Tin Can Mess Kit / Cook Kit





Introduction: Tin Can Mess Kit / Cook Kit

This isn't intended to outdo those titanium wonders out there, but it is a far cry better than some of the kits they want to try and sell you at your local China-mart. If you are willing to raid your recycling bin and invest just a little time in collecting things around your house, you too can have a very respectable mess kit as the reward.

Step 1: Empty, Clean, Cut

Start with a large can of your favorite food, preferably 20 oz to 30 oz in size.  The 20 oz most know is the classic Bush’s Baked Beans.  I prefer the 30 oz can often used for bean and canned fruit.  For my kit I use both.

When opening the cans, cut the cans on the side.  Most modern openers do this normally, but if you have a “classic” opener, turn it 90 degrees and twist on top of the can.  Cutting on the side will create a lid for your pots, if you want the option.

Empty the contents of the cans, preferably in a manner that makes your stomach happy. 
Then remove the labels and wash the cans out.

Once the cans are clean, use a nail or a good tool knife to make small holes close to the top of each can, on opposite sides of each other.  Take a piece of coat hanger or other wire and cut to fit handles for each can.

At this point you have a Billy Can, the tried and true basics of any mess kit.  If you make both types you have 2 cans that can nest together.  Now at first, one may wonder why 2? But if you think of meal time you can have two pots of water going, one for dinner like soup or noodles, and a second for your drink, like cocoa or coffee.

Step 2: Add a Bowl

If we are spending time on making a kit, let’s talk about simple additions that can make this better.  My first and favorite is a 10oz canned chicken can, emptied and washed as before.  Once completed you have a bowl for your kit.  This is nice if you would like something that will not be over the fire to hold your food while you eat it.  Also the 2 in sides are perfect for wrapping a few feet of duct tape around.  This gives you some insulation around your bowl, but also always gives you a few feet of duct tape when you are out in the field.  Finally, when not in use, the bowl is the perfect depth and with to become the lid to the rest of the nesting kit.

Step 3: Cutlery

After a day on the trail, I am dirty, especially my hands, and the last thing I generally want to do is eat with my fingers, so I bring my cutlery.  This is the first mess kit I’ve had that my cutlery fit inside my kit.  I included the standard knife, spoon, and fork combo.  I also
included a pair of chopsticks as I do know how to use them and they come in handy for other camp projects like coal burning and such. 

NOTE:  I did have to cut my chop sticks down to size, and my spoon needed about  ¼  bent off to fit in the kit.  But for what I felt was the great convenience of everything in one grab and go kit, it was an easy decision.
The bandana is no accident either.  I keep one in my kit as a small table cloth, napkin, etc.  It also acts as my 1st stage/emergency filter when I’m collecting wild water.  Color is optional as color has no effect on the function.

Step 4: Fire Kit

I may be strange, but when I cook, I like to use fire.  So in my mess kit, I keep a backup fire kit.  (My primary kit is on my person.)  This backup fire kit is made up of a cheap but working Bic lighter and a petroleum jelly product in a tin can.  In that can I keep as many cotton balls as I can stuff between the jelly and the lid and still close it, giving me flame, tinder, and a relatively safe accelerant.  As there is high probability I will be in the dark I keep a backup flashlight here also.  (Again, my primary is on my person.)

Step 5: Emergency Food

Now I know that food is the last worry in a survival situation, but there is a very comforting sense of being Ready that comes with knowing you have a few tools to greatly enhance your odds of catching a meal in the wild.  In my tin, I keep a flint arrowhead, which is both and premade weapon and a backup backup fire starter.  With duct tape fletching and a stick, I have an arrow.  I also carry a 20ft wind of picture frame wire for snares and for repairs of gear in the field.  The most useful item I have is a 5-1 Survival whistle that I have added fishing line hooks and weights to and have routinely caught fish with.   Finally, I have a foot of the buckle end of an old leather belt included with new holes punched in.  This is used as a tripod strap just to make that structure simple and quick.

Step 6: Pack It Up

And yes, it ALL fits in there. I actually like that it’s rather full, because that reduces rattling noises.  Actually, in any system like this there will always be nooks and crannies.  Use your own tastes to what you want to store.  Tea, cocoa, coffee, bullion, are great suggestions as they are shelf stable, just need hot water, but on a cold day are a great pick me up.

Step 7: It Works

*Update*  The outpost took thier kits out of a little survival camp a few weeks back.  I thought I would put this up as a little proof that yes, they do work just fine.  Every can stood up to several meals and more importantly each boy was able to cook and carry his own. 

This is also now my entry in the Be Prepared Contest.  Your vote would be appreciated.



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    Very clever! I might have to have my Boy Scouts try something along this line. Cheap and functional! Two qualities we love in Scouts!

    funny thing is I was looking in my cupboard earlier and there is a huge (as in bigger than my head) tin of beans in there. and this is the first thing I thought of... just need to wait until someone eats them (not a fan of beans myself) but it would be great for when I'm working in the woods for cooking things over our firepit

    Awesome! My 11 year old is making one for his camping trip this weekend.

    Stand Back! I have chopsticks and I know how to use them!

    nice! thanks!

    nice! thanks!

    What do you do if your parents throw out the tin cans and you can never get your hands on one?

    1 reply

    Also, you could add a few oatmeal packets in there and it could serve as emergency food.

    Very nice.
    About those little nooks and crannies: the paper packets of condiments sometimes leftover from eating on the run in town fit in there, and now you have salt, pepper, sugar, lemon juice in camp (lemon juice makes a fine emergency disinfectant, btw).
    Heat-sealed straws are a great lightweight way to carry things like coffee, cocoa, powdered soup, etc.

    1 reply

    Could you use a ketchup packet in there to?

    ahh the memories ...the humble billy can, or as our scout troupe called it ..."Scouter Dave's absolutely priceless and completely worthless water pot". We took them everywhere, from a city snow weekend to an international jamboree. We made ours with the giant #10 cans (think a big coffee can or the can a restaurant would get stuff in). three long branches and an old chain dog leash made a tripod to suspend several over a roaring fire on winter hikes for hot cocoa or boil in bag lunches.
    ...to this day I keep a road trip box packed ready for an afternoon or a week on the road, i always have probably always will, and the kit always has one of Scouter Dave's absolutely priceless and completely worthless water pots.

    ...and Scouter Dave H. if you see this, know the memory and legacy of winter treks, canoe trips and midnight hikes lives on in rusty soot covered cans with coat hanger handles...

    It makes me smile to see someone else making them. One caution tho, avoid the cans with the white coating inside it can contain bpa which will leach badly especially when heated.

    Love this! I'm a Boy Scout leader and this is just what I need for my boys to make. Thanks! You're great.

    Don't those food cans usually have some kind of thin plastic film lining them?

    Excellent! I love to see this kind of ingenuity taught to youngsters. I'll bet this kind of thing was in the old, old Boy Scout manuals.

    awesome job i just made one I used a corn can for the bowl so it was bigger inside i put everything inside a baking soda bottle which fit perfect thanks

    This is a great instructable and I'm going to try this! For choosing a cloth to keep in it, here's a paper on testing different kinds of cloth and how much they filter out - the kinds of cloth were polyester (awful), cotton (2nd best at 8 layers), burlap (best at 8 layers) and silk (best at one layer):


    Oh, so cool! Earthquake preparedness ideas. Thanks!

    I'm a scout commander too, that's why I did this. I have some elder boys ready to not just camp, but hike. With that change I wanted to help them build thier own gear to start with and learn on. And when they know what they like and it's convienant, sure upgrade then. But frankly, I prefer this over by old mess kit.