Camping is an integral part of my morning routine both at home and on off-road adventures. Whether I am biking, car camping, or backpacking, I always love to kick-start my day with a good cup of coffee. Unfortunately, backpacking should be light, and that can limit the coffee-making essentials you need to carry.
Over the years, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts have come up with creative ways to make coffee when camping. Some of the methods do not even require heat. Once you have your water boiling either on an open fire, camping stove, or solar water heater, you can have a variety of coffee makers to choose from that can brew a decent cup of coffee. In the article below, we’ll share all our camping coffee hacks suitable for backpacking beginners.
How to make coffee while backpacking
Remember that you need only to have essential things when backpacking to keep your load light. Therefore, you may need to forego your fresh coffee beans for some pre-ground coffee to avoid carrying grinders which can be bulky and take up unnecessary space. Below are some of the ways you can brew backpacking coffee without loading up your pack suspension.
1. Instant coffee
When going on a very light camping trip and not wanting to miss your daily dose of coffee, instant coffee is your best option. Instant coffee is the simplest way to make coffee without a coffee maker when camping, backpacking, or bike-packing. Instant coffee packets come pre-measured and well-grounded. The best thing about instant coffee is you do not require a unique tool to filter, and there are no coffee grounds to discard.
- Open the packet.
- Pour the coffee into a cup of hot water and stir it to dissolve.
The Starbucks Via comes in singles which makes it my go-to backpacking coffee. It has a convenient packaging style since they do not open inside the bag, unlike the jars. Other great go-to backpacking coffee brands include; Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Instant Coffee, Nescafe Taster’s Choice House Blend Instant Coffee, Pike Place Roast, Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packets, and Joe Coffee The Daily.
2. Coffee bags
Using coffee bags is the easiest way to have fresh ground coffee that makes filtering and cleaning up the coffee grounds relatively easy. Coffee bags look like standard tea bags, except they are usually bigger and only make a single cup of coffee. You can also DIY a coffee bag using coffee filters and a string.
- Insert the coffee bag into your mug and pour hot water into it.
- Let it sit for about 15 seconds to brew.
- Dispose of the coffee bag in your trash bag. Do not let the coffee bag sit in for too long; otherwise, the coffee may turn bitter.
3. Cowboy coffee
The cowboy coffee method is the easiest if you still want to enjoy a fresh coffee brew. Unlike instant coffee, cowboy coffee grounds do not dissolve. There are a couple of ways to make cowboy coffee.
- If you do not mind having coffee ground floating in your coffee, boil a kettle of water, pour your ground coffee in, let the coffee ground settle at the bottom, and then drink.
- Alternatively, you can sieve the coffee ground using a clean cheesecloth or a reusable coffee sock.
4. French press
The French press is not the most convenient for backpacking due to its weight and space, but if you are insistent on having well-done coffee, this is your best option. You will also need a good amount of water to rinse the coffee grounds after. Another downside to the typical kitchen French press is that the glass carafe makes it too fragile for backpacking. Fortunately, there are various camping French press coffee makers, such as the Stanley French press, which is durable due to its stainless steel material and equally lightweight for backpacking.
- Pour about a spoonful of coarse ground coffee into the carafe.
- Wet the ground coffee a bit with water to remove gas.
- Fill the carafe with hot water, stir, put on the lid and then let it brew for about four to five minutes.
- Making sure the plunger is all the way up, depress it to filter the coffee grounds. If you feel some resistance when pressing the plunger down, pull it back up again and slowly depress it to avoid spilling hot water on yourself.
5. Pour-over filter
The pour-over method is an old-fashioned way to make coffee when camping. The pour-over coffee requires a mug, filter paper or cloth, and a funnel. The GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip is lightweight and compact, making it ideal for long-distance backpacking.
- Place the funnel and filter over the mug.
- Pour the coffee grounds into the filter.
- Slowly pour boiling water over the coffee grounds. The coffee essence infuses into the water as t passes through the filter and into the mug.
Like most modern outdoor lovers, using the Aeropress is my favorite way of getting good-tasting coffee when backpacking and camping. The Aeropress is an innovative method that combines the technology of the pour-over process, pneumatic press, and the French press to make a smooth brew with rich flavor. Aeropress comes in two versions; the original one is slightly larger than the Aeropress Go, which is smaller and better for backpacking, but both use less granular ground coffee.
- Disassemble the parts of the Aeropress coffee maker.
- Insert the filter onto the filter cap dampen it with water to remove any filter flavors.
- Fix the basket of the filter onto the bottom of your brew chamber.
- Place the brew chamber on top of the mug and make sure it sits properly on the brim.
- Pour in your find ground coffee.
- Pour a little water over the coffee to remove gas, and then fill the chamber up to the top.
- Stir the coffee to break down any lumps.
- Close the chamber with the filter cap. Wait about four minutes and then slowly depress the plunger until it reaches the base of the chamber.
The AeroPress Go Portable Travel Coffee Press is most popular among solo backpacking hikers due to its compact and requires minimal clean-up.
The percolator works similar to the Moka pot, but the percolator is ideal if you want to make coffee for multiple people. The disadvantage of the percolator is you need to keep it over the heat as the force of the boiling water pushes the water into the coffee to brew.
- Pour the right amount of grounded coffee into the metal basket to avoid spillage.
- Fill the kettle with cold water and put it on a stove to boil. The water boils up the small tube and percolates up into the basket, and brews the coffee.
- You will see the color of the coffee bubbling up through the clear bulb on the lid, reduce the heat and let it simmer for about five to eight minutes.
The percolator is bulky, requires a consistent heat source and plenty of water and coffee grounds. You should best use it when car camping with a bunch of people who love strong coffee. The GSI Outdoors Percolator is my go-to brand. Its stainless steel construction ensures the coffee taste is not tainted even over the campfire.
8. Moka stove pot
The Moka coffee maker is great for hikers who love their Italian espresso. Typically to make good espresso, you push hot water through extremely fine grounds in a portafilter between pressures 6-15 bars which are highly pressurized. But the Moka coffee pushes hot water through medium ground coffee in a simplified filter at pressures of about two bars. So it might not taste like your city espresso, but it will be close.
- Fill the basket with coarse ground coffee but do not compress it. The coffee grounds should not be too fine as they will have a bitter taste.
- Pour hot water into the bottom chamber, close it, and put it over a flame. Pressure build-up in the bottom chamber and pushes water through the coffee and collects in the top compartment.
- Take the Moka pot out of the flame when you hear a hissing or gurgling sound.
The Bialetti Express Moka Pot has a lightweight aluminum body that makes it suitable for backpacking and comes in various sizes if you are going car camping.
How do you make coffee without a camping fire?
There are several ways you can make a cup of coffee in the wild without a campfire. You can make a cold brew, use a car-powered coffee machine, or a solar-powered coffee maker. The best way to make coffee in the wild without a fire is to make a cold brew using instant coffee. Cold-brew requires time rather than heat to develop.
Cold-brew doesn’t require heat which makes it great for camping and backpacking. You can make cold brew two ways; using instant coffee, which takes a few minutes to dissolve, and soaking coarsely ground coffee in cold water for 12-14 hours. For the instant coffee, pour the coffee sachet into a mug of cold water and stir it until all the coffee dissolves.
- Put a spoonful of coarse coffee grounds in a French press.
- Pour fresh cold water and stir.
- Replace the lid and allow it to sit for 12-14 hours.
Car-powered coffee machine
If you are car camping and you want to enjoy a hot cup of coffee without the fuss of starting a fire, you can use a car-powered coffee maker. Most electric coffee machines do not work with vehicles, but an RV will most likely have power outlets and adapters for an outdoor coffee maker.
Light car-powered coffee machines draw power from the car’s battery using the lighter socket, while the heavy-duty ones connect directly to the car battery.
- Plug the coffee maker into the car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter.
- Add water to the chamber and the coffee grounds or pods.
- Turn on the coffee machine and let it brew for about 15-18 minutes.
The RoadPro Smart Car Pot connects to the lighter receptacle of your car for power. Since it is bulky and depends on a car battery, it is more fitting when car camping than backpacking.
Solar-powered coffee maker
If you are in a remote area without a source of electricity and fire, you can use a solar coffee maker to brew your coffee and keep you warm. To brew your coffee with the solar coffee machine, you need water, coffee grinds, and a 12-volt power outlet from a car or solar power bank. Unfortunately, you cannot carry the solar power bank and coffee maker when backpacking, but you can preserve your vehicle’s battery using a solar power bank.
- Connect the coffee maker to the solar power bank with the cord provided.
- Fill up the coffee maker with water and coffee grinds, and then turn it on.
- Allow it to brew for about ten minutes, and then disconnect it.
How long should you percolate coffee?
Depending on how strong you like your coffee, the ideal duration to percolate your coffee perfectly is about five to eight minutes. The brewing time also depends on the method of percolation that you’re using. The key to getting a good brew of coffee when using a percolator is to keep even heat in the percolator. Raise the heat very slowly, and reduce the heat before it starts to boil. Brewing for more than ten minutes will make your brew too bitter, while brewing for a shorter amount of time won’t get the water hot enough to extract the right amount of coffee flavor.
Using a stovetop percolator requires practice to get the proper coffee brew. Follow the steps below to percolate your coffee properly using a stovetop percolator.
- Place the percolator over medium to low heat and keep the coffee brewing just slightly under boiling temperature so that the brew is strong but not burnt. You have to watch over the percolator while it brews to make sure there is no steam coming out of the kettle, as that means that the water is boiling and the coffee grinds are over-extracted.
- When the water heats up at the right temperature, you will see bubbles appear through the transparent knob a few seconds apart; maintain the heat at this temperature. If the bubbles appear in a continuous stream, reduce the heat since the water is boiling. Boiling water will burn the coffee. If the bubbles appear less frequently, it means the water is too cool to brew the coffee grinds; therefore, you should increase the heat.
- Set the timer between six to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee.
- When the timer elapses, turn off the heat and remove the kettle from the stove. Remove the coffee grinds, and then serve your coffee.
Brewing coffee in a percolator may look complicated, but using an electric percolator is much easier for beginners. The only shortcoming to using an electric percolator is the high electric energy consumption. If you have a reliable power source from your vehicle or RV, you can use an electric percolator as follows;
- You need to have good medium-coarse coffee grinds and the right about of water to coffee ratio. Pour the coffee grounds in and pour cold water into the kettle.
- Plug the electric percolator into a power source and turn it on. The electric percolator has a kettle with a heating plate at the base and heat sensors that heat the coffee to the required temperature.
- The kettle will stop automatically after brewing.
How to dispose of coffee grounds when backpacking?
After making your coffee when hiking or car camping, put the leftover coffee grounds and packet wraps in a sealable bag or container and dispose of the bag later in a proper trash can. Every true outdoor enthusiast should be knowledgeable about the Leave No Trace Principles, which includes a framework of the best practices to observe when camping, trailing or hiking with the aim of conserving the environment. Therefore, you should practice proper garbage disposal in the outdoors.
Even though coffee grounds are biodegradable, the caffeine in them may be toxic to some animals and plants, which interferes with the natural ecosystem.
What is the best compact coffee maker for backpacking?
Manufacturers have catered to the avid backpackers who are also coffee addicts by making coffee machines compact and lightweight so you can enjoy your backpacking experience. The following are some of our favorite compact coffee makers that we have loved using when camping.
1. AeroPress Go Portable Travel Coffee Press
Aeropress Go is the latest and smaller version of the original Aeropress which means it also makes less coffee than the original. It is pretty popular in the hikers’ communities as it can make a fresh coffee brew in less time compared to the traditional French press. It is portable, light and easy to use, and quite affordable.
- Brew method: Column
- Grind Type: Fine
- Material: Polypropylene, Free of Phthalate, Free of BPA
- Weight: 11.5 oz.
- Servings: 8 fl. oz.
- Less brewing time of about two minutes
- Brews a strong, full-bodied cup of coffee
- Makes clean-up easy
- Requires you to heat the water separately.
2. GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip
GSI designed this collapsible pour-over coffee maker specifically for hiking and backpacking due to its ultra-lightweight construction. It almost takes up no space since you can easily compress it and fit it into the most closefitting pockets. Fit the clips over your cup’s rim and pour water over the coffee grounds in the reusable mesh filter.
- Brew method: Pour-over
- Grind Type: Medium-fine
- Material: Nylon, Clear Polypropylene
- Weight: 0.4 oz.
- Servings: 8-10 fl. oz.
- Easy to clean
- It does not require extra filters
- Very light and compact
- It does not make very strong coffee.
- You have to heat the water separately.
3. Stanley French press
The Stanley French press is a double vacuum insulated and compact French press that functions as a coffee maker and coffee flask. It has a stainless steel body that makes it more durable than the traditional glass French press. It also has a unique filter that prevents the coffee from becoming gritty. It also becomes convenient when making coffee for a group of four to six campers.
- Brew method: Coffee press
- Grind Type: Coarse
- Weight: 18.4 oz.
- Servings: 48 fl. oz.
- Double as a travel mug and flask.
- Well- insulated and keeps coffee hot for up to 4 hours.
- Large capacity.
- Too bulky for backpacking.
- You have to boil the water separately.
Wrapping it up
After reading our extensive beginners guide on camping coffee hack, you possibly have no excuse not to enjoy a coffee on your adventure mornings. Furthermore, you have a variety of coffee makers to choose from that are ideal for backpacking and affordable. Most backpacking coffee makers are also easy to use and also allow for proper disposal of coffee grounds.