Breaking Down the Different Camp Coffee Methods

Alejandro Medellin

coffee on a campfire

I will admit that I am a three-cups-of-coffee kind of a guy, but being in the outdoors can severely limit my caffeine intake unless I get crafty. At home, there are tons of easy ways to make coffee; hot water kettle and instant coffee packets, Keurig Cups and bottled cold brew, just to name a few. I can’t even remember the last time I stepped into a Starbucks, nowadays I just order from my phone and pull up at the window. But, the backcountry doesn’t care about my convenience or my proclivity towards a frothy mug of Café Au Lait—the fancy way of saying coffee with milk.

Below, I have gathered several options either from my own experience or by carefully researching methods and products. I’ve ranked them from easiest and most convenient, to the more laborious processes that yield a cup of coffee not unlike the one from home.

Products you might want to purchase:

camp stove

A Jetboil stove in its natural habitat. Photo credit: Jimmy Banish

All the methods below have one thing in common: water. Hot water. There are a few ways to accomplish this, either starting a fire and heating a pot full of water the old fashion way or using one of MSR’s or Jetboil’s stove systems. The stoves vary in shape and volume, but they are all meant to heat water, obviously. So, buy one of those, and don’t forget the fuel.

One product I just saw recently blew my mind because it makes several of the methods mentioned in this article possible. At home, I have a modest electric grinder that makes a noise like a Honda Civic speeding down the interstate, but this hand-cranked grinder, designed for the outdoors, is a godsend. Thank you GSI, for having reached the pinnacle of human design.

Naturally, you wouldn’t pour that delicious java down your throat unless you had some vessel that could contain that blistering-hot liquid. There are many products to drink coffee from, including Yeti’s ever-present line of tumblers that keep fluids hot for hours, to a simple stainless steel cup. Stanley produces stainless steel cups with a sleeve that stack for convenience—we got our hands on some free ones at the 2017 Outdoor Retailer, and I still use them at home. I also love to use my Hydro Flask tumbler although it is a bit short and only holds 10 oz.—it’s also perfect for whiskey.

I know it already sounds like a lot, but trust me; would you rather be drinking a red bull, or god forbid, just quitting cold-turkey? So, you have all the products needed to create the perfect cup of joe, but don’t forget the essentials like sugar—or your preferred sweetener—and creamer, although in this situation it is not the most important thing.

a bag of coffee

A bag of Upventur Sports athlete Jake Vedder's coffee. Photo credit: Jimmy Banish.

Boiled water and instant coffee packets:

Is this a cop-out? I guess it depends on whom you ask, but you can’t beat how convenient it is, and portable as well. If you just need the caffeine and don’t much care about taste and quality, why not? Just don’t be surprised when coffee snobs judge your preferred intake method.

Cowboy coffee:

Essentially, you boil a pot of water with coffee grounds. Coffee is made like this in many parts of the world, like Indonesia, and it’s delicious. You may want to let the grounds settle once you have poured a cup, but this simple method is tried and true. To make the best cup of cowboy coffee, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to read this first. That grinder and stove would sure come in handy at this point, or whatever else you have in your arsenal.

Copper Cow or Kuju coffee:

At the 2017 Summer Outdoor Retailer, I noticed that the most amazing smell was coming from a nearby booth and I had to find the source. What I found was a cleverly packaged pour-over coffee that was miles ahead of your local Walmart offerings. Copper Cow sources its coffee beans from Vietnam and puts them in a package that fits around the rim of most mugs and insulated tumblers. Merely place the package on the vessel, and pour hot water over it, and enjoy some fantastic Vietnamese-style coffee. On the other hand, it is one of the more expensive methods, priced at $4.50 for one and $15 for a pack of five. Can you really put a price on your caffeine fix, though?

For caffeine-heads only, an actual French press:

If you’re hiking with a giant pack, you need be conscious of everything you’re carrying, but if you’re just having a chill camping trip then why not just bring your reliable French press from home? It might be a little heavy and made from glass, but it provides a cup of coffee you’re used to. You might want to use a grinder for this with fresh coffee beans, but pre-ground coffee will work too.

Minipresso NS by Wacaco:

This is another product I found while walking the floor at OR. The Minipresso is a tiny device that uses Nescafe Nespresso pods to make portable espressos. The method requires a coffee pod and a small amount of hot water inserted into its tank. Once in place, squeeze the plunger until coffee stops pouring. I tried this product, and I can tell you the espresso is good, and I was lit afterward for the better part of a day. Now, imagine having one of these little cups of raw, uncut Colombian caffeine. The NS version is the one I tried and uses the Nespresso pods, but the GS version uses freshly ground coffee— this method is more time-consuming and requires a grinder, it’s also messy.

French pressing your stove:

Remember those stoves I mentioned earlier; well, both MSR and Jetboil have a French press accessory that works with most of their stove models. Just boil the water, insert the appropriate ratio of coffee—this is where the hand-crank grinder comes through—and let it steep for a few minutes. This is the most efficient way of making your coffee in my opinion, without sacrificing taste or quality. The stove itself, while heavy, can store the fuel can and legs to allow space for other items in your pack.

coffee on a campfire

Conclusion:

Alternatively, you can try other products or methods like a percolator, an Aeropress or an actual pour-over. If you are all about being minimal, there are coffee tumblers that come with a built-in French press like this one from Bobble, or buy this GSI French press designed for the outdoors. It is easy to get carried away, but coffee, good or bad, is easily one of the must-haves when adventuring.