This article is the third in a series of articles intended for aspiring motorcycle riders who want to take their bike on an adventure and camp off the bike. It’s best to read parts I and II first to get in to the groove… But it’s not strictly necessary. Just a reminder: In part I we discussed adventure bike choice and in part II we discussed tents, sleeping mats and sleeping bags. This part is all about cooking gear.
Cooking gear consists of two major categories of tools which will be discussed in the following sections. I’ve also thrown in a discussion about knives as well. Let’s start with discussing camping stoves first.
Cooking stoves and pots
There are three kinds of cooking stoves according to the type of fuel they use: Gasoline, propane/butane and alcohol. Each type of stove has its upsides and downsides but just like I explained in part II of this series it’s packing volume that matters most in this game. This is why gasoline, which is by far the most energy dense fuel, seems the most natural choice for bike campers. I have to agree to a point. But not all bike campers will be best suited by it. Alcohol stoves, well loved for their simplicity and quietness, are only really useful for short trips as they tend to burn through a lot of fuel fast. Taking lots of fuel means more pack volume so this discussion is really about propane/butane stoves versus gasoline stoves. Alcohol just isn’t energy dense enough for longer trips and you typically cannot regulate their power output.
Gasoline stoves have the advantage that they can run off the same stuff you put into your bike. So technically you will be able to find fuel all over the world unlike with gas canisters, which can be hard to source (but perhaps not as hard as you might think). But it’s important to know that vehicle grade gasoline is very ‘dirty’ and will leave a black sooty residue on your pot. It’ll also clog the jet of your stove eventually and It’s probably not good for your health. So it’s best to stick to clean cooking fuel such as coleman fuel which has the same energy density but none of the dirtiness. In other words: Romantic notions of not having to take any fuel at all and just cooking with vehicle gasoline are sadly misguided. The use of pump gas for cooking should only be considered in absolute emergencies. In some life or death situations you may need to resort to this and that can be the deciding factor for those of you on high risk expeditions.
So realistically both propane/butane stoves require you to carry fuel with you anyway. If you are fighting for each gramme gasoline is the winner as one litre of gasoline will last about twice as long as a gas can of the same volume and the heat output is usually much larger. But all this heat can cause problems because some cooking pans can warp or buckle because of the extreme temperatures. Unless you are simply boiling water you can burn your food much easier using a gasoline stove. Butane/propane stoves, even the cheap ones, are so damn easy to regulate you could genuinely cook a delicate sauce if you were so inclined. Also gasoline stoves have a more elaborate starting procedure and tend to make more noise compared to propane/butane stoves. Quickly making a coffee is an easy procedure with a gas stove whereas the gasoline stove owner will probably just skip the coffee as it’s too much hassle. I’d say practicality and cost are the reasons why for most of you a gas stove is the best option, despite a slightly larger packed volume. A normal sized gas canister will last you a week no problem so it’s really not a limiting factor for shorter trips.
Only those really really hard core adventures riders among you who ride for three weeks or more in very, very remote areas should invest in a gasoline stove, in my opinion, unless you just love using a gasoline stove for emotional reasons. Especially considered that in this day and age it’s possible to order stove fuel online in the country where you travel and have it delivered to your campsite or hotel within a day in some cases. Also motorcycle travellers usually pass a couple of big cities on their trip which are sure to have some store with the correct gas canisters. Whatever stove you choose I advise you to spend a lot of money and get a good one. A good stove will last you a lifetime and because of this buying a long lasting one is the cheapest option as well as the most satisfying.
Whatever stove you choose you are sure to need a pot. My advice is this: Buy a stove kit with a pot included and make sure the pot has a heat exchanger. A pot which has been specifically designed for your stove and with a heat exchanger is so much more efficient you will not believe your eyes. It’s such a simple technology but it’s very effective so choose that stove with heat exchanger pot combo. All major stove manufacturers: Coleman, jetboil, primus and others offer this.
If you must take more then one pot you might need an extra one but make sure to only buy coated aluminum pots. Never cook in uncoated pots which have the typical silvery matte look of untreated aluminum. This metal is soft and will likely end up in your food as you use a stainless steel cutlery which will scratch it and release the aluminum. The cheapest pots are like this. Don’t buy them. Get coated or titanium ones. You can recognise them by their darker colour. If not you risk slowly poisoning yourself.
Special mention go to the Sea to summit collapsible silicone pots. I use one! They are compact and work great. No heat exchanger though. If you are willing to sacrifice some space a two pot system allows you to cook more than MRE style meals. When travelling in europe I buy fresh meat and cook it in a larger diameter pot which doubles as a pan. I choose meat which has a lot of fat in it so I don’t need olive oil or butter. In the other pot, with a heat exchanger, I usually cook some beans or rice.
Cooking utensils and knives
First advice: Don’t take too much plates. You just need one or even none if you are prepared to eat out of your cooking pot directly, which I do. What you typically need is some plate to use as a working surface while cooking. Something you can clean where you can cut vegetables or store food temporarily. This is why a shallow bowl is actually more versatile than a traditional plate. Try to find one that fits in to our pot for compact storage. For light travellers I advise to take their cooking pot(s), a shallow bowl and some kind of cutting board. A thin nylon cutting board be be easily stashed and even used to make your pack more rigid. It comes in handy for all sorts of things and it’s also lightweight.
To eat and cook like a human being you also need a knife and a fork, of course. For lightweight travellers I advise to take a few lightweight plastic sporks with you as they are more versatile than forks. Most travellers already carry a knife with them anyway so just use that. If you decide to take a large, heavy, full tang blade with you it’s probably best to take an additional smaller knife for cooking and eating. Although a leatherman (or other multi tool) typically comes with a knife attached I find the ‘handle’ to be cumbersome and annoying for cooking. The leatherman has been relegated to strict tool duties in my case and I do all cooking with my cold steel recon folding knife. Don’t torture yourself and try to use a Leatherman for cooking. It’ really not ideal.
As for knives I see two common systems: A single knife and a two knife system. The single knife system is for those of you who don’t want to chop wood or kill bears or something. In this case you rely on a single smaller blade which can do it all: cooking, chores and to a limited extent self-defence.
A two knife system is for those of you who want to use the knife for heavier chores like batoning wood, prying or cutting bigger stuff then oranges. So my advice is: If you do choose to take two knives take a BIG whopper with you and just a small kitchen knife. What’s the point of carrying two knives if you don’t cover the extremes? To a limited extent a big full time blade can be a useful tool for off-bike activities such as urban exploring as well. It’ll also make you feel like rambo. But be warned that these knives are not always legal in some countries and you may get in trouble at a border crossing. I’d advise any big knife owners to keep their tools sheathed and hidden as much as possible, Despite this I just love a big knife and I’m considering taking one on my next trip.
Because I travel in Europe I have enough with a single knife. No bears, T-rexes or ninja’s to fight and felling trees won’t make me any friends on the campsite. I use a cold steel recon folder knife and I love it to death. But full tang blades do have a certain appeal, I admit. Oh and before we forget. If you really, really just intend to chop wood with the big knife consider a lightweight axe instead. You can buy a camping axe weighing less than a kilogramme — barely heavier than a big blade — which is better at chopping wood and won’t attract any negative attention from police or customs officers.
Also take these things with you:
- Magnesium stick for emergency fire starting or some matches in an airtight container
- A small sponge
- A small flask of detergent for washing up
- A microfibre cloth
- Two compact or collapsible plastic drinking cups. (Aluminium ones just burn your lips).
- Nalgene or aluminum water bottles
And we already discussed:
- Camping stove
- Pot of camping stove with heat exchanger
- Optional second pot
- A single deep bowl, compact
- A nylon cutting board
- A couple of sporks
- Knives or knife depending on how you like to roll
- Optional: A water filter or water purification tablets (if you’re this hardcore you don’t need this article…)
That’s it for this discussion. Happy adventures!