Backcountry cookware is not the most exciting gear in an alpinist’s kit, but it’s often very necessary. For me, it’s something I tend not to think about until it’s time to boil water or fry…something…perhaps an old leather boot if I’m starving in a snow cave. The Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Cookset 2.1 is lightweight, compact, self-contained and user friendly: in other words, a mess kit I don’t have to think about until I need to use it.
The Alpha 2.1 set comes with a 1.9-liter pot that has a graded volumetric scale imprinted on the side, two flat-bottomed bowls, and two cups with lids and insulated sleeves. The bowls and cups are BPA-free, microwave-safe plastic, and all of it fits easily into the pot, which has a “Pivot-Lock” handle that slides over the lid of the pot to keep everything bundled up in one compact unit. The whole kit has a listed weight of 18.4 ounces (521g).
The pot itself is made of a hard-anodized aluminum alloy, so it’s non-stick, light and durable. The handle is stainless steel and the lid doubles as a strainer. That means my years of perfecting a method to strain noodles with a pair of pot-pinchers while carefully holding a non-strainer lid tightly against the pot as I dump out the boiling water are now all for naught. It’s also nice that a handle is now a multifunctional part of the design, so there’s no need to fit pot-pinchers–or a “roach clip,” as my buddy calls it–into the kit. Another thing I like about the lid design is that it has a rubber tab on the top and bottom (inside) that fulfills three purposes. The tab on top allows you to lift the lid with bare fingers when it’s hot and it holds the Pivot-Lock handle in place when the kit is packed up. The rubber tab on the inside allows you to snap the lid to the edge of the pot in an open, upright position.
I’ve also been using a 10-inch Alpha Pan ($49.95), which has a handle that folds under the pan for easy packing. On a recent packhorse trip to the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, we used the pan to cook meatballs and sausage as well as a fresh-caught fish, and the pan’s non-stick qualities worked well. That surprised me, because we lacked butter or oil to fry the trout, and fish skin can be nasty to clean off otherwise. I simmered a little water in the pan and the skin came right off.
Sea to Summit also makes an 8-inch Alpha Pan ($39.95) and a cookset with two pots. The Alpha 2 Pot Cookset 2.2 ($89.95) includes 2.7- and 1.2-liter pots, each with Pivot-Lock handles. That’s in addition to the two cups and bowls, all of which fits into the larger pot, for a total weight of 1 pound, 11 ounces (765g).
The main drawback for these pots and pans is that you can’t put them in a dishwasher. Sea to Summit reports that “the anodized surface would be damaged by the cleanser used in dishwashers.” Likewise, the pots and pans should only be used on a backpack stove. There’s risk of damage to the handles, which have nylon components, if used over a campfire. If used on a domestic stove, the company advises that “the flame should be kept low and care should be taken to ensure that the pot does not boil dry.”
On a final note, it’s nice that the 2.1 Cookset fits easily into a standard bear keg (a round, bear-proof container).
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz remembers how difficult it was to clean burned residue from the bottom of his dad’s plain aluminum cooking pot in the ’80s.
Lightweight (18.4oz, or 521g)
Anodized, non-stick aluminum
Includes two bowls, and cups with lids and insulated sleeves
Pivot-Lock handle holds the kit together as one compact unit
Lid doubles as a strainer
Fits into a standard bear keg
Can’t be washed in the dishwasher
Should only be used on backpack stoves