The Ultimate Guide to Camp Coffee: Our Favorite Ways to Brew Coffee While Camping

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From cowboy coffee to portable espresso makers, we cover all the different ways to make a great cup of coffee while camping.

The Ultimate Guide to Making Coffee While Camping

This post was writen in partnership with REI.

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 some of our favorite ways to make and enjoy our coffee while camping.

This list is ordered from the lightest and simplest methods of brewing coffee to heaviest and more involved. We have tried the majority of methods on this list, but not all of them. Where relevant we note our personal experiences with the products we have used as well as those we’ve researched.

Instant Coffee | Cowboy Coffee | Coffee in a Bag | Single Serve Pour Overs | Pour Over Stands | French Press | Cook System with French Press | Percolator | Portable Espresso Makers | Favorite Mugs & Accessories

CAMP COFFEE BREW METHODS

1.) Instant Coffee

While instant coffee is lightweight, packable, and otherwise ideally suited for camping, ’t have a great reputation when it comes to taste. However, there has been a lot of innovative advancements in the instant coffee world over the past couple of years!

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, stir, and drink. The easiest brew method imaginable.

Alpine Start

Seeking instant coffee you actually look forward to in the morning? Search no more. Alpine Start instant coffee was created by a climber and a foodie to be the best on-the-go cup of joe you can get. In addition to their classic coffee, Alpine Start also offers an instant Dirty Chai Latte and a Coconut Creamer Latte.
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Swift Coffee

Get cafe-quality coffee wherever you are by just adding water. This instant coffee is ethically sourced, carefully brewed, and freeze dried to capture the full spectrum of flavor.
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Coffee While Camping - How to Make Cowboy Coffee

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 egg shells 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 dump coffee grounds in. Return to low heat and simmer. With a spoon, skim the coffee grounds off the surface.


MSR Titan Kettle

If you could carry only one pot on your next technical adventure this would be the purist’s choice.
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Snowpeak Kettle

The classic stainless steel kettle, the Snow Peak Kettle No. 1 has folding handles so it’s easy to pack.
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3.) Coffee in a Bag

So this is a new one to us, but we just recently found out about coffee in a bag. Think tea bag, but with coffee instead. Lightweight, self-contained, with no messy grounds to clean up afterward. While this steeping method probably won’t satisfy coffee purists, it could be a nice compromise for people looking to keep things simple while out on the trail.

Ideal Use: Backpacking, bikepacking, and people who want to save space and reduce weight, but can’t or won’t go full instant coffee.


JAVAZEN Coffee Brew Bag

Get your morning buzz on the trail or at home with a Javazen Coffee Brew Bag—a blend of organic coffee, loose-leaf tea and superfoods with a pleasant, complex flavor and just-right caffeination.
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Kuju portable pourover coffee for camping

4.) Single Serving Pour-Overs

The next step up from instant coffee and coffee in a bag (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. While you’ll have to pack out both the paper filter and the wet grounds, 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 go full instant coffee.

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.


Kuju Pocket Pour Over

Another impressive start-up that offers quality coffee in a simple, easy, packable. Founded by two Eagle Scout brothers, for every purchase of a Pocket Pour Over Kuju donates 1% of sales to the National Park Foundation. We have also tried Kuju and loved it as well.
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GSI Pourover Camp Coffee Maker

5.) Pour-Over Stand

If “easy 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 overs.

Suggestions:


GSI Ultralight Java Drip

We have been really impressed by this lightweight and compact pour over stand. It comes with a nylon reusable filter but is also compatible with paper filters as well.
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Snow Peak Folding Pour Over

While slightly heavier than the ultralight stand, this is still a really compact pour over stand.
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GSI java Press Camp Coffee Maker

6.) French Press

While many people enjoy the simplicity of a French press, the typical glass carafe is a not really designed for the rough and tumble life of camping. Thankfully, there 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: Dump coarse coffee grounds into the bottom, drizzle a little bit of hot water to degas, fill the container with hot water, stir, wait, and depress the plunger.

Suggestions:


GSI Java Press

We recently picked up this model to test and have really been enjoying it. It’s a plastic shatterproof carafe wrapped in a thermally insulating nylon sheath. Smooth pour, quality metal mesh filter. Overall we are very satisfied.
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Snow Peak Titanium French Press

The Snow Peak Titanium French Press is the perfect way to enjoy great coffee while camping or backpacking, without adding a bunch of extra weight to your pack.
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Jetboil Coffee Maker

7.) Cook Systems with French Press Attachments

Many integrated cook systems like Jetboil, MSR, and Biolite now offer French press plungers. These plungers are designed to work with these rapid hot water makers, reducing the amount of gear you need to carry. The only problem is that most of these cook systems are intended for the backcountry, but French press style coffee (which uses a lot of grounds and can be difficult to clean) is better suited for front country use.

Ideal Use: If you already use your integrated cook system in the front country to rapidly make hot water (which we often do). Or you really really like French press style coffee that you don’t mind the extra work of making it in the backcountry.

Suggestions:


Jetboil Flash Cooker

We have a Jetboil cup that connects to our Eureka two burner stove via satellite burner, which makes this a very convenient solution.
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MSR Windburner

This stove is awesome in windy conditions. We brewed coffee using the Windburner during a hike gone awry in Utah. Despite sleet and wind, this stove had no problems boiling water in just a few minutes.
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BioLite Coffee Press

While it’s intended for backcountry use, we more frequently use this stove in the front country. The Kettle Pot and Coffee Press attachment have come in handy when making a lot of coffee.
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Camp Percolator by GSI - How to Make Coffee While Camping

Image courtesy of GSI Outdoors

8.) Percolator

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.

Suggestions:
The biggest gripe we’ve seen on the internet is that they just don’t make percolators like they use to. But here are few quality options still out there.


GSI Glacier Percolator

Keep the campsite fully caffeinated with the GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Steel 6-cup percolator, which has a heat-resistant handle and a resin knob that lets you gauge the strength of your brew.
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Stanley Percolator

Waking up to hear a percolator bubbling over the campfire is the outdoor coffee many of us remember, and the 6-cup Stanley Adventure Percolator reminds us that Grandpa’s way was often best.
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GSI Enamel Percolator

Brew up fresh perked coffee in the cabin or at camp with the attractive GSI Enamelware coffee pot.
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The Wacaco Minipresso - Compact, handheld espresso maker for camping

Image courtesy of Hugo Cailleton

9). Portable Espresso

Portable espresso makers are all the rage these days. It unites people’s combined love of coffee, the outdoors, and fancy looking 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.

Suggestions:


GSI Espresso Maker

Offering more of an “Italian” style espresso, the GSI Outdoor Mini has a similar design as the classic Moka pot. Perfect for serving up a strong shot in the morning.
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MiniPresso Espresso Maker

We haven’t used this model in particular, but it gets positive reviews. We’ve used another brand, that we won’t name here, but it rhymes with RandPresso….and we weren’t crazy about it. Anyways, we’ve read that a lot of people have switched over from it to the MiniPresso and they been very happy with it.
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Our Favorite Camping Coffee Mugs & Accessories

Being the coffee enthusiasts and outdoor bloggers that we are, we’ve tried many of the camping coffee accessories on the market. Here are our current favorites:


Yeti Rambler Mug

The Big Gulp of coffee mugs, these vacuum insulated mugs by Yeti are great for car camping. Most standard size coffee mugs are 12 oz, but the Yeti Rambler is 14 oz. And some mornings, those extra 2 ounces can make all the difference!
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REI Camp Mug

Not too big and not too small, REI Co-Op Camp Mugs are a great vacuum sealed camping mug. They come in a bunch of cool colors and themes, so you can really brighten up your morning routine.
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Snow Peak Titanium Double Walled Mug

These lightweight mugs were backpacking game changers for us. Before we got them, we used to have to quickly gulp down our coffee before it got cold. Now, these double-layer vacuum insulated mugs allow us to slowly sip our coffee and enjoy the morning.
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Snow Peak Coffee Grinder

When we’re traveling on the road, we grind our coffee fresh every morning, giving new meaning to the term “the daily grind”! If you have great bag of coffee beans that you really want to savor, grinding them fresh on site really makes a difference.
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Thanks to REI for sponsoring this post. All gear selections are our own, and in most cases we’ve purchased items independently of our partnership.


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28 Comments

  1. Greetings! Fun write up. Regarding the eggshell coffee, Salmonella wouldn't survive boiling water though. That was curiously funny to me.

    That aside, I do Pour Over, French Press, or Cowboy, even at home, every day, the latter lowering to simmer right after boil, stirring for five minutes. Oh my goodness, wow, such a delicious coffee. Feliz con mi cafe - gracias!

  2. Great article on the different types of coffee that could be brewed. I read this article because I have a similar one about Cowboy Coffee and wanted to see if I left out anything important but you covered most of the base that I had with some additions.

  3. Ooof, I can almost smell the coffee from the photos!

  4. Great post! Have nice day ! :) immrl

  5. What a wonderful share! One thing I dread when I go camping is not being able to have a good cup of coffee. Don't get me wrong, it is incredible to wake up to the great outdoors and the sounds of nature, but even better to wake up and have a warm coffee on campsite in that setting. The OXX box is SO COOL, but I've gotta say the classic Cowboy style is my fave. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amazing article indeed. I am a huge coffee lover and I also have a barista experience in the past. I have to say it is quite hard to spend a full day with no coffee. And that doesn't happen in the Netherlands. As Portuguese I though it was on my blood, but Dutch are impressive with coffee!

  7. Great article! Can't wait to try this!

  8. Amazing article especially for those who can't spend a single day without coffee.Lots of ways to brew coffee.Choose one which best suits you.Thank you for providing us with such information.

  9. Really nice! Enjoyed reading with a feeling of flavor and aroma of the coffee.

  10. Vavv. İts a great article. Thanks a lot.

  11. I love this post! I had no idea about all of these methods to make coffee and it's ceirtainly interesting! I was wondering which one of them did you like the most? I can think of a few method for different occasions but I think I will always prefer the pour over stand for camping (seriously coffee drinker and all that).

  12. We use a Dripolator. Best coffee we ever had

  13. Starbucks instant packets work just fine for this simple family! Sipping while looking at the lake! Camping is an escape for us.

  14. You can cold brew your own if you think to start it the day before. So good and smooth!

  15. Where is the original travel espresso maker Handpresso?

    • We had one of their models a couple of years back, and we weren't super crazy about it. Perhaps they've made some improvements since. We'll have to try them again.

  16. Good article, so far I've just used the coffee press with my JetBoil Zip and a No4 coffee from Aldi and it was very easy to make and tasted good

  17. Haha this is great! I loved the little bripe! We mostly use a French press in our Skoolie. But in the woods I think instant is the way to go. If you live out there long enough it starts to taste like real coffee.

  18. Why in the world would you want to trek your used coffee grounds out of the wild? Coffee grounds are not trash or anything foreign to the wilderness, forest or grassy fields. Coffee is a natural mix for soil. In the home front many use to airate and fertilize their special plants. This is one item that does not need to return to the source unless you are dumping the grounds on top of a picnic table or a parking lot. Just about any ground will surfice for mixing with your grounds.

    • Milo, we totally get it that coffee grounds are compostable and can easily be re-integrated into the soil. If we were making coffee in our backyard, the grounds would go in the hedges. But there are a few reasons why we'd suggest packing out while backpacking. 1.) In a lot of the designated wilderness areas in the western US, it's required you pack out all waste. 2.) Not all environments are equally suited for soil compositing: fragile alpine meadows, arid deserts, rocky summits. 3.) The strong smell of coffee can attract animals, which trains them to check backpackers sites for food. So while soil composting might works in some circumstances, we tend to err on the side of caution.

    • I know this is a year old article but.....

      I live in Colorado and camp 10 to 12 times yearly.

      2 things:

      1st. Pack it out or dont pack it in. If you would rather not carry used grounds out with you, that is OK. Just take instant instead. And I do pack my tea bags out.

      2. What do you all think the preferred method for making coffee for 30 person camping would be? Need economical but still decent flavor. (full disclosure: I don't drink coffee at all. I am a tea guy.) I will be hosting large monthly camping trips 4-5 times a year for the foreseeable future.

    • Texsport, GSI, and a few others make mega-sized percolators (I think 24 cups). We've come across a few guided rafting camps (with like 30 people in them) and that was what they were using.

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