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Camping and hiking essentials: What’s potting?

Camping and hiking essentials: What’s potting?

Posted by Candice Bagley in collaboration with Allister Fenton on 20th Dec 2019

Choosing a pot is about energy. Energy expenditure, energy conservation. What fits your purposes on one trip might be different on another. A pots versatility across these scenarios will contribute its lifetime value, but a good all-rounder pot might lack some features you’d like for specific trip. You’ll need to consider all the factors that make a pot good and decide which is best for your time in the mountains or on the trails.

There are a few things you need to consider when choosing the best pot for your hike or expedition: 

When deciding how important weight really is to you, you may consider how long you’ll be in a single location. If you’re hiking far but staying at one place, such as Everest base camp, or Spout Cave in the Cedarberg, you may wish to choose something less compact. Once you’re at the destination, you aren’t going to move around too much. You’ll venture off on day adventures but return to the cave or base camp to cook dinner.

The speed you’re hoping to move will determine how important those extra few grams are to you. Walking into a destination that has a long and steep approach – like Krakadouw or Blouberg (in Limpopo) - isn’t usually about speed of ascent. But if you’ve sped all the way there on a Friday afternoon and are hoping to get some sleep in, you may well wish to move faster, and must lug less up the hill.

The further you’re going, the more you’ll feel a heavy pack, and in all likelihood, the more other supplies you’ll have to carry. Choose a lighter cookware option if you plan to hike far. If the distance you’re covering isn’t very far, then think about packing slightly heavier so you don’t compromise on versatility. A more efficient pot might also be important in this case, so that you don’t have to carry excess fuel. 

When deciding what cookware to pack you have to consider how much weight you are prepared to carry. You’ll need to weigh up the rest of your backpack and how much technical gear you’re carrying with you. If your pack is laden with ice-climbing gear on your way into Giants Castle, a lighter pot might be a good compromise.

How big you are is a big consideration! As a fairly slight sport climber, packing a heavy pack on a hike is not my strong suit, so I’d rather choose the lighter, smaller options to save my legs for those hills. 

Cookware is of course made for cooking and while it has been known to fill other cool purposes, you want to cook nutritious, and delicious food in them. Some pots are simple, small and light and made for boiling water predominantly. It’s super important to decide what exactly you want to cook, and of course carry with you, in terms of food. While bacon and eggs are amazingly high in calories and are awesome to fry up early in the morning before a long day out, you may choose instant oats for that Drakensberg Grand Traverse – and your cookware needs to cater for the food you intend cooking.

Luckily, a variety of freeze-dried options often mean you can get sufficient calorie intake while only boiling up a few hundred millilitres of water, But, are you happy to eat freeze dried meals for a number of days in a row? 

As mentioned, pot efficient is important if you’re on the road for a long period of time, as packing plenty of fuel is a waste of energy.

Of course, if you’re car camping, most of what is discussed above is barely a consideration. Cooking with a group usually means the bigger the better. I’m a fan of the battered-up pan and pot from my kitchen for car camping. But don’t underestimate what a good non-stick coating will do for your dinners.Now, if packing space is an issue (that tiny City Golf with everyone’s kit in it!), I may consider something smaller and more compact, but usually a full pot set that packs into one another so that I have options.

If you only had a pot, you’d have some pretty cold dinners, so pairing your pot with your stove is quite important. Putting a tiny camping pot on a stove with a wide flame, could burn or melt the handles, and a big kitchen pot will probably fall over on a small hiking stove.

The materials your pot is made out of affects its weight as well as some of the characteristics. Aluminium isn’t the most healthy material to cook with, but a light-weight aluminium pot with a non-stick coating is amazing for fast and light missions, while a big cast iron pot can go on the stove or the fire without a thought - consider the 6kg weight difference to be precise. 

Other technical considerations are quality and durability. There are some incredible small aluminium pots that last ages and can take a beating, while some technical non-stick pans needs some special care to make sure they remain non-stick in 10 years’ time. Stainless, titanium or anodised aluminium are hard-wearing, durable and pretty nice to cook in.

Pots come with gadgets and gizmos aplenty. There are many pots that have a special feature to distinguish them from the competition, some pots have technology to help increase efficiency, like systems that direct heat in a specific way. Certain pots have plastic lids to save weight or make them sealable, and some lids come with draining holes. There are collapsible silicon pots, pot sets with cutlery and crockery included and a host of pieces to market to every kind of buyer.

Ultimately you need to choose which of these gizmos you really like and match these to your technical needs,weight requirements and what food you plan to cook, all the while balancing these with the financial outlay. 

Speak to your local gear store and they will be able to take you through the various pots on the market.