There’s something about overnighting it in the great outdoors. Whether you’re backpacking through the rockies or just car camping a few miles out of town, cooking meals and prepping beverages in the wilderness just makes things taste better.
Maybe it’s something in the air.
Regardless of what you’re camping preference is, you’re not going to be going without coffee.
Obviously you’re not going to be packing the Keurig or any other on demand coffee maker for that matter on your back, or car camping without a stitch of coffee for everyone. We’ve got you covered. There’s a plethora of ways to make coffee on the go without having to resort to instant coffee.
There are four main things to consider when determining way to make coffee while camping. So grab your pack and let’s review the must-have camping items to make coffee:
- Grinder: If you really want fresh coffee then grinding just before you brew is supremely important.
- Beans: Whether you bring pre-ground beans or intend to grind them yourself, this is a must.
- Water: If backpacking is the focus of the trip then a Jet Boil will be your best bet. These little guys are small burners that connect to a propane source, typically lightweight cans. Otherwise you can bring in your own water and heat it on a fire or stovetop.
- Brewer: This is of course the big variable. It is largely determined by what kind of camping you intend to do. Are you going out overnight with a backpack or are you car camping?
Camping With A Coffee Grinder
Let’s not get halfway down the trail to realize we brought our stationary home Bunn system for a hike up Mt McKinley with no beans.
The fact is that the coffee you brew is going to be largely determined by what kind of camping you’re doing, how many people are in your party, and what length your stay is going to be.
Although fresh ground beans make the best coffee, chances are your not going to want to haul a grinder up a mountain. Or are you?
If you’ve met the criteria to bring a grinder on your trip, then we shouldn’t divert from fresh beans.
Electricity isn’t our friend out in the great outdoors. We could bring a solar panel, certainly. That just tends to ruin the vibe of the trip anyway.
Regardless, unless you have a battery powered grinder, then electric grinders are never on the portable side. So of course we’re going to recommend a manual grinder.
There’s a whole slew of coffee grinders that are designed for the outdoors. We just need to determine what fits our needs. Of course the car camper can easily bring whatever manual grinder they’d like or even an electrical grinder attached to your AC outlet.
But realistically, considering a burr mill grinder is great because its made of steel, has a conical ceramic burr mechanism, and it is adjustable. Not to mention, this orvite grinder is very portable and has easily adjustable grind sizes. That means if you’re prepping to make coffee on an Aeropress or Drip-style it’s quite easy. More on that later.
Just pour in your fresh coffee beans and start turning the crank. When selecting a grinder keep in mind that it should be durable enough for camping. Steel or aluminum is a good way to go. Make certain your investment can last forever if it doesn’t fall down a rocky crag.
Any outdoors aficionado should expect gear to incur slight damage, but steel builds mean much less chances of breaking. Although the Orvite is made for camping you could probably take one of these small hand grinders camping as well, so long as you pack it correctly. Keep a look out for ceramic burrs as well, these burrs heat up the least and this is good for your brew.
Now of course you can get a great brew out of freshly ground beans, but we need to decide what beans, pre-grounds etc. to take with us.
Taking Coffee Beans Camping
While there are certainly diehards out there who will go as far as fresh roasting their beans over a campfire to those simply fine with a canister of Folgers on the trail, many of us are just as happy with any coffee in the backwoods.
Of course, packing some pre ground coffee or consider packing some sealed, left over K-cups from your broken Keurig. As long as there’s enough beans packed for the trip. It’s not recommenced to try to repeat the Keurig brewing process o teh trail though.
The K-Cups rely on pressure and infusion within the cup to properly brew, you’re not going to be able to come up with a simple solution on the trail that results in a decent cup of coffee. The K-cups likely will result in a mess and failure.
Pack a small screen or filters to pour your coffee through into your mug after it has brewed in your pot.
If you want to bring coffee beans for grinding it’s important to consider what kind of coffee product you’ll be making with the provisional gear. Perhaps you’re grinding beans for an espresso. This requires a fine grind, and you’ll find that eats up beans pretty quickly and produces less coffee. But portable Espresso makers do exist for campers (more on that later) and nothing is worse than running out of coffee mid-trip.
It’s wise to keep in mind how you’re going to keep beans fresh and protected on the trip.
Are Bears attracted to Coffee Grounds? Certainly.
Bears are notoriously good at tracking scents. And we often forget how pungent coffee is when we’re in a caffeinated office space or coffee shop all day.
Additionally, the Seattle Zoo reports that “coffee is like catnip to bears”. Although it’s important to seal your coffee for freshness while camping, we’ll still need to get a dry-bag, also called a bear bag for such reasons, and hang it from a tree.
This is common practice in backpacking anyway, but with coffee it’s especially desired.
Keeping beans for freshness while camping is going to depend on what kind of container you use. Airtight containers are perfect and there’s a plethora of light-weight ones. Check out the CoffeeVac, at one pound it can’t be beat. The air-sealing performance here is also very dire to the freshness equation.
Another way to keep beans fresh is to roast them on-site. That’s about as fresh a brew as you can get. Imagine how great it tastes in the wild.
Roasting coffee at your campsite, whether backpacking or car camping, is simple. Probably should have been doing it all along! As you practice it will be easy to evenly roast your beans and experience something you might not do all the time.
- Use whatever pan you’re okay putting on the fire and load it with the unroasted beans. The first 10 minutes on the fire, don’t stir if you have the pan covered.
- Visually check the beans often. After the beans turn a light brown, that’s your cue to remove the cover (if applicable) and start stirring them evenly about every 30 seconds.
- Don’t think like Popcorn: Around five minutes you’ll hear what’s called “first crack”. As moisture escape the beans they begin to crack. This means the beans are done roasting but the time you extend this roasting process will determine how dark the beans get.
- How dark do you want the roast to be? For the lightest roast possible stop right after first crack. The darker the roast is determined by the more crackling of the beans. You can overdue the roast though, as the natural oils from the beans begin to dissipate and the beans will begin to burn. Various kinds of beans are better for different roasts too, so make sure you have some idea of the roasting condition you’re trying to achieve.
- Next we need to quickly remove the chaff while the beans are still hot. Take the roasted beans from the pan and toss them back and forth from any two containers. The Chaff is unwanted for brewing and will ruin the quality of the brew.
Now your beans are good to grind. If you’ve decided to forgo our portable grinder recommendation, it possible to just using two flat rocks for this step is doable, too. Freshly roasted, especially dark roast, beans are easy to crush and grind. Now we need to determine what water source we plan on using.
Water Source and Boiling
Depending on where you’re camping, using water can be of varying difficulty. If you’re camping on a cliff wall, then you’ll hopefully have brought ample water for brewing. If not it’s going to be a drowsy morning hanging off the canyon wall.
Of course you’re going to need water for making coffee, but you’re going to want to purify water from the source when possible.
Water in lakes, rivers, and springs may look crystal clear but often contains various bacteria that are prone to causing illness. It is rarely posted in the campground that the water is safe to drink. It’s best to use one of three purification methods: filter, chemical tablets, or boiling.
Boiling water is helpful in the coffee making process anyway. Still, a water purifier is easy to pack if you haven’t the option to bring your own water in. Just don’t rely on something like a Brita water filter.
Brita style filters are only designed to remove sediment and water-borne contaminants from the tap. They will not remove biological contaminants such as Giardia.
There are plenty of affordable purifiers that are specifically designed for the backcountry. The Lifestraw and Filterpens are compact but will likely not help you create a brew effectively. It’s best to find water purifiers that feature large, compact reservoirs and can be set up as a gravity-fed purification system by placing the full dirty water reservoir above the clean water reservoir and letting gravity and the filter do the rest.
When you just need a quick coffee to get you through your hike or trail run, simply place the hose in a water source and pump the filter into your water bottle to quickly filter out bacteria, protozoa, and particulates.
Brewing In The Mountains
It’s come time to select a brewing system for your outdoor adventure. This is widely determined by what you can pack weight wise.
If you’re able to bring in a camp stove then it’s easy to make coffee on a stovetop. There are also propane brewers that function to heat water and prepare a large amount of drip coffee. Let’s say you’re planning on hitting the trails for a few days, there’s many solutions to provide you caffeine to tackle the uphills.
Camping With Pour-Over Coffee Makers
A pour over is easy to achieve while backpacking and is very enjoyable given the setting. The same classic cone for your home pour over is very durable is also our favorite choice for camping – just in a lighter and more durable plastic form. A plastic dripper is easy to pack and relatively light.
Also, the pour over plastic piece is not only affordable but doesn’t comprise of multiple pieces, and works fantastic if you are brewing for multiple people. If you enjoy the taste of fresh brewed coffee and scenic vistas then this is a surefire way to brew coffee. Not complex, just concise.
If near boiling water and plastic bothers you, or you’d prefer not to bring filters along then look into the metal pour overs, which might do best stuffed in an overflowing pack anyway.
Camping With The Aeropress
The AeroPress edges ahead in taste. If you’re already familiar with Aeropress coffee then you’re on the right track. If not, then listen up. The avid camper should really know about this little apparatus. The supreme portability of the Aeropress means whatever remote area you plan on camping in, so long as you have access to boiling water and some freshly ground beans, you’re prepared!
In fact if you can fit a manual hand grinder in your pack, it’s easy to get the freshest possible coffee by grinding beans just before use.
The Areopress brews smooth, bitterness-free espresso shots. A huge number of people use this as their sole home coffee maker, as a plus however, it is portable enough to bring along while traveling or on camping trips. Just keep in mind that you need it’s special filter and it is comprised of multiple parts. Not the most durable item either.
The Handpress Outdoors
If you’re looking to get out for a solo trip or backpacking a lengthy enough trip that requires very economical planning, then the Handpresso is going to deliver beautifully done coffee. The Handpresso is a stroke of genius when it comes to single-cup coffee makers. As the name suggests it is mostly used for espresso, but given how small and simple it is, it can make the application to backpacking rough terrain. You can pack it with some pre-filled espresso pods and then simply boil water for a quick pick-me-up.
The item itself weighs one pound, so consider strongly if that’s worthwhile. Sitting in the mountains and drinking fresh espresso is certainly appealing. If you don’t have espresso pods, you can make a weaker version with those old K-cups that’ve been sitting around.
Portability really makes this a solid choice for camping. You’ll be the talk of the campfire with this contraption that looks like a sleek pair of binoculars and delivers smooth espresso as well. The only downside is that you’re going to be packing more coffee to counteract the single-use nature of the brew.
The French Press Camping Experience
There are many french press options designed specifically for campers. These are light weight and the brewing vessel itself is even usable as a mug on most models. They are easy to clean and feature the wire mesh that french press need for endless usage. Often made of stainless steal, so durability is possible.
Most of the camping model mugs will still feature the measurement markings on side. This can be extra helpful if you’d like to swap your measuring cup out to cut weight. The con we see here is that like the Handpresso, packing a lot of coffee is a must.
If you’re the type that is finicky about their coffee, and we all should be, then perhaps fitting a french press in your gear is worthwhile. Otherwise, there are still plenty of simple solutions to your brew.
Percolator Or “Cowboy coffee”
This is the go-to for car camping. If you’re approaching your few days out with ease and relaxation on your mind, then waiting for a percolator to deliver it’s timely results is fine. Simply load your percolator with water and grounds, and it’ll let you know when it’s ready.
Though the percolator tends to treat the beans as if they weren’t fragile, the coffee still satisfies when you’re in the great outdoors.
If you’re also not particularly concerned about what happens to the grinds, go for cowboy coffee. You can pack any kind of kettle, fill it with water, bring to a boil and when it’s begun to cool, stir in some grounds.
This is a great technique for car camping, especially if you’ve forgot a vital piece of coffee prep gear. It’s just not an easy clean-up, so packing it out is slightly difficult. However, there is a trick to containing your grounds. The old cowboy method:
- Bring your campfire kettle to a boil.
- Separately, mix eggs yolks,shells and all with coffee, salt and 1 cup water.
- Pour your strange concoction into the boiling water and let sit for a few minutes.
- Pour in another cup of cold water, which will essentially push the coffee granules and eggs to the top of the coffee as a solid object.
- Once the coffee looks to be clarified from the egg and granules, it’s ready!
This might seem like a whole extra step between you and the caffeinated beverage, but it’s worth it to help clean up after yourself. After all, pack it in = pack it out.
Cold Brew Camping
Though this is most grind requiring method on our list, but it really satisfies the coffee addict out on the trails. It can also be made prior to the trip if you’re going car camping.
Maybe you thought cold brewing was some mysterious technique performed by dwarfs in the cafe at night. However, it’s as simple as the name is. Simply steep coffee in cold water over night and retrieve the grounds in the morning. This is the best way to create a simple, and strong brew with a deeper, less acidic and more subtle taste. It’s also a refreshing way to have coffee if you’re out in the heat of a hike.
Like a hybrid of the cold brew method and a pour over (or just like making tea), this method adds almost no weight to a pack and is really scalable; you can make a single cup or a whole pot for a group just by altering how much coffee you add to the filter.
Bring along some paper coffee filters. When you’re ready to brew, put the desired amount of grounds into the center of the filter, draw up the edges like a coin purse, and tie it shut using any string. Dental floss works well, which you have thanks to your homemade camping repair kit, right?
Get your water to a boil and either drop the bag in the pot or pour water over the bag. Wait a few minutes, and drink away. If you tied well, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee grounds that leak.
Instead of paper filters, you could always go green and use a handkerchief (or, if you’re desperate, a shirt, sock or, really, any clean cloth) as a filter. Same process as the DIY Coffee Bag above but without the waste. Just ensure that whatever cloth use in the process is clean so coffee doesn’t earn a “unique” added taste.
With all this talk of technology, and gadgets, we would be remiss not mention great ways to make coffee in a survival scenario.
If you’ve simply got grounds, a mug, and hot water, you can make a pour over. Similar to the process in a coffee cupping session, but without the same kind of setting. This is a simple solution to preparing coffee for one or many campers.
Whatever your camping adventures might bring you, we hope that you’ll have plenty of coffee and use some different gear for new results on your adventures. Happy Trails!