|On a recent elk hunt - everybody waiting to eat the meal in the big titanium pot cooking on the wood stove|
Zoya has recently gotten into backpacking cooking gear, and it has piqued my interest in the subject as well. So I've been cruising the backpacking forums and gear websites in search of the latest and greatest in backpacking cooking technology. The upshot of my research is that it seems the latest and greatest is all about freeze dried meals and small pots for simply boiling water (or worse yet 'jetboil' type contraptions). It seems that modern backpackers are not so much into actually cooking a meal as they are into 'reconstituting' a meal.
The downside of all this is that I could not find any large, lightweight titanium pots for sale on the internet. The pot pictured on the stove above no longer seems to exist in the backpacking retail world. That particular titanium pot holds 4 liters of food - enough food that I can (and often have) fed an entire party of elk hunters from just one pot. Modern backpackers don't seem to want big pots - they do seem to want whatever boils large volumes of water FAST.
I also read that titanium cookware is difficult to cook with because the metal does not conduct heat well and is subject to hotspots. Aluminum is supposedly better because it conducts and spreads heat better. It boils water faster and doesn't burn the food. I read very little in the way of dissent with this mantra. And it all goes completely against with how I cook while backpacking. I like BIG titanium pots, and SLOW cooked meals on top of direct heat.
First of all, I like titanium precisely because it does conduct heat so poorly. I love that you can take a pot off of the stove and the titanium seems to keep it hot forever. It does not conduct the cold from the ground that you set it on. That said, a titanium pot also takes a lot longer to bring something to a boil. Like a good friend Titanium is slow to boil but once at heat it lasts forever. Aluminum is more the fickle friend - easy to heat, quick to cool.
I find that the hotspots and subsequent burnt food are more of a problem with aluminum pots because you have to keep them on the flame to stay hot whereas with the titanium pots once hot you can remove them from the stove and they continue to cook.
Admittedly, I mostly cook on top of lightweight woodstoves. I am into SLOW cooked food. The woodstove pictured above, complete with 9 foot stove pipe, weighs on the order of 2 pounds (tent for 4 and woodstove weighed 5 pounds all together). For me the cooking process is all part of the fun. I like the conversation around the wood stove while we wait for the food to cook. I'd have a hard time with simply heating water, pouring it into a packet, gobbling the reconstituted mess down, and retreating to the sleeping bag for the night. I see cooking as entertainment. And even without the woodstove, I find it easy to cook the Zatarains type meals SLOWLY on the 'pocket rocket' stove in a titanium pot.
Freeze dried food is also shockingly expensive. A good 2 person, freeze dried meal costs close to 15 dollars (Packit Gourmet prices - actually edible freeze dried food)! A packet of Zatarains red beans and rice costs less than 3 dollars, has a better caloric value than the freeze dried meal, and weighs about the same. It just takes longer to cook. But add some hard salami, oil, an onion, maybe some beach lovage or other local greens, and after an extra half hour or so of cooking you got something oh so much better than that 15 dollar, freeze-dried meal in a plastic pocket, ready in minute.
Still, sad to say, it seems it is almost impossible to buy the big titanium pot you need to cook a meal the slow way. So if you see a big titanium pot - buy it.