Cooking Pots: Choosing The Perfect Size For Thru-Hiking

Pots for cooking are an essential piece of gear on the trail. But what sizes of cooking pots work best? ... Read more

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Cook pot on a backpacking stove
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Pots for cooking are an essential piece of gear on the trail. But what sizes of cooking pots work best? The answer to this question is not straightforward. For example, a larger pot will hold more hot water and food, but it might be too heavy if you’re trying to carry less weight.

Smaller pots can heat your meal faster, but they also require more fuel since there’s less surface area exposed to the flame. So, which size pot should you use?

We’ll discuss that in detail below!

Cook pot on a backpacking stove

What Makes Choosing a Pot An Important Decision?

You will have to cook for yourself every day, sometimes 3+ times depending on how often you are making pot-related meals and coffee. This makes choosing the pot a critical point many skip over only to be irritated on the trail later.

While you may be okay with an ultralight 500ml pot to start as the hunger begins to increase, this could be a painful limit when you need to eat double this amount.

This is why thinking about how often you will eat and what you will be eating is essential.

Do I Even Need A Pot?

For some thru-hikes, you may not need a pot at all! If you are planning on doing a lot of Ramen noodles or similar cold soaking meals, then you can save weight and money by possibly ditching the pot altogether.

However, if you want to make more than just eat cold soak foods like ramen noodles, for example, if you are a coffee maker, then a pot is necessary for boiling water and cooking food.

Pot Selection Criteria

There are some key things to consider when purchasing your pot, for me personally, since I cold soak.

I actually chose the Vargo BOT Bottle Pot, a 1000mL pot with a screw-on lid that makes it possible to have a hot meal and soak depending on the day and circumstances.

But I did look at all the below when making my choice because if I was to cook things like a handle and size for boiling enough water or faster boiling all matter then to a decision.

Total Capacity

There are loads of cooking pot sizes, from small little cups to large 1000mL backpacking pots, so you need to decide what is best for you

For me, I like to have enough water to make coffee as well as have some leftovers in case I want to cold soak or make dinner, so the 1000mL size was perfect, but this all comes down to personal preference.

The weight of the pot also goes up with size so if you are looking to save on ounces then you might want to consider a smaller pot.

The next thing is, what will you be cooking? If you are only looking to boil water for coffee or tea in the morning, then a tiny pot might suffice, but if you want to make full meals, then a larger pot may be necessary.

Pot Shape

The smaller the base, the less efficient it will be to heat to a boil; the wider the base, the better but you will find most maintain a very similar size and shape.

You will also find that some have a flatter wider base that will sit better on uneven grounds and help ensure overall stability.

Pot Handles

Many pots come with no handles which can work if you don’t intend to grab them immediately after heating. Most thru-hikers will need to have handles to help speed up the process.

Most pots will have folding handles, which are great because they save on space when not in use but can be a little less sturdy than a regular handle.

Some people like to have pot grippers which are great if you want to save on weight, but they can also add an extra step if you need to remove them each time.

Then there is the good old bail handle which is simple and easy to use without needing an extra gripper by being a quick top grab.

Lid Differences

This is more personal preference, but I think it’s important to have because you can use the lid to help control heat when cooking. In addition, some may come with vent holes to help let out some steam.

Then you have my choice of cold soaking, which needs a sealed screw-on lid to help hold in all the liquid while you wait for absorption.

Construction Materials

These metal pots typically come in three main types, aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel.

Aluminum pots are going to be one of the lightest options, but it is also the least durable. They are also not great heat conductor so your pot may take longer to boil water.

Titanium will be slightly more expensive than aluminum, but it is much more durable and a better heat conductor.

Stainless steel will be the heaviest option, but it is also the most durable and a great heat conductor, but it leads to hot spots and poor overall cooking.

Most thru-hikers will have a titanium pot as they are ubiquitous, and the prices are so little different that they are the best investment to buy once.

My Choice For Pots

Final Thoughts on Choosing a Size Pot For a Thru-Hike

So there you have it. Those are all the key things to consider when you are looking at purchasing your pot for thru-hiking!

It may seem like a little thing to think about in the grand scheme of a thru-hike and gear, but its still an important decision.

Catch you out on the trail!

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