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How to Make Coffee While Camping: A No-Nonsense Guide for the Perfect Brew

Discover the best ways to enjoy a hot cup of joe in the great outdoors, from percolators to pour-overs.

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Two coffee cups outdoors

How to make coffee while camping will vary significantly depending on whether you’re backpacking into the wilderness or setting up camp next to your car.

You’ll learn about the pros and cons of different brewing methods. Additionally, you’ll gain insights into the best strategies for each method, helping you maintain your coffee standards even when you’re miles away from the nearest café.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose a brewing method based on your camping style, from lighter backpacking coffee options to more elaborate coffee-making methods while car camping.
  • Learn various coffee-making methods and tips to ensure great taste and convenience in any outdoor setting.
  • Remember always to purify your water to avoid potential illness.

Percolator Coffee

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A percolator is a coffee maker often used for camping that brews coffee by continuously cycling boiling water through coffee grounds using gravity until the desired strength is reached. Here’s how to master the art of percolator coffee in the great outdoors.

Essentials for Percolator Coffee

  • A camping percolator with a metal filter basket
  • Coarse ground coffee
  • Water
  • A heat source such as a campfire or camping stove

Brewing Percolator Coffee in 6 Steps

  1. Fill the percolator with water just below the fill line.
  2. Place coarse ground coffee into the metal filter basket; a general guide is 1 tablespoon per cup of water.
  3. Assemble the percolator and place it over your heat source.
  4. Heat until you see or hear the coffee bubbling up into the glass dome, which should take several minutes.
  5. Once bubbling, lower the heat and let it brew for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee.
  6. Remove it from the heat to avoid over-extraction and a bitter taste.

Pros of Percolator Coffee

  • Easy to use, even for beginners.
  • Brews large quantities, making it practical for groups.
  • Robust design, ideal for the ruggedness of camping.
  • Enjoys a vintage charm associated with classic camping.

Cons of Percolator Coffee

  • It can be bulky and heavy, not suited for lightweight backpacking.
  • Brewing is slower compared to other methods.
  • Coffee can become bitter or over-extracted if not monitored.

Tips for Perfection

  • Use coarse grounds to avoid silt in your cup.
  • Preheat water to speed up the brewing process.
  • Watch for the first signs of bubbling and remove from heat to prevent a burnt taste.
  • Avoid overfilling the basket to ensure even water flow and extraction.\

Instant Coffee

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When backpacking, instant coffee is your quickest route to a warm cup of caffeine. This type of coffee is freeze-dried into granules, so you can easily dissolve it in hot water.

What You’ll Need

  • Instant coffee of choice
  • Hot water
  • Cup or mug
  • Spoon (optional)
  • Additional flavorings like sugar, milk, or creamer (optional)

Brands to Consider

  • Starbucks
  • Voilà
  • Verve Coffee

Brewing Instant Coffee in 6 Steps

  1. Boil water using your camp stove or over a campfire.
  2. Place 1-2 teaspoons of instant coffee into your cup. (Adjust to taste)
  3. Pour hot water over the coffee granules.
  4. Stir with a spoon until the coffee is completely dissolved.
  5. Customize with sugar, creamer, or flavorings to your liking.
  6. Enjoy!

Pro-Tip: Experiment with the amount of instant coffee and water ratios to find your perfect strength.

Advantages of Instant Coffee

  • Fast: Ready in a matter of seconds.
  • Convenient: Minimal equipment needed.
  • Lightweight: An excellent choice for backpackers.
  • Economical: Often cheaper than other coffee-making methods.
  • Shelf-Stable: Long-lasting without refrigeration.

Disadvantages of Instant Coffee

  • Taste: It can be less flavorful compared to freshly brewed coffee.
  • Freshness: It might taste stale or artificial to some.

Enhance Your Instant Coffee Experience

Adding extras like milk, creamer, or a dash of cinnamon can also enrich the flavor. Sampling different brands such as Voilà, Verve, or Starbucks gives you a variety, each with unique profiles that might surprise you.

Single-Serve Coffee Bags

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Let’s talk about the coffee single bag—a nifty invention that combines the simplicity of a tea bag with the robust flavor of coffee. Before your camping trip, you can buy or make your own coffee single bags with coffee filters or cheesecloth.

Essentials for Coffee Single Bag Brewing

  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • String (food-safe)
  • Hot water

Making your Own Single-Serve Coffee Bags and Brewing

  1. Fill a coffee filter with a single portion of your preferred coffee grounds.
  2. Tie the filter securely using a string, leaving one end long enough to dangle over the side of your cup.
  3. Heat water until just below boiling to prevent over-extracting the coffee and making it bitter.
  4. Place the coffee bag in your cup and pour hot water over it.
  5. Let it steep for 4-5 minutes. You can adjust the time for a weaker or more robust brew.
  6. Once done, remove and dispose of the coffee bag or compost it if possible.

Pros

  • Simplicity: It’s a no-brainer.
  • Portability: Tuck them in your backpack, and you’re set.
  • Cleanliness: No messy grounds to deal with after brewing.

Cons

  • Cost: These conveniences come at a price.
  • Waste: It’s single-serve, so there’s more packaging.
  • Choice: You might miss out on some specialty blends.
  • Strength: They can be less potent.
  • Consistency: Results may vary from cup to cup.

Tips for Single-Bagged Coffee

  • Heat is Key: Always use hot water—it extracts flavors more efficiently.
  • Steep Longer: Leave the bag in a bit longer for a bolder taste.
  • Double Up: Want a more intense brew? Go ahead and double-bag it.
  • Make It Personal: Crafting your own bags allows you to pick and mix coffee types and quantities.

Pour-Over Coffee

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You’re not just making a cup of joe; pour-over is an art form that creates a brew with a depth of flavor that’s hard to match with standard drip coffee. 

The manual control during the pouring process allows for a more even extraction of oils and flavors from the coffee grounds, resulting in an aromatic and complex cup.

Equipment and Ingredients You Need

  1. Collapsible pour-over stand: Perfect for camping due to its portability.
  2. Paper filter: Essential for filtering the grounds from your coffee.
  3. Fresh coffee grounds: Medium-fine grind is ideal (16:1 ratio water to coffee).
  4. Hot water: Just off the boil.
  5. Mug or cup: Your trusty camping mug will do just fine.

Steps to Brew Pour-Over Coffee

  1. Prepare: Set the paper filter in the collapsible pour-over stand and place it over your mug.
  2. Pre-wet: Gently rinse the paper filter with hot water to remove the paper’s taste and preheat your mug.
  3. Bloom: Add your coffee grounds and pour a small amount of hot water enough to wet them. Wait for 30 seconds; this allows the coffee to “bloom” and release CO2, affecting the brew’s taste.
  4. Pour: Slowly and evenly pour the rest of the water over the grounds in a spiral motion, ensuring all the grounds are saturated.

Benefits

  • Brews a delicious, smooth, and balanced cup
  • Brings out the aromatic qualities of the coffee
  • Allows for a precise and versatile coffee experience

Drawbacks

  • More complex than other methods
  • Can be time-consuming
  • Requires some skill to perfect
  • Needs special equipment
  • Produces waste (paper filters)

Tips to Elevate Your Brew

  • Always opt for fresh grounds for the best flavor.
  • The ratio of water to coffee can be adjusted to suit your taste.
  • Be patient; pour slowly to ensure a uniform extraction.

French Press

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When camping in the great outdoors, a French press does more than just brew coffee; it immerses you in a rich, full-bodied experience that instant coffee packets simply can’t match. Understanding how this trusty gadget works is straightforward: the French press is a beaker typically made of glass or stainless steel, with a plunger and a built-in filter screen that presses hot water through ground coffee.

What You’ll Need for a French Press

  • A French press
  • Coarse-ground coffee (4 Tbsp coffee for 16 oz of water or a ratio of 1:15)
  • Hot water, just off the boil
  • Stirring utensil (optional)
  • Timer

Step-by-Step Brewing Guide

  1. Preheat your French press by rinsing it with hot water. This keeps your coffee warm for a longer time.
  2. Add your coffee grounds to the press (3-4 Tbsp coffee for 16 oz of water or a ratio of 1:15)
  3. Pour in hot water, ensuring the grounds are fully saturated.
  4. Stir gently with a non-metal utensil to avoid cracking the glass.
  5. Set your timer and let the coffee steep for about 4 minutes.
  6. Plunge the press down slowly to avoid agitating the grounds, which can make your brew gritty.
  7. Serve immediately to capture the coffee’s peak flavor.

Benefits

  • Rich Flavor: The mesh filter does not absorb the oils and fine particles from the coffee grounds, so more flavor is retained in your cup.
  • Convenience: Simple to use with minimal parts; ideal for making multiple cups at once.

Drawbacks

  • Gritty Texture: Some grounds might escape into your brew, especially if the grind is too fine.
  • Cleanup: The grounds can be messy and a hassle to clean from the bottom of the press.

Tips for the Best Cup

  • Use filtered water for a cleaner taste.
  • Preheat the press to maintain the brewing temperature.
  • Stir the grounds before steeping to encourage even flavor extraction.
  • A 4-minute steep is the sweet spot for a balanced brew.
  • Plunge slowly to prevent stirring up the grounds and over-extracting, which can turn your coffee bitter.
  • Enjoy your coffee immediately after plunging for the freshest taste.

Moka Pot

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A Moka Pot, often called a stovetop espresso maker, is a popular coffee gadget for brewing robust and espresso-like coffee outdoors or at home. Its design is simple yet brilliant; water in the lower chamber boils, and the resulting steam pressure pushes water through a basket containing the coffee grounds into the upper chamber where your brew awaits.

Equipment & Ingredients

  • A Moka Pot
  • Ground coffee, preferably a fine espresso grind
  • Water, filtered is best
  • Heat source, like a camp stove

Brewing a Moka Pot Step-by-Step

  1. Fill the bottom chamber of your Moka Pot with water up to the fill line.
  2. Place the ground coffee in the filter basket. Remember to fill it loosely to avoid over-extraction.
  3. Screw the top and bottom together tightly to prevent steam from escaping.
  4. Place the Moka Pot on your stove or heat source and start with medium heat.
  5. When you hear a hissing sound or coffee starts to emerge, turn the heat down low.
  6. Once the upper chamber is full or you hear a gurgling sound, remove from the heat – your coffee is ready.

Benefits

  • Strong and concentrated coffee
  • Simple to use and easy to transport
  • Durable for repeated use
  • Economical choice overall

Drawbacks

  • It can produce a bitter or metallic taste if not used properly
  • Prone to burn if left on heat for too long
  • Needs fine grounds for best results
  • It is somewhat challenging to clean thoroughly

Tips to Enhance Your Brew

  • Start with preheated water to minimize the time your coffee is on the heat, reducing bitterness.
  • Use filtered water for a cleaner taste.
  • Remove the pot from the heat just before it finishes to prevent a burnt taste.

AeroPress

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Meet the AeroPress—an ingenious coffee maker perfect for any camping adventure. This lightweight and durable device uses air pressure to rapidly brew coffee, resulting in a smooth, flavorful cup every time.

What You’ll Need for AeroPress Coffee

  • AeroPress or AeroPress Go
  • AeroPress paper filters or metal filter
  • Coffee grinder (for fresh grounds)
  • Coffee beans (fine grind)
  • Hot water (just off the boil)
  • Stirrer (comes with AeroPress)
  • Mug

AeroPress Brewing Steps

  1. Place a paper filter in the AeroPress’s basket. 

Tip: Pre-wet the paper filter with hot water to eliminate the paper’s taste. If you’re using a metal filter, that’s fine too—no need to pre-wet.

  1. Attach the basket to the bottom of the brew chamber and place it on your mug.
  2. Add one scoop of fine coffee grounds into the chamber.
  3. Pour in hot water up to the desired level, then give it a quick stir.
  4. Insert the plunger and press down gently until you have a rich, delicious coffee.

Pros

  • Smooth & Clean Taste: Thanks to the fine filter
  • Quick & Consistent Brew: It only takes a minute
  • Travel-Friendly: Compact and highly portable, especially the AeroPress Go
  • Easy Cleanup: Just pop out the used coffee grounds and rinse

Cons

  • Paper Filters Needed: Unless you opt for a reusable metal filter
  • Only Small Amounts: Typically, one cup at a time
  • Stirring Required: For even extraction
  • Specific Grind Size Needed: Fine grounds work best

Expert Tips

  • Always use hot water, but not yet boiling, to preserve the coffee taste.
  • Try the inverted brewing method to steep your coffee like a French press.
  • Press the plunger down gently—patience yields a richer cup.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with the amount of coffee and brewing time.

Manual Espresso Machine

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These nifty hand-powered gadgets promise a rich and creamy espresso shot, complete with that desirable crema. The magic happens through finely ground coffee manually compressed into a puck onto which hot water is forced, giving you that intense shot we all crave.

What You’ll Need for Outdoor Espresso

  • Hand-powered espresso maker
  • Fresh, dark-roast coffee beans
  • Grinder (capable of fine espresso grind)
  • Hot water
  • Cup or mug
  • Optional: milk frother for lattes and cappuccinos

Manual Espresso Step-by-Step

  1. Preheat your manual machine with hot water.
  2. Grind your coffee beans finely, aiming for a texture like powdered sugar.
  3. Fill the basket with your grounds, tamp it evenly, and assemble the machine.
  4. Pour hot water into the boiler and apply pressure to the pump or lever.
  5. Pull the shot quickly, aiming for a 20-30 second extraction time.
  6. Optional: Froth your milk and pour over your shot for a velvety finish.

Benefits of a Manual Espresso Machine

  • You get an authentic, intense, and satisfying experience.
  • As versatile as your skills allow (lattes, americanos, etc.)
  • It’s just fun

Drawback of a Manual Espresso Machine

  • These machines can be expensive
  • A bit bulky and heavy
  • Requires a fair amount of skill
  • Need the correct grind to get that perfect shot.

Quick Tips for Camping Espresso

  • Always use fresh beans (the darker the roast, the better).
  • Tamp evenly to avoid channeling and achieve an even extraction.
  • Preheat the machine to maintain the extraction temperature.
  • Pull that espresso shot quickly once you start the infusion.

Cowboy Coffee

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Cowboy coffee has a long-standing history with outdoor enthusiasts who love a rich and robust cup of joe. It’s a simple process, requiring only a few tools, patience, and a bit of technique.

What You’ll Need for Cowboy Coffee

  • A durable pot or kettle
  • Fresh, clean water
  • Coffee grounds (coarsely ground works best)
  • A campfire or camping stove

5 Steps to Making Cowboy Cofee

  1. Fill your pot with one cup of water for each one cup of coffee you aim to make.
  2. Heat the water on your campfire or stove. Just before it boils, remove it from the heat.
  3. Stir in the coffee grounds—about 2 tablespoons per 8 ounces of water.
  4. Let it sit for about a minute, then stir again and brew for another few minutes.
  5. Settle the grounds by tapping the pot’s side or adding a small splash of cold water.

Pros

  • Easy to make fresh coffee with minimal equipment. 
  • Rich, robust cup of coffee

Cons

  • Takes some effort to avoid drink grinds
  • Easy to overdo or underdo it, resulting in bitter coffee or watery coffee

Tips for Cowboy Coffe

  • The key to a good cup of cowboy coffee is avoiding the grounds. 
  • Pour the coffee off gently, or throw a clean bandana or cloth over your mug and pour through that as a makeshift filter.

Check out the camping meals article for inspiration for your next camping trip food plan. Also, don’t forget to review the camping gear checklist before heading out on your next adventure. 

FAQs

How do I grind coffee beans while camping?

You’ve got several options for grinding coffee in the great outdoors. If you want to keep it simple and lightweight, consider investing in a quality hand grinder.

Hand grinders are compact, require no power, and give fresh grounds to boost your morning.

If you don’t mind carrying more weight, a battery-operated grinder is another excellent choice. It ensures you always have freshly ground coffee at the press of a button.

What method for making coffee works better for backpacking?

When you’re backpacking, every ounce matters. Opt for a lightweight and collapsible pour-over coffee maker, or embrace the simplicity of instant coffee — it’s featherlight and fuss-free.

If you prefer a robust coffee, an AeroPress or small French press made of plastic or another durable, lightweight material might suit your needs, so long as you’re okay with the extra weight. I prefer instant coffee for convenience, and they (Starbucks is my go to) make some tasty instant coffee nowadays.

What’s the best way to make coffee while car camping?

Car camping offers the luxury of less stringent weight restrictions, allowing you to be a bit more indulgent.

A classic percolator can make a strong pot of coffee over the campfire or stove—nothing beats the aroma in the morning air.

Alternatively, a drip coffee maker with a reusable filter can deliver that home-brewed taste if you’ve got a portable power source or camp stove.

Instant coffee remains a quick and viable option if you’re in a rush.

For true connoisseurs, nothing beats freshly ground beans brewed using your favorite method, whether a pour-over, manual espresso, or a French press. I prefer a French press while car camping myself.

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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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