From cowboy coffee 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 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 most convoluted. 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 | Single Serve Pour Overs | Pour Over Stands | Aeropress | Moka Pot | French Press | Cook System with French Press | Percolator | Cold Brew Extract | Bripe | Portable Espresso Maker | OXX CoffeeBoxx
CAMP COFFEE BREW METHODS
1.) Instant Coffee
While instant coffee is lightweight, packable, and otherwise ideally suited for camping, it doesn’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. We recently did a review of 10 instant coffees for backpacking to figure out which we liked best, and honestly, some of them weren’t half bad (and one of them we loved).
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.
Voila – “An exceptional cup of coffee. Full stop.” This instant coffee completely blows the competition out of the water.
Mt. Hagan – “Mellow diner-style coffee.” For a freeze-dried instant coffee, this one did a pretty good job of replicating the taste of classic diner coffee.
Starbucks Via – “Unequivocally Starbucks.” These Starbucks Via packets successfully capture that signature Starbucks taste we have all come to love/hate.
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, cheese cloth, 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.
3.) 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. 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.
Libra Coffee Pourtables – Libra Coffee is a mission-based company based out of Oceanside, California. For every premium, small-batch pourtable coffee packet they sell, $1 goes toward an extra-strength water filter for people living without clean drinking water. Each filter has the power to provide clean drinking water to 100 people for up to 5 years. We’ve tried their coffee, we love it, and we’ll certainly raise our cup to the good work they’re doing around the world.
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.
4.) 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 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.
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.
GSI Collapsible Java Drip – While slightly heavier than the ultralight stand, this is still a really compact pour over stand.
Kalita Wave – If you want to go full backcountry barista, this metal pour over cup from Japan is known for making an exceptional cup of coffee easy and accessible to anyone.
The one and only. A combination between a pour over, French press, and a pneumatic press, the Aeropress is an innovative brew method that delivers incredibly rich and smooth coffee. It compresses the grounds into a small puck, making cleanup a cinch. During our yearlong road trip, this was how we made coffee every morning.
Ideal Use: Car camping, VanLife, and RVs or backpackers really dedicated to their coffee. Good for groups of 2-4 people.
Method: There are two different ways to use the AeroPress. Either way, you’ll want to use super fine espresso grounds.
Top Down – Insert the filter, place base over your cup, dump coffee grounds into the base, drizzle a little bit of hot water to degas the grounds, then fill to the top. Water will start to slowly drip out the bottom into your cup. Wait for about 10-15 seconds, then depress the plunger. This method is similar to a pour over, but with the addition of the plunger as a press.
Inverted – Place plunger on a flat surface facing up. Place the back of the base on top of the plunger and insert slightly. Dump grounds into the base, drizzle hot water to degas, fill compartment, and wait. The Aeropress is now functioning like a French press. Attach the filter to the top and place your cup upside down on top of the filter, and then carefully flip the Aeropress and cup over. Depress plunger.
Aeropress – Perhaps our favorite way to make coffee while camping.
Metal Filters – The Aeropress comes with a million paper filters, but once you’ve gone through all of those, you can pick up these reusable metal filters to reduce waste.
6.) 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.
Bialetti Moka Pot – The original Moka pot, Bialetti a variety of sizes – ranging from a tiny single cup model to a gigantic 12-cup model. They are made from lightweight aluminum, which is can be plus or a negative for some people.
Cuisinox Roma Stainless Moka Pot – This moka pot is expensive. But a lot of people have switched over from the Bialetti to this Cuisinox citing a desire for a quality stainless steel moka pot. Is it worth it? We have no idea.
7.) 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.
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.
SterlingPro Insulated French Press – We haven’t used this one, but we’re intrigued by the double wall vacuum insulation that would keep our coffee hotter for longer. That, plus everyone loves it on Amazon.
8.) 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.
Jetboil – We have a Jetboil cup that connects to our Eureka two burner stove via satellite burner. So this is actually something we use all the time in the front country.
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.
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.
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 (our 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.
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.
Farberware Yosemite Percolator – Rave reviews on Amazon.
GSI Glacier Percolator – Another highly rated option.
10.) Cold Brew Extract
Summer camping can get pretty hot. And it’s hard to think about drinking a piping cup of coffee when it’s 80+ degrees outside. The answer: cold brew coffee! While carrying a full jug of cold brew out to a campsite might be a little cumbersome, a small bottle of concentrated cold brew will allow you to make plenty for you and your fellow campers.
Ideal Use: Car camping, Vanlifers, RVing, and anybody else who has access to a cooler of ice.
Method: While the instructions may vary based on concentrated strength, the general idea is to add 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water. Thrown in some ice cubes and you’re in business.
Caveman Coffee – We’ve tried Caveman’s cold brew concentrate and it tasted just like a cold brew from a 3rd wave coffee shop. It also comes in a durable aluminum bottle, so it can handle a bit of the rough and tumble camp life.
Trader Joe’s – While it doesn’t taste quite as good as Caveman, Trader Joe’s makes a fine cold brew concentrate that’s slightly more economical.
By far the most UNUSUAL way of making coffee – well, a more like a shot of espresso to be more exact. This is a brand new product that we had the opportunity to try out at Winter Outdoor Retailer 2017. It basically functions like a pipe, which brews a small shot of espresso in a compartment at the end. Small, compact, and lightweight, once you get over the how bizarre it looks, it’s actually a pretty smart solution.
Ideal use: Somebody on the go who wants a quick pick-me-up, but who is also willing to answer a lot of questions from everyone around them.
Method: Place the grounds and water into the cup of the pipe, boil the water using a lighter or stove top, then sip through the attached straw when at a safe temperature (thermometer included).
Want to learn more about it? Check it out here.
12). 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. An integrated hand pump is then used to build up pressure, which allows you to “pull a shot”.
MiniPresso GR Espresso Maker – We haven’t used this model in particular, but it gets very positive reviews on Amazon. 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.
13.) OXX Coffeeboxx
Finally, the most over-the-top option when it comes to camp coffee has to be the OXX Coffeeboxx. It’s basically the industrial hard hat version of a Keurig. Crush proof, spill proof, impact and water resistant, this indestructible coffee maker produces a great cup of coffee at the push of a button.
Ideal Use: RVers, EarthRoamers, Tailgates, the craft service table on a Ford F-150 commercial, or anywhere else you have access to a 120v wall power outlet.
Method: Fill up the water tank. Put a K-cup in in the slot (They even sell reusable pods so you don’t have to use actual K-cups). Push button. Coffee.
While the OXX Coffeebox is a little excessive for most recreational weekend campers, if we were building out a Sprinter van we’re not saying we wouldn’t take a look at it.