When it comes to backpacking the most important thing is using gear that you enjoy and know how to use. From my experience in minimalistic camping and bushcrafting, I have found that bucket style mess kits, or as our English friends call them, “Billy cans” seem to work the best compared to the traditional boyscout or USGI mess kit for minimalistic camping.
By all means, it is best to use what you like and know how to use, but here are some reasons why I have fallen in love with the bucket systems.
When we look at many of the true survivors in the world, the primitives and refugees found throughout the world, we see that the cooking pot is primordial to survival. The Billy Can system lends all the abilities of the cooking pot in a condensed version offering, what I feel as, more advantages than that of the smaller capacity BSA style mess kits.
Here in the North woods, for more than half the year, water is unavailable except through means of melting ice or snow. The bucket system allows more ice and snow to be melted than the shallow pans and pots of the traditional BSA style mess kits. This makes acquiring an essential resource to our survival much easier. Not only for snow and ice, but for the collection and boiling of any amount of water for drinking purposes.
Once, while debating the advantages of the Billy Can systems, someone retorted with “Yes, but you cannot fry a fish in a bucket!” My first thought about this was mostly a knee jerk reaction. Of course, you can’t fry a fish, if only I could do that! But after the initial shock of the idea passed and some thinking on it, the advantages of the bucket system became obvious once more. While bucket systems don’t lend much to frying, how often do you have butter while in the bush to grease the pan to begin with, preventing sticking and a loss of vital nutrients?
Secondly, the bucket system lends to the essence of what eating in a survival situation is about: maximum nutrient uptake. Through the method of frying foods, many nutrients are lost through the mechanics of cooking the food. The bucket systems promote the use of boiling, which will save more nutrients, grease drippings, marrow, and the other good things that would be otherwise lost and hold it in the water. All cook water in a survival situation should be drank as it will then impart these nutrients, extra calories, and hydration unto the imbiber.
These simple listed advantages are what I feel weigh so heavy in choosing a bucket system over a BSA style mess kit. They both can serve you well, and as said absolutely use what works best for you, but it seems that the many real life uses of a pot over a pan highly add value to bucket systems and make them indispensable for wilderness living.