Anyone who has been a scoutmaster or spent much time canoeing in the Boundary Waters stands a good chance of having used Mirro aluminum camp cooking sets. In years past Mirro cook sets were the “gold standard” by which other cook sets were judged. Even now, many outfitters still use old Mirro cookware. Old Mirro camp ware found at garage sales and flea markets are quickly snatched up and hoarded. I know. I do that.
Well, unfortunately gear doesn't last forever, so I have grudgingly been shopping for a new camp cook set. I have set criteria that I will not compromise on. It has to be lightweight but sturdy. It has to be able to have service for four people, but not take up much space.
After shopping online and in local sporting goods stores, I decided on the Pinnacle Camper by GSI. I have been using other GSI cooking gear for years so I didn’t have much hesitation on the issue of quality. But, I wanted to see how my new GSI cookware stacks up against my old Mirro set. Really, it’s a love/hate relationship. I love my new GSI set, but I hate not having my old familiar Mirro set.
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Both sets are a mix of aluminum and plastic, with the GSI featuring more plastic. The Mirro set appears to be plain aluminum while the GSI set is anodized, which supposedly hardens the aluminum.
Both sets nest, meaning that everything fits inside each other to minimize space. On my Mirro set, everything nests inside the two-gallon pot. On my GSI set, everything nests inside the three-liter pot, which in turn is protected inside a rubberized nylon sack that doubles as a sink.
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A great deal of new camping gear is following the “less is more” philosophy, which is good in some respects, such as packing them mile after mile. My Mirro set weighs in at five pounds, ten ounces, stands nine inches tall and eleven inches wide. My new GSI set weighs three pounds, twelve ounces, stands a little less than six inches tall, and nine inches wide. So, it’s like comparing an old Dodge Ramcharger with a new Dodge Dakota.
Another way the new GSI set makes use of modern technology is the bottom of the pots and pan. These days it is assumed you will be using a fuel-efficient stove to heat water and rehydrate freeze dried meals. Modern protocol demands boiling water quickly to conserve fuel. The new GSI pots and pans have ridges on their bottom, which translates into double or triple the surface area, more efficient heat transfer, and less fuel consumption. Plus, the GSI pots come with tight-fitting lids, which means water will boil faster and less fuel consumption.
My Mirro frying pan was marginal for frying a full meal and the GSI frying pan is just over a half-inch smaller. Yes, I can fry four eggs at the same time, but bacon strips need to be cut in half to fit. One ham or beef steak is the maximum it can hold, but generally, I cook my steak on the cast- iron grill found at every BWCA campsite anyways.
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To save weight and space, neither pot has a bail, so carrying a pot of water back from the lake is a bit awkward. A person could use the nylon holder to carry the three-liter pot. The problem is I liked having the Mirro two-gallon pot as a fire-extinguisher and dishwasher.
My Mirro set also has an actual coffee pot, which is nice for those cool nights when everyone wants hot chocolate. Yes, I can use the GSI two-liter pot to do the same thing, but there’s something nostalgic about using my old coffee pot.
My old aluminum Mirro plates are larger, nine inches in diameter, compared to the seven and a half inch GSI plates. But, the GSI plates are plastic, which means they do not transfer heat through to my hands, which is great. Another GSI plus for germ phobic folks, is that the GSI plates, cups, and bowls are color-coded, so it’s easy for everyone to keep track of who’s cup, plate, or bowl is who’s. This is a real plus for those of us with kids.
I also really like the larger cups. My old hard-to-hold Mirro cups held a maximum of eight ounces, which was never enough when it came time to sip hot cocoa after the day is done. My new GSI cups hold 14 ounces, and are insulated. Plus they have snap-in sippy-lids that keep the bugs out and make sipping scalding hot coffee safer. My only fault on the GSI cups is the measuring cup marks. The marks are hard enough to read in broad daylight, I don’t even want to think about trying to read them by headlamp after a long day of paddling.
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The GSI bowls are much better than my old Mirro bowls. While they both hold 16 ounces, the GSI are deeper and easier to hold. I had to grip my old Mirro bowls by dipping my thumb into whatever I was eating.
A few last features I would be remiss if I didn’t include is the locking handle and the strainer lids.
The Mirro frying pan handle was always kind of iffy and I have had more than one meal hit the dirt because the handle slipped off as I was stirring. The GSI handle snaps in and will not come off until you want it to, period.
Pasta is another light-weight meal for the BWCA but straining the water off was a ballet to keep the frying pan in place, as I tried to dump the water while keeping the pasta. The GSI lids have built-in strainers.
I grudgingly admit that it’s time to retire my Mirro set, so my GSI Pinnacle Camper cook set has a permanent place in my BWCA canoeing gear. I like less weight and less space so I will make adjustments in my thinking about what is necessary gear. (Sorry coffee pot, but you’re staying home from now on.) Technically, it is compact enough; I could even use the GSI set on the Grand Canyon hike I am planning.
Don’t worry, my Mirro set isn’t going to be relegated to the garage sale stack. Heck, with everything retro being hip these days, I might display it on our dining room hutch.