Portable Camp Kitchens
May 18, 2017
In today's world there's not much cause to go the way of the Donner Party when it comes to adventurous eats.
You don't have to ration out the Wonder bread and Dinty Moore, either. No, the perfect camp meal falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Incorporating a combination of trail-stable foods and hunter-killed protein, even the most inept of cooks can put together a pretty good menu for the most extreme of hunting trips.
The key is the kitchen.
As any professional chef will tell you, the real culinary skill is organization, with all the ingredients, cookware, and utensils readily accessible to maximize economy of movement.
Having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place is even more important when traveling overland. So is maximizing the limited space in your rig. The right kitchen kit aids in a quicker, easier camp setup and gets a fine meal on the table faster — even if that table is a tailgate.
Here are seven of the best camp kitchen accessories.
Camp Chef Sherpa
Although you probably won't find this versatile camp table/cupboard combo on Everest, the Sherpa will haul a load of kitchen supplies most anywhere else your overland vehicle will take you. It's also a real boon when it comes to organization, which helps temper the facial tics of those of us inflicted with everything-in-its-place OCD.
The zipper front panel folds down to reveal four fabric pods, which are color-coded and feature a small clear tag panel if you really want to get label happy. The "drawers" are padded to protect contents, and the blue pod is even insulated and waterproof to serve as a small cooler. Fabric dividers on the inside of the Sherpa zip out of the way so the interior can be adapted to fit stoves, oversize cookware, or, as I pack mine, a hard plastic tote that keeps critters from chewing their way into my granola stash.
As one of the few fabric chuck boxes on the market, the Sherpa is among the most lightweight options out there other than a blank aluminum box. The shell is heavy-duty 600-denier nylon stitched around an aluminum frame — a design that somewhat reduces interior volume. A segmented, metal table stashes in its own pocket, then folds out and snaps easily to the top of the Sherpa. Telescoping legs put the table about waist high, a little low for comfortable cooking and food-prep, but plenty stable.
My Camp Kitchen Outdoorsman
My introduction to the chuck box was the one my father cobbled together from scrap plywood, door hinges, and a couple of salvaged hooks to keep the door in place as we bounced down some dirt track. It was just the right size to hold a Coleman stove and lantern, a tin can of white gas, and a couple of pans. I loved that thing because when he dusted it off in the summer it meant an adventure was in the works.
This all-wood kitchen brings those memories flooding back, and it's destined to create a lifetime (or more) of new ones. Like my dad's, it has shelf space for a stove, as well as a coffee pot, pans, and a host of other kitchen necessities. A wood slat divides the bottom into two cubbyholes, or it can be removed to create one large compartment. My family's wood box didn't have fancy drawers, but the Outdoorsman is fitted with two, which slide out easily on integral rails. Above those is a unique shelf with magnetic knife holder.
The fold-down door doubles as an 18x28-inch countertop, plenty big enough for basic slicing and dicing. If you need more space than that, a pair of countertop extenders are available for an additional $75. It's also sturdy enough to accommodate more weight than you'd think, though I wouldn't lean on it for any period of time. Another $80 gets you two-piece wooden legs that adjust from 30 to 36 inches to put the working surface at just the right height. Or save the cash and use the Outdoorsman on a tabletop or other solid surface.
My model is finely crafted 1/2-inch-thick Baltic birch using solid dado joinery. It's all but guaranteed to last through several generations of hard use. The same goes for the heavy-duty hardware. Marine-grade plywood models are available, as is a kit version for hunters who are a lot handier than me. All that quality comes at a cost, both in terms of cash and weight (the Outdoorsman is a stout 35 pounds empty).
Like the company's Deluxe Kitchen, this folding cupboard really shines on extended campouts at a single location.
The locking metal frame is sturdy enough you could fill it full of staples and transport fully loaded, but with a 33x20-inch footprint and a standing height of 31.5 inches, it's going to take up some room in your rig.
Better to fold it flat, lock the melamine top and bottom together and deploy as a versatile kitchen storage option once you reach camp.
The cabinet features six separate compartments, each with a removable hard shelf, to store everything but the kitchen sink (you had to know I was going to work that cliché in somewhere).
Rugged, 600-denier nylon shell with, for a reason I've yet to figure out, a mesh back.
Alps Mountaineering Camp Table
Stumps, logs, and rocks all serve a purpose, but as overlanders well know, a solid, stable surface for cooking and eating is as much a premium as space to pack along a table.
Roll-up versions are all the rage on the road, and this is one of the better ones we've come across.
Among the models available, we prefer the straight-up square version, which measures 31 inches on each side.
We've found that provides ample room for the two of us to eat, yet doesn't make for an awkward or heavy package when folded down into the carry bag.
In fact, it's small enough to strap to a motorcycle or wedge into a tiny crevice in the cargo area.
The crossbar leg construction creates a sturdy surface, though particularly uneven or rocky ground may require some creative propping.
The design allows campers to belly up to the table's edge as most camp chairs will slide right underneath the 28-inch tabletop. Snap-lock leg braces securely hold the legs in place, keeping the segmented tabletop and everything on it, off the ground.
The whole package is crafted from aluminum, which creates a lightweight, elements-resistant package of just eight pounds.
Grub Hub Camp Kitchen
When it comes to rigging out a kitchen kit, campers usually have two concerns: a fold-out table/counter for cooking and prep and a separate box (or boxes) for storing food and cooking equipment.
The Grub Hub takes a thought-of-everything approach to solving both issues with one over-engineered design.
At its core, a wheeled aluminum frame is fitted with a heavy nylon bag. Inside, three shelves organize cooking gear, food, and all the included accessories.
Outside, three separate polymer surfaces — two side shelves in the front and double-wide table in back — fold out and lock solidly in place. Dual towers extend from the top and accommodate both a fold-out fabric organizer and snap-on utensil rack.
Like a Transformer, the Grub Hub has an impressive array of features that slide out or strap in place.
Two extra feet extend from the sides for added stability, and a small pocket holds three included stakes for tying the thing down in high wind. A vinyl sink drops into place right next to a couple of mesh pockets for air drying dishes. Even the simple paper towel gets upgraded with an enclosed design that keeps things shielded from wind and rain.
All those accoutrements add up: The Grub Hub is a little hefty at 32 pounds empty. But it's also impressively beefy with a load capacity of 90 pounds.
Cabela's Deluxe Campers Kitchen
The word "deluxe" doesn't do this full-featured setup justice. Maybe "The Beast" would be a better name, because that's what this 57-pound kitchen really is. It's probably a bit unwieldy for adventurers camping in a different spot each day, but for a semi-permanent camp you can't do much better.
If you're a cook that covets countertop spaces, the Deluxe Campers Kitchen offers a whopping 38 square feet of it, along with a 31-inch-long shelf at eye-level and a 32x24-inch wire shelf down below.
Combine that with two hanging pantries and plenty of hooks and this kitchen could star in its own episode of Storage Wars. A poly sink hangs below the main counter and features a valve-equipped drain tub, although, truthfully, the whole thing better serves as a hidden compartment for oversized utensils.
Setting the whole thing up for the first time is a bit of a finger-pinching wrestling match, but after a few practice rounds, it comes together surprisingly quickly.
That's particularly true if you keep the pantry cupboards stocked and stored in your rig. The all-steel frame is plenty sturdy, and the counters are covered in melamine to withstand the elements, though I wouldn't leave the contraption out in a jungle environment for long. It packs down into a handy storage bag for transport.
Alu-Box Aluminum Box
As basic at it seems, a simple hard-sided box is most often the best option when packing groceries and kitchen goods down the trail. Not that there's anything basic about an Alu Box; the Danes have made it all but indestructible despite what is an incredibly light overall weight.
The bent and riveted aluminum walls are ribbed for extreme structural integrity that makes them resistant to crushing or collapsing under heavy use.
The base and rim are extruded aluminum for additional strength, and the lid gets the added protection of cast-aluminum corners that prevent denting or seal failure when dropped.
Heavy-duty toggle latches with internal keyed locks are fully Hamburglar-proof, and an integral rubber seal keeps dust and moisture from reaching your grub. Two side handles snap down out of the way, and the boxes stack for easier packing.
We like the 60-liter model, which measures 22.8x22.8x9.4 inches, for kitchen use, though I'd recommend stocking up on the 42- and 73-liter sizes as well. They all share the same footprint and stack together like bricks — lightweight ones at that.