The picture of sipping a steaming cup of coffee as the sun peeks over the mountains in the distance, with nothing but a campfire, tent, and the chirping of birds all around you is the image of happiness for outdoorsy people. What happens though when the coffee is missing from that picture? Let’s not even think about that. If you need coffee like you need air, there is no option but to brew it while camping and hiking.
Here are 9 different ways (and an honorable mention) to brew up a fresh cup o’ joe that will ensure you are never without coffee. Keep in mind that not everyone is going to agree on a single way of brewing coffee. Some of these methods are a bit more labor intensive the the rest. Some require heavy equipment. When choosing, bear in mind the amount of gear you’ll need (gear, sweeteners, powdered milk and milk alternatives, etc.), the amount of water, and what you need to carry the equipment in.
1. Cowboy Way
For those who are committed to roughing it, why not enjoy coffee the cowboy way? When cowboys used to camp under the stars, they would use this method to brew up a cup o’ joe. You basically take a pot of coffee, fill it with water, dump the grounds directly into the pot, and put it over the fire. Once the kettle is hot, you remove it from the fire and let it cool. During this process, the grounds will settle on the bottom so you can pour out a ridiculously good cup of coffee.
The downside is that you are dirtying your pot (and will have no fun cleaning it out). You may get some grounds floating around in your drink. You may want to bring a mesh strainer that fits over the mug so you don’t have to worry about that. Or go ahead, drink those grounds and get a hearty dose of fiber to keep you regular.
An alternative method is to “tea bag” your coffee. It adds virtually no weight to your pack and is scalable. Simply bring some coffee filters and twine or string. Bring the pot of water to a boil. While waiting, add some coffee to the filters, draw up the edges like coin purse, then tie the filters shut with the string. Drop those coffee bags into the water, and proceed as you would the cowboy way. This saves you the clean up!
2. Coleman Camping Coffee Maker
Call it a modern marvel, if you wish. The Coleman Camping Coffee Maker is a truly innovative tool that those who are RVing, car or motorcycle camping and have extra cargo space will want to invest in. This method delivers the comforts of home to your campsite, because it works exactly like your electric coffee machine. The difference? You set it over a 2 burner camping stove. Set it over the gas burner, turn on the stove top, then let the coffee maker do the work. Aside from the weight and size, it’s a quick, convenient way to make several cups of brewed coffee.
Another option by Coleman is the Portable Propane Coffee Maker. This is perfect for the roadside camper with an RV or car to carry the propane tank with. The Coleman maker has a matchless lighting mechanism. Once on, it can brew up a cuppa in under 15 minutes--faster than a percolator.
One of the oldest and greatest methods for making coffee would be with a percolator. The device might take up some space in your backpack and can be a wee bit heavy, so it could be a burden if you got a ways to walk before reaching your campsite.
One advantage of the percolator is that you can brew up delicious campfire coffee without worrying about the grounds burning. It’s also really easy to clean up. To make coffee with a percolator, you place the coffee grounds inside a basket. As the water inside begins to boil, it rises into a pipe, hits the percolator bulb, then drips into the coffee.
Don’t rush the percolating process. Wait at least 5 to 7 minutes for decent cuppa. If you want stronger coffee, wait a little longer.
4. French Press
Many coffee lovers will say that the French Press is the one and only way to have coffee. The reason is because pressing coffee retains all those delectable precious oils and extracts, bringing about the fullest flavors and rich consistency.
That’s why you shouldn’t deny yourself the magic of the French Press while camping and hiking. You can indeed bring one with you, because they are quite lightweight, come in different sizes (so you can make coffee for more than just yourself), and don’t require much effort to whip up a fantastic cuppa.
To make your campfire coffee, just add boiling water first, pour in your coffee grounds, then allow it to brew to your desired strength by pressing the plunger down into the grounds for about 4 to 5 minutes. Be sure to drink within the next 20 minutes.
The other reason a French Press is great, is because you don’t have to worry about dirtying the pot of hot water (meaning you can use the water for other things, not just coffee).
5. Primus Flip N’ Drip
Is your backpack already crammed full of enough gear to last you several days outdoors? Then you might need the Flip N’ Drip, an option that takes up hardly any space in your gear and is super convenient. Think of this nifty trinket as the hybrid of a French Press and percolator.
The only downside is that it brews one small cup of coffee at a time. Brewing is simple, though: add your coffee grounds to the middle part, add boiling water to the bottom, then flip over the device. The coffee will brew as the water trickles down through the grounds, stains, and collects in the cup.
For those who just don’t want coffee but are thirsting for espresso, the Aeropress is a simple method to getting what you want quick. The Aeropress works like the French Press, but it is not an actual plunger that pushes the coffee into the cup, it’s air.
Since the Aeropress is extremely lightweight (about 6.4 ounces), compact, and comes with a small scoop and funnel, you only need to worry about forgetting to bring the coffee grounds. It’s a great alternative if the French Press or other aforementioned options are too large or bulky. Oh, and brew time is about a minute.
7. Single Cup Drip
There are a number of models for a portable single cup drip out there. Whichever one you choose is certainly going to be a decent investment. Many of them are shaped like an actual coffee filter and are made of plastic and mesh.
Usually, they are small enough to fit into your luggage without an issue. Attach the the one cup filter to the top of your mug, slowly (seriously) pour the hot water in a circular motion over the grounds, wait for the water to filter through and grounds to settle before pouring more water. Repeat until the mug is full.
An excellent model would be the GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip. It weighs about 5 ounces and fully flattens out. It’s also made of silicone, so it’s pretty resilient.
8. Portable Coffee Filter
Simple. Feather light. All you need to do is pack a coffee mug, grounds, have hot water, and this little filter to get freshly brewed coffee. It works much like the above option, except it sits inside the mug instead of hanging over it. Fill the filter with your favorite grounds, add the heated water, then wait about 3 to 5 minutes for magic to happen. This is quite possibly one of the easiest and least laborious of all the methods on this list.
Similar to both the French Press and Aeropress is the Minipresso. This is a convenient little machine that puts the power of making coffee in the palm of your hand--quite literally. The contraption has a scoop that doubles as a espresso cup to measure and brew. Simply fill the top with hot water, pump 13 to 28 times (depending on how many shots you need), and then watch your espresso pour into the cup.
The Minipresso is about 7 inches long and weighs less than a pound. It is compact enough to fit in a hiking backpack. The only extras needed would be the coffee grounds and water.
Honorable Mention: Instant Coffee
I know, I know. Instant coffee gets scoffed at by the coffee connoisseurs of the world. But if you need a fix in a bad way, instant coffee is an excellent backup. A small container of this fresh dried coffee is lightweight, packable, and doesn’t even need hot water to brew. So if the weather is truly awful, too hot, or too humid, you can even enjoy a cooler cup of coffee. Or, you know, if you need something stronger, you can add instant coffee to any already brewed cuppa.
There’s a wealth of single serving packets out there in different flavors too, like Starbucks Via, Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee with Creamer and Sugar, Mushroom Coffee, and Jiva Coffee Cubes for example. If you loathe black coffee, these options usually containing some sweeteners so you don’t have to deal with bringing creamers, milks, and other things. Just be sure to dispose of the packets appropriately.
Disposing of Your Coffee Grounds
I wanted to give a quick word about dispersing your coffee grounds around the campsite. Please dispose of your waste properly by following the advice given by the Leave No Trace initiative called “Pack it in, pack it out.” Coffee grounds may be a great fertilizer, but those of Leave No Trace believe that it is best for coffee grounds to be packed out.
Even though the grounds are biodegradable, the scent, especially if they are flavored, carries a high risk of attracting wildlife to the site to dig them up. This not only puts you in danger, it makes the animals accustomed to coming into campsites to scavenge for scraps, which puts others in danger too.
For those campers who need caffeine to be happy, roughing it doesn’t have to mean going without your coffee. Though there are a number of life’s luxuries that you have to forego while walking the trails of the world, coffee is a portable and quick treat that can be packed away in your belongings. Portable kettles, filters, and other devices make it easier than ever. Now, that image of sitting around an early morning campsite with a steaming cup of coffee between your hands can be yours! Happy camping!