Cook kit revamp and Swedish mess kit testing

Like many outdoors enthusiasts, I experience the “accumulate, shed, accumulate, shed” cycle when it comes to gear. You buy, make, fix up or receive as a gift a nifty item and then add it to your regular gear loadout. Then it happens again…and again. Before you know it, your pack has grown heavy and bulky and it’s once again time to scrutinize your gear choices and get back to basics. After realizing that I was deep into an accumulation phase last autumn, I started working to reduce, lighten and de-bulk-ify my pack. I’ve now gotten to a point where I’m very happy with my reduced (thought not minimalist) kit, and I will be covering it in its entirety in an upcoming post. In today’s post, though, I’ll focus on the category of my kit which has experienced the most dramatic, and almost complete, change: my cook kit.

As of last autumn, my cook kit contained:

  • Basic cook pot
  • Kettle
  • Non-stick frying pan
  • Spatula
  • Spoon
  • Buddy burner and accessories
  • Folding fire grill
  • Kuksa cup
  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap
  • Sausage roaster
  • Ikea hobo stove
  • Alcohol stove
  • Consumables (olive oil, honey, salt/pepper)

It’s a pretty versatile kit. It’s also a heavy and bulky one. On occasion I used all the different items, but not frequently enough to justify taking it all with me on every trip. After finally coming to my senses, I decided to pare down my every-trip cook kit to a reasonable minimum based on the foods I cook and how I cook them (crazy idea, I know…). The remaining items were either put into the “infrequent or special use” category or cut out entirely.

My new basic cook kit:

Spoon, mess kit pot, mess kit lid/pan, kuksa cup, honey, olive oil, salt/pepper, scrub pad

Conveniently, it all fits inside the pot and lid:

Lots of changes! You’ll notice that I haven’t listed any stoves at all. This is because I use fire for cooking nearly 100% of the time. I have used my various stoves over the years, but in most cases, it wasn’t necessary. I used them just to use them! You’ll also notice that I included the Swedish mess kit I purchased a few weeks back (more on that later).

Infrequent- or special-use items:

Grill, frying pan, spatula, IKEA hobo stove, alcohol stove, alcohol

Items from this kit will come along if the situation requires it, e.g. if I won’t be able to make a fire for some reason (hot and dry conditions in the summer, for example), if I’ll be cooking for a group etc.

I mentioned above that I shed some items entirely. This included a dedicated water kettle (the mess kit lid now handles this), dish soap (I always end up using ashes or sand instead) and the buddy burner and its accessories (just didn’t need it).

Regular readers will know that I bought a Swedish mess kit pot and lid a few weeks ago to try out. I picked this up because I thought it would have a few advantages over the set I was using. First off, the lid can be used as, well, a lid for the pot, allowing for faster boil times and cooking (my other pot doesn’t have a lid). The lid itself can also be used as a second smaller pot or frying pan. The lid and pot lock together pretty solidly, protecting the contents I can stow inside. The overall package is also a more convenient shape and size for stowage in my pack. Now, these are great reasons to make the change, but I wasn’t about to replace my tried-and-tested pot, kettle and frying pan with this mess kit without testing it in the field beforehand. My recent trip to the old farm woods provided the opportunity to do just that.

One of the most basic functions of any cook kit is boiling water, so that’s what I did first. In preparation for making instant oatmeal for breakfast, I threw some water in the pot and hung it over the fire. The water boiled in no time. No surprises there.

When lunchtime rolled around, I used the lid/pan to fry up a nice big chicken breast which I had prepared at home.

I stuck a piece of wood through the D-rings, which made for a nice long handle. After heating up some olive oil, I placed the chicken breast in the pan, flipped it over to make sure both sides were coated with oil and then held it over the fire, flipping it over after a few minutes to do the other side as well.

Test number two was a resounding success! The chicken fried up nicely and did not stick to the pan at all.

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for Weekend Woodsman fried chicken:

  • Mix some breadcrumbs with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and a little chili powder on a large plate.
  • Whisk an egg and some milk in a bowl.
  • Dip tenderized chicken (or other meat) in the milk and egg mixture, lift out and let drip off.
  • Thoroughly coat the chicken with the breadcrumb/seasoning mixture.
  • Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan (to medium-high if cooking on a stove) and fry the chicken, flipping it over after the bottom has turned golden brown.

My final test for the day would be baking. I brought my regular bannock mix with me and made the dough as usual. Beforehand, I sprinkled some of the dry mixture on the bottom of the mess kit pot to keep the bread from sticking to it. The raw dough was then placed in the pot and hung over the fire. It was flipped occasionally to ensure even baking. This shape of container isn’t ideal for baking, but it gets the job done.

All this testing isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it was convincing enough to me. I’ll continue using the Swedish mess kit as part of my regular kit and see how things go!

In case you’re interested to know, here’s how I cleaned the mess kit after cooking. To clean the pot after making the oatmeal, I simply used snow to scrub the inside.

To clean the lid/pan, I wiped out as much oil as I could using snow and then added some ashes from the fire and a little snow. Then I used some spruce sprigs to scrub it clean. Worked nicely!

As always, let me know what you think!

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40 comments on “Cook kit revamp and Swedish mess kit testing

  1. BelgianBirkebeiner says:

    I sure know what you mean, I do a revision of all my kit once a year and adapt it to the environment I”ll be going to. Your cooking-kit looks a lot like mine, but I use a Zebra Billy can of 1 or 2 liters instead. I really want an item to be as versatile as possible, like lets say, the spoon can do what the spatula can do, but the spatula can’t do what the spoon can… what a sentence…. πŸ™‚ great article!

    • Hehehe, if you don’t reevaluate your gear every once in a while, it’ll grow to excessive proportions, right? πŸ™‚ I’ve heard that the Zebra billy can is a great item (and stainless steel, which is great). The Swedish mess kit pot holds 1.5 liters at the brim (or 1.3 liters comfortably), which is plenty for my needs. I’m with you in wanting maximum versatility in my gear. Thanks for the comments!

  2. stellingsma2010 says:

    like that kuksa make it youre self?

  3. So different from my world. I love the fried chicken and fresh baked goods! My mess kit is a 1qt kettle which weighs 6.1 oz to boil water, a cup for hot drinks and a spork for eating freezer bag meals. My way is highly mobile, but you sure look like you are eating better than me πŸ˜‰

    • This method is also highly mobile if you’re traveling in an area where you can make a fire wherever you want (e.g. in the wilderness areas of Lapland). All depends on where you go and what you can/want to do. From what you say, it seems as though our mess kits are actually pretty similar, but that it’s our cooking/eating styles that differ. πŸ˜‰ To be honest, I do spend a lot more time in familiar forests than on trails or in wilderness areas, and my basic kit reflects that. If I’ll be hiking longer distances, I’ll usually carry lighter-weight foods and a stove as well.

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. CoalBlackened says:

    Very nice re-vamp of your cooking system, I’m a kit builder at heart i just like to do it. I do a lot of internet searching on peoples kits and build my kits around proven kits, for woods travel and woods use. Your kits have always been in my opinion, the most fun to use and cover every challenge. It seems we camp in different locations, but in the same kind of situations. That said,I
    loved the post. Any chance that you could post a camping and sleeping revamp if your kit if it has changed from a year or so ago? Thanks again for the post!

    • Well, thanks very much for the comments and compliments. πŸ™‚

      I’ll be doing a complete gear update in the near future and will cover sleeping/shelter kit as well, which has been slimmed down just like my cook kit.

      Where do you usually camp, by the way?

  5. montbc says:

    Nice work! Looks like you eat well in the backcountry. Might have to try a fry-pan dinner like that.

  6. wgiles says:

    Just curious,but have you ever tried to cook a chicken breast in an aluminum foil pouch covered by wood coals? We used to do that with hamburger years ago and it struck me that the technique might work with the chicken. I’ve done something similar with fish using non-stick aluminum foil. I might give it a try sometime.

    • Charlie says:

      wgiles:

      I have taken onions and pushed out the inner layers after cutting off the tops and bottoms… I then packed with hamburger, wrapped in foil and buried in coals… The onion gets kind of burned most of the time but gives the hamburger a really great taste… This might work with chicken…

    • I haven’t tried it, but it’s an interesting idea. I’d probably give it a light coating of oil (as I did in the post above) before wrapping it in the aluminum foil. I’ll have to give it a try on one of my next trips out. Thanks for the suggestion! πŸ™‚

  7. Good stuff as usual!
    I am currently facing dificulties regarding my outdoor “haute cuisine”, as in that my eatinghabits are being radically changed. No more grains, no oil for cooking/backing, no fabricated foods, only whole ingredients. That does mean completely rethinking what to bring and how to prepare food.
    I am still not sure about my Swedish messkit, still love to hate it, but hate to love it, but I have some ideas to alter it…

    • Well, it’ll take some thought and research on your part, but I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some solutions. There are lots of combinations and substitutions you can make to create meals that suit your needs. Who knows, you might even come up with recipes that are even better than before!

      The Swedish mess kit isn’t perfect, but I find it’s suiting my needs well right now. What kinds of alterations have you been thinking about making?

      • I might change the contents of the kit.Get rid of the burner and fuelbottle and add a spicekit and some other things. Maybe even make a stove like a hobostove for it. I understood that the windshield is not useable as such, when using wood to feed a fire.
        I do not use oil for baking (appearantly heating oil creates transfats in the oil, which is not all that healthy), but found that aluminium+butter+food=burnt and stuck food.
        I even thought about removing the handle&hook to replace it with a detachable chain to remedy the rattling, but the handle&hook do serve an important purpose too. They enable you to handle the pot when hot.
        I generally do not like the shape of the set with the sharp angles. Makes it difficult to stir the food (can’t get into the corners) and dificult to properly clean afterwards (for the same reason).

  8. Richard says:

    I enjoy your blog!! I really liked your hike with Pasi H last fall, very beautiful that time of year in northern Finland, just like here in Alaska. Are the Swedish mess kit easy to find over there, I have tried to find them in North America without any luck.
    What ever happened to the Northern Woodsman Skills and Crafts forum that some guy named Ron had? One day it was there and the next some fish site had that url. Had I known that it was going to be deleted I would have printed out some of the good stuff that was on that site. Please let us know if you ever decide to quit, because I like to reread your old blogs and they are GREAT!!

    • Thanks very much, Richard! I enjoyed that trip with Pasi a lot despite the knee-related silliness. A trip to Alaska would be a dream. You’re lucky to live there! πŸ™‚

      The Swedish mess kits are pretty common here. I come across them randomly once every year or two. If you want, I can pick one up for you the next time I see one. Just let me know.

      Ron decided to close the forum due to lack of activity. 😦 There was some good stuff there, I agree. It’s a shame, but I understand Ron’s point of view. He was putting in the effort to run the place, but it wasn’t being used that much. I feel bad about not posting there more often, but I don’t have a huge amount of free time and spend a good amount of it on this blog.

      I’m really glad you enjoy my blog posts! I’m not planning on quitting anytime soon or taking the blog down, so no need to worry. πŸ™‚

      Thanks again for the comments!

      • Richard says:

        Thank you for your reply and your kind offer to find me a Swedish mess kit. I picked up my Swedish friend at the Fairbanks Airport late last night and he told me when he comes to Alaska next summer he will bring me one. He is planning a float trip in the Brooks Range Mountains in northern Alaska and will be using a bunch of my gear to cut down on the amount of stuff he needs to bring from Sweden.
        If you ever bring your dream of coming to Alaska to life, let me know I can help you out in many ways. I could pick you up at the Airport, give you a place to sleep off the jet lag etc.
        If you have Skaukraft’s email address and if it’s OK with him could you send it to me? We had some good things to talk about on Ron’s old forum.
        Ron……Thanks for the forum, I of course have no idea what goes on in keeping one going. I only wished that I could have gotten a heads up that it was closing. There was some good stuff there that I assume is lost forever not just stuff that you wrote in your other blog.

        • Good to hear about your visit with your Swedish friend, and that he can bring you a mess kit next time. πŸ™‚

          I have a feeling I’ll be visiting Alaska at some point. I’m from the States originally and do go back when I get the chance. I’ll have to think about incorporating a visit to AK on one of those trips and meeting up with you! Thanks so much for the offer. Don’t be surprised if I take you up on it! πŸ™‚

          I’ll check to see if I have SK’s email addy.

          Take care!

    • Hej Richard,
      I am that guy… πŸ˜‰
      TWW stated the main reason; lack of activity. I felt like I was doing 2 blogs simultaniously and I no longer wanted to waste my time online anymore than I allready did. So the reason was actually 2-fold. I gave it a lot of thought and tried to bring the forum to other people’s attention, but I guess those that I tried to get involved prefered to spend their time offline and outside. As it should be really.
      What I did write, can be found on my own blog, just click on my name here.
      I’d send you such a messkit…. if shipping from here wouldn’t be so criminally expensive!

      Do you still have contact with Pasi btw, TWW?

  9. Skaukraft says:

    Nice article TWW.
    The search for the perfect messkit I belive is a never ending story.

  10. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    Great article! I love your pan frying technique.

  11. […] cooking gear I only brought the swedish army mess kit. Not long ago, the weekend woodsman wrote a nice article about it. There’s one contribution I would like to make, some people mention as a big […]

  12. Anonymous says:

    Over on the Joy of Field Rations blog there’s an entry describing baking bread with the Kochgeschirr M31, which is a similar messkit (but a good deal more spartan than your fine Swedish mess kit).

    Link: http://joyoffieldrations.blogspot.com/2012/07/brotbacken-im-kochgeschirr-1941-1945.html

    You might want to try clamping your tin up, laying it on its side, and baking with a few embers on top. As mentioned in the article, being careful not to melt the aluminum. Somewhat akin to dutch oven cooking.

  13. jephsimamora says:

    that Swedish messkit is very compact & useful. I wish could found one here in Indonesia

  14. Rocky Mountain Wilderman says:

    Couple things – I really like your paired down mess kit, looks like the essentials you’d want. I think you could get away without having to bring the extras ever. Starting a fire in the hot summer?? Should be the easiest time of year yeah? Far easier than a cold wet winter when all your firewood is soaked or frozen. Lastly, not sure what the fauna is like in your area, but you’re carrying an aweful lot of raw food in you pack it seems, and from the last post it looked like your cooking area was right on top of you shelter. Do you worry about attracting interested wildlife? Even if there aren’t any apex predators where you are, I’d imagine a motivated squirrel would make quick work of that honey. Curious, as most of the bushcraft I’ve studied and applied preaches creating a separate “cook camp” some distance from your shelter.

    • Sorry, I was unclear with my statement about fires in the summer. What I meant was that I don’t like to make fires in the summer when it is especially hot and dry due to the risk of forest fire. I like to use stoves in these kinds of conditions instead, as the forest floor can be like a tinderbox sometimes. As for critters stealing food, I’ve never found it to be remotely an issue here. There aren’t any raccoons, possums, gray squirrels etc. sneaking around stealing food. There are of course critters here, but they are few and far between and usually so skittish that you rarely see them. This does include bears, but again they are very, very shy and wary of people. You’re right, it can’t hurt to cook somewhere away from where you sleep, but I’ve never done it and have never had any problems.

      Thanks for the comments!

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