A good cup of camp coffee, surrounded by pines and crisp mountain air, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. From instant to stovetop espresso, we’re sharing all the different ways to brew 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 plenty of ways to enjoy a good brew in the wild.
In this post, we highlight a few of the many, many ways to make coffee while camping. We share different brewing methods, favorite camp coffee makers, and some helpful accessories. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be all set to make the best cup of camping coffee on your next adventure.
The Best Camp Coffee Makers & Methods
This list is ordered from the lightest and simplest methods of brewing camp coffee to the bulkiest and most elaborate. While each different type of coffee brewing method has its merits, it’ll be up to you to decide which one best fits your needs.
Things to consider:
- Size and weight (particularly if backpacking)
- Typical group size
- Speed (how long does it take?)
- Ease of clean up
Instant coffee is lightweight, compact, easy to make, and has virtually zero clean-up, making it ideally suited for both camping and backpacking.
If you’ve had questionable instant coffee experiences before, we’re here to tell you that there has been a lot of innovation in the world of instant coffee—in the past few years, there has been an explosion of incredible tasting instant coffees! If you haven’t tried instant coffee in a while, it’s worth checking a few of these brands out.
Best for: Anyone with an incentive to save space, reduce weight, or wants a completely fast, hassle-free, impossible-to-screw-up coffee-making experience in the morning.
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 a specific amount of boiling water. Stir, wait a few seconds until powder is completely dissolved, and then enjoy. We can’t imagine a simpler brewing method!
Here are a few of our favorite instant coffee brands:
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 Original Blend instant coffee, Alpine Start also offers an instant Dirty Chai Latte and a Coffee with Creamer. Available in individual packets or in bulk sizing.
Our take: I drank Alpine Start every day on the John Muir Trail and would definitely recommend it!
This German brand of organic fair-trade instant coffee has been Megan’s go-to choice whenever we go backpacking. It’s reasonably priced but offers a very well-balanced cup of instant coffee. This is what she drank for 19 days on the John Muir Trail, and would drink it for 19 more! It is available in individual packets or in bulk sizing.
Taking instant coffee to a gourmet level, Volia is one of the best instant coffees we’ve ever tried. They partner with local coffee roasters and use a proprietary freeze-drying technique to create a cup of instant coffee that tastes as good as a fresh cup from your local coffee shop. No joke. However, this exceptional instant coffee is priced accordingly, so we save it for special occasions.
There are very few coffee blends that are so good we can remember them by name, but Verve’s Seabright is one of them. Imagine golden California sunshine, salty coastal air, and spring wildflowers all wrapped up into a cup of coffee. So, we were SO excited to learn that Verve now offers Seabright as an instant coffee (in addition to their Buena Vista and Streetlevel blends). But craft instant coffee has its price, so this might also be a good one to save for a special morning.
Other Instant Coffees Worth Checking Out
- Canyon Coffee
- Joe Coffee
- Thrive Market Instant Coffee
- Waka Instant Coffee
- Laird Instafuel
- Cafe Altura Organic Free Trade Instant
- Cascadia Coffee Roasters
- Tandem Coffee
- Douwe Egberts
- Anthony’s Instant Coffee
- Black Coffee Roasting Co.
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 Folgers singles, which tastes… like Folgers. But recently there has been an absolute boom in the coffee-in-a-bag space, with lots of new brands entering the market.
Best for: Anyone who doesn’t want to go with instant coffee but also doesn’t want to deal with a coffee brewing apparatus.
Method: Place the brew bag into a cup and fill it 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. The used bag of grounds can be squeezed/dried out and then packed out to be disposed of properly.
Our Thoughts: Since the grounds don’t need to dissolve into the liquid, coffee-in-a-bag will typically taste more like a regular cup of coffee than instant coffee.
Brands Worth Checking Out
- Steeped (compostable outer packaging & brew bag)
- High Side Coffee (compostable brew bag)
- Chamberlain Coffee
- Wildland Coffee
- Cult Coffee
- Counter Culture Coffee
Make your own!
It’s also easy to make your own coffee “teabag”. Simply place ground coffee in the center of a regular coffee filter. Gather up the sides of the filter together and tie it with an 8″-10″ long thread or string leaving a tailing end.
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, which consist of pre-ground coffee in a foldable paper pour-over stand.
True, you’ll have to pack out both the paper filter and the wet grounds (more of a concern for backpackers than car campers), 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.
Best for: People who want to save space and reduce weight, but want that elevated taste of a pour-over (and doesn’t mind packing out wet grounds).
Method: Single serving pour-overs consist of a paper frame and pouch that is filled with pre-ground coffee. The frame is expanded and placed over the top of your cup. You then slowly pour boiling water through the pour-over pouch. Remove and enjoy.
Our favorite single-serve pour-over brand, Kuju Coffee was one of the first to bring this innovative brew method to the outdoor industry. They have fantastic tasting coffee, they offer blends and single-origin, plus they donate 1% of sales to the National Park Foundation. What’s not to love!
Other Single-Serving Pour-Overs to Check Out:
Make your own!
You can buy these same single-brew paper pour-overs on Amazon (here’s a link to a biodegradable version!). Then you can fill them with your favorite ground coffee at the campsite, or pre-fill them at home and store them in zip-top bags (pushing all the air out as you seal it will help preserve freshness as well as help to keep the grounds in place.
If “cost per use” is more important than “ease of use” you may consider going with an actual pour-over stand. While pour-over stands found in coffee shops are often made from delicate ceramic, there are many lightweights, compact, and durable pour-over stands designed specifically for campers.
Best for: Serious coffee drinkers. Especially those you are planning on grinding their own beans at the campsite. You really do get a lot of flavor out of the coffee using this method, which is why it’s the go-to method for baristas. This method takes time, so it’s best for 1-2 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 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.
AeroPress Coffee Maker
This is our personal favorite way to make camp coffee. A combination between a pour-over, French press, and a pneumatic press, the Aeropress delivers incredibly rich and smooth coffee. Its quick brew time, unbelievably simple clean-up, and compact size have made the Aeropress our go-to camp coffee maker for the past 5 years.
Ideal Use: This method is great for car campers, vanlife and RVers, or backpackers really dedicated to their coffee. OK for groups of 2-4 people as long as you have a little patience since it brews one cup at a time.
Official Top-Down Brew Method: To learn about the official top-down brew method, it’s best to just watch the official video.
Inverted Method: This non-company-sanctioned brew method is what most baristas and serious Aeropress fans use. Place plunger on a flat surface facing up. Place the back of the base on top of the plunger and insert slightly. Add grounds into the base, drizzle hot water to degas, fill the 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.
For more info (with videos!), check out our in-depth article on how to use an Aeropress.
Comparison: Want to see a side-to-side comparison of the Aeropress and Aeropress Go? This document goes into all the nitty-gritty details.
Camping 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, so it’s best to leave the glass at home and pick up a durable camping-style French press. French press is great for making a lot of coffee with not much effort, but it does use a lot more (coarse) grounds than other methods, and it does require more cleaning than many other options in this article.
Ideal Use: Anyone who enjoys a simple brew method that produces deep rich-tasting coffee. This is a great option for small groups of 2-4.
Method: Spoon coarse coffee grounds into the bottom, drizzle a little bit of hot water to “de-gas”, fill the container with hot water, stir, wait for about 8-10 minutes, and depress the plunger.
If you crossed a French Press with a Hydroflask, you’d get the Coffee Gator. This is a heavy-duty, stainless steel French Press that is double-walled and vacuum-sealed. That means your coffee stays warm 60 minutes longer than a typical glass French Press. Plus the Coffee Gator comes in a lot of really fun colors.
Cook Systems with French Press Attachments
Many integrated cook systems like Jetboil and MSR 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.
This approach is ideal 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 on your backpacking trips and you don’t mind packing the wet grounds out*.
*Yes, pack them out. Burying them in a cat hole is not an acceptable answer.
Integrated Cook Systems With French Press Attachments
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: Depending on the size percolator, this brew method can be good for small and/or large groups. This is a great option for car camping and vanlife or RVers.
Method: Fill the 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 or plastic viewing bubble at the top so you can see when the coffee is the correct color.
Moka Pot & Portable Espresso Makers
If you like strong Italian-style coffee then the Moka Pot might be for you. This stovetop espresso maker produces extra-strength Italian-style coffee, which can be enjoyed on its 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: Anyone 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.
Insulated Coffee Mugs
One of the easiest ways to greatly enhance your camping coffee experience is to invest in a proper camp coffee mug.
For years, we used those ubiquitous blue-speckled enamel camp coffee mugs. But due to the high conductive of steel, they would become dangerously hot at first before rapidly going cold. We had a 2-3 minute window in which to enjoy the coffee at a reasonable temperature.
All that changed when we upgraded to insulated coffee mugs. Now we can enjoy warm coffee throughout the morning.
Vacuum-sealed isn’t the only option. We absolutely love these GSI Infinity Mugs and use them for all our backpacking trips. They come with a neoprene sleeve that keeps your drink warm for a solid 20-minutes (we don’t need much more than that on the trail!). They are lighter and MUCH MUCH cheaper than insulated titanium backpacking mugs.
One of our biggest beef with camp coffee mugs is that many of them are too big to fit in a normal car cup holder. This Coffee Flask solves that issue. Its slender design allows it to easily transition from your campsite to your car ride. With a neatly designed leak-proof flex lid, it is also a pleasure to drink from.
Portable Coffee Grinders
No doubt, bringing pre-ground coffee is the easiest way of making coffee while camping. But there is definitely an argument for bringing whole beans and grinding them fresh in the morning.
Freshly ground coffee tastes noticeably better, even to non-coffee snobs. So if you want to make the most out of a high-end or specialty coffee, fresh ground is the way to go. Also, you may need to adjust the finest of your coffee to your brew method. Most pre-ground coffee is medium-coarse for drip coffee machines, but you may need it to be finer (for espresso) or coarser (for french press).
Luckily, there are a number of manual coffee grinders on the market perfect for adding to your camp coffee making routine:
If you are looking for a solid manual coffee grinder at a reasonable price, look no further than the JavaPresse Manual Grinder. It has ceramic conical burrs that can be adjusted from super-fine to coarse. It also features a glass viewing point to allow you to see how much you’ve ground so far. 40 grams capacity.
While this coffee grinder is likely to last for years, the one area to be aware of is the detachable handle. If you use this grinder daily for years (like we did) the slight wiggle in the handle connection point will eventually start to wear away the metal, causing the handle to slip.
If you need to grind a lot of fresh coffee and want a little more capacity, then the Hario Skerton Pro Grinder might be a good option for you. It has a 100-gram capacity allowing you to grind enough coffee for the whole morning in one go.
While we are not crazy about the glass jar, it does have a rubberized bottom which helps protect it.
The VSSL Java is the Cadillac of hand coffee grinders. While most other brands use ceramic conical burrs, the JAVA has stainless steel burrs that make for a more consistent and easier grind. It also has 2 high-end radial ball bearings sets to ensure there is no “wobbly” when you grind and that all your energy is being evenly distributed. If you have been disappointed by low-end coffee grinders in the past (like we have) and have the budget to treat yourself, this just might be the answer. 20-gram capacity.
Have you ever arrived at the campground only to realize you forgot your coffee maker at home? What should you do? Panic? Cancel the trip?!
No, cowboy coffee to the rescue!
Assuming you didn’t also forget the coffee at home too (in which case you seriously need to download our car camping checklist), all you need to brew camp coffee is a kettle or a pot of water and some coffee grounds. Here’s how to do it:
Sink Down Method
Heat a kettle or pot of water until boiling. Remove from heat and add coffee grounds in. Return to low heat and simmer. Some of the coffee grounds should start to sink to the bottom after a few minutes. To encourage them to sink, drizzle some cold water on top. Then gently pour the coffee into cups, making sure not to agitate the grounds which have sunk 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.