If you want to cook food, you need something that holds the water and/or food as you heat it up. They best cookware will vary depending on the size of a group and the type of cooking.
When I am traveling solo I use a MLD 850ml titanium Pot/Mug. I use an Evernew 1.3 L when I am cook in for two in the the pot, or for up four people if I am just boiling water which will be poured into an external bag to “cook” the food.
Cookware is typical made from aluminum, titanium, or steel. For backpacking, I would leave the steel at home… its heavy. Titanium will be more expensive. For a given volume, aluminum is lighter, but titanium is stronger… so in theory you can use less of it. It seems in practice that at small volume (1L or less), titanium pots tend to be lighter than similar size aluminum pots, but as the volume of the pot increases (say to 2L or 4L), the pots end up weighting pretty much the same. My experience is that given similar size / weight pots, titanium will be more durable.
If you are just boiling water, Titanium and aluminum works well, but if you are doing serious cooking you would want the more even heating of aluminum. With aluminum pots, I generally prefer hard anodized than those with non-stick coatings because they are more durable when scraped and scorched. Both hard anodized and the more traditional non-stick coatings prevent the nasty metal taste than comes from cooking tomato based products in untreated aluminum.
Pots come in a variety of shapes. The wider to pot, the more heat will be applied to your pot rather than just going up into the air making wider pots more efficient. The downside of wider pots is than if you are using a narrow pot stand, it can be tricky to set the pot down centered. Tall, narrow pots have a tendency to pack more easily and can double as cups,
After a pot has been heated, you will need a way to handle it without burning your hands. One option is built in handles of some sort. I am a big fan of well designed built in handles. For pots larger than 2L I like a bail style handle which lets you suspend the pot as well as makes it much less likely that you tip the pot to the side. For smaller pots, I like fold away handles. I really like the silicon covered handles used by Evernew because they provide enough insulation that I have never burnt my hand. Some people express concern that the coating will burn, but I have not had a problem with this. On a single trip I melted a small section of the coating.
Pots for Solo Trips
My favorite pot today is a mug style MLD Ti Pot (no longer sold, but the Toaks 850ml Pot seems to be nearly identical): perfect for simple, solo cooking in the pot! The pot practically hold around 800ml which is plenty of room for anything I make for myself on a solo trip. There is room to boil water and to cook the food in the pot. Small mugs often required me to cook in freezer bags which is sometimes nice, but it’s good to have the option not to do this. This pot is one of the lightest on the market at 3.7oz including lid and handles. The lid has straining holes which can be useful when makes a variety of foods. This pot and can hold the UL Caldera, stove, eating utensils, lighter, and fuel for several days in a small, compact package. The pot is narrow enough for hot drinks not to slosh out as you drink from the pot, which often happened which I used larger diameter mug/pots. Drinking from a pot/mug directly can burn your lips if you try too soon after you have taken the pot off your stove. The Snow Peak HotLips Silicone Lip Protector have removed that problem for me. The only downside to the MLD 850 is that since it has a moderately narrow bottom, it is not as fuel efficient as the the next pot I will mention. The slightly less efficient heat transfer hasn’t been an issue because I can take care of aa my cooking needs using a single esbits fuel cube. The Evernew Ultralight Titanium 0.9 L pot is also a great choice, especially if you are going to do more than boil water, cook cous cous or ramen. It is light weight, durable, has nice handles, has a small pouring spout which works “ok”, and is wide enough to you don’t lose a lot of heat up the sides. In fact, I have found the .9L wide pot to be the most fuel efficient of any <1L pot that I have tried, typically by 20%. The GSI Soloist looks like a very nice system which holds a cup, bowl, small fuel canister and stove. Another popular option are kettles made by MSR or Evernew or If you boil water for bag meals, you could consider tea kettles from GSI and others which weights ~5oz and has a wide, fuel efficient bottom. Hardcore ultra-lighters often using mugs for drinking and cooking such as the a Snowpeak 600, Snow Peak Trek 700, or the IMUSA Aluminum Mug. It’s easy to burn your lips if you drink from the mug/pot you boiled the water in. The lids on the Snowpeak mugs aren’t so great. but there is are aftermarket ultralight mug lids. It’s also possible to use larger beer cans as pots such as the 24oz Foster’s can.
Pots for Two People
I think a single 1.3 L pot such as the Evernew 1.3 L Nonstick Titanium Pot is ideal for 2 people who are traveling light. The GSI Dualist looks nice, coming with two bowls, two cups, and room for a large fuel canister and stove. Some people use larger pots such as the value priced Open Country 2L pot which can be used with larger groups as well. If you are doing fancier cooking, you might look at something like the nesting 1&1.5 L set
Pots for Larger Groups
Four people will typically want a 1.5 & 2 L nesting cook. There are a number of other nice sets made by MSR, GSI, Evernew. Many people automatically bring all the pots in their cooking set. If you plan your meals well you should often be able to do everything with a single pot… don’t bring the pots you aren’t going to use. If you have more than four people you could consider whether you want to use even larger pots, or break into smaller groups to avoid having to bring huge pots, and to boiling 4L+ on a single stove.
I know some people who really like bring light weight ovens because it expands cooking options beyond what can be accomplished in basic pots. Alas, all the companies that used to make back country ovens such as bakepacker seem to have gone out of business.
Bear Bowl is a successful crowdsourced project which has produced a “folding” cockpit. It’s an aluminum base with fiberglass sides which can be folded mostly flat. While these pots weight about the same as more traditional pots, having a 4L pot folding flattish could be quite useful on group backpacking trip. The smaller pots don’t make sense to me. Traditional pots aren’t that difficult to fit into a pack, and often the hard sides of the pot are used to protect more delicate things like the stove.
I don’t have a good recommendation for a great low cost pot because the two classic options don’t seem to be made anymore. The WalMart grease pot has been the traditional low weight, low cost option among thru-hikers, ultralighters and dirtbags. There was a nice upgrade of this 3-cup pot sold by Open Country and Anti Gravity Gear.
When traveling solo I eat out of my pot, use a MSR Folding Spork which packs inside my pot while still extend long enough to reach into freeze dry cook bags. If I am on a group trip I typically bring a Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl because it fits with my stove and fuel canister inside my pot.
I generally recommend solo trekkers to eat out of their pots to save both the weight of an extra container and to have one less item to clean. In groups, eating out of the pot is typically not appropriate. A minimalist approach in a group is to carry a single sierra cup, bowl or mug, and to drink and eat your meal in stages. Alternatively you could bring a large bowl (zip-lock 2 cup container makes a dandy backpacking bowl) and a light weight cup/mug. You will also need a spoon, though some people like a spork or foon (a spoon whose front is fork-like). I would recommend getting utensils made from Lexan because they are cheap, light weight, reasonably durable, don’t have a “taste” like steel, and won’t scratch pots like titanium. If you are using backpacker oriented freeze dry meals you might want an extra long spoon that lets you mix the food without getting you hand down into the bag. I would recommend avoiding the Light My Fire Spork. There are numerous reports of it breaking in the field. I also don’t like the design, but that’s just me.
There are plenty of “disposable” containers that get thrown out each day… you shouldn’t have a hard time finding something that with work for you. My favorite item are the disposable plastic bowl for single serving of noodles or soap. Cost is around $1 and you get food as well. These bowl are durable, very light (.2oz) and holds the right amount of food. Fast food restaurants have cheap, flimsy plastic flatware. If you are using these cheap utensils, take a couple in case one of them breaks. Two “disposal” utensils will often be lighter weight than one more durable item.