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Civilian camping mess kit
A civilian mess kit, which may serve from one person to a family of eight, is a collection of common kitchen wares designed to be lightweight and easy to store. Such kits are typically constructed from aluminum, though enameled steel is also common, and some items (such as cutlery or plates) may be made of plastic. A civilian mess kit usually contains (among other items) a skillet, a kettle (which may also serve as a coffee pot), a plate, a cup, and cutlery. Kits usually come with either foldable handles or a detachable handle which can be used with other cookware. Items are stored compactly by nesting them in other components (like a Russian doll); the whole kit is placed in a stuff sack.
Kits vary in size depending on how many people they are designed to serve and under what circumstances. A kit designed to serve a family travelling to a camp site by vehicle includes items of about the same size and weight as their domestic counterparts, but a kit for individual backpacking trips is much more compact — the items are smaller, lighter, and serve several purposes (a pot lid might double as a pan or skillet, for example).
Mess kits of almost any type may also include, or be complemented by, sierra cups (also known as sierra mugs). These are compact drinking or eating vessels, usually no more than four inches wide and two inches deep. They are conical in shape, wider at the top, and typically constructed of stamped aluminum or stainless steel, with a looped wire handle. They may also be constructed of plastic, though this is less common, as sierra cups may also be used directly over a heat source for cooking. Their size varies remarkably little from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Military mess kit
While functionally similar to a one-person civilian mess kit, military mess kits are designed to be even more compact, using their space as efficiently as possible . Thus lids will almost always be used for preparing, cooking, and/or eating, and usually come in two or three pieces. As such, it may sacrifice certain features, or use other features to complement it.
When in a large camp, it is common for soldiers to use either normal dining wares, or a multi-compartment mess tray that's similar to a TV Dinner's tray, but much larger.
American mess kit
There are two factors that affect American Army's mess kit's design: firstly, a small camp traditionally uses skillets to cook food quickly. Secondly, soldiers usually eat combat ration, such as C-ration in the past and MRE in present, both only needed to be re-heated; as such, they do not need deep containers to cook stews or rice.
Thus, the flat-oval mess kit is split along the length of the side, creating two halves: the deeper halves forms a deep oval skillet, which has a foldable handle that curves near the end into a latch. The shallow end forms a two-compartment lid-plate, where the center divide is wide in enough so that on the inverse side, the folding handle can be placed. The plate also have a very secure ring that is held in place by friction.
During storage, with the lid on top of the skillet, the folding handle folded over the inverse side of the plate's center divide, and latched onto the edge of the skillet; Lastly, the lid-plate is secured further by folding the lid's ring toward the center of the mess kit, which lock onto another latch on the lid; this make the mess kit flat. When in use, each pieces may be used individually, or as typically used (due to the fact a company often cook together), by sliding the lid-plate's center divide onto the folding handle, and secured to the handle by the same ring and latch mechanisms, forming a three-compartment mess tray. The soldiers can use the skillet to cook raw food, though it is just deep enough for some stew or rice cooking. Instead, it is more common used to heat and contain C-rations or MRE.
To complement the mess kit, soldiers can use the specially molded cup that fits over the bottom of the Army's standard one-quart canteen for anything that absolutely requires a deep pot, such as boiling water. The canteen and cup package also have a specially designed Esbit stove which can fit over the cup, allowing the canteen package to remain very compact.
During World War II, the mess kit itself mainly used Sterno fuel units (stored within a foldable stove). It is likely the Canteen cup stove (using Esbit) is a product from after WWII, since Esbit was designed by Germans.
German/Japanese mess kit
During World War II, both nations' mess kits were similar. In storage, their dimension were similar to the American mess kit's storage dimension; however, instead of splitting along the length of the side, they were split along the width, around two-thirds of the body, creating a pot with handle and a cup, which was useful for cooking and reheating stews and rice. In a variation of this design, the canteen could be placed within the mess kit. They were mainly used in conjunction with a foldable Esbit stove, which, when folded, could store Esbit pellets and occupy a very small area.
Swedish mess kit
The Swedish (m/42) mess kit is a complete package. Similar in design to a German mess kit, but larger, it breaks into two halves: the first half contains the stand-windshield and a Trangia alcohol stove, while the other half contain two pots (one has a handle for suspending on hooks, the other has an extended handle) that are nested together. It can also store a fuel bottle. It's recommended that the fuelbottle and Trangia stove are stored separetly outside the pots (since alcohol can otherwise seep out).
Swiss mess kit
The Swiss mess kit design is closer to the Canteen-cup system design: a tall, one liter canteen, with a stove (burns woodchips, etc.) that cups the bottom of the bottle and a cup/pot that goes over the canteen; the cup can fit inside the stove, better heating its contents.
Other nations' mess kit
Other nations' designs, such as those from the United Kingdom or Belgium, are designed closer to civilian camping mess kits, with the exception that they are usually rectangular or square in design for easier storage. pl:Menażka