The Best Ways to Make Camp Coffee
I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a glutton for good coffee on backpacking and camping trips. There’s no better way to greet a morning in the wild than with a cup of hot coffee in your hands, its aroma wafting upward as you look forward to a long day of exploring. Whether you’re heading into the backcountry on a long backpacking trip in Utah or a simple weekender in Colorado, you don’t have to sacrifice quality coffee. In fact, some of the most memorable coffee experiences take place in the wild — not just in a cafe somewhere.
If you consider all your options, you can easily get overwhelmed when deciding which coffee brewing method is best for you. There are so many different ways to make coffee while backpacking, and each method has its benefits and drawbacks.
In this guide, we’re sharing the best ways to make camp coffee, while comparing the weight, convenience, and flavor of each method. And while coffee preference is subjective (and each backpacker has a different tolerance for carrying weight on the trail), this guide will help you hone in on which style is best for you.
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Let’s start off with the most lightweight and convenient coffee method, shall we? Before any coffee snobs give you a hard time for satisfying your caffeine craving by stirring instant coffee into a mug of hot water, just know that instant coffee has come a long way in the last five years.
If going light and fast is your primary objective, this is the camp coffee method for you. Each packet weighs in at only a few ounces, and cleanup is a simple as finishing your cup of joe and packing out the trash.
Lightweight? Check. Convenient? Check. Tasty? Well, that depends on who you ask and what kind of instant coffee you buy.
Starbucks Via instant coffee is one of the most popular options for a good reason: this coffee is good enough to drink at home. You can also find instant coffee products from Alpine Start (overrated in this coffee snob’s opinion), Trader Joe’s (the packets come with cream and sugar), and Mount Hagen (fair trade and organic, too). And if you want to support a solo female van-lifer, don’t skip Divine On the Road‘s instant coffees — “Pick Me Up” Pearl is the best instant coffee I’ve tasted, period.
Weight: several ounces per packet
Convenience: the most convenient method on this list
Flavor: leaves something to be desired, but overall, these products are getting tastier
Best for: fast and light backpackers or anyone that values simplicity
Aeropress is hands down my favorite way of brewing coffee in the great outdoors and at home. Its syringe-like container might look like it belongs in the “As-Seen-On-TV” store section, but don’t overlook it! This coffee method is one of the tastiest, most flavorful ways of brewing coffee. And it’s backpacker-friendly, to boot.
Brewing coffee in an Aeropress is simple. Just add a small paper filter to the plastic vessel, place it over your coffee cup, pour in your coffee grounds, and add hot water. After you let it brew for 90 seconds, plunge the coffee into your cup and pop out the puck of grounds to pack them out.
The Aeropress is relatively lightweight (13 oz) since it’s made of plastic. But, where it really shines is in its flavor and convenience (the grounds pop out, no cleaning required!) If you want a simple way to make cafe-quality coffee on the trail, this is your best bet. But beware of its two main cons: 1) you can only make one cup of coffee at a time, so it isn’t great for large groups, and 2) some people may consider it a bit bulky since it’s the size of a small to-go mug.
Weight: 13 oz.
Convenience: clean up is dead simple, but it only brews one cup at a time
Flavor: smooth and rich without being bitter
Best for: weekenders, day-hikers, and backpackers that prioritize good coffee
The French Press is great for brewing larger quantities of coffee, which makes it great for groups or very-caffeinated individuals. The flavor is great, as long as you remember to grind your beans coarse. But its drawbacks are its size and weight — most French Presses are about a liter and can weigh more than other coffee brewing methods. They’re also notoriously hard to clean on the trail since you’ll need water to clean the grounds out of the press and it’s difficult to neatly pack out the wet sludge of used coffee.
If you want to take your love of French Press coffee into the great outdoors, we recommend the GSI Outdoors Java Press ($37.50, 10.3 oz.). If you already use a JetBoil in your camp kitchen, simply get the Jetboil Silicone Coffee Press ($17.95, 1.3 oz.) to convert your pot into a press.
Weight: 10.3 oz. for GSI Java Press
Convenience: great for groups, but clean up is a pain
Flavor: great, especially if you like strong coffee
Best for: weekenders or car campers that don’t mind the space and/or have a kitchen to clean it
Single-Cup Pour Over
Pourovers check all the boxes: lightweight, relatively small, easy clean-up, and great coffee brewing potential.
They’re one of the simplest ways to make good coffee, period, and clean up is as easy as tapping the grounds into your trash bag.
The single-cup pour-overs are best for one person, obviously, but you can also use them to make coffee for a group pretty easily. We recommend the GSI Outdoors Collapsible Javadrip ($12.95, 4.8 oz.), GSI Ultralight Javadrip ($9.95, a measly 0.32 oz), or the Sea-to-Summit X-Brew Coffee Dripper ($19.95, 4 oz.). The Ultralight takes up almost no space, and the other two collapse to the size of a small plate.
Weight: 0.3-4.8 oz. depending on the model
Convenience: easy to brew and clean up, may require filters
Flavor: dark, rich taste
Best for: from backpackers to car campers, this system is great for all types of hikers
This isn’t a very popular method of brewing coffee anymore, but it is the easiest to prepare: boil a pot of water, throw in coffee grounds, let it brew, throw in a dash of cold water to help the grounds settle to the bottom, and serve! This is great for larger crowds or for people who want their coffee hot hot hot, but beware: you’re going to get a mouthful of grounds when sipping your coffee, and it’s not fun to clean up your pot and cups. (So get ready for coffee-flavored dinners!)
Weight: whatever your stove weight is
Convenience: easy to brew, difficult to clean up
Flavor: meh, not much different than your average diner
Best for: no-nonsense backpackers who don’t want any extra weight and like reading Westerns
The Bialetti Moka Pot is an iconic little espresso/coffee maker, and it definitely deserves a spot in your coffee method rotation. Let’s start out with its drawback: depending on the size you get, it’s going to be heavier and bulkier than most of the other coffee set-ups on this list. So if weight is a major factor when deciding how you want to make camp coffee, skip this one.
Still here? Moka Pots make some downright delicious coffee that — if you make it correctly — packs a caffeine punch. Pour boiling (boiling!) water into the bottom chamber, place the filled coffee chamber, screw on the top chamber, and heat over a flame. If you start by adding cold water to the bottom chamber, you’ll end up with a disappointing burnt flavor.
Moka pots are great for two reasons. First, they’re really strong — so if you’re the type of hiker who needs a serious dose of caffeine before you hit the trail, this is an effective way to do it. The second reason is that, since the coffee is so strong, you can easily divvy up the espresso-style brew between a few people.
Weight: 24 oz. for the popular 6-cup size
Convenience: a tad involved, but relatively easy to clean up
Flavor: intense, Italian-style coffee/espresso
Best for: car campers that want a serious kick to get going
Coffee in the wild
Honing in on your personal coffee style is one of the best ways to elevate your backcountry experiences, whether you sip a single cup before hitting the trails or you prefer to slow down your morning with many cups of java. If you’d rather have somebody else prepare your coffee for you, you’re in luck: Wildland Trekking brews coffee for all of their guests on every trip. Check out our upcoming trips to enjoy an unforgettable coffee experience in the wild with us!