If you’re anything like me, you need a hot cup of coffee to help you wake up first thing in the morning. It’s easy to brew a cup in the comfort of your own home or stop and grab one on your way to work. However, if you’re camping, getting a decent cup of camp coffee can be a little tricky.
There are many things I’m willing to forgo when camping in the wild, but coffee isn’t one of them. Savoring a steaming cup of joe while the morning sun filters through dew soaked leaves is one of the greatest joys of camping. Since caffeine is also a great way to fuel your outdoor adventures, there’s no reason to renounce coffee while you’re on the trail or in a campground.
Finding a Good Cup of Coffee in the Wild
Statistics show 83 percent of Americans drink coffee. Hot, iced, or frozen, coffee is an important morning ritual for a large portion of the population.
Coffee also has an impressive list of health benefits. According to the US National Library of Medicine, caffeinated coffee can improve physical performance, a handy advantage for physically active backpackers. Coffee can also boost mood, another important advantage, especially for those who don’t enjoy camping as much as the rest of us.
Whether you are hiking in the Colorado backcountry or glamping just outside of town, finding a good cup of coffee isn’t as simple as it is on your morning commute. There are no trendy corner cafes in the woods, and you probably won’t have access to hot water and electricity.
Don’t be forlorn. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while enjoying the great outdoors.
Choosing a Brewing Method
Luckily for us coffee aficionados, there are a variety of methods for making a good cup of camp coffee. Some are incredibly easy and involve little extra equipment. These methods are great for backpackers. Others are more involved and are best used for those camping in an RV. No matter what your camping style, there is a method that is right for you.
Evaluating Your Needs
Before you dive into brewing your own cup of camp coffee, you should first assess your needs and preferences. Answer these important questions before diving into our list of brewing methods.
Will you be trail hiking or in a campground?
When you are trail hiking, packing space comes at a premium. You may think you want to tote a one-pound french press over mountainous terrain, but until you’ve hiked 12 miles in a single day, you don’t truly understand just how heavy that extra pound can be.
If you’ve rented a drive-up tent site at your local state park, you won’t have the same space and weight limitations that come with backpacking. On the trail, your coffee-making method must be small and lightweight. However, you can probably splurge if you are car camping or staying in an RV.
Will you use an open fire or a camp stove?
Weight and pack space aside, you need to know how you’ll be heating your water. Will you use a campfire or do you have access to a portable stove? Some brewing methods work fine with both. Others work best with a specific heat source.
How many campers will be drinking coffee?
If you’ll be making coffee for a large group of campers, you’ll need to choose a method that brews multiple cups at a time. Some methods make coffee slowly. Others only brew a single serving at a time. Waiting for coffee isn’t always easy for multiple sleepy coffee drinkers, so it’s important to consider time and volume when choosing your brewing method.
How important is flavor?
On the trail, you’ll be hard-pressed to brew a cup of coffee that even remotely resembles your detailed order from Starbucks. You will probably need to sacrifice flavor for convenience. It’s best to come to terms with this before you embark on your camping adventure.
If you are a true coffee addict (like me), you won’t be too picky about how you get your daily dose of caffeine. In that case, any of the following brewing methods will do.
However, if flavor is high on your list of priorities, you may need one of the more elaborate brewing set-ups.
Camp Coffee Brewing Methods
There are plenty of ways to get your morning caffeine fix while camping. We’ve tried all the brewing methods on this list. Some make better tasting coffee than others. Some are easier to use on the trail. The “best” method depends on your style of camping and your taste preference.
To make it easy for you to match a method to your needs, we’ve ordered them from simple and lightweight down to complicated and heavy. Backpackers will want to stick with a method near the top of the list. If glamping is more your style, something further down the list may better suit you.
Coffee in an Instant
While instant coffee has a bad reputation among serious coffee drinkers, it’s hard to beat its lightweight convenience when on the trail. Easy to pack and simple to prepare, instant coffee is perfect for mountaineering, bikepacking, or any other style of camping where saving space is essential.
So easy some campers call it cheating, instant coffee is the simplest (and lightest) way to make coffee in the great outdoors. If you can find a brand you like, it can also be pretty tasty.
The exact instructions for brewing a cup of instant coffee vary by brand. However, the basic idea is to heat some water, dump in the coffee, stir, and enjoy.
Without easy access to running hot water, you’ll need to find a way to heat some for brewing. The fastest way to boil water in the woods is to use a camp stove or portable propane burner. However, placing a pot of water over an open fire works just as well. It just requires a tad more patience.
If patience isn’t one of your strong points, some instant coffee brands dissolve well in cold water, providing an impromptu cold brew “iced” coffee for you to enjoy on the trail.
Coffee the Cowboy Way
True West acknowledges cowboys consumed more coffee than any other frontier demographic, so it’s no surprise this brewing method is named after prairie cowhands. Cowboy coffee is also great for rugged campers. So simple even a cowboy can brew it, you simply dump coffee grounds into boiling water.
This method makes it easy to brew enough coffee for the whole herd. The only thing you need to brew more coffee is more water.
You can use extra fine grounds for a faster cup of coffee, but coarse grounds will be easier to scoop out before drinking. However, authentic cowboys and hard-nosed campers rarely strain out the grounds.
Fortunately, coffee grounds will settle to the bottom of your mug. Once you get to the bottom, you can toss out the grounds (or chew ‘em up if you’re feeling feisty).
Clean-up after cowboy coffee can be difficult. Brewing can leave a thick tarry sludge in the bottom of the pot. It also makes bitter coffee that’s great for getting caffeine quickly into your system, but not so great for calm, enjoyable sipping.
This brewing method is great for backpackers, campers who forgot their fancy brewing paraphernalia, and those who like the hardcore approach to outdoor adventure.
It’s in the Bag
For those who want a lightweight brewing method but aren’t willing to go full cowboy, coffee in a bag is the perfect solution. Used just like a tea bag, coffee in a bag is simple to make and a breeze to clean up.
There are several pre-made, self-contained coffee bags you can purchase to use on your next camping trip. You can also easily make your own.
Fill a paper coffee filter with some grounds, pull together the edges to create a bag, and tie it shut using some dental floss or fine string. Make sure you use a solid boy scout knot so it doesn’t come untied while you’re brewing. (Unless you feel rugged and don’t mind a few grounds at the bottom of your cup).
If you’re concerned about the environment and want to go completely green, you can use a clean handkerchief to brew your bag of coffee. In a serious pinch, a plain white sock will do. Just be sure to use a clean sock or flavor quality could be an issue.
When you’re ready for coffee, just boil your water. You can drop the bag directly into your pot or pour the hot water over the bag and into your mug. Let it steep for a few minutes, remove the bag, and drink up.
The Pocket Pour Over
A relatively new concept in coffee, single serving pour-overs were designed with campers in mind. A step up from the bag method, pocket pour overs will please the coffee purist by offering a more authentic brew.
These disposable, foldable filters are lightweight and come pre-packed with premium coffee grounds. Just open the package, pull open the included frame, set the filter onto the top of your cup, and slowly pour hot water over the filter.
After you’ve enjoyed your cup of coffee, you will have to deal with the filter and frame waste. This could be a drawback for wilderness backpackers who have to haul out all of their trash. For shorter hiking adventures, this option brews a great tasting cup of coffee.
Stand for Your Coffee
If single-use isn’t your style, you can opt for a reusable pour over stand. While you should be able to find a ceramic stand in practically any coffee shop, there are lightweight compact options perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
You will still need a coffee filter and your favorite coffee grounds for this brewing method. Heat your water almost to the boiling point then slowly pour into the filter. A smooth circular pouring motion is recommended, and a good kettle that provides a steady stream will be your new best friend.
This method is great for the camping coffee purist who has extra room for coffee equipment.
Hot of the Press
French press coffee is smooth, indulgent, and luscious… just like the French. (Although the Independent points out the first patent for the French press was actually held by an Italian named Attilio Calimani!) This rich and flavorful brewing method is a favorite of many coffee lovers, both in the comfort of their own homes or on an outdoor adventure.
One major advantage of French press coffee is that it is easy to brew enough for a whole slew of campers.
However, a French press can be bulky, so they are best reserved for RVs and car campers. Even RV campers can experience rugged conditions, so avoid the fragile glass French press. Fortunately, there are some great durable models made especially for campers.
Like most camp coffee methods, the first step to brew French press coffee is to heat up your water. While you wait for your water to boil, fill your press with coarse coffee grounds. Just before your water boils, pour it over the grounds.
Next, let it steep for a few minutes. The optimal steeping time depends on personal preference, although four minutes seems to be a pretty popular consensus.
Once the coffee is done steeping, press the plunger down through the French press. This cleanly separates the coffee from the grounds.
Although rich and delicious, this method can feel complicated for inexperienced coffee brewers. The following video walks us through the process of making perfect French press coffee.
The Good Ole Fashioned Percolator
Good enough for your grandparents’ everyday coffee, the percolator has long been the go-to method of coffee-loving campers. According to the Wired Coffee Guide, the coffee percolator dates all the way back to 1810!
This traditional brewing method utilizes a metal tube that runs up to a metal basket of coffee grounds. Boiling water in the pot is pushed up through the tube and into the basket. It then drips through the grounds and back into the pot.
The percolator method has some major drawbacks for campers. First, you need a good fuel source. A percolator relies on maintaining a boil to properly brew the coffee. However, if fuel and extra weight aren’t deal breakers, a modest percolator is perfect for making a large pot of outdoor coffee.
Most coffee snobs aren’t huge fans of percolated coffee. The taste and texture can end up thick and bitter if you aren’t careful. However, with a little practice, coffee from a traditional percolator can be a tasty addition to the humble camp breakfast.
Espresso on the Go
Fancy espresso drinks are all the rage these days. However, you don’t need to be in the big city to enjoy one of these lavish caffeinated beverages.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the formula for the perfect cup of espresso includes seven to eight grams of finely ground coffee and one ounce of water heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
While getting the perfect cup of espresso without a sophisticated espresso machine may seem impossible, there are several portable espresso makers perfect for the camper who refuses to skip their daily dose. Some are small enough to fit in the corner of a backpack, although the extra weight will still deter most serious hikers.
Specific instructions differ according to the manufacturer, but the general idea is that hot water simmers in one compartment and is run through finely ground espresso beans in a separate compartment. The result is a seriously strong shot of super-caffeinated espresso.
Coffee Makers Just for Campers
If you aren’t willing to miss out on the home-brewed flavor of your favorite morning coffee, a camping coffee maker is an excellent solution. These specialized brew masters work just like your home coffee maker… only without the plug.
Instead of using electricity to boil water, these specialized coffee makers fit over the top of a camp stove burner.
Easy to use, these coffee makers brew coffee just like you make at home. Perfect for large groups of campers (or smaller groups that just love coffee), these gems brew multiple cups of coffee simultaneously. They also bring a small piece of civilization into the great outdoors.
Before You Hit the Trail (or the Road)
It doesn’t matter if your outdoor adventure takes you to a remote wilderness area or a roadside campground, there are a few steps you should take before you embark. This quick checklist will ensure you aren’t stranded in the woods without your favorite morning beverage.
- Check your supplies. And when you’re done checking, check them again. This is crucial for any outdoor adventure, whether coffee is involved or not.
- Have a backup plan. This is also sound advice for camping in general, not just where coffee is concerned. If coffee is a necessity in your life, be prepared with a second brewing method just in case something goes awry.
- Store your coffee in an airtight container. A quality Ziploc bag is probably sufficient. Not only will this help keep your coffee fresh, it will also keep it safe from curious critters.
- Consider pre-grinding your coffee. Unless you absolutely must have fresh ground java, this step will save time and precious gear space. Ground coffee takes up less space in your pack than whole beans.
Summing it Up
With so many options for making great camp coffee, there’s no reason to skip the caffeine on your next outdoor adventure. Now that you’re familiar with these basic brewing methods, you just have to decide which method best suits your needs.
With options ranging from rugged cowboy brew to refined and sophisticated espresso, you can choose whichever method satisfies your inner coffee snob. For me, a sturdy French press gets me going fresh out of the sleeping bag. However, if I’m venturing further off the trail, nothing beats the lightweight convenience of a basic instant brew.
Whatever you choose, it’s nice to know that as you crawling stiff-limbed from your night of tent-bound slumber, your hot steamy morning coffee (with its accompanying caffeine fix) is just a few minutes away.