There are some things we can sacrifice while in the backcountry. For some of us, coffee just isn’t one of those things. Whether you are ultralight backpacking or car-camping, I am here to tell you that yes, you can have the coffee!
Coffee adds a wonderful energy boost to your morning before getting back on the trail. On a really long trip, it might be just what you need to get going some days. If you’re an all-day coffee drinker, you might even enjoy a hot cup of joe at the end of your day for comfort. Anytime I get rained on, it doesn’t take long before I reach for my French Press.
What’s the best way to make coffee while camping? Everyone has their own way of making coffee at home and same goes for how to make coffee in the woods. A lot of companies have dipped into the camp-coffee-making world, so there is an infinite number of products to help get the job done. Here’s are favorite ultralight and more traditional methods…
Ultralight Coffee Methods Ideal For Backpacking
Cowboy Coffee is definitely not the greatest, but it will work in a pinch if you absolutely don’t want to bring the weight of whatever coffee-making device you’d consider bringing.
All you need is a pot to heat up water in, a mug, and coffee grounds. Simply heat the water up, pour some grounds into your cup, and pour the hot water on the grounds. Give it a good stir and (try to) enjoy! You can either drink the grounds or do your best to filter them with your teeth.
If you are willing to add the weight of a few coffee filters, you can tie a filter filled with coffee around the mouth of the mug while you pour in water. This makes some good ol’ fashioned drip coffee. Coffee filters are very flammable, so bringing these along could double as your fire-starter.
This is lightest and most convenient way of making coffee. All you need to do is add hot water and stir. You are saving a good amount weight since you don’t need to bring anything else other than the packets, your mug, and a way to heat up water. Unless you search far and wide for a good brand that you like, the quality can be pretty poor with these packets.
Despite the quality being questionable, instant coffee is the most convenient because you’ll have no trash to pack out and no dishes to wash other than your coffee mug – you don’t have to clean coffee grounds out of anything!
I have only been able to find one company that makes instant coffee that actually tastes like a cup of brewed coffee. Their motto, “Instant Coffee That Actually Tastes Good” does not lie.
That brand is Alpine Start. They have a great original blend of medium roast, rich coffee that is quite tasty. Alpine Start also makes flavored packets: “Dirty Chai Latte” or “Coconut Creamer Latte.” As far as the price point goes for Alpine Start, these handy packets are not that much more expensive than packets made by Folgers or Starbucks.
To get the most bang for your buck, they have a jar of loose instant coffee with about 30 servings. This could be a good option if you want the ability to adjust the strength of your coffee.
There are a lot of cone-shaped devices on the market for making some camp drip-coffee. Some are metal and foldable to save space, or plastic and collapsible to save weight. With most of these cones, you will need to pack coffee filters.
GSI Outdoors has an ultralight drip coffee maker that is changing the game. Their fabric drip cone does not require you to use filters when making coffee, saving you even more weight. Weighing in at a whole .4oz, this device is also on the low end as far as price goes.
Kuju Coffee has given us the convenience of instant packets with the quality of pour over coffee. Kuju makes single-serve packets with a paper pour-over filter that has little attachments that fit over a coffee mug. The pour over filter comes filled with organic coffee that is ethically sourced from a farm that employs former sex-trafficking victims.
This pour over option weighs .5oz per packet, and there are no dishes to clean. 1% of each sale goes back to National Parks. You can buy single packets at REI for the price of a sticker, so give these Pocket Pour Overs a shot before your next trip!
A French Press can produce the best quality of coffee you can get in the outdoors, but it does weigh a bit more, and can be difficult to clean. A “pro” to using a French Press is that you won’t have any paper trash from filters or packaging from instant coffee to pack out. The added weight of the device makes up for the lack of weight in trash you’ll have by the end of your trip.
GSI Outdoors made a French Press with backpackers in mind. Their Press doubles as a portable 15oz thermos you can drink the coffee out of or use as your camp mug for other warm drinks.
The mug has a tube with a French Press filter at the bottom of it that slides in the mug. So, to brew coffee, you take this filter tube out, pour the coffee grounds and hot water in, let that sit for a few minutes and then use that tube to Press and filter the grounds. To clean the mug, simply pull the tube out and rinse out the grounds.
Stanley has come up with a French Press device that is the ultimate all-in-one tool for a backpacker. While it does weigh 14.9oz, you can boil water right in the Press. So, even after your morning coffee, you can use the pot to boil water for soup or cook a full meal in it. This Press doubles as a full-on camp pot and tea kettle, eliminating the need for extra cookware and dishes.
My personal go-to is a little 12oz French Press from Bodum. You can buy Bodum products at any department or home-goods store, including Walmart. I first bought this French Press for home use; used it once for camping and have never looked back. For the most efficient packing, you can pull the handle off the product, so that you just have the glass beaker and the Press “plunger.” With the handle off, you can slide the whole thing into a camp mug.
Then you can place a baggie full of coffee grounds into the beaker. *Pro Tip: without the handle, you have to touch the hot glass to pour the coffee, so be sure to have a bandana, sock, t-shirt (or anything else you’ll already have in your pack) at the ready!
Coffee Methods Ideal For Car Camping
Packing for a Car Camping trip has (almost) zero of the hassle and decision making that comes with packing for a backpacking trip. You want to bring that thing? Bring it! Unless you’ve built your vehicle out for camping and there’s just enough space for the essentials, you can afford to bring something even if you “might” use it.
As far as coffee goes, any of the above Ultralight methods will work for car camping. Car camping is luxury camping, though; and single servings of coffee just won’t cut it.
(A Bigger) French Press:
GSI Outdoors makes a 30oz French Press built for the outdoors. It’s sturdy enough to be tossed in with the rest of the gear on your trip, and big enough to provide the campsite with plenty of coffee to sit back and enjoy a morning campfire.
Stanley’s French Press is the classic Press for any campsite. This hefty press has vacuum-insulated walls and an insulated steel lid to keep your 48oz’s of coffee hot during a slow morning. While on the higher end of the price range, Stanley’s Press will last a lifetime with its stainless-steel construction.
Some of my first camp memories include my parents hovering over the campfire staring at a big, blue enamel percolator waiting for their coffee. You can still find that classic percolator at about any outdoor sports store.
GSI Outdoors makes a price-savvy one. GSI’s coffee pot produces the most coffee with their percolator to certainly get the most bang for your buck. If you don’t need all that “bang,” GSI also makes a more compact, 6-cup percolator.
There are so many percolators on the market. Since you are car camping and aren’t worried about weight, you don’t need to spend extra money on one that was made by an outdoor sports brand.
If you want to go above and beyond with your camp coffee, there are quite a few devices made for making espresso in the backcountry. GSI Outdoors has a small espresso maker that can deliver an espresso doppio within 90 seconds.
Wacaco makes neat mini-espresso makers that are hand-pumped. These “Minipresso’s” are the same size as a plastic water bottle and pack away nicely. Each device comes with a case and a small cup for the espresso. Wacaco’s espresso is very high quality, even when compared to home espresso machines.
While they are on the higher end of the price scale, some high quality espresso might just be worth it if you love your coffee in the outdoors.
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Outdoor climbing guide and outdoor enthusiast based out of Colorado.
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