Backpacking Cookware Materials

More than half of the cookware sold today is made of aluminum, according to the Cookware Manufacturers' Association. But most of these aluminum pots and pans are coated with nonstick finishes or treated using a process that alters and hardens the structure of the metal.

In the 1970s, Canadian researchers reported that the brains of Alzheimer's disease victims contained abnormally high levels of aluminum. The studies stirred a controversy about whether aluminum is the cause or result of the disease. At the same time, many concerned consumers discarded their natural aluminum cookware.

Stephen Levick, M.D., from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., wrote in a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine , "out with my corroded aluminum pots." John Koning, M.D., from Riverside General Hospital in Corona, Calif., responded, "most ingested aluminum is recovered in the feces, and much more is ingested by a person taking antacids than one could ever leach from an aluminum pan. Dr. Levick has thrown away his pots and pans to no avail." Researchers still are investigating the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. But according to Creighton Phelps, Ph.D., director of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, much recent data support the theory that brains already damaged by Alzheimer's disease may permit entry of abnormally high levels of aluminum.

As FDA and researchers point out, aluminum is ubiquitous. It is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust (after oxygen and silicon). It is in air, water and soil, and ultimately in the plants and animals we eat.

Many over-the-counter medicines also contain aluminum. According to the Aluminum Association, one antacid tablet can contain 50 milligrams of aluminum or more, and it is not unusual for a person with an upset stomach to consume more than 1,000 milligrams, or 1 gram, of aluminum per day. A buffered aspirin tablet may contain about 10 to 20 milligrams of aluminum.

In contrast, in a "worst-case scenario," a person using uncoated aluminum pans for all cooking and food storage every day would take in an estimated 3.5 milligrams of aluminum daily. Aluminum cookware manufacturers warn that storing highly acidic or salty foods such as tomato sauce, rhubarb, or sauerkraut in aluminum pots may cause more aluminum than usual to enter the food. (Also, undissolved salt and acidic foods allowed to remain in an aluminum pot will cause pitting on the pot's surface.) However, aluminum intake is virtually impossible to avoid, and the amount leached in food from aluminum backpacking cookware is relatively minimal, according to Thomas.

FDA reviewed existing data because of consumer concern and formally announced in May 1986 that the agency "has no information at this time that the normal dietary intake of aluminum, whether from naturally occurring levels in food, the use of aluminum cookware, or from aluminum food additives or drugs, is harmful."

--Return to Top


Consumers who do not use aluminum pots and pans typically use stainless steel. Stainless steel cookware and bakeware is exceptionally durable. Its attractive finish won't corrode or tarnish permanently, and its hard, tough, nonporous surface is resistant to wear. As stainless steel does not conduct heat evenly,most stainless steel cookware is made with copper or aluminum bottoms. Manufacturers caution against allowing acidic or salty foods to remain in stainless steel for long periods. Although there are no known health hazards from leaching of the metal, undissolved salt will pit steel surfaces.

--Return to Top


Because nonstick finishes may be scratched by sharp or rough-edged kitchen tools, manufacturers recommend using plastic or wooden utensils. Abrasive scouring pads or cleansers should not be used to clean them. Nonstick pans do abrade with heavy use and particles may chip off, if ingested particles pass unchanged through your body and pose no health hazard. Cooking enthusiasts now are hailing Silverstone and Excalibur nonstick coatings, which are made of three layers of the same plastic used on Teflon and other perflourocarbon resin-coated pans. This material is extremely durable, inert and it will not migrate.

--Return to Top


Titanium is durable, lightweight, and non-magnetic. Titanium is difficult to produce and very hard to machine.

Titanium is:

Feather Weight--nearly 50% lighter than average steel.
Super Strong--strong as stainless steel and tough as chrome moly.
Non-magnetic--100% sure, because it does not contain iron.
Highly non-corrosive--extremely acid resistant

Excellent Corrosion Resistance
Titanium is immune to corrosive attack by salt water or marine atmospheres. It also exhibits exceptional resistance to a broad range of acids, alkalis, natural waters and industrial chemicals.

Superior Erosion Resistance
Titanium offers superior resistance to erosion, cavitation or impingement attack. Titanium is at least twenty times more erosion resistant than coppernickel alloys.

High Heat Transfer Efficiency
Under "in service" conditions, the heat transfer properties of titanium approximate those of admiralty brass and coppernickel. There are several reasons for this:

1.Titanium's higher strength permits thinner-walled equipment.
2.There appear to be unusual and beneficial characteristics in titanium's inherent oxide film.
3.The relative absence of corrosion leaves the surface bright and smooth for improved lamellar flow.
4.Titanium's excellent erosion-corrosion resistance permits significantly higher operating velocities.

Superior Strength-to-Weight Ratios
The combination of high strength and low density results in exceptional strength-to-weight ratios for titanium-based alloys. The ratios for titanium-based alloys are superior to almost all other metals.

Plus, of course, awesome for application in ultralight titanium backpacking cookware !!! :)