There may be nothing better than waking up to a stunning vista and knowing that you’ve left the hustle and bustle behind. But what if you’ve also left something behind that you can’t do without – a coffee maker?
Camping without caffeine is the kind of mistake that you only make once. In order to help you avoid this problem, here are our favorite ways to make coffee in the wilderness. Our picks are not necessarily ranked in the order of quality of coffee produced (although it’s pretty close). Rather, these are ordered in terms of sheer convenience.
Take a look and consider your own unique situation. Every camping trip is different, and it’s important to find what will work best for you and your group.
1. Collapsible Pour-over Coffee Makers
The trusty collapsible pour-over is a great option for anyone who loves to make pour-over coffee at home – the experience is almost identical – and for anyone looking to absolutely minimize space and weight.
Simply pop open this silicone model and place a filter with grounds inside. You’ll need to find a way to boil water using some other piece of equipment, but then you’ll be able to simply pour hot water over your grounds, just as you would at home. Remember to drop a little bit of water over your coffee first, in order to let it “bloom.” Then pour in a slow and steady stream and make sure all the grounds are getting equally extracted.
When you’re done, just lift your filter out of the pour-over, give it a quick rinse, and fold it up. (Let it dry first in order to avoid any mildew or bad smells.) You’ll then need to deal with your used filter.
Want a great pour-over coffee maker? Read our list of the 10 best options!
2. Pour-over Travel Mug
Our next pick is the pour-over travel mug method. These mugs combine many of the great features of a simple pour-over into one, but they’re a bit more expensive and less portable.
You’ll still need to boil water separately, but then you’ll pour water over your coffee grounds in much the same way as a typical pour-over. If you’re feeling especially resourceful, look for a model with an included filter. Some mugs have a steel mesh filter, so you won’t need to bring along any filters, or deal with used ones (although you will have to be sure to clean the steel filter properly after each use).
As an added bonus, a travel mug will retain heat and keep your coffee hot. The mug can also be used for any similar hot drink, or even as a vehicle for some yummy camping stew.
3. Submersible Filter
Our next suggestion is the submersible filter method. Making coffee this way is as simple as letting coffee grounds steep in hot water, and then making sure you don’t drink any grounds.
We love submersible filters because they can be really light, and they’re also a good method for brewing tea (if you’re camping with non-coffee drinkers). Like the previous options, you will still need to boil water in some other way, but then you’ll be able to simply place a filter full of grounds into your camping mug, and pour in the hot water.
Wait a couple of minutes for everything to extract, and then remove the filter and sip away. Be sure to empty the grounds from the filter after you’re done enjoying your cup, and rinse away any leftover coffee.
This option is super convenient when actually brewing, but we do think it can be a little bulky to pack.
4. Coffee Sock
Next up is a wonderfully goofy method – the coffee sock. Though an actual sock would technically work, it’s best to splurge on one of the many coffee socks designed specifically for this purpose.
The mechanics of this method are all fairly similar to that of the previous technique. Simply fill the sock with coffee grounds, and lower the contraption into a cup of hot water. Let it all steep for a couple of minutes, and then remove your sock and sip a great cup of coffee.
There’s definitely a quirky aspect to this method, and it may be a fun way to liven up your camping trip. Everyone will laugh when you pull out your coffee sock – but they’ll also be impressed by how easy this method can be.
One issue will be cleanup because – as opposed to the simple submersible filter – a coffee sock requires a bit more attention. It’s easiest to turn the cloth inside out and rinse off coffee grounds that way. Your sock will definitely stain over time, but think of this discoloration as simply a record of fun times spent camping.
5. Camping Pour-Over
When camping with a pour-over setup, there’s more than just the collapsible type we looked at above. There’s also a whole range of pour-over contraptions designed to be used in the outdoors. It’s worth looking into options beyond the simple collapsible type – you may find a design that you prefer. These can all be especially good options for anyone who’d like to have a fancier coffee arrangement in the morning.
We’re particularly excited about a model from GSI Outdoors (seen above) because of the well-designed legs that hold the filter above your cup. Simply fold the legs out and clip them onto your camping mug. These should fit most cups – but definitely be sure that everything is solidly in place before you begin to pour. It would be a shame to waste any water with a collapsed pour-over.
This particular model is complete with a fabric filter, so you won’t need to worry about dealing with paper filters. Additionally, it folds up very nicely and can be slid into a crowded bag.
Overall, we like this option, though the legs definitely do seem like an inelegant feature.
6. French Press
For all those French press lovers out there, it’s possible to bring this method into the wild. There’s a whole range of little French presses designed for camping, and it’s worth taking a look and thinking about what would suit you best.
Many of these models offer more capabilities than simply coffee making. For example, you’ll be able to find options that allow you to boil water (which can be used for cooking), and then to make coffee all in one container. This could be useful for you. A French press option will definitely mean packing something heavier and bulkier, but if you’re able to use it to serve a double purpose, it may be a great option.
One nice benefit is that you won’t need to deal with any filters. Cleanup will be as easy as dumping out the grounds and giving your press a quick rinse.
While a French press will add some classiness to your wilderness morning, it definitely does lack some rugged outdoorsy feel – but we have some more options to look at!
Looking for the perfect French press? Find a great model here!
Our next method is much more in line with what you might see in a traditional Western movie and a great option for anyone looking for something stronger than just drip coffee. Percolators are a wonderful way to brew something that’s almost like espresso and almost like drip coffee. This will definitely wake you up in the morning.
However, this option is a bit difficult to pack – and, unlike the French press option, it won’t be able to serve any other purpose.
For anyone who enjoys a trusty stovetop percolator at home, this process will be very familiar. For anyone unfamiliar with percolators, here’s what to expect. First, fill the bottom chamber with water, and then pack coffee grounds into the middle basket. Place the basket on top of the water, and screw the top chamber on top of everything. When you place this contraption over a flame (or even in the coals), water from the bottom will be forced up through the coffee grounds, and coffee will begin to fill the upper chamber.
You won’t need to worry about filters, but this will be a bit more difficult to clean than some of our other options.
8. Brew Bags
Next up is something totally different: a method to brew cold coffee. This is a great option for those summer trips when maybe even in the morning, you’ll be sweating. This is also great for anyone who wants to be drinking coffee throughout the day, and who might enjoy a refreshing cold brew along the trail.
Using a convenient brew bag, you’ll be able to easily make some cold brew – but it won’t be fast. These bags can be filled and set to steep overnight, or – if you’re feeling super bold – they can be inserted into a water bladder and steep while you walk. After all, if you’re going to be carrying water along the trail, you may as well make some of it into coffee.
These bags are a nice option because they’re so incredibly light and easy to pack. But this really is only a good choice if you’re able to accommodate a longer brewing time. Expect to allow your coffee to steep for at least five hours.
Another great option? Driftaway’s Cold Brew Subscription! Read our in-depth review here.
If you’re someone who loves an AeroPress, why not take it with you into the wilderness? Conveniently, there’s nothing particularly bulky or complicated about these gadgets, so they really are a good choice for camping.
Some important factors to consider when pondering whether or not to bring your AeroPress camping are filters and cleanup. Of course, you’ll need to bring some filters along with you, and you’ll need to dispose of them responsibly. And the AeroPress will require more involved cleaning than some of our other favorite methods.
That said, this is a good choice if you already know you love your AeroPress, and if you need a creative solution to the problem of coffee on the go.
10. Cowboy Coffee
This is the oldest and most classic method of making coffee while camping. So-called “cowboy coffee” is as reliable as it is simple to make. While this method may not make the best coffee, we do love the sheer ruggedness of it.
Simply boil some water and toss in your coffee grounds. Give the mixture a stir and let it boil for a couple of minutes. When your coffee is fully extracted, pour it carefully into your mug. If you’re feeling especially tough, just go ahead and sip the coffee slowly. Be sure to use your teeth to filter some of the coffee grounds, and you can spit them carefully to the side.
Alternatively, after letting the grounds float to the surface, you can do your best to skim off as many as possible. You may not get everything, but that’s okay – after all, you’re camping.
If you’re really channeling your Western spirit, some people recommend bringing the coffee to a boil and cracking an egg into it all. This egg will quickly cook and bring all the coffee grounds together. This will make it much easier to avoid drinking any of these pesky grounds.
The only thing you’ll really need in order to make some cowboy coffee – aside from just a general sense of adventure – is a kettle.
Not sure where to start? Read our step-by-step instructions (with pictures) here.
What About Instant Coffee?
While all of these are wonderful, fun options, they’re a bit difficult to pull off while camping. Of course, the easiest thing to make while bleary-eyed and on a mountain is simple instant coffee. But is this actually a decent option while camping?
For myself, this has always been the easiest option, and trusty instant coffee has helped me through some tough mornings on the trail. Instant coffee has gotten a lot better in recent years, and it’s easy to find options that pack in flavor as well as caffeine.
While all of the above options are good methods for anyone who does want the morning ritual of actually brewing coffee, it’s worth checking out these instant options.
Why Convenience Matters
Convenience is the absolute most important consideration when making this choice. Of course, we all love coffee and would do a lot to get the perfect cup – but on the second day of carrying coffee equipment through the mountains, and by the second morning of struggling to deal with it in an unfamiliar setting, you’ll definitely be wishing you’d gone with the most convenient option.
Consider more than the brewing process. Convenience should extend to everything from packing and how your coffee equipment will fit in your limited space, to what other pieces you’ll need (maybe to heat the water or as filters), and what kind of cleanup will be required. In an unpredictable camping situation, all these small things will be harder, so think carefully about these options.
We hope that this list of the best coffee makers for camping will help to make your adventure so much more enjoyable. Rest easy knowing that no matter what option you end up choosing, at least you’ll be caffeinated, and at least you’ll be enjoying the outdoors.
Here’s a quick tip: while waiting for the coffee to brew, you can keep your kids busy by inspiring them to draw your campsite or some of the beautiful animals around you.
Featured image credit: Dean Drobot, Shutterstock