Whether you are glamping or roughing it in the wilderness, you have to eat! Although you can get away with eating off of paper plates or skipping the dishes entirely, having a set of camping plates is a lot more comfortable and more environmentally friendly. The best camping plate set has enough dishes to suit your needs, is lightweight, and is made of a durable material.
Why Choose Camping Plates
When you're going camping, why can't you simply pack a few plates and dishes from your kitchen to use at the campsite? You could technically do that, but plates that you use at home typically have several disadvantages when you're camping, even if you're car camping.
For one thing, your standard, everyday dining plates are typically made from breakable materials. Even if you don't eat off delicate porcelain on a daily basis, it's likely that the plates you use at home are made of stoneware or glass, which can shatter or break when bumped or knocked over. Trust me; you don't want to have to deal with shards of broken glass or a pile of shattered plates when you're in the middle of the woods or campground.
Plates that are intended for use in the kitchen or dining room also tend to weigh a considerable amount more than your typical camping plate and bowl and usually take up a lot more room. While not every style plate or bowl for camping can fold down, several them are meant to be space-saving, as well as lightweight. Even a few ounces can make a big difference when you're backpacking.
What to Look for
There are a few things to keep an eye out for when you're choosing the best camping plate and dishes for your purposes. One is the functionality of the plates or bowls. Unless you're car camping or vacationing in an RV and have lots of space, it's often better to choose dishes that can serve multiple functions.
For example, a plate with high sides can double as a bowl in a pinch, meaning you only need one dish instead of two. Likewise, a wide, shallow bowl can do double duty as a plate when needed.
Even if you don't need your plate to pinch hit as a bowl, one that has higher sides can be more useful and easier to eat off when you are in a situation where you need to balance your plate on your knees or place it on the ground when eating.
Size and weight are two additional things to consider when choosing your camping dishes. A set of dishes that stack together or that can be easily stashed in the same storage bag makes it easier for you to pack up and move on. The lighter the plates, the better, even if you're car camping and won't need to carry the plates on your back.
Just like plates and dishes that are meant to be used indoors, the best camping dinnerware sets are available in a range of materials:
- Plastic. Plastic dishes tend to be very lightweight and unbreakable, which are two points in their favor. One point against plastic is that it can contain chemicals such as bisphenol A, which can transfer from the dishes to your food. Additionally, it's possible for bits of plastic itself to transfer to food (WebMD). If you're concerned about BPA or other chemicals, higher quality plastic plates are usually formulated without it.
- Enamel. Enamel camping plates a sort of classic style. Enamel plates are lightweight and fairly sturdy but can become chipped or damaged with rough handling.
- Aluminum. Aluminum plates and dishes are very lightweight and usually cost less than other metals. One drawback of aluminum is that it tends to be softer and flimsier than most other materials. Your plates can end up with dings or dents in them.
- Stainless Steel. Stainless steel plates and bowls are durable and don't leach chemicals into your food. Stainless does tend to weigh a bit more than plastic or aluminum, though.
- Titanium. Durable, lightweight and food safe -- titanium seems to have it all. The major drawback is that plates and dishes made from titanium tend to be at the higher end of the price spectrum.
Part of the appeal of just bringing along disposal plates when camping is that you don't have to wash them. But part of camping is respecting the environment, which means not creating a lot of extra trash. Washing dishes at the campsite might seem like a pain, but it's not so bad.
This video shows you how to easily and safely wash your camping dishes. Once you've found the best camping plates set for your needs, it's important to take great care of it.
Available in a vibrant blue color, the Stansport 24 Piece Enamel Camping Tableware Set contains everything you need to eat while camping: plate, bowl, mug, and utensils. The set contains enough place settings for four people, but can also be useful for couples who camp together and who want to have a spare dish set for each person.
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- Enamel coated metal is meant to be sturdy and long lasting.
- Contains four plates, four bowls, four mugs, and four silverware sets.
- 10.25-inch plates are large enough to hold an entire meal's worth of food.
- Dishwasher safe, so you can give them a deep clean when you get home from camping
- Can be used for more than just camping. Will also work for picnics and other outdoor dining situations.
- Silverware isn't the best quality. It has plastic handles which can't be used over an open flame. The stainless steel part of the utensils is lightweight and flimsy.
- The entire set together weighs five pounds, which can be pretty heavy if you're backpacking. It also doesn't stack or fold together in a compact way, making it cumbersome for backpackers.
- Enamel can chip or become scratched if you don't handle the plates, bowls or mugs with care.
Designed for the solo camper, the Light My Fire 8-Piece BPA-Free Meal Kit 2.0 contains everything you need to eat at the campsite
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- Contains a plate with lid, a small oval bowl with lid, a Snapbox with lid, a packable cup with lid, a spork, and a cutting board/strainer, plus a storage harness.
- Made of a lightweight polypropylene, a type of plastic that is BPA-free and heat safe. You can pour hot liquids or place hot foods in the bowl or plate without worrying about damaging the material.
- Lightweight and compact. The entire kit weighs less than one pound and measures about 7.6 inches square by 2.4 inches high
- Available in a rainbow of colors, which is ideal if you want to purchase a kit for everyone in your family. Each person can get a different color kit and easily tell which kit belongs to which person.
- Harness/strap is flimsy and can break easily
- The included spork is also made of plastic, which makes it much less durable that sporks made of metal. Additionally, some people find it difficult to eat their meals with a spork.
- The included cup isn't ideal for hot liquids, since it heats up and can be difficult to pick up when filled with hot coffee or tea.
The Coleman 12-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set contains four plates, four mugs, and four bowls. It's best for a couple or small family who is going car camping.
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- Heavy duty enamel is crack resistant.
- Dishes are dishwasher safe.
- Plates, bowls, and mugs are large enough to serve a full meal. Plates are 10 inches, mugs hold 12 ounces of liquid, and bowls are 6 inches across.
- Lightweight enough for car camping, entire set weighs just over 5 pounds.
- Doesn't include silverware.
- Although the enamel is meant to be crack resistant, it can chip off if the dishes are exposed to any amount of force. Chipped areas might not be a big deal if they are on the exterior, but if they are inside the mug or bowl or on the eating surface of the place, the chipped areas can give your food a metallic taste (since iron is beneath the enamel). Chipped areas also make the dishes more difficult to thoroughly clean.
- Only available in blue.
- Not ideal for backpackers, since the plates aren't super lightweight and don't fold down or collapse for easy storage.
If the Camp Mess Kit seems a bit juvenile, that's because it is. It's designed for use by younger people heading off to Boy or Girl Scout camp or on another camping adventure.
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- Made of an eco-friendly bamboo fiber. It's free of BPA and is biodegradable. Apparently, you can compost it, but I haven't tried it
- Includes one plate, one bowl, one mug, and a fork, knife and spoon set.
- Comes with its own mesh storage bag, which allows the dishes to dry after being packed away.
- Available in a selection of colors.
- Mugs aren't ideal for hot liquids and can melt when hot beverages are poured into them.
- Bamboo material isn't as durable as other materials. The knife, fork, and spoon included in the set are particularly flimsy and don't last very long.
- The product is targeted at kids and teens. Adults might feel a bit self-conscious using it unless they choose a neutral color set.
The GSI Outdoors Stainless Pioneer Table Set features a plate, bowl, and mug and is available in three colors.
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- Enamel-coated stainless steel is meant to be durable and rust-resistant. The pieces in each set are kiln-hardened twice at 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, which improves their durability.
- Pieces nest together to save space when packing.
- Set contains enough dishes for four people, or for a couple with a spare set for each person.
- Dishes are dishwasher safe
- Available in red, blue or green.
- Doesn't contain silverware.
- Because the mugs are made of stainless steel beneath the enamel, they can become very hot when coffee or other hot liquids are poured into them.
- Although a fine weight for car camping, the entire set weighs five pounds and takes a good amount of room, making it a poor choice for backpackers.
Picking the Best
Out of the five plate sets, the Light My Fire 8-Piece BPA-Free Meal Kit 2.0 seems to be the clear winner. Although it only contains enough dishes and utensils for one person, you can purchase multiple kits for each member of your family or each person you're camping with.
The set is lightweight and made of BPA-free plastic, so it's both durable and safe to use with food. It folds up compactly for storage and doesn't weigh much at all, making it ideal for backpackers and car campers.