There are few things cozier than sipping a hot cup of strong coffee, curled up around a campfire in the cool evening, steam rising with smoke into starlight. Or rising with daybreak to watch the sun rise in the early morning, mist and dew hanging in the air, looking out of a warm tent over a beautiful landscape, freshly brewed mug in hand.
So many people miss out on this delightful luxury because they think coffee is too complicated for camping. If they only knew how wrong they were, they would be brewing up a cuppa by the campfire with the best of them. Camping coffee doesn’t have to be complicated, and the equipment you need doesn’t have to be big, bulky, or heavy. If you still think making coffee while camping means lugging around your kitchen coffee machine—and the power supply to go with it—we’re here to tell you different.
Coffee for Camping
There are lots of different ways to make coffee while you’re camping. Some of them will be so familiar to you you’ll wonder why you never thought of it before. Others are newer machines and technologies designed specifically with portability and convenience in mind—truly the future of coffee making, camping or otherwise. And you don’t even have to settle for brewed coffee—if you’re an espresso drinker, or even a cappuccino aficionado, it’s never been easier to enjoy your coffee of choice right from your campsite.
Gross right? Of course, instant coffee is the simplest way to take coffee on a camping trip with you. You can easily stuff your pockets with a couple of packets and march out into the wilderness. All you need in that case is a way to boil water and a mug. But if you’re reading this article, you’re probably not someone who likes to settle for dehydrated coffee powder, especially not that premixed 3-in-1 stuff.
It is true that there’s a spectrum of instant coffee, and some people swear by a few prominent brands. But the powdered stuff will just never be the same as a fresh brew. A lot of people will settle, though, if they don’t know there’s an easy, painless way to have you coffee and go camping with it, too. Here’s 7 different ways, some more elegant than others, to keep your caffeine fix hot and fresh brewed in the wild.
Can you picture it? Cowboys and hobos in the Wild West, sitting on logs around a fire, watching a bottom-blackened pot of coffee bubbling over, harmonica humming in the background. It’s absolutely still possible to make a cup of coffee this way, and done right, it won’t be half bad either. Done wrong, though, you’ll end up with a bitter cup of mud-tasting water and a mouthful of coffee grounds.
Cowboy coffee is made by immersing coffee grounds directly into hot or boiling water, instead of passing the water through the grounds. Because of the length of exposure to the coffee, it’s really easy to oversteep and end up with something burnt or bitter. Many people recommend boiling the water first, then letting it cool off a bit before stirring in the coffee. Steep for two minutes and then add a splash of cold water to let the grounds settle to the bottom. If you use a finely ground coffee, you’re less likely to get a mouthful of grounds.
This is one of those prime examples where the “cheap and easy” option doesn’t end up being all that easy after all. You’ll probably be better off investing in any other kind of coffee maker—it’ll be way less work in the end, and the payoff of a great cup of coffee will be totally worth it.
Coffee Makers to Bring When Camping
With the pour over method, we’re now moving into the realm of practical and professional. It’s easy to carry a pourover cup around, whether it’s plastic or metal. And it’s almost as simple to make a pour over cup as it is to make something like cowboy coffee. Actually, some people might consider it even easier, because you don’t have to figure out how to drink around the coffee grounds, or time the hot water to keep from oversteeping. Just boil some water, knock some coffee into a pour over drip filter, and pour through. You’ll end up with a perfectly good cup of coffee, as strong as you want it, in minutes.
You just need to bring a cup, the pour over dripper, and some filters—all small and lightweight equipment. Just make sure you don’t run out of coffee filters, or you’re back to cowboy coffee! This method is ideal for solo travelers, or at least solo coffee drinkers, who only want to make one cup at a time. It’s less ideal for couples or groups of people, or those who like to drink more than one cup at a time.
The french press is a great option for camping because it’s so versatile. You can make a cup or two of hot coffee in the morning and then steep some herbs and tea leaves for afternoon tea.
Many people think that coffee from a French press is far superior from drip coffee for a few reasons. When you let the beans steep in hot water, you capture all the flavors, without boiling in it like you might for cowboy coffee. And unlike drip coffee, a French press allows you to completely saturate the grounds, pulling all the flavors out of them evenly. All the flavor stays in the cup, and none of the oils are strained out by the paper filter.
The only issue with taking a French press camping is the possibility of cracking or breaking. To avoid this, look out for a metal model with metal siding, like the Espro travel press. You can slide one of these French presses right in with the rest of your camping gear and head off for your hike.
An Aeropress is a supremely practical camping choice. It hardly needs any water at all, and weighs next to nothing—less than 250g for the press and for a week of filters. And because it uses less coffee per brew, you can save on the weight of coffee beans. And on top of it, they’re easier to clean than a French Press.
They work a bit like an French press, but don’t need as much time to steep. And they’re extremely versatile, and can handle both fine and course grinds extremely well. This means that you can make a thick, rich cup of French press style coffee if you wanted to, or even something like an espresso, or you can get a lighter, brighter, medium bodied style of coffee. You don’t get any of the coffee particles or impurities that come with a French press, but you can have all of the flavor if you want.
Taking an Aeropress camping is like bringing a French press, a drip machine, and an espresso machine together, except in miniature size. The only downsize is volume: you can only make a cup at a time. But if it’s quality and portability you’re after, rather than quantity, camping with an Aeropress really can’t be beat.
Portable Espresso Makers
Despite what you may think, espresso is no longer just for cafes and kitchens. You don’t actually need a giant espresso machine to make rich, syrupy, quality espresso. Grab an espresso machine that’s pocket sized, like the MiniPresso, and you’re all set to brew up an espresso on the top of a mountain, or in the middle of the jungle, or anywhere else you can bring a backpack, or some pockets. The MiniPresso will fit in the side pocket of a backpack or nuzzle neatly in a box or cooler in your car trunk. And it weighs only 350g, so there’s no reason not to take it traveling.
Incredibly, with these portable espresso machines, you don’t lose anything but size and weight. The MinPresso whips up a 45ml shot at 8 bars of pressure like any commercial machine. Instead of electricity or compressed CO2, most portable espresso machines are powered by hand, producing pressure with just a few pushes on a protruding piston. The NanoPresso is even more amazing. It’s smaller and lighter than the MiniPresso, but more powerful, with even greater ease of use. Generate 18 bars of pressure by pushing a button, and end up with a single shot of cafe-quality espresso, or two with the addition of a small adapter.
Portable espresso machines are small enough to conveniently carry back and forth between home, the campground, and the office, if you want to. With one of these machines, you can have espresso whenever you please, whether you’re spending the weekend hiking or a workday typing.
In this day and age, even glampers and comfort-conscious campers don’t have to forgo creature comforts like morning cappuccinos. There are an increasing number of campsites designed with every comfort level in mind, from bare-bones bring your own tent and pee in the woods campgrounds to wood cabins with bathrooms and electrical outlets. This means that you could really bring your whole kitchen espresso machine with the milk frother….if you wanted to.
But you don’t have to. With a MiniPresso or NanoPresso in your pocket, you can pop something like the Bellman Stovetop Milk Steamer onto your little camper stove. This attachment is an affordable alternative to an expensive espresso machine and perfect for traveling. It’s small, light, and portable, but froths milk into silk like a barista could. You really can have cafe quality cappuccino at a campground.
Cold press coffee is cowboy coffee’s classier cousin. You are infusing water with coffee grinds in a similar way, but using cold water instead of hot. This means that it takes much longer for the water to acquire the coffee flavor. But cold brew coffee, unlike cowboy coffee, has a really delicate flavor. It’s not bitter at all, and a lot more complex than faster hot brews. Cold brew coffee is so popular these days with coffee aficionados for exactly this reason. The flavor that you get in a hot cup with a great roast is truly multiplied with a cold brew.
For this method, you mix the coffee in with cold water (of course, it’s important to use good water here, as you’re not going to boil it), cover it, and wait. Twelve hours is usually adequate, though twenty-four hours will give you coffee with a heady caffeine kick. If you leave it too long it can acquire a slightly bitter taste, but nothing like cowboy coffee, burnt espresso, or a double-brewed pour over.
Cold brew coffee is great for camping because it requires so little equipment—just a container, a strainer, and a mug. And if you make it in the evening, around dinner time, you can wake up to a really delicious cup of coffee. The only caveat is that it’s not going to be hot, so you’d better really like cold coffee, or get ready to heat your cup back up over the fire.
Coffee and Campsites
Forget what you’ve heard, or what you think you’ve heard, about coffee at campgrounds. You don’t need to rely on dehydrated packets (their prepackaged nature is wasteful, anyway), and you don’t have to dread the bitter taste of burnt cowboy coffee, or pick grounds out from between your teeth. If that’s what you’ve been doing, there’s no excuse anymore. You know better, so do better for yourself!
Treat yourself to the pleasure of freshly brewed coffee on your campsite. There’s so many ways to have a hot brew by a fire. Even espressos and cappuccinos are no longer tied to cafes. Whether you’re hiking the Himalayas, camping in the Yellowstone, or backpacking through Southeast Asia, quality coffee is within your reach. And after the first time you experience the easy luxury of good cuppa on a campsite, you’ll never go camping without coffee again.