Gearapalooza: The Best and Worst Camping Cookware of 2015

Back in the day, when we had to cook it old school. Not anymore, suckahs!

As you know, our gear reviews aren’t sponsored. We get a lot of gear and, quite frankly, we test the hell out of stuff. This year was no exception: we took gear on a camping trips in Northern Ontario, as well as a multi-day canoe trip in the Kawartha Lakes, leading to Petroglyphs Provincial Park and Curve Lake First Nation. We also tested some gear at a rustic cabin (meaning no water or loo, folks).

We had a shit ton of gear to test.

We had a shit ton of gear to test.

Over the summer and fall, we tested out a bunch of camping cookware, which were scored based on functionality, design, and innovation. And while it’s true that we had some serious gear fails, we found some things that we absolutely love — items that we know will be with you for a long, long time and many wild adventures. Here’s the best and worst camping cookware of 2015 that we tested:

Gerber’s Freescape Camping Kit ($88)

Gerber knifeLuxury camping means having a set of gourmet knives on hand in the wilderness. Gerber’s Freescape kit features a built-in cutting board and a drawer that slides in and out with a three-stop locking system. Two hefty chef’s knives are housed in the drawer, both with rubber handles that add extra grip and prevent slippage when cooking in wet conditions. The knives are durable enough to cut kindling, but it’s really built for food prep.

What we loved: The knives sliced like a mofo! Practical, compact, and dishwasher safe, you can get into some serious campfire cookery with these babies. We felt so fancy slicing our fresh fruit on the beach and cutting up our steaks to braise over the campfire.

Freescape-Camp-Kitchen-Kit_fulljpgIf we could change one thing: What the hell is the carrying case’s problem? With a hard-bodied shell and locking system, it’s built to be durable, but it’s not supposed to be a fortress. The three-stop locking system jammed constantly, so everyone struggled to open and close the case. Finally, the thing stuck shut and no one had the strength (or patience) to pry it back open. WTF.

Ideal for: any outdoor living!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Coleman S’More Maker ($12.99)

Photo: Stephen Ritchie

Photo: Stephen Ritchie

S’Mores are the cherry on top of every campfire meal and, for the enthusiast, the very reason they go camping in the first place. And while we love those sticky treats, they do tend to ooze and make a mess that is sure to attract bears while you sleep.

Smores makerWell, mess no more because we now have a S’Mores Maker from Coleman. You can pop your crackers, marshmallow and chocolate all in the chrome-plated grill and melt that sucker to your heart’s content; no mess, no fuss. Right?

Wrong! This device was one hot mess on our testing trips.

If we could change one thing: Where do we even start? It’s not less messy – the tower that is a raw S’More is too tall to fit in the space provided, so wrestling your treat into the thing, while entertaining for your fellow campers, is a feat of perseverance.

Then the chocolate oozes out, all over the S’More Maker, which you then have to clean.

The only part of a S’More you really need to cook is the marshmallow and you will find that it is the only part of these S’Mores that remains resolutely in its original state. The Graham crackers will turn a disturbing shade of grey and the chocolate will drip out while your marshmallow remains uncooked; laughing at you from beneath its Graham cracker heat shield.

What we loved: Umm…the idea of it?

Ideal for: This only has value for folks who are car camping, own a cottage or love S’Mores SO MUCH that they are willing to drag this heavy thing into the woods.

Rating: 1/5 stars.

Coleman Popcorn Popper ($27.99)

Coleman-Popcorn-Popper-011This is an item reserved for those who are car camping or have a cottage where they have regular campfires. It’s just too heavy and ungainly for trips where you have to carry your equipment in. But if you find yourself around a campfire with a hankering for popcorn, the popper may be just what the doctor ordered.

If you are making popcorn for one or two, it’s a good size, but there isn’t that much space for popped corn so I had to make a few servings to ensure my campers stayed happy. For some inexplicable reason, the handle on the top of the popper is wood, so be very careful when you use this over a fire to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

What we loved: You don’t need to add oil, but then you have to be very diligent about shaking it or the popcorn will burn.

If we could change one thing: Its long handle will mean you don’t burn your hands when preparing your popcorn, but it’s quite flimsy and I am unconvinced it will stand the test of time. This needs fixed.

Ideal for: Car camping or cottaging.

Rating: 2/5 stars

GSI Outdoors’ Bugaboo Camper Cookset ($99.95)

GSI pots and pansHate schlepping your kitchen stuff through the woods? Us too. Luckily, GSI Outdoors has created an ingenious solution: a complete set of stackable pots and pans. Each item decreases in size and can be placed one inside another, like one of those Russina Matryoshka dolls. So you can travel compact and light with a full kitchen set.

The cook set weighs 3lbs and includes: a three-liter pot, two-liter pot, two strainer lids, nine-inch frying pan, and interchangeable folding pot gripper. Plus, there are four 14-ounce insulated mugs, four 14-ounce bowls, and four 7.5-inch plates, all made with lightweight, durable BPA-free plastic.

What we loved: It’s not made of crap – this is high quality kitchenware that would satisfy any outdoor chef. The metal is durable and features a double non-stick coating to provide easy cooking, scratch resistance, and efficient cooking. Also, the stuff sack used to carry the cook set can be used as a sink! Just fill it up and wash your dishes in it. Brilliant!

If we could change one thing: Can the pots and pans could be cooked over a bonfire? We googled, and turns out not: the kitchenware should only be cooked over a gas-powered camp stove. A real bummer, since stoves can be bulky for backcountry trips.

Ideal for: car or backcountry camping

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Biolite Energy Bundle: Campstove, Kettle, and Grill ($371.45)

1280 BioliteWe were friggin’ excited to test this wood-powered stove. An environmental friendly outdoor cooker that also charges your phone? What the what!

Unfortunately, the Biolite Stove set was riddled with problems from the get-go. We had two independent testers on this one, with the same results. It’s sort of like one of those creepy NGO CEOs who is seemingly affable and big-hearted…until they’re busted stealing the children’s money.

In theory, the Biolite stove eliminates the use of fossil fuels. It’s designed to burn small, easily gathered wood bits around your campsite, such as twigs, pinecones and leaves; but without producing smoke. The stove is a stainless steel canister: stuff it with wood bits, light it up, and flip on the fan, creating a huge-ass flame. It’s accompanied with a portable grill and kettle, which fasten to the stove. And it allegedly charges your electronics while you cook.

The company also pays the stove love forward to communities living in energy poverty. With every purchase, giant wood-fired stoves are donated to marginalized communities around the world, providing “cleaner daily cooking conditions for thousands, curbing climate change and saving lives worldwide.”

This would all be awesome – if the campstove functioned properly. But we can’t even.

The kettle worked. That was about it.

The kettle worked. That was about it.

If we could change one thing: Where do we even start? For one, the device just didn’t work! To keep the fire roaring, we had to feed the greedy monster a constant supply of dry twigs, leaves, and newspaper. It was so time consuming that we had to divide and conquer: one of us foraged for twigs while the other fed the beast.

A really high heat is needed to roast meat on the grill, which cooks unevenly and produces a shit ton of smoke. We had to put the fan on high for the entire time, otherwise the fire died. With a dwindling supply of wood bits, it was impossible to cook our dinner, and we used a bonfire instead. Rubbish.

It’s also one bulky bastard, consisting of a grill, stove, and the kettle. Don’t even bother charging your phone.

What we loved: Not much. We did get the kettle working over the stove, and managed to boil a pot of water for coffee. But that doesn’t warrant purchasing at a price tag of $371.

Ideal for: Almost nothing.

Rating: 0/5

GSI Outdoors’ 11 Piece Gourmet Kitchen Utensil Set ($39.95)

Kitchen setWe’re wrapping up on a good note with GSI Outdoors’ Gourmet Kitchen Utensil Set. This compact, zippered case holds an integrated, 11 piece kitchen set, neatly organized in side pockets and ideal for cooking larger meals on the trail. Inside, the kit includes a spoon, spatula, collapsible whisk, spicer, 2 condiment containers, cutting board, scrubber, scraper, camp towel and ballistic nylon case. It’s wondrously light and handy, housing all the utensils needed to make a hearty outdoor meal.

What we loved: It’s incredibly practical. The last thing you want is to be rummaging around for utensils when you’re backpacking in the wild. With the kit, everything is stored safely in one spot, where you can do a head count each night.

If we could change one thing: Can we swap the reusable condiment containers for a stir stick instead? We didn’t use these at all, but could’ve used a big spoon to stir soups and such.

Ideal for: camping or backpacking

Rating: 4/5

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