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What Is a Mess Kit?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

A mess kit is a set of basic cooking and dining equipment that is intended to be compact and portable. Although the actual components of a mess kit can vary greatly, in general it consists of three to five pieces, with at least one designed for cooking over an open flame and another for holding liquids such as water or soup. The term can refer to kits that are used for recreational activities such as hiking or camping, though it also is used when talking about a standard-issue military kit that is used by soldiers who are operating in the field and do not have access to an organized mess hall. Some kits contain more than the cooking equipment and have compact silverware, or even small heat sources that can be used to cook food in the pans provided. The cooking equipment can be made from many materials, from aluminum and stainless steel to plastic for drinking cups and serving trays.

The intention of a mess kit is to provide the most basic of supplies so food can be cooked and eaten properly. They also are designed to be lightweight and compact so they take up as little room as possible in a backpack. One way that a mess kit can maintain a small footprint while also providing good functionality is to have parts that serve more than one purpose. An example of this is a metal plate that can be eaten off of but also can double as a lid for a pan included in the kit. Other examples are drinking cups that double as ladles or pot handles that fold and become stands for hot dishes or heat sources.


A commercially sold civilian mess kit often contains about five pieces. It can have a skillet or frying pan to cook with, a broad cup for drinking, a deeper pan so water can be boiled, and usually some type of plate to eat off of and a general purpose lid that also can be used as a platter. So many types of mess kit are manufactured that the exact number of pieces and type of equipment included can be very different.

Some mess kit designs are more compact than others. One version includes a single, tall cylinder that is meant to be used as a pot, while inside are a series of small cylinders that can be used for serving or other purposes. A few kits include only a single pan that folds in half with some silverware. Very compact designs include flattened plates and pots that are carried in a flat bag but expand like an accordion into deep dishes when needed.

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