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Cooking Kits for Adventure Riding

There is a massive range of cooking gear on the market to assemble a compact cooking kit for adventure riding. Over the last decade of riding and camping throughout New Zealand I have enjoyed testing numerous cooking gear products and setups. Some of the gear has proven to be great, some so-so, while some has fallen well short of the mark.

The kit below is what I use for overnight adventure riding trips right through to multi-week trips. It’s made up of all the items that have proven to be robust and that pack up well on an adventure bike. It is a very simple kit to keep space and weight to a minimum; there are no battery powered can openers or salad spinners here :)

Photo 1 of Cooking Kits
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Photo 2 of Cooking Kits
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The photo above shows how all of the kit packs up inside the main billy, including the MSR Whisperlite cooker in this example. The whole kit is kept in a dry bag to ensure all the kit contents remain dry and the kit is easy to pack on the bike.

On a recent adventure ride I was joined by Paul from Motomox. He saw this kit and was so impressed that he now assembles them and has them available on the Motomox website here: Adventure Riding Cooking Kit

Cooking Kit Contents

1 – Billy

The billy in this kit is stainless steel rather than the slightly lighter option of aluminium. This is mainly due to the widely documented health issues related to cooking with aluminium such as Alzheimer's disease. As it is, all too often I walk into a room and forget what I went in there for; I don't need aluminium cookware to make matters worse!

The billy in this kit is 2 litres in volume. Previously I’ve used smaller 1 or 1.5 litre billys and whilst they are nice and compact for packing, they are simply too small for cooking decent meals or boiling a reasonable amount of water. Additionally, I have also used 2.5 and 3 litre billys and whilst the larger volume is really convenient for cooking, they are simply too bulky for compact packing on the bike. I have found 2 litres is the best compromise.

This particular billy comes with a handle when purchased however this is removed to make the kit ultra-compact. In place of the billy handle a pot gripper is used which is item #3 in this kit.

2 - Camping Mug

This mug is also stainless steel. It is a relatively large mug holding just shy of 1 litre. This mug perfectly slips inside the billy assisting with compact packing. There are two main reasons I prefer a stainless steel mug. Firstly, I have seen plastic mugs crack and break after having a rough time on the bike. Secondly, being stainless steel with a fairly large bottom it can be used on the cooker essentially meaning this kit provides you with one large billy and one small billy for cooking.

3 - Pot Gripper

Fixed handles on pots and pans can be large and cumbersome to pack. Using a single pot gripper takes up far less space meaning you can pack up your cooking kit more compactly while still being able to grab hot pots and pans without issue. This pot gripper is used on both the billy and the mug when cooking. It’s also used on a frying pan which is covered towards the end of this article.

4 - Knife, Fork and Spoon Set

Previously I’ve tried a number of knife, fork and spoon sets. Most have been plastic and while they can be reasonably lightweight, the knives quickly lose their sharpness and over time they end up breaking either in transit or while being used. Stainless steel sets aren't my preference either as they are often quite heavy.

As for a spork, I’ve tried a couple of those also. What a ridiculous invention! They are inefficient as a fork, inefficient as a spoon and really cumbersome to use. Not for me thanks.

The hard-anodized aircraft grade aluminium knife, fork and spoon set in this kit is one of the most expensive cutlery sets on the market however it's worth every cent. It’s an extremely strong, durable and ultra-lightweight set of cutlery that is really nice to use. Compared to other options, I happily pay a little extra for the benefits.

5 - Small Cooking Knife

While the knife from the cutlery set above is great for eating, nothing beats a handy dandy little dedicated kitchen knife for food preparation. The Victorinox polypropylene handled paring knife has a good blade that holds its edge really well.

6 - Cooking Stove Mat

Nine times out of ten you'll have solid clear ground to place your cooking stove on and this cooking stove mat isn’t needed. However there are two instances where this mat is useful. Firstly, when you camp somewhere sandy this mat solves the problem of your cooking stove legs sinking into the sand by providing a solid base for it to sit on. Secondly, if you are forced to place your cooker on dry grass, it shields the flames from a liquid stove cooker and avoids ground fires.

7 – Matches

Traditional striking matches are my pick over a lighter or any other fancy-pants ignition system. Because I regularly use a white spirits MSR cooking stove I find the extra length of the matches easier and more convenient compared to a lighter.

8 - Matches in a Waterproof Container

Whether you use matches, a lighter or some other ignition system as your main lighting tool, a backup set of matches in a waterproof container is a must. If your matches or lighter get wet, or your ignition system or flint firestone stops working then you’re inline for a cold dinner! Carrying backup matches in a waterproof container is a great safeguard to ensure you always get a nice hot meal.

9 - Scouring Pad

Over the years I've used dish scrubbers with their plastic handles cut down, Goldilocks scourers, Steelo pads and scouring pads. By far my favourite is the scouring pad as its super light and super compact.

10 – Dishwashing Liquid

Cleaning up greasy cooking gear without dishwashing liquid is a bit of a nightmare. Just a few drops makes life so much easier. My preference is to carry dishwashing liquid in a Sea to Summit wilderness wash bottle. They are a strong little bottle with enough volume to do 10 sets of dishes. They come prefilled with a general purpose cleaner which is perfectly fine and once this runs out, you simply fill it up again with dishwashing liquid.

11 -Tea Towel

A small tea towel is super handy and certainly worth carrying. They weigh very little and take up minimal space.

12 – Dry Bag

The kit comes in a dry bag that the billy snugly fits into. This makes the kit super easy to pack up as well as ensuring kit contents stay dry at all times.

13 – Cooking Stove 

This kit can be packed up with a gas canister stove or a liquid fuel stove depending on your preference. The stainless steel mug allows the kit to pack up a Soto Amicus Stove plus gas canister, or a MSR Whisperlite liquid stove, or a Soto Muka liquid (petrol) stove.

For more information on these stoves click here: Adventure Riding Cooking Stoves

While most of my riding buddies use gas canister stoves, personally I prefer liquid fuel stoves. I have a Soto Muka Stove that runs on petrol and this has proven to be a brilliant cooking stove especially on a previous month-long ride through Australia where white spirits was almost impossible to source in the Australian Outback.

For the majority of my New Zealand trips however I use a MSR Whisperlite running white spirits. I fill the bottle with white spirits before I set off and if I need to refill partway through a long trip, it is readily available from most fuel stations. I like the white spirits because it burns cleanly and his near nil odour.

A little word of warning regarding cheap gas cookers. I could say you're playing with fire but the reality is, you won't be! I've seen a number of riders buy cheap low quality cookers that are unreliable nightmares to use or fail altogether. While the top brand cookers are quite spendy, they are easy to operate, offer good fuel efficiency and have excellent reliability. The MSR Whisperlite has been my reliable cooking companion for over 10 years and has never let me down.

Camping Frying Pans

Having a frying pan to cook up a nice slab of steak for tea or some bacon and eggs in the morning is gold. However two downsides of a frying pan is weight and space. A good frying pan must have a thick base when used with a cooking stove to distribute heat evenly. Some of the cheap and thin base frying pans may have the benefit of low weight, but they can create intense hotspots causing uneven cooking and burning.

On most of my lightweight packed trips I do not carry a frying pan however on my riding and fly fishing trips where I am happy to carry a little extra gear, the frying pan comes with me. I've tried a number of frying pans over the years and found my favourite to be the Esbit stainless steel frying pan. This is fairly heavy due to the thick base but it distributes heat nice and evenly producing a perfectly cooked steak.

The Esbit pan doesn’t have a handle so it perfectly suits the pot gripper that I normally carry. This frying pan is not available on its own and only comes in a kit with two stainless steel bowls. The two bowls are too bulky for adventure riding so you're essentially paying a lot to get the frying pan however I use the bowls in my workshop to hold nuts and bolts etc when working on my bikes.

Another option I've found to be a good little frying pan is the Primus Gourmet Frying Pan. It has a good solid bottom and cooks food evenly. This one has its own handle that folds away quite tidily making it relatively easy to pack.

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Esbit frying pan on the left. Primus frying pan on the right.

Aluminium Frying Pans

Personally I am not a fan of aluminium frying pans for two reasons. Firstly, the widely documented health issues from cooking on aluminium cookware. Secondly, because of their lightweight construction they can easily get beaten up when adventure riding; especially if using soft luggage.

While I have always been a stainless steel cookware fan, quite a few years back when I was in a camp store one day I saw an aluminium Esbit frying pan coated with a nonstick layer. Normally I would walk right past this type of thing but it was on special for 70% off so I thought I'd grab one and give it a whirl. Silly mistake.

On the first ride with this frying pan, just 15 minutes into the route I got a puncture. No big deal, I laid my bike down as I normally do, fired in a new tube and was on my way again in 25 minutes.

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However, when I unpacked my gear at the hut I noticed that the frying pan and was totally stuffed. When I fixed the puncture the bike was laid down very gently, as I have done many many times over the years. Where my stainless steel pan would have held up without issue, this thing folded like a paper cup and fractured all the nonstick coating both on the sides and the base of the pan. The nonstick coating was flaking off and would inevitably end up in my food. There was no way I was going to be cooking on this, this pan was fired straight into the rubbish bin.

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While everyone has their cookware preferences and there are a lot of aluminium cookware fans out there, I am a stainless steel fan through and through. This incident simply reinforced that.

Camping Plates

Personally I don't carry a plate for most of the lightweight adventure rides I do. If I am going lightweight then most of the meals I pack will be dehydrated, boil-in-bag, or meals that can be eaten out of the billy once cooked.

On adventure rides where I take my frying pan, a plate is needed to eat food such as a steak etc. Instead of taking a dedicated camping plate however, I simply use the frying pan.

Photo 7 of Cooking Kits
Esbit frying pan used as a plate after cooking up instant mashed potatoes and a boil in the bag lamb shank.