It is quite possible to do preserving using just the pots and pans and other equipment you probably have already in your kitchen. My cast iron casserole dish has certainly done double-duty as a preserving pan and I have managed to eventually get most of my jams and pickles successfully into the jars and sealed using an ordinary ladle. But what a difference it makes when you do invest in getting purpose-designed equipment! It may seem expensive but should last you a lifetime if you get good quality. You can of course wait for them to be on special or find them more cheaply on Trade Me.
A good stainless steel preserving pan has a thick base on it to help prevent sticking and burning (and is easier to clean if it doesn’t fully prevent it). A ladle with a pouring spout and a wide-mouthed funnel make it soooooo much easier to actually get your preserves into the jar with minimum wastage and mess. They also mean that you generally don’t have to burn your fingers trying to wipe the top of the jars so that you can get the lids to seal (or discovering too late that they haven’t).
Jam jar tongs are a fantastic invention that make the process of getting the hot jars from the oven to the bench the right way up, intact and with fingers safe a breeze. A thermometer takes the guesswork out of getting things to the right temperature.
Whilst a clean kitchen cloth in a jug or sieve does work for straining out solids, the whole process is a great deal easier to manage if you have a jelly bag.