The One & Only Guide to Camp Coffee!
From cowboy coffee to pour-over stands to portable espresso makers, we cover all the different ways to make a great cup of coffee while camping.
Coffee. Sweet, sweet coffee, the lifeblood of outdoor adventurers and campers everywhere. While we are willing to forgo a great many things while camping, a good cup of coffee is not one of them. Thankfully, there are countless ways to enjoy a good brew in the wild.
Here are a few of the many, many, ways to make coffee while camping.
This list is ordered from the lightest and simplest methods of brewing coffee to the heaviest and most elaborate. We have tried the majority of methods on this list, but not all of them. Where relevant we note our personal
1.) Instant Coffee
While instant coffee is lightweight, packable, and otherwise ideally suited for camping, it doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to taste. Thankfully, there has been a lot of innovative advancements in the instant coffee world over the past few years! If you haven’t tried instant coffee in a while, it’s worth checking a few of these brands out.
Ideal Use: Backpacking, bikepacking, and anyone else with an incentive to save space and reduce weight.
Method: While the exact instructions will vary from brand to brand, the general idea is to put the instant coffee grounds into a cup and add boiling water. Wait a few seconds until powder is dissolved and then enjoy. We can’t imagine a simpler brewing method.
2.) Cowboy Coffee
Just add coffee grounds to hot water. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. In terms of equipment needed, cowboy coffee is the simplest way to make coffee while camping. Although, since the grounds don’t dissolve into the water, clean up can be a little messy, making it less ideal for backpacking or anywhere that you’d need to pack out your waste.
Ideal Use: For those who want to look tough. Also, those who forgot all their fancy coffee-making gear at home. Good for small or large groups, depending on the size of your kettle.
Method: For something as simple putting coffee grounds in hot water, there are a surprising number of ways to brew cowboy coffee. One popular way (at least according to the internet) is to include either broken eggshells or a whole raw egg into the coffee grounds (no joke). With the rampant state of salmonella in this country, we’re just going to go ahead and skip that one entirely. But here are some far less risky ways to brew a perfect cup of cowboy coffee. Fine grounds are recommended.
Clean Cup Method – You’ll need a cloth coffee sock, cheesecloth, or bandana. Boil water. Remove from heat. Place coffee grounds inside the cloth and then place in kettle. Return to low heat to steep.
Sink Down Method – Heat a kettle of water until boiling. Remove from heat and dump coffee grounds in. Return to low heat and simmer. The coffee grounds should start to sink to the bottom after a few minutes. If they don’t, drizzle some cold water on top to help them sink to the bottom.
Scoop Top Method – Heat a kettle of water until boiling. Remove from heat and spoon coffee grounds in. Return to low heat and simmer. With a spoon, skim the coffee grounds off the surface.
3. Coffee In A Bag
There is a beautiful simplicity to steeping a teabag. So why not do the same for coffee? For the longest time, the only coffee-in-a-bag option was Folger’s singles – which tastes just like you’d expect. But there are a few new startups trying to revive the tried-and-true brew method and bring coffee-in-a-bag into the 21st century.
Ideal Use: Short trip backpackers, bikepackers, and anyone who doesn’t want to go full instant but also doesn’t want to deal with a brewing apparatus.
Method: Place the brew bag into a cup and fill with hot water. Steep until your desired strength is reached and then remove. If you can steep a cup of tea, then you brew a bag of coffee just as easily.
4.) Single Serving Pour-Overs
The next step up from instant coffee and cowboy coffee (at least in terms of ease of use) are single-serving pour-overs. These are a relatively new type of product designed specifically for campers. Since the grounds are kept separate from the water, clean up is a lot easier.
True, you’ll have to pack out both the paper filter and the wet grounds, but you’ll have a cup of coffee that tastes a lot closer to a typical pour-over. For something that comes in a small, lightweight package, single-serve pour-overs can be a very appealing alternative to instant coffee.
Ideal Use: Backpacking, bikepacking, and people who want to save space and reduce weight, but can’t or won’t commit to going full instant.
Method: Single serving pour-overs consist of a paper frame and pouch that is filled with coffee grounds. The frame is expanded and placed over the top of your cup. You then pour boiling water through the pouch-like pour-over. Remove and enjoy.
5.) Pour-Over Stand
If “ease of use” is less important than “cost per use” then you can also go with a non-disposable pour over stand. The pour-over stands found in coffee shops are often made from ceramic, but there are many lightweight and compact pour-over stands designed specifically for campers.
Ideal Use: Serious coffee drinkers (or people who want to be perceived as serious coffee drinkers). Good for groups of about 2-4 people.
Method: Using either a paper or cloth filter, fill with coffee grounds and place over your cup. Heat your water until nearly boiling and then slowly pour into the filter in a circular motion. A kettle that can pour a smooth, steady stream of water without dribbling is critical for pour-over. While serious baristas use fancy gooseneck kettles to control the flow of water, we can’t say enough good things about our GSI kettle. Small, compact, and not a single dribble.
6.) French Press
While many people enjoy the simplicity of a French press, the typical glass carafe is not really designed for the rough and tumble life of camping. Thankfully, there are a lot of more durable models on the market. French press is great for making a lot of coffee, but it does use a lot more (coarse) grounds than other methods.
Ideal Use: Car campers, Vanlife, RV, and anyone else who enjoys a simple brew method that produces rich tasting coffee.
Method: Spoon coarse coffee grounds into the bottom, drizzle a little bit of hot water to degas, fill the container with hot water, stir, wait for about 8-10 minutes, and depress the plunger.
The good old fashioned percolator has been a go-to for camp coffee drinkers for generations. A metal tube runs up into a metal basket filled with coffee grounds. As the water boils, it percolates up the tube and into the basket. This method is great at making lots of strong coffee over a camp stove or campfire.
Ideal Use: Car camping, vanlife, RV. Making coffee like your father. Making coffee like your father’s father. Good for small and large groups.
Method: Fill kettle with water, place a paper filter in the basket (or just use the metal filter), fill with grounds, and boil until ready. Most percolators come with a glass/plastic viewing bubble at the top so you can see when the coffee is the correct color.
8). Portable Espresso
Portable hand-powered espresso makers are all the rage these days. It unites people’s combined love of coffee, the outdoors, and new fancy gadgets. If you like espresso shots, then this type of coffee maker might be up your alley.
Ideal Use: Car camping, Vanlife, RVs.
Method: While exact instructions vary model to model, the general idea is that fine coffee grounds are packed into one compartment and hot water is added to another compartment. The pressure builds and steam is pushed through the grounds – essentially “pulling a shot”.
9.) Moka Pot
If you like strong Italian style coffee then the Moka Pot might be for you. This stovetop espresso maker produces powerful Italian style coffee, which can be enjoyed on their own or combined with hot water to make an Americano. The Moka pot comes with a built-in metal filter basket, so you’ll never need to worry about buying or throwing away paper filters.
Ideal Use: Any camper who wants to experience the peppy bravado that only a shot of genuine Italian espresso can imbue.
Method: A moka pot consists of three parts: the bottom reservoir, the metal filter in the middle, and the serving carafe at the top. Water is placed in the bottom and the grounds are packed into the middle filter. When placed over a stove, the water boils, steams up through the grounds, and collects in the top carafe.
Being the coffee enthusiasts and outdoor bloggers that we are, we’ve tried many of the camping coffee mugs on the market. Here are our current favorites:
Stainless Steel Camping Coffee Mug
While bringing pre-ground coffee is arguably the easiest way of making coffee while camping, there is definitely an argument for bringing whole beans and grinding them fresh in the morning, especially if you’re packing more specialty beans. Luckily, there are a number of manual coffee grinders on the market perfect for adding to your camp coffee making routine:
"2X Espresso" Electric Travel Coffee Grinder
The portable grinder’s conical ceramic burrs are held tightly in place by a stabilizing cage. This eliminates burr wobble, which results in more uniform and consistent coffee grounds – an essential for a balanced brew. The burrs can be adjusted to grind coffee for french press, espresso, and everything in-between.
Stainless Steel Mini Manual Coffee Grinder