A Better Camping Kitchen

Last week I spent a few days hiking in Telluride. I was lucky to snag the last tent site at Ridgway State Park, so instead of backpacking or dispersed camping, I’d have a nice tent pad and a picnic table waiting for me in the park. No searching for a dispersed site on some backroad and no hauling everything to a backcountry site in my pack. I was car camping, the easiest and most convenient way to camp, especially in these post-pandemic times when everyone’s on the road or at a campsite.

On the drive and on my hikes, I saw the usual Colorado spectacles: a herd of buffalo, six different herds of elk, three herons, two water ouzels, nine waterfalls, and one perfect rainbow. I got rained on, snowed on, graupeled on, and windblown, and even though I used sunscreen, I got a touch of sun on my face as well. In other words, it was nothing special. Just a typical Colorado road and trail trip.

Until dinnertime, when I had an eye-opening epiphany. I usually hike and camp alone, but this time a friend joined me. We split the gear and the chores and had decided that I would bring the food and he would bring all the cooking gear – the camp kitchen. Now I’m not cheap, but I tend to not replace anything until I have to. Like Mom always said: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ve lived this way my whole life, waiting for things to literally fall apart before I get a new thing. This is evident in my clothes, my gear, and in my camp kitchen. I still use the same MSR Pocket Rocket stove and stainless steel pot that I bought nearly twenty years ago. That setup has hung out at campsites on every 14er that I didn’t day hike. I cooked hot dogs on it near the summit of Mount Princeton. It’s cooked mountainside meals on Mount Whitney and Mount Russell in California, and on every ultra-prominence peaks (mountains with 5,000 feet or more of prominence) from here to the Mexican border. That little stove and pot have never failed me, and since they ain’t broke, I never thought to fix or replace them. I use them for backpacking, dispersed camping, and for car camping, like I was doing at Ridgway State Park.

But this time I left my camp kitchen at home and deferred to my friend’s setup. Imagine my surprise when he hauled out a two-burner camp stove with pots, pans, and silicone cooking utensils. He had real plates and silverware and, get this: actual coffee mugs. There was a camp stove toaster, cloth napkins, and a cloth for the picnic table.

Dinner was awesome. We could actually cook the Beyond Burgers and Steakhouse Recipe Grillin’ Beans at the same time, on two burners, instead of one at a time, like I always did. Breakfast the next morning was even better: while the Jack and Annie’s Jackfruit Sausage Links browned in one pan, the Just Egg got scrambled in another.

So this week I did a little shopping. I usually buy super lightweight gear for backpacking, which can be pricey, but for car camping, I found that bamboo works just fine. I got bamboo plates, bowls, cups, utensils, and even a coffee mug. Bamboo, by the way, is biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable if it doesn’t have coatings or glues, and I bought the kind that doesn’t. It just needs an annual seasoning with a rub of food grade mineral oil or fractionated coconut oil, and if it starts to smell, you can brighten it up with a swipe of lemon juice. I bought some other stuff too: a pretty tablecloth and napkins, and even a two-burner stove.

Mom taught me to be frugal, but she didn’t raise any fools. So while I’ll still use my tiny little stove and pot for backpacking, I’m going to live it up on this summer’s car camping trips. I have tent sites booked all summer in the Flat Tops Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park, Dillon, Durango, and Crested Butte, and I’m looking forward to seeing how many dinners I can whip up with my new bamboo gear. And next time, whether camping alone or with a friend, I’m bringing the camp kitchen.

This blog first appeared as a column in the June 8, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.

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