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Best Backpacking Utensils and Trail Cutlery Strategy


Aaron Zagrodnick

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Although your local or online retailer likely carries an array of backpacking and camping utensils sure to satisfy even the most advanced culinary ideas, most of us that don't work as a chef for a living can attain backcountry mealtime prowess with the simplest of choices and without cluttering or weighing down our pack. Here are my thoughts on the main players in this department and what I've found has worked best over the years.

Best Camping Utensils and Lightweight Backpacking Cutlery Options

A selection of backpacking utensils

The Backpacking Spoon

Perhaps utilized mostly for liquids at home, a backpacking spoon serves most mealtime purposes well on ultralight backpacking trips where most meals are made all-in-one style in the pot, freezer bag, or as freeze dried meals, and while those meals might not be soup the consistency is almost always easily scooped and eaten with a spoon. The backpacking spoon is also great if stored inside your food bag in that you're guaranteed that it won't ruin your Opsak if you're using one like me.

Long Handled Titanium Backpacking Spoon

The long-handled spoon is perhaps, the most versatile backcountry utensil you can choose.

The Fork

While a staple off the trail, very rarely have I found myself longing for a fork when it comes to camp cutlery on the trail. Only on those few times I've cooked something more extravagant like steak the first night out has a fork been desirable, but steak on the trail or something similar is a rare, special occasion event indeed. In fact, while I have taken the lightest fork in the kitchen drawer backpacking a couple times, I’ve never purchased a dedicated backpacking fork, and hence no photo here. However, MSR makes a very nice titanium fork and spoon set that is worth a look if you desire a more complete backcountry cutlery set.

The Spork

If you really can't decide between a fork and a spoon and don't want to carry both, one of the many sporks on the market can be an obvious choice. However, the spork’s short tines make it less than ideal as a fork and the same tines make for tough going in soup mode. I've used several throughout the years from offerings like the Toaks spork to a nylon spork (and spatula / knife combo) from Guyot Designs, but no matter which you choose the spork is a jack of all trades...while specializing in none. Combo spoon and fork options are also available that look to seek the best of both worlds in a single implement. If you do decide to go with a spork, I'd suggest going with something like the long handled Snow Peak spork (view at REI) to make eating out of freeze dried meals easier.

Titanium Backpacking / Camping Spork

A backpacking spork offers a jack of all trades, master of none solution.

The Knife

You're most likely already carrying this, and thus no extra knife is needed for hiking purposes. A multifunction Swiss Army knife (I carry the Victorinox Evolution 17 which offers a nice blend of trail features without going overboard) does the job for tough to open packaging and for slicing up such backpacking treats as cheese and summer sausage...and these types of knives will usually even have a can opener if you ever end up taking some old school backpacking food like we did back in the day.

Specialty Utensils

Many other specialty utensils fill those outfitter shelves in nearly every form, color, and material from spatulas to foons to whisks and more (I am still waiting on an ultralight titanium potato masher myself), but these are very rarely needed for the average backpacker and work-arounds are easy enough with standard choices making your pack that much lighter. If you're headed out on a car camping or base camp excursion with a more elaborate camp cooking itinerary, by all means take multiple utensils as well as a bamboo cutting board and the kitchen sink, but for backpacking purposes where your camping gear needs to be light, simple is usually best.

Backpacking and Lightweight Camping Utensils

No matter what utensil you prefer, look for something that won't weigh you down, won't complicate meal time, and is durable.

My Approach

In the end, after having tested camping utensils of every kind you can imagine over the years, I've found a spoon in the material of your choice – titanium, aluminum, and plastic are the most popular, to be best for backpacking purposes. You should be able to target something in the under 1 ounce weight range here.

I always go for titanium when it comes to backpacking cookware for its light weight, inertness, ability to sanitize over flame, as well as longevity and strength – titanium utensils offer almost the same light weight of plastic utensils, but add welcomed durability (utensils made from aluminum are not far behind). Other options like the GSI Essential spoon (view at REI) fall somewhere in between plastic and metal utensils with a nylon-silicone construction. A spoon combined with a small knife of the Swiss Army variety (or whatever knife you are carrying) will make a very versatile combo that keeps you prepared for nearly any backpacking meal.

Of spoon varieties (or even if you go for a fork or spork), long handled varieties are my favorite as they allow for getting to the bottom of freeze dried meals or freezer bags easily without getting food on your hands. Long handled varieties probably won't pack inside your cook pot though, but I just stash mine inside an Ursack and inside a Ziploc bag. I don't like folding varieties here – more nooks and crannies for food to accumulate and thwart cleaning efforts.

Long Handle and Short Handle Backpacking Utensils

The best long handled spoon I've used is the no longer produced Ti-ware polished titanium spoon from REI, but Toaks makes a nice current day alternative with just a polished bowl – the polishing is both easier to clean and more friendly on your teeth than the rough surface of non-polished offerings.

Polished and Unpolished Titanium Spoons

A comparison of titanium spoons with polished and unpolished bowls. Titanium offers a slight upgrade compared to aluminum utensils.

And since I've lost the old REI offering somewhere along the way, I now use the Toaks long handled titanium spoon – a ~$10 investment here at Amazon or over at REI, that will last forever, along with my trusty Swiss Army knife on every trip. Thus and in conclusion, any small knife combined with a long handled spoon in your material of choice will leave you very well prepared for just about any backpacking meal. You can view an extensive list of backpacking and camping utensils which you can sort and filter by many of the points we've discussed above here at REI.com.

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A long-handle spoon with square-ish corners makes it easier to get food out of the corners of a Mountain house (or other) bag.

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I may be a dirtbag hiker... I 'gifted' my whole immediate family with McFlurry nylon spoons. Very sturdy, long, possibly lighter than titanium. They have a little hole halfway up the shaft, which I sealed with a drop of hot glue. The cost was that my teen son and I had to eat a few McFlurries... oh darn! 

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