You need something to cook on, and the core of the overland kitchen is the stove. As a vehicle affords you a lot more space than backpacking, many people will go with a larger, multi-burner, multi-fuel stove, instead of a basic backpacking stove. The Coleman stove is the iconic classic, but there are many similar but modern and updated designs from brands like Camp Chef on the market and many others offering various fuel compatibilities and other options. Make sure you select something with a fuel you can source on the trail. If your stove uses a slightly unusual fuel, always make sure you’re stocked up. Also, make sure that if it needs any special tools to use or clean it, that you have them with you.
Mountaineer Aluminum Propane Camp Stove by Camp Chef
Travel Fridge or Cooler
Cold food has to stay cold, or else your trip is going to have an added element of drama – food poisoning, rotting food, and wasted money. There’s two options for food cooling: a 12-volt travel refrigerator/freezer, along the lines of an ARB Zero Fridge, or a sturdy cooler.
A fridge offers a lot of benefits for a longer trip. It removes your reliance on ice, which you have to constantly source and keep up with. Many popular camping areas are now charging $5 a bag and more for ice, and a typical larger cooler takes more than one bag to fill it. A fridge can cost hundreds of dollars, but at that rate, it’ll pay itself off sooner than you’d think. You also gain the benefit of constant food temperature, while a cooler can fluctuate, making it harder to carry something like meat or milk for the long haul. (Again, the saved money not spent on spoiled food can justify a fridge.) In addition, many newer travel fridges have refrigerator and freezer settings, so you can use them for unfrozen or frozen food storage.
Overland-grade travel fridges are about the size of a cooler but can be heavier due to the mechanicals inside. That’s where something like a Cleariew Easy Slide Fridge Slide can come in handy, allowing you to remove the fridge from the vehicle and lower it to working level – especially great if you have a lifted truck. No matter what, your fridge is a heavy and bulky item and must be strapped down in some way for safety. If you don’t use a Fridge Slide, something like a tie-down kit will also do the job.
A lowering travel fridge slide like this Easy Slide from Clearview Accessories makes organizing and access to your travel fridge a snap.
Old-School with New-School: If you do opt for a cooler, there are numerous new-generation, rotomolded options now available that hold ice much longer than your traditional camp cooler. They are often more expensive than a “classical” Coleman or Igloo-style cooler, but again, you consume ice at a higher rate in hot temperatures. There are high-end options from brands like Yeti and Pelican, and numerous other quality choices from brands that range from reputable like Arctic Zone to fly-by-night. Cooler size and expected temperatures versus days off the grid are your considerations here. If you’re going to go with a new-generation cooler, you’ll want to test your ice-holding capacity in expected conditions. You don’t want to lose your cool in the bush!
Long-haul rotomolded coolers from Yeti, Pelican or this Deep Freeze Titan 55 cooler from Arctic Zone shown, can keep ice for days longer than traditional coolers, plus the Titan features built-in Microban protection that is guaranteed for life.
Utensils and Cutlery
You also need the tools necessary to prepare and eat the food you have so diligently kept cold. You want utensils that are durable, reusable and easy to carry and store.
Clearview makes an excellent 25-piece Camp Cutlery and Utensils Set that includes placesetting knives, forks, and spoons for four, as well as cutting prep knives, spatula, serving spoons, tongs and a cutting straw-based cutting board – all in a convenient, stowable carrying case. You can also source these items from other places, but reusable utensils and cutlery are important to reduce waste.
A quality cutlery and utensils set, like this one from Clearview Accessories, makes meals off-grid easier to prepare, cuts down on waste and makes your meal more enjoyable.
There are many different styles of reusable plates and tableware available. Avoid anything ceramic or glass, of course, as it can shatter on the trail. Plastic and melamine options are commonly available, especially in summer, and you can also go with metal options. Again, you can go from mild to wild here – a simple plastic cup from a music festival does the same job as a fancy titanium Snow Peak mug, but some people prefer the on-trail panache of the latter (or the former!).
Pots and Pans
The upside of overland cooking is that you don’t need to use backpacker-grade lightweight cookware, though some do choose to do so to keep their vehicle’s payload under control. Realistically, just about anything will do the job, and you don’t need high-end cookware on the trail. Some people go the route of using thrift store finds, or that set of pots from your first apartment you have in the attic still. There are also high-end options from brands like Snow Peak that combine low weight with high quality and nested, compact storage for optimal space-saving when packing.
Quality overland cookware needs to be functional and stowable, like these pans from Snow Peak shown.
Cleaning Supplies & Food Safety
We are all more conscious than ever about cleaning, and off-road is no exception. Make sure to bring plenty of dishtowels, sponges, and paper towels. Soap for dishes and hands is also important. Whenever possible, try and use environmentally-friendly or biodegradable options. There are camping-focused biodegradable soaps available online or in outdoors stores and at traditional retailers, like Ever Spring Dish Soap. Try to use as many reusable products as possible to prevent the amount of paper waste that could break loose into the backcountry.
Doing dishes promptly is good for health, as well as keeping critters away from camp. Simple plastic containers are perfect for this. You may want to consider multiples, one for rinse and one for washing. When you’re in the remote backcountry, make sure to follow all regional regulations on water disposal to preserve the water table. Keep all food and toiletries secured and check local ordinances and notices for bear activity. If you keep a clean site, you’ll keep critters from wanting to visit your campsite.
Choose soaps and cleaners that are biodegradable, keep a clean and locked-down camp site and know what sorts of wildlife could be drawn to your food.
Tables, Chairs, and Comfort
You need a flat surface to prepare food on. Though certain vehicles, like a Range Rover or LR3/LR4, have a convenient fold-down lower tailgate to use as a table, you may need to create your own surface. There are several options for lightweight, easy-to-setup camping tables, which often roll up into a transport bag. ARB’s Compact Aluminum Camping Table is a good option.
A durable and portable table will make food prep, dining and enjoying your experience easy, like this compact aluminum camp table from ARB.
You also need somewhere to sit. If you are an ultralight traveler, you may be okay taking your chances with a rock or the ground, but many people prefer to have some kind of camping chair. There are many different camp chairs on the market, but make sure whatever you pick folds down somewhat compactly so that it will fit in the back of your vehicle. Again, ARB makes a Sport Camping Chair that’s durably-built for off-grid and collapses into a carrying case.
Don't sacrifice comfort or durability while overlanding - you'll want a quality seater that stows neatly when not in use, like this ARB Sport Touring Camp Chair.
Many people also like to take awnings off-road. These allow you to create shade and shelter in the hot desert or rainy forest. There are several options, which usually bolt to a roof rack and swing-out the side or back of the vehicle. ARB makes examples of these as well, which have been design tested in the Australian Outback.
Awnings, windbreaks and accessories can provide needed shade and wind protection for when the elements can turn on you.
The Food Itself
You have a kitchen – now you need food!
On the trail is no time to experiment with new recipes and techniques, particularly ones that are geared towards a home kitchen. It’s usually better to go with tried and true favorites, or if you want to experiment, at least variations on a theme – new marinades and rubs for meats, or an interesting stir fry. You also don’t have to eat freeze-dried backpacker food the entire trip – you have that truck for a reason!
Remember, you are carrying all your stove fuel with you – you’re not plugged into your house’s electric or gas. The fewer pots and pans the meal takes to cook, the easier it will be to make and the easier it will be to sustain your fuel source.
Tired and true favorites are best for camp cooking, especially if your cooking for a group.
If anyone in your party has food allergies or intolerances, you should be particularly careful about them on the trail. Sometimes when you’re traveling, you’ll encounter unfamiliar brands of familiar items. Always check the labels to make sure they’re safe for everyone. Even things as familiar as bread might be made in a cross-contaminated facility in a different region. If anyone has a life-threatening food allergy, make sure to scope out the nearest hospitals to the trail and the quickest ways out of the backcountry to access them, and carry at least two EpiPens.
Food tastes better with seasoning, and it makes just as much of a difference on the trail as it does at home. The basics are long-term shelf-stable, and cheap enough to buy dedicated containers for camping – salt, pepper, et cetera. But if you have a taste for a regional or cultural seasoning or some special mix from an independent blender somewhere, make sure to bring plenty of it with you ahead of time. You’re not going to find Old Bay, Adobo, or your favorite steak rub in just any random supermarket in the country or the world. Pack ahead enough to keep you happy for your trip.
Potable water is the base necessity of the camp kitchen. It’s used in every stage of meal prep, from cooking to cleaning, as well as for drinking. You also probably use way more of it than you think day-to-day on the trail. Death Valley National Park suggests always bringing plenty of water in your car and plan to drink at least 2 to 4 liters per day per person, or more if you are active in the heat of summer. That’s probably a good baseline to use when overlanding anywhere, keeping in mind that consumption is typically higher in the comforts of a truck, with more uses for water.
There are many ways to carry water on board, but one of the easiest is a large, 20-liter Jerry Can, like the one made by Wavian. Containers like this are a convenient size to carr