The Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Set is a compact cookware kit for campers. Inside a large saucepan nests a smaller saucepan (both with lids), in which fits four dishes, and finally, in the centre, four insulated mugs, like some kind of culinary Matryoshka doll. There's also a dishcloth thrown in for good measure. Packed up, it's the size of the biggest saucepan – the handles fold in so there's nothing sticking out – clocking in at 135cm tall by 20cm in diameter and 1221g (lighter than most 4-person cookware sets).
Also in this particular Sea to Summit range is a 2.2 version designed for two people – it's the same design but scaled down in size, and with fewer cups and dishes included. I tested the 4.2 version out, and came to the conclusion it's plenty good enough to be considered amongst the best camping cookware sets for four people. Read on for my full Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Set review.
Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Set 4.2 review: design and usability
Let's start with the saucepans. There are two in this set – a 2.7L and 3.7L – both made from hard-anodized aluminium. That isn't our top choice of material – titanium will offer the best performance for the lightest weight, but that does tend to only appear in specialist cookware sets aimed at backpackers; aluminium is a common choice for more family-oriented sets, even the premium priced ones. Here it works very well, being fairly lightweight and easy to clean.
That larger saucepan is plenty big enough to cook pasta for four, including stirring without ending up in a penne avalanche. Both saucepans feel deeper than wide, which will be helpful if your camping stove is on the compact side (one minor annoyance is that ours didn't sit quite flat at the base). A volumetric scale embossed on the inner means you can use it to measure liquids.
Both saucepans come with a lid, which is pretty crucial if you're cooking al-fresco – it can make a major difference to cooking times and fuel conservation, and all the more so on cold nights. Cleverly, both lids have slots on either side, from which you can drain, for example, pasta water, with relative ease.
The central knob on the lids has been replaced by a flexible rubber grip that works better than it looks like it will. I found it easy to grip on to remove and replace the lid, but it did feel a little less secure when I was using it to hold the lid on and drain pasta water away – although to be fair this can be fiddly even with a proper knob to hold on to. A thoughtful addition is the rubber flap on the underside of the lid that can be used to attach it to the side of the pan as required (as shown in the pic above).
To solve the issues of unwieldy handles poking out and ruining the compact lines of the packed up set, Sea to Summit has added its own patented 'Pivot-Lock' system. The minimalist-style handles can be twisted inwards horizontally onto the lid for storage, or outwards when the pan's in use, and a small plastic attachment is clicked into place to lock the handle securely in the 'out' position.
This works very well. Although obviously not quite as solid as a fixed design, the locked-out handles felt secure, effective and comfortable to grip, even when moving a large pan full of veggie bolognese.
The handles don't lock in place when twisted in, but rather rely on the flexible central grip (which replaces a traditional knob) to anchor the handle in place and keep the rest of the cookware inside. Although this feels fairly secure, other camping cookware sets do have more robust clips to secure things in place when packed up.
Now to the 'crockery'. The dishes are, handily, somewhere between a plate and a bowl, allowing you to use them as either. They're perhaps on the smaller side, but offer a good amount of sturdiness without adding unnecessary bulk or weight. Both the dishes and mugs are made from BPA-free, glass reinforced polypropylene, and safe to use in the microwave or dishwasher, should you happen to have either of those stashed in your tent.
There are also four Insul mugs. These are essentially plastic cups that come with removable thermal jackets, which are are a bit fiddly to get on and off, and have a tendency to slide down the cups (they do, to their credit, do a decent job of both keeping your tea hot and stopping your hands burning on that freshly-brewed cuppa). Be aware that although the lids seem to fit quite nicely when simply balanced onto the top of the cups, they need to be pressed down to form a seal – or there's a high chance you'd end up with a face-full of boiling tea when you come to take a sip from the slot in the top.
Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Set 4.2 review: alternatives
There are a few similar camping cookware sets for four people also worth considering. On the more budget end of the scale, there's Quechua's Camping SS Cooking set. There's a slightly different lineup of products – in place of the second smaller saucepan is a deep frying pan (there's one lid/strainer that you use for both), there's a silicone closure system that doubles as a trivet, and Quechua also includes cutlery. The large saucepan is around the same size as the Sea to Summit one, and made from robust stainless steel with two-layer aluminium base, plus non-stick coating. The build quality looks a bit more basic – the cups don't have lids or thermal jackets, and the dishes look more flimsy, for instance – and it's also 424g heavier (1221g packed up) than the Alpha pot set.
If you have a bit more to spend, MSR's camping cookware is top quality – I've used the 3-person set, and the MSR Flex 4 cook set looks equally excellent. It's heavier than the Sea to Summit Alpha (1670g), but also offers considerably more volume to cook in. The two hard-anodised aluminim lidded saucepans are 3.2L and 5.3L rather than 2.7L and 3.7L. The set also includes four DeepDish plates and four mugs. MSR has a 'Talon' pot handle that clips on and off the different saucepans, and in my opinion doesn't work quite as well as the Sea to Summit Pivot-Lock system. But where the MSR version is notably better is with the mugs, which have secure lids and insulation built-in, and are also pleasingly shaped so as to fill the smaller saucepan while remaining ergonomic to drink from.
Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Set 4.2 review: verdict
Now to the important part of my Sea to Summit Alpha Pot 2 Set 4.2 review: should you buy one? I think it's an excellent camping cookware set. It includes all the main things you need to comfortably cater to a group of four, including a big saucepan that generous enough to feed a group without taking up unnecessary room in your luggage. The saucepans in particular feel good quality and thoughtfully designed, and the Pivot-Lock system works very well. The cups work fine to get you that all-important morning cuppa. Finally, it packs up neatly, and is lighter than many competitors' sets designed for four.