Easy Brews: How to Make Coffee While Camping

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It’s morning and you’ve just woken up somewhere in the world far from civilization. Your head is pounding… Caffeine withdrawal? Probably. If only you had a nice cup of coffee (or 3) to help you wake up and ease the throbbing in your skull. The only problem is that Keurigs are hard to fit in a backpack, and outlets to plug it into are scarce, to say the least.

It might seem like all hope is lost, but you might be surprised to find out just how many methods there are to make coffee while camping. We’ll lay out some of the most common ones, and the tools you’ll need to pull them off.

Cowboy Coffee

kettle above a campfire

By far the easiest way to make coffee out in nature, all you need is a container to heat water (usually a kettle) and coffee grounds. Once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat and toss your coffee grounds in. Put it back on a low heat and let it steep for your desired amount of time.

It’s that simple.

Of course, you will have to deal with loose grounds floating around in your coffee. A way around this would be to put your coffee in a bandana or cheesecloth and soak it in the hot water like you might do for a tea bag. Otherwise, the grounds should sink to the bottom of the container, letting you carefully pour or scoop the “pure” liquid into your mug. Whatever you decide to do, this is a great way to make a cup of joe if you’ve got nothing but water and coffee grounds – or if you just want to look cool.

Instant Coffee

Yes, instant coffee has a bad reputation for having subpar flavor, to say the least. However, it is undeniably one of the easiest ways to make coffee when you’re out on the trail…one of those “beggars can’t be choosers” moments. Don’t feel like you necessarily have to grit your teeth and swallow with a grimace, though. Instant coffee still can’t compare to a fresh pot made at home, but it has come a long way over the years. Don’t be afraid to at least try a few options before you decide you can’t tolerate it – who knows, you might enjoy it more than you thought!

Moka Pot

percolator on a portable stove

If you want to be extra fancy when you go camping, or for those of you who like espresso, the Moka pot might be the thing for you. With 3 individual layers, I find the Moka pot to be one of the more fascinating ways to make coffee.

To start, water is placed in the bottom reservoir, while your ground are packed together in the middle. There’s a filter there, and when the water is heated, the steam rises through the coffee and becomes infused. Eventually, it collects in the top section (the carafe), where it can be poured.

The filter is made out of mesh, so you won’t have to worry about going through single use filters. But the best part is how strong the coffee is when you make it this way – and unlike the portable espresso maker mentioned below, you can get a lot more to drink out of this setup!

Coffee Bags

You steep your tea in a bag, so why not do the same with your coffee? Incredibly easy to do, and even easier to clean up, coffee bags are a great way for backpackers to get their daily caffeine fix while sticking to “leave no trace” procedure.

Sure, it’s hard to say if the flavor is much better than instant coffee, and there aren’t many companies out there that actually produce coffee bags. However, when you’re trying to pack light and don’t have many resources, you’ll find it difficult to resist all of the perks that come from making your morning brew this way.

Pour Over

breakfast outside with pour over coffee

One of the best ways to make coffee, the pour over method is a favorite among high end coffee shops. And the good news is that it’s easy to accomplish around a campfire too! Honestly, all you really need is a filter, something to put it in (usually a funnel), and a way to pour water over the top of it.

There are more fancy setups that you can use than just a funnel and filter, but the principle is generally the same. Start by placing the funnel over your mug, and set the filter inside with your coffee grounds. Heat up your water (I find that a gooseneck kettle works the best), and slowly pour it over the grounds. The water will pass through the coffee and filter before trickling into your mug – but be careful with your technique!

Though simple in theory, the pour over method requires the greatest amount of skill. Dousing the grounds too quickly will make your coffee taste thin and not very flavorful, and pouring in the same spot for too long will also make it unpleasant to drink. Stay in control over the flow of water, and make sure to pour evenly around all of the grounds to get the fullest, richest flavor.

Percolator

man making coffee while camping in mountains

Considered by many to be old fashion, percolators haven’t gone out of style when it comes to campsite coffee. In fact, for those of you who want to know how to make coffee while camping, they’re one of the best methods out there. Water is placed in the bottom of the container, while a mesh cup is propped up by a thin, metal tube, holding your coffee grounds just above the water’s edge. As you heat the water, the steam forces it up through the metal tube and into the mesh container where your grounds are. It will then seep back through the mesh back to where it was before, and continue this process of “percolating” until all of the water has been thoroughly infused.

Personally, I believe this is one of the best ways to make coffee on the trail. It’s incredibly simple, easy to clean up, makes really good coffee, and doesn’t require any skill. Sure, instant coffee is easier to carry, but it won’t taste as good as a percolator. The pour over method makes good coffee, but requires a decent amount of skill to get it right. Carrying around a percolator is a bit more bulky than some of the other options listed here, but if you’re car camping or don’t mind clipping it to the outside of your pack, it’s a fantastic option for those of you who are coffee connoisseurs.

French Press

french press filled with coffee

A classic, and one of my favorites, a good French Press will be your best friend on the trail. Simple to use, this method of making coffee will give you rich flavor without much hassle. Similar to cowboy coffee, in the sense that you leave the grounds to steep for a few minutes before drinking, you’ll be able to brew yourself a strong cup of coffee without having to worry about grit.

To use a French Press, place your coffee grounds in the bottom of the container. Pour hot water over them, and let it steep (usually for about 4 minutes, or however long you would prefer to get the desired flavor). Finally, take the lid of the French Press and place it on top of the container, pushing down the plunger until its filtered through all of the liquid. Serve and enjoy!

There are a few things to note if you decide you want to go this route for making coffee on the trail. First, make sure you get a product that isn’t made out of glass. It should be obvious, but anything you decide to bring with you camping should be durable enough to take a beating. Stainless steel is my favorite material to use for this sort of thing. Also, the issue with the French Press is that the grounds continue to steep even after the plunger has been pushed all the way to the bottom. If you pour out all of the coffee immediately, there’s no problem, but otherwise know that it will continue to get stronger the longer you leave it in there.

Portable Espresso Maker

For those of you looking for something more in the form of a “shot” instead of a cup, a portable espresso maker might fit the bill. Small and lightweight, they’re a great option if you just need a little kick of caffeine to keep you going.

Simple to use, all you have to do is place your coffee grounds inside the basket and screw the top on. Pour hot/boiling water into the reservoir and screw that into the main body as well. There’s a piston on the side that pops out when you twist it counterclockwise – as you push it in, steam passes through the grounds, and hot espresso comes out one end of the contraption. You probably won’t get more than a couple swallows out of it, but for the size and convenience, who could ask for more?

Conclusion

coffee mug on a stump in front of fire

There are many compromises that we make when we camp. Typically we give up luxuries like running water, climate control, comfortable living, and much more just to enjoy some time away in nature. We have our different reasons for doing this, and can usually appreciate the time away from our every day creature comforts.

But not coffee.

The one non-negotiable that I’m sure a lot of us can agree on, finding a way to make coffee on the go is something we don’t mind a little extra effort and discomfort to make happen. Thankfully it’s easier to do than you might have guessed, and there are plenty of options available, depending on what type of camping you prefer.

Methods like the French Press and percolator can take up precious space in your pack, making them more ideal for car campers who don’t plan on hiking very far with their gear. While instant coffee and coffee bags can be used by anyone, they’re more ideal for trekkers who want to stay light and can deal with the poorer flavor. There is no right or wrong answer – as long as you’re happy with the brew you make and don’t mind a little inconvenience, knowing how to make coffee while camping can be a fun experience.

Want to find the best coffee maker to take with you on your next trip? Check out our complete review here!

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Spencer Yeomans

Spencer Yeomans

A lover of the outdoors, and especially the mountains, Spencer has always enjoyed pushing people to step outside their comfort zones. His mission is to help others get out of their homes to have fun and stay active in nature.

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