Making coffee while camping: 10 ways that work

Sipping coffee just after sunrise in the great outdoors is one of life’s simple pleasures, and making coffee while camping can be simple, too. Or it can be complicated. It all depends on the brewing method you choose.

We’re going to cover 10 popular ways to make coffee while camping, starting with the most simple and progressing to the more complex. When I say “simple,” I mean you can make it quickly with minimal fuss, and without packing a lot of equipment to do so. It might not be as good as what you make at home, but making coffee while camping involves compromises. If you’re willing to pack more, and fuss more, there’s no reason you can’t caffeinate just as well in the woods as you do in the city.

First, let’s be clear about what we mean by camping. If you travel in a tricked-out RV with all the electrical appliances, you probably don’t need this information. You can make coffee any way you like.

These methods are for people who are car camping or backpacking, who have to pack somewhat efficiently, and whose only heat source is a camping stove or a fire.

Coffee mugs on a grill

Coffee equipment you need when camping

The best camping coffee grinder

If you’re a Bean Poet regular, you know that freshly ground beans make the best coffee. That’s why the grinder is the most essential piece of equipment for serious coffee lovers. This presents a challenge for campers, because most quality grinders are a foot-and-a-half tall, plug into the wall, and take up a lot of space on your kitchen counter.

Porlex Mini coffee grinder
The Porlex Mini manual coffee grinder is an easy-to-pack option for camping. © PHILOCOFFEE | Flickr

If you’re going to be camping a lot and insist on the best possible coffee, then you’ll want to invest in a portable, manual grinder. You can’t do any better than the Porlex Mini. It’s small, it’s steel and it’s solid. You can grind enough for one cup at a time, and the grind size will be very consistent.

Beyond the grinder, different brewing methods require different equipment, and some require more than others. (They all require a cup!)

The chart below shows what you’ll need to pack besides your grinder, for various brewing methods. Brewing methods are down the left side, equipment across the top:

 CupGrill/
stove
Pot/
kettle
Filter(s)PercolatorMoka
pot
French
press
Filter
cone
Espresso
press
Cold brew✔️✔️
Instant coffee✔️✔️✔️
Coffee bags✔️✔️✔️
Submersible filter✔️✔️✔️✔️
Cowboy coffee✔️✔️✔️
Percolator✔️✔️✔️
Moka pot✔️✔️✔️
French press✔️✔️✔️✔️
Pour-over✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️
Manual espresso✔️✔️✔️✔️

Now let’s get to the brewing methods…

10 ways to brew coffee while camping

Cold brew

Cold brew involves steeping ground coffee in room-temperature water for 12-14 hours, usually overnight. It’s the only method on our list that doesn’t require any heat. It’s not the same as iced coffee, which involves brewing with traditional hot-water methods and then cooling the coffee afterward. Cold brew is cold all the way through. Some people like it for its lower acidity, and greater antioxidants.

To make it, you need approximately one portion of coffee grounds for every four portions of water, and those grounds should be coarse. Mix it all together, seal it, shake it, and then let it stand overnight. A large mason jar works great for this, but you can also make cold brew in a traditional French press. The French press comes in handy when the coffee has finished brewing and it’s time to filter out the grounds. If you use a mason jar, you’ll need some other type of filter to separate the coffee from the grounds.

Cold brew coffee
A French press works great when you need to separate the grounds from your cold brew. © Abi Porter | Flickr

The result is a coffee that is more concentrated than usual, which you can dilute with water to your liking and drink cold, or dilute with hot water and heat up for a regular cup of coffee.

You can make cold brew before you even embark on your trip, or at your campsite the night before you want to drink it. Just remember that room temperature is fine for the brewing, but you’ll want to store your concentrate in the refrigerator or a cooler once it’s brewed.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Instant coffee

It doesn’t get much easier than instant coffee. You put some coffee crystals or powder in your mug, add hot water, and stir. Done.

 

Instant coffee has never been big with connoisseurs, but it’s come a long way in the past 30 years. Brands like Alpine Start, Mount Hagan and Starbucks VIA re among the best instant coffee for camping, and represent a big improvement over the Sophie’s choice of Maxwell House or Folger’s that campers faced back in the day.

The crystals or powder are made by actually brewing coffee, and then using one of two methods to remove the water: spraying the liquid coffee through hot, dry air, or freeze-drying it using a vacuum. Both processes have a negative impact on flavour—perhaps a little less so with freeze-drying. In either case, making instant coffee is simply a matter of rehydrating the coffee with your hot water.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️

Coffee bags

Coffee bags are similar to tea bags, but for coffee. You steep the bag in hot water for 4-5 minutes, and you have coffee that’s ready to drink.

It seems like a no-brainer, but legitimate coffee bags have only been on the market for a couple of years. The company that finally figured it out is Steeped Coffee, which pre-grinds high-quality beans and then nitro-seals the grounds in a special, proprietary bag so that they maintain freshness just like Nespresso pods. The bag is designed to fully immerse itself while it steeps, allowing the oils and flavours in the grounds out, but not the grounds themselves. The bag is also compostable.

Steeped Coffee
© Steeped Coffee

While Steeped makes things easy for you, do-it-yourselfers have also taken to grinding their own beans shortly before a trip and then sealing them in traditional teabags using an iron.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Submersible filter

 

MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea Filter

Submersible filters look a lot like the wire mesh filters you see in the basket of a typical drip coffee maker, but they’re shaped more like your coffee cup. A good example is the MSR Mugmate.

The idea is to fill it with grounds, and then hang it into your cup using two tabs that rest on the rim. You fill it with hot water and let the grounds steep, then all you have to do is pull the filter out when it’s time to drink.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Cowboy coffee

Cowboy coffee is far from perfect, but if you want to know how to make coffee over a fire like they did on the frontier, read on.

Basically, you’re throwing your coffee grounds and hot water together in the same pot or kettle for brewing, then trying to pour yourself a cup that doesn’t contain too many grounds. Bonus points if you can find a place to rest your pot directly in the fire, but don’t burn yourself!

Start by getting your water boiling, but let it cool slightly before you add the coffee. The ideal temperature for brewing coffee is just below boiling. Use a fairly coarse grind, and a coffee-to-water ratio of about two tablespoons of ground coffee per cup of water. Stir the grounds into the hot water to saturate them. After you add the grounds, bring the water back to a simmer and then remove it and let the grounds steep for four minutes, stirring halfway through.

Cowboy coffee brewing over a campfire
For cowboy coffee, any old pot or kettle will do.

The secret to keeping the grounds out of your cup is to settle them before you attempt to pour. Do this by removing the coffee from the heat and sprinkling in a few tablespoons of cold water. Cold water is heavier than hot, so it should push most of the grounds down to the bottom. Some people mix crushed eggshells in with the grounds before brewing, to help hold them together and sink them together.

Above all else, pour slowly and with care, stopping before you get all the way to the bottom. (You’re still going to get some grounds in your cup. Remember, you’re roughing it!)

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Percolator

After cowboy coffee, a battered percolator is the best way to get that old-school camping vibe. If you know how to make coffee in a camping percolator, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice, strong cup every morning.

Percolators have a lower chamber with a water reservoir and an upper chamber where the grounds sit in a sort of basket filter. Connecting the two is a tube, through which the water rises as it heats. When the water exits the top of the tube it falls onto the grounds and extracts coffee while dripping through them, then falls back into the lower chamber. The process repeats itself over and over again, with the lower chamber becoming more concentrated with coffee on each cycle.

Percolator coffee on camping stove

You should aim for a medium-to-coarse grind, to minimize the sediment that is somewhat unavoidable when brewing coffee with a percolator.

Since the percolator is a self-contained device, the only other thing you really need is a stove or a fire. A grill over the fire will help, because it will allow you to back off the heat slightly once the coffee starts to “perc” in the bubble at the top. It takes about 10 minutes of simmering for the bubble to darken, indicating you’ve got good coffee ready to go.

The GSI Outdoors Enamelware Percolator with its speckled blue coating, has the look of a true camping classic, but the stainless steel Farberware Yosemite and Coleman percolators are also good ones that hearken back to an earlier era.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Moka pot

I think of the moka pot as the percolator’s European cousin. Its top and bottom chamber are separated by a tray of fine, packed coffee grounds. The water in the bottom chamber is boiled and vaporizes, rising up through the tray of grounds and then through a narrow tube before collecting in the top chamber as coffee. Moka pots produce the richest, most dense coffee this side of espresso. If you don’t like it strong, this might not be for you.

Moka pot in a meadow

Like the percolator, a moka pot is self-contained and doesn’t require any other equipment besides your grinder. They come in various sizes, and are usually made from aluminum so they’re quite light to pack. Bialetti’s Moka Express is the classic.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

French press

If you love your French press at home, you don’t have to compromise just because you’re camping.

You probably shouldn’t risk packing the fragile glass carafe of a classic Bodum French press, but there are many other versions that will stand up to the rattling in the trunk on a bumpy logging road. The GSI Java Press, for example, has a shatterproof carafe that is insulated with a protective nylon sheath. While not exactly a French press, the polypropylene AeroPress is another great option. Then there are metal versions. We’re big fans of the Frieling stainless steel French press, but it’s got some heft that you might prefer not to pack. Try the Snow Peak Titanium French Press—still sturdy metal, but much lighter.

With the right grind setting on your Porlex Mini or other portable grinder, you can get exactly the same quality coffee from a French press while camping that you do at home.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pour-over

Pour-over coffee is popular because it produces a really clean cup that lets the bean shine. Replicating that coffee in a campsite isn’t difficult—it just requires a few accessories.

The plastic Hario V60 plastic coffee dripper is small and light, so handy for camping. But you’ll need to pack some filters as well, and because pour-over requires a fairly disciplined pour, a proper gooseneck kettle will serve you much better than a handheld saucepan for boiling the water.

Pour-over coffee from a pot
The big decision with pour-cover coffee is whether or not to pack your gooseneck kettle. Pouring from the pot is a challenge.

If you have room for all that plus a good manual grinder, no problem—you won’t be able to tell your camp coffee apart from what you drink in your Sunday kitchen.

Ease of packing: ⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manual espresso

If you must have proper espresso while camping, you can do it. But this requires the most specialized equipment.

We have featured the manual Flair Espresso in our post about espresso makers under $300 and it is one that has been known to travel. You can pull a proper shot on your picnic table with some boiled water and the Flair.

For an even more compact option, you could look into a couple of handheld portable espresso devices.

The Wacaco Minipresso looks like a small submarine or a giant medicine capsule, and extracts with eight BARs of pressure. That’s only one BAR away from the generally accepted minimum for espresso. You pack your coffee into one end of the capsule, pour your hot water into a chamber on the other end, then start pumping a piston on the side of the capsule to achieve the required pressure. Extracted coffee squirts out the end.

The Handpresso Wild pump works in a similar fashion. It’s a bit like a bike pump with a portafilter attached. With your hot water chamber filled and your coffee grounds in place, you pump until the gauge is showing you 16 BARs of pressure, then release a valve to let the espresso pour into your cup.

Neither of these small portable machines will quite match your semi-automatic home machine, but if you can sleep well on an air mattress you can probably enjoy campground espresso, too.

Ease of packing: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Simplicity of brewing: ⭐️⭐️
Quality of coffee: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The best method? It all depends on you

So there you have it, 10 different approaches to making coffee while camping. Which one you choose is going to depend on:

  • the sort of trip you’re planning
  • how light you have to pack
  • how much you’re willing to fuss
  • your tolerance for less-than-stellar coffee

Hopefully we’ve given you enough information to weigh all the factors and decide what will work best for you. If you find some other genius way to get your caffeine fix while camping, we’d love to hear about it!

Leave a comment