Knowing the best way to make coffee while camping can mean the difference between a great day and a terrible one. Or at least this is true for coffee drinkers like myself!
When you’re at camp, you don’t have your fancy Keurig machine or your go-to barista to make you a perfect cup of coffee. If you’re lucky, you have a heat source and a pot you can use to boil water.
Like many other coffee drinkers, I’ve never been one to give up my daily habit at camp—even though it’s inherently challenging (and sometimes time consuming) to figure out how to make a perfect brew in the backcountry. I have, however, learned to embrace the experimentation process.
I’ve bought all sorts of different coffee-making gizmos to test out. I’ve had good experiences with some, and not-so-good experiences with others.
Is there really a “best” way to make coffee while camping?
I’ve tried probably every type of possible way to make coffee at camp that makes logical sense. While there are a lot of ways, the “best” way to make coffee while camping comes down to a number of different variables—including your taste preferences, budget, type of camping trip, time you have to brew, and coffee brewing equipment you’re willing to bring.
With that said, there’s definitely something for every coffee drinker out there. Here are our favourites.
If you’ve ever watched someone on YouTube make coffee at camp, chances are you’ve seen then use the trendy little coffee maker called the AeroPress. As soon as I saw one, I thought, wow! I have to have one. So I got one.
The AeroPress is basically a small, plastic plunger that you use to press coffee grounds and hot water through a filter. The whole process takes less than a minute, and the result is surprisingly good coffee. The secret to its method is in the small, circular filter that allows for a very slow and controlled pressing of the coffee grounds.
As someone who’s accustomed to using a French press to make coffee at home, I was really surprised by how much I liked the coffee from my AeroPress. It’s smooth, with none of the bitterness you can sometimes get from a French press.
My biggest beef with it is that it has a lot of random parts, and it doesn’t fit around mugs or thermoses that are too small or too big. But if you’re looking for an easy way to make coffee at camp that tastes really amazing, the AeroPress is a great option.
What we like about the AeroPress:
- Makes really great-tasting coffee
- Relatively small and lightweight
- Easy to use once you get the hang of it
- Easy to clean and discard of coffee grounds
- Can be used to make espresso as well
What we don’t like about the AeroPress:
- Lots of parts to it (that you don’t want to forget or lose)
- Need to bring specific AeroPress coffee filters
- Must brew each cup of coffee separately
- May not fit over the openings of certain mugs or thermoses
- Easy to spill if you don’t know how to use it properly
A French press is probably the most popular way to make coffee while camping. It’s simple, lightweight, and doesn’t require any special equipment.
You can get French presses specifically designed for camping. For instance, I have the Stanley Classic Travel Press, which is actually a 16-ounce thermos with a built-in French press component. This means that I can brew my coffee right in the thermos and then screw on the lid to keep it hot.
I like the flavour I get from the AeroPress just a bit better, but sometimes I’ll bring my Stanley thermos when I want less of a hassle with all the different parts. Both are great options, though.
What we like about the French press:
- Makes good-tasting coffee
- Very simple to use
- No need for disposable coffee filters
- Available in all sorts of types and sizes for making single or multiple cups of coffee
What we don’t like about the French press:
- May not make coffee as smooth as the AeroPress does
- Not all camping French Presses are made equal (with grit escaping through the filter when pressing)
- Can be annoying to clean
- Can be big and bulky
Pour over method
Pour over coffee involves pouring hot water slowly over coffee grounds that are sitting in a filter. This method can be done with just a few simple pieces of equipment, making it another popular choice for coffee while camping.
One of the best things about the pour over method is that you can actually get single serve filters that fit right over your mug. This means that you can make one cup of coffee at a time, which is perfect for when you’re camping solo or when everyone in your group wants their own unique blend.
One thing I’ll say is that I find the pour over method to be a little more finicky than some of the other methods on this list. It’s easy to make a bad cup of coffee if you don’t pour the water slowly or evenly enough. But when done right, it’s a great way to make coffee while camping.
Tip: If you’re not keen on bringing along paper filters, you could try out the Primula Brew Buddy Portable Pour Over, which is super cheap on Amazon!
What we like about the pour over method:
- Can accentuate flavours better compared to immersing the grounds in hot water
- Can be very easy to do once you get the hang of it
- Single serve filters available for greater convenience
- Very lightweight and portable
What we don’t like about the pour over method:
- Tricky to make a great-tasting cup of coffee
- May need to bring and dispose of filters
- Pouring hot water can be difficult if you don’t have a good pot or kettle
Coffee “tea” bags
There are tea bags, but have you ever heard of coffee tea bags? They’re exactly the same, except they have coffee grounds in them.
I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical of coffee tea bags at first. I wasn’t sure how well they would work or how good the coffee would taste. But I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee from the tea bags was smooth and not bitter at all.
Coffee tea bags are a great choice for making coffee while camping, especially if you’re looking for something quick and easy. They’re great for making single cups, and they’re practically mess-free since everything is contained within the bag.
Folgers has its own line of single serve coffee bags in its classic medium roast, but there are many other brands and roasts out there that offer them. You could even purchase your own empty paper tea bags and bring along your own coffee grounds as a less expensive DIY approach!
What we like about single serve coffee bags:
- Very easy to use
- No need for filters or coffee-specific equipment
- Great for making single cups of coffee
- No mess or clean-up required
What we don’t like about single serve coffee bags:
- Can’t make a lot at once
- Not as much control over flavour or strength
- A lot more expensive compared to beans or grounds
- Doesn’t stay as fresh in prepackaged bags
A coffee sock is basically a large, reusable filter made out of cloth. You can buy them online or even make your own.
To use a coffee sock, you simply add your desired amount of coffee grounds to the sock, tie it off, and steep it in hot water like you would with tea. After a few minutes, you remove the sock and voila! You have a cup of coffee.
I actually prefer using a coffee sock over a disposable filter. It’s much more environmentally friendly and you can use it over and over again, unlike a paper filter that gets thrown away. Plus, I actually find the coffee made in a sock to be smoother than coffee brewed with a disposable filter.
One thing to keep in mind with coffee socks is that you’ll need something to hold them up—like a small coffee mug or even your camping mug. And, of course, you do need to bring the sock with you wherever you go.
What we like about the coffee sock:
- Can make one or multiple cups depending on size
- Saves on waste since it’s reusable
- Adds smoothness and richness to coffee
- Doesn’t require any fancy equipment or tools
What we don’t like about the coffee sock:
- Can produce off-tasting coffee after using it multiple times (in which case it’s time to boil it to clean it properly)
- A bit of a pain to clean
- Should be air-dried before packing away with gear
A percolator is an insulated pot that heats the water from the bottom and slowly cycles the hot water up through a chamber where your coffee grounds are held. The hot water dripping back down over your grounds gets them to release their flavours and oils, giving you a nice cup of coffee.
Percolators are definitely one of the more traditional ways to brew coffee while camping or on the trail. And although they do take some effort and practice to use properly, once you’ve got it down, learning how to make coffee with a percolator becomes fairly simple.
You can get percolators in all different sizes, from small single-serving pots to large ones that can make a whole pot of coffee. They’re great for camping since they’re easy to use and don’t require any special filters or equipment.
However, they do have their downsides. For one, the filtration is not as clean or thorough as with other methods, which can lead to a bit of unpleasant bitterness. Also, percolators take longer than some of the other methods out there and require more maintenance, such as cleaning out internal holes and tubes.
Overall, if you have the time and patience, a percolator is a great option for how to make good coffee while camping. We recommend the GSI Outdoors Percolator.
What we like about the percolator:
- Great for traditionalists who want that classic campfire coffee experience
- Can be used to make single or multiple cups at once depending on percolator size
- No need for bringing disposable filters
- Simple and easy to use
What we don’t like about the percolator:
- Can add significant weight and bulk depending on percolator size
- Takes longer than other methods, especially if you’re making a large pot of coffee
- Requires more maintenance than some other techniques, such as cleaning out internal tubes and holes
- Can lead to some unpleasant coffee flavours if not done properly or carefully maintained over time
Cowboy coffee is arguably the most classic and well-known method of brewing coffee while camping. It’s a simple method that only requires a pot of boiling water, some ground coffee, and a way to strain it.
All you need is a pot (preferably one with a lid), hot water, and your desired amount of grounds. Simply add the hot water to your pot along with your coffee grounds, give it a good stir, put the lid on, and let it steep for about 5 minutes.
After five minutes, remove the lid and allow the grounds to settle to the bottom of the pot. Then slowly pour your coffee into cups, being careful not to include any stray grounds. You can also strain it through a paper towel or clean bandana if you want to be extra careful.
Cowboy coffee is a great option for ultra lightweight camping because it doesn’t require any fancy equipment. However, it can be tricky to get the grounds to settle properly, which means you run the risk of getting some grit in your coffee. And since there’s no filtering involved, the coffee can end up being quite strong and bitter.
What we like about cowboy coffee:
- Simple, classic method that only requires a pot and hot water
- Great for ultra lightweight camping since there’s no need for any fancy equipment
- Great for low budget campers who want to keep spending to a minimum
What we don’t like about cowboy coffee:
- High risk of ending up with grit in your coffee
- Stronger flavour since there’s no filtering involved (although this might be a good thing if you like your coffee strong)
Last but not least, there’s the old faithful instant coffee. Making a cup of instant coffee is probably one of the easiest things you could ever do while camping, and it’s also extremely lightweight, convenient, and budget-friendly.
All you need is some boiling water and your desired amount of instant coffee. To make a single serving, just add the grounds to a mug or cup, add some hot water, stir, and enjoy.
You can also make a larger pot of coffee using this method. Just add the desired amount of grounds to a pot along with some boiling water, give it a good stir, and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
I’ll admit that I bring instant coffee on camping trips where I know our time in the morning is going to be tight. I’d prefer the taste that comes from my AeroPress or even my French press thermos, but if we need to pack up and go as soon as possible, then I’ll settle for instant coffee.
What we like about instant coffee:
- Extremely quick, easy, and convenient
- Lightweight and budget-friendly
- No need to pack out used coffee grounds since there are none
What we don’t like about instant coffee:
- Not as high-quality or flavourful as other methods
What do you think is the best way to make coffee while camping?
And that’s a wrap! Hopefully, this guide has given you a few different options to consider when you venture out on your next camping trip.
While there certainly isn’t one best way to make coffee while camping, some methods are definitely more convenient and efficient than others, depending on your preferences and resources.
So what do you think is the best way to make coffee while camping? Let us know in the comments below!
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What’s the best way to heat water?
Unless you’re fine with the work and time required to build a campfire to heat water so you can brew your coffee, you’re probably going to want a faster and more efficient option. We recommend using a fuel canister stove like the Jetboil Stash Ultralight, or a portable stove that burns organic matter (or fuel) like the Bushbox XL titanium stove.
How do you get the freshest tasting coffee?
If you’re like me and you prefer to grind your coffee beans every morning at home before you brew your coffee, I’d recommend getting a portable coffee grinder if your budget and weight/bulk limit allows it. The JavaPresse coffee grinder is a lightweight, travel-friendly option.
What camp-friendly coffee creamer options are there?
It’s easy enough to bring a few sugar or sweetener packets if you like your coffee that way, but creamer is a little more challenging—particularly if you need to keep it cool for more than a couple of days. Sometimes I fill a small travel bottle with cream if I’m only going for a few days and can keep it cool, but in most cases, I bring powdered creamers. Here are my favourites:
Coffee Mate Original Creamer: This stuff is cheap, has no dairy in it, and combines really well with coffee for a smooth, creamy taste.
Collagen Creamer: This is more on the expensive side, but it’s a much healthier option if you want to stay away from the sugars and other additives in Coffee Mate. Just keep in mind that collagen is an animal product, so it’s not vegetarian or vegan.
Powdered Whole Milk: I’ve used this when I’ve run out of the two options above, and even though the taste is fine, I just have a really hard time properly dissolving and mixing it in my coffee. If you’re fine with a few powdery chunks floating around, it might work for you.
Powdered Coconut Milk: I find that this dissolves and mixes slightly better than powdered whole milk, but not quite as well as the Coffee Mate or collagen creamer. If is, however, a great vegetarian/vegan option if you’re okay with drinking coffee that has a bit of a coconut-y flavour to it.
How do you clean coffee grounds out of your camp coffee maker?
Unless you’re using instant coffee or coffee tea bags, you’re going to need to clean the grounds out of whatever piece of equipment you used to make coffee. If you don’t have a long spoon on hand, I recommend using a long and sturdy stick to push around the grounds to loosen them and the scrape them off the bottom and sides.
Then rinse the coffee maker in a pot of water (or portable dishwashing sink if you have one), dig a hole somewhere far away from your camp, pour the dirty water into the hole, and then cover the hole back up.
What do you do with used coffee grounds?
You might think that because coffee grounds are biodegradable, you can just leave them in the wild. But as it turns out, coffee grounds are actually a common food source for animals in nature. So if you want to minimize your impact while camping, you’ll need to pack out your used coffee grounds with you—just like you do with any other garbage.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).