backpacking cooking system reviews

Backpackers on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.

The Best Backpacking Gear of 2021

By Michael Lanza

The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The Wonderland Trail. The Teton Crest Trail. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Glacier National Park. The Ruby Crest Trail. Yellowstone. The Wind River Range. The North Cascades. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. The High Uintas Wilderness. The Tour du Mont Blanc. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear you see reviewed at The Big Outside. I treat gear roughly in places that are hard on outdoor gear and apparel so that I can give you brutally honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you make the best gear choices for your adventures.

And that’s exactly how I came up with these picks for today’s best backpacking gear.

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The MSR WindBurner Group Stove System.

Review: MSR Windburner Group Stove System

Backpacking Stove
MSR WindBurner Group Stove System
$200, 1 lb. 5 oz.
moosejaw.com

When cooking for more than two hungry people in the backcountry—especially if that includes kids—having a large pot and powerful stove keeps the team from waiting so long that they threaten revolt. But the stove’s performance in wind matters, too. On family backpacking trips of three days in Hells Canyon, four days on Nevada’s Ruby Crest Trail, and six days in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness, plus a five-day hike with three friends in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, MSR’s WindBurner Group Stove System not only staved off rebellion, it boiled and cooked quickly in a range of temps and even surprised with its fuel efficiency.

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Gear Review: MSR PocketRocket 2 Backpacking Stove

MSR Pocketrocket 2 backpacking stove.
MSR Pocketrocket 2 backpacking stove.

Backpacking Stove
MSR PocketRocket 2 stove
$45, 3 oz. (4 oz. with plastic case, included)
backcountry.com

On three-season backpacking trips of two days to a week, with one or two companions—especially when you’re oriented toward cooking simple, one-pot meals—a single-burner canister stove offers efficiency and versatility in a very lightweight, compact, affordable, and durable package. On various trips, including an 80-mile, five-day backpacking trip with a friend in the North Cascades National Park Complex, and a three-day, 40-mile hike in Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness, the MSR Pocketrocket 2 demonstrated to me why it’s a leading choice in this category of ultralight stoves, on top of representing an improvement over its predecessor.

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Gear Review: Sea to Summit X-Pot Set 31

Sea to Summit X-Pot
Sea to Summit X-Pot

Collapsible Cook Set
Sea to Summit X-Pot Set 31
$110, 1 lb. 6 oz.
Set includes a 2.8L X-Pot with lid, two X-Bowls, two X-Mugs, all collapsible
backcountry.com

At Helmet Falls camp on the first night of a four-day, 34-mile, family backpacking trip on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies, a group of backpackers cooking near us looked at my X-Pot set and one asked, “What is that and who makes it?” When I answered him, he responded, “I gotta get one of those. Or I’m going to watch which bear locker you put your food and cooking gear in later and take it.” I was pretty sure he was kidding—but not entirely certain. The collapsible X-Pot cooking set is sure to change the way we think about cooking systems for backpacking, and many backpackers will covet it.

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Gear Review: Jetboil Joule Group Cooking System

Jetboil Joule Group Cooking System
Jetboil Joule Group Cooking System

Camp Cooking System
Jetboil Joule Group Cooking System
$200, 1 lb. 12 oz. (not including soft stuff sack for storing burner unit inside the pot)
moosejaw.com

When I’m backpacking with my family, I look for several important qualities in my backcountry stove: speed, versatility, simplicity, fuel efficiency (so I carry less, not to mention burning less carbon), and modest weight and bulk. Too much to ask? I don’t think so, and apparently Jetboil agrees with me. My family used the Joule GCS to boil water for our breakfasts and cook our dinners on a five-day backpacking trip down Paria Canyon in Utah and Arizona in late March, and the Joule met all of my demands.

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