Ditch the sponge/petri dish and go with this dish scraper and brush combo. The scraper is perfect for getting off those last bits of food on your plate and into the trash. The brush dries much faster than a sponge and doesn’t collect as much bacteria. It also works well on cast iron pans.

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Dish Towel

Get this quick dry towel that you can wash and dry before it’s next use to avoid wasteful paper towels. We have a small one that came with a camping set that’s no longer sold, but the one above is very similar.

Make sure to get the smallest size (14” x 10”) and not a beach sized one!

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Biodegradable Dish Soap

We’ve been fans of 18-in-1 Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap for years, so we didn’t have to switch our soap when we started living the vanlife. We use it as body soap, shampoo, face wash, hand soap, veggie rinse, and dish soap. The unscented version is best for camping because it doesn’t attract bears or other animals.

TIP: Even though this soap is biodegradable, that doesn’t mean you can use it directly in a natural water source, like a river or lake. You should always stay at least 200 feet away from water sources when washing dishes (or yourself) with biodegradable soap. 

CHECK PRICE: Amazon | REI

Biodegradable Trash Bags

These biodegradable trash bags are made from plant-based starches and are fully compostable. We reuse these thick, odor-proof compactor bags to double bag our trash to keep smells to a minimum and bears away.

Camping Cooking Gear Guide

We hope this camp kitchen gear list was helpful in giving you a better idea of what you need to pack for your next camping trip.

Keep in mind that what works best for us may not work for you. You may have to go through a trial and error process when first putting together your camp kitchen box.

But eventually you’ll figure out what you need, what you don’t and what little luxuries to make you a happy camper!

What are your camping kitchen essentials? Let us know in the comments below!

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