How to Make Coffee while Camping

Estimated read time 6 min read

I love coffee. I wish I could drink it at Gilmore Girls levels, but alas I am limited to my cup or two in the morning, and a mid-afternoon half-cup if I’m really dragging. But camping coffee is special.  There’s nothing better than waking up to fresh air and sunshine and a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. But how do you make coffee while in the wilderness? I’ll show you!

Content note: I asked for samples of instant coffee from leading brands and the ones I mentioned here all sent me either coupons or samples. No one paid me to write about their product, but just FYI! 

Coffee is a camping must. Even while ultralight backpacking, I’ve got coffee. I’d probably give up my shoes before I’d give up coffee. That’s an exaggeration, but still. It’s on my packing list every time.

So you might be wondering, “What are my backcountry coffee options?” There are several! Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to make coffee while camping.

blue enamel percolator

Percolator Coffee for Camping

Percolators are the old school cool of coffee-making. They’re challenging to get right and don’t always taste the best, but damn it, they look cool. I use my old-fashioned enamel percolator on a single burner to make sure I can control the water temp and brew the coffee to a reasonable color (preferably short of “sludge”).

How to brew coffee with a percolator:

  • Fill the basket with coffee. How much? Who knows. It’s a crapshoot. How about half full?
  • Fill the percolator with water, but not too much. If you fill it too high, you’ll basically explode coffee out. Try 3/4 full.
  • Put it on the burner and turn that baby up to full blast until you start to see a little steaminess in the lid, then turn it down or you’ll burn everything and likely bubble grounds out of the top. Keep your oven mitt or thick cloth nearby for grabbing the handle safely.
  • Once it starts to percolatin’, watch for a few minutes as the water gets darker. Take a taste test here and there if you’re not sure by pouring a small amount into a cup. It might take a while, so keep taking little sips until it starts tasting like coffee and not brown water. Stop before it tastes like energy mud.
  • Keep in mind that the color of the coffee in the lid might like pretty light because it’s just little splashes. Don’t let it brew too long without tasting. I’ve waited for mine to look dark enough and then realized I waaaaay overdid it.
  • Once you’re happy with the taste, remove from the burner and set it somewhere safe to cool a bit. Pour a cup and enjoy.
  • This is an option for RV or car camping or camping with a medium amount of gear, like via canoe. Not really an option for backpacking since a percolator is pretty hefty. There are much better backpacking and ultralight options below.

French Press Coffee for Camping

Percolators are old school cool, but French presses are hip. That’s alright, because it brews a hella good cup of coffee. The nice thing is that you can do it almost the same way you make coffee at home. I use my percolator to heat the water, then pour it in the press with my preferred amount of coffee, wait about 10 minutes, plunge, and enjoy.

Again, hauling a french press along with you while camping is better suited to times when you can bring more gear.

Pour Over Coffee for Backpacking

Here’s one I haven’t tried before! I picked up a single cup pour over coffee brewer to try for making coffee while backpacking. The disc itself is super lightweight, doesn’t require a filter, and takes up very little space. Plus, brewing is super easy. Allow me to demonstrate:

  • Put the disc on top of your coffee cup with the mesh bag pushed below.
  • Add maybe two-ish tbsp of coffee grounds? Experiment with how much you need to put in for the right taste.
  • Heat your water to steaming in a pot or another metal cup.
  • Pour slowly into the mesh bag and wait for deliciousness!

I tried it out when we were camping at a cabin and it worked amazingly. Then, I brought the setup backpacking and it was a big hit. 10/10 would recommend!

Instant Coffee for Camping

Now, this one is controversial because instant coffee is known for tasting like a shoe. But, I gotta say, if you want to go low-stress and get an okay cup (especially if you’re going ultralight and don’t want to mess around with extra gear), this is a viable option.

I tried the brands pictured above.

Obviously, instant coffee is pretty easy to make. All you have to do is pour the crystals into hot water, stir, and drink. These small travel packets do make it really easy to make coffee while backpacking, but it stinks that they create quite a bit of trash since they’re individually wrapped. You could always take a small container of grounds and scoop it into your cup as needed. Either way, instant coffee is really light and easy to carry. The issue I found is that they don’t really taste great.

I’m a die-hard coffee drinker, but I don’t drink it black or very strong. I usually put in a little creamer or sugar, which I sometimes skip if I’m trying to save pack weight or hassle. But the instant coffee really didn’t taste good without anything in it. And I couldn’t seem to get it strong enough. If I did just one packet, they tasted weak. If I added more, they tasted less weak but more bad. The only exception was the Starbucks Via brand. Via was pretty decent, and I would try it again for backpacking if I didn’t want to use my pour over method.

What’s the best coffee for camping?

Depends on what you’re looking for! I hope this info was helpful. Hit me up if you’ve discovered another delicious method worth listing here and I’ll be happy to add it.

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