Traveler's Gear Box: MSR's Flex 4 Cooking System

The Flex 4 System from MSR passed its field test in Yellowstone in mid-August. Kurt Repanshek photos.

In need of a good, lightweight cooking set that will help you feed a group of four? Check out MSR's Flex 4 System, which offers two pots and four plates and stainless steel cups in a tidy package.

We put this 3-pound, 10-ounce system to the task during a five-day paddling trip in Yellowstone National Park in mid-August and it more than met our needs.

For starters, the kit is designed to collapse into itself like some sort of Matryoshka doll culinary set. A 5.3-liter pot is the mother vessel, into which goes a 3.2-liter pot, four deep-dish polypropelene plates, and four insulated mugs.

Toss in two pot lids -- both of which are peppered with some holes so you can use the pots as strainers -- and you've got a cook kit ready to meet your needs.

Both lids have insulated tabs on top so you won't burn your fingers when lifting the lids to check on what's cooking. The 3.2-liter pot has an integrated handle that opens outward when in use, with a locking tab, and then closes over the lid and latches onto the lid tab to hold things in place. And that lid? It has a small notch that slips into a small hook on the pot to help it stay in place when you're straining.

The Flex 4's (MSRP: $159.95) nesting is pretty cool. One plate goes on the bottom of the 5.3-liter pot, and then you drop in the 3.2-liter pot. Another plate goes inside the 3.2-liter pot, which also holds the four mugs. Another plate goes on top of the mugs, then the pot lid, and finally the fourth plate on top of that stack. Then you place the 5.3-liter pot's lid atop that pot, and secure it in place with two latches. Oh, and that big pot has two insulated handles. Both pots are made from light, nonstick and uncoated, hard-anodized aluminum.

Quibbles? We wished we had MSR's Flex Skillet (MSRP $29.95) that is designed to fit into the kit so we could have cooked fry bread. The mugs are oddly shaped, but that allows them to nest nicely in this kit, and doesn't detract from their function. The insulated covers are welcome when it comes to coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, as are the lids, which can keep bugs out of your beverage.

Overall, this is a great, lightweight cooking system perfect for paddling trips or even car camping.

Comments

I have been using the similar MSR Quick 2 set for about a decade. My set comes with a single titanium pot, and is for just 2. Like you, I wished I also had a frying pan, and eventually added MSR's Flex skillet. Now that I have a skillet, I usually make eggs and bacon for breakfast. As my family grew, I bought a 3rd bowl and mug, which nest with the original set.

I have really enjoyed owning and using this set of MSR cookwear. The cups are a bit heavy for backpacking, but they're much easier to hold than a tin cup when filled with hot coffee. Many a steak has been eaten off the plates, cup of oatmeal or coffee out of the mugs. The titanium pot is not for real cooking, but has boiled water for many a freeze dried meal on the trail. The nesting of all the components really reduces the amount of pack space needed. I also store folding sporks, a pack towel, and cleaning pad in one of the mugs, all while still taking the original amount of volume up in my pack.

After a decade of use, the only real wear was the pot lid handle broke off. The plates are very scratched up from using a pocket knife to cut my steak. I'm sure you'll get similarly excellent utility and life out of your Flex 4 set.