A steaming mug of coffee on a chilly morning in camp is a beautiful thing, but it’s not just about the warmth of the cup in your hands or the taste of a fancy single-origin brew—for many coffee aficionados, the ritual of making and drinking coffee is just as important as the java itself. At home, you likely have a preferred method, whether that’s the stained Mr. Coffee pot you’ve been hauling from one apartment to the next since your college days (hey, no judgment) or a lovingly hand-crafted ceramic dripper that makes the perfect pour over every time.
On a multi-day river trip, car camping adventure or backpacking trip, you may not have access to an industrial-grade espresso machine, but brewing methods still abound. Each has its perks, but with something this personal, only you can choose the camp coffee method that will bring you the greatest joy.
How to Brew the Best Coffee While Camping
The percolator is an old-school camp favorite. Nothing makes you feel more like a rugged pioneer than perking coffee over a fire. It’s heavy enough that it doesn’t make the cut for most backcountry travelers, but the beauty of river travel or car camping is having more room for the finer things in life. A percolator (if you’re going for a vibe, choose blue enamelware—classic) allows you to essentially set it and forget it, just like a standard coffee pot at home. Simply fill the filter basket with grounds, place it in the pot, and fill the pot to the spout. Set it on a heat source (stove or grate over a fire; either will get the job done) and wax nostalgic about the good old days until you see a nice brown color through the viewing window. Pour, enjoy, repeat.
2) French Press
The French press has the advantage of sounding like an elaborate treat, but with fairly minimal effort. To prevent breakage during transit, opt for a more durable plastic press instead of the classic glass press, or a super portable option like Jetboil’s Silicone Coffee Press that pairs with its backpacking and camping stoves. To get the brew right, add a heaping tablespoon of coarsely-ground coffee per cup you’re serving. Pour boiling water directly onto the grounds, fill to your desired volume, and stir gently a few times. Place the lid over the top, wait about four minutes, and plunge. People get finicky about their French press methods, but keep it simple and you can’t go wrong.
This lightweight, portable brewing device has quickly become a go-to option for coffee enthusiasts at home and outdoors. The AeroPress only makes one serving at a time, so it’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. (Don’t wait until too late in the day to get this one going; AeroPress brews come out super-strong.) The brewing method is similar to a French press, but a filter at the bottom prevents any grounds from escaping. For best results, the grind should be specifically for AeroPress. It’s a little more involved than some of the other methods, and really doesn’t work without the AeroPress-specific filters, but the extra work makes for a killer cup of camp coffee.
4) Pour Over
Want to impress everyone else in camp? This method means you can control the speed of the pour—and the slower the pour, the more time the hot water has to pull flavor from the beans for a bolder flavor. Of course, this matters even more when you’re grinding a cup’s worth of beans at a time, whereas at camp, you’ve likely pre-ground all your coffee for the trip. But for a very small device (several companies now make silicone drippers that collapse to the size of a coaster), it offers a top-notch cup of joe, with the added benefit of the meditative act of pouring and stirring. Simply place grounds in a filter in the dripper and fill repeatedly with hot water until your cup is full.
5) Cowboy Coffee
What cowboy coffee lacks in finesse, it more than makes up for in backcountry street cred. No special equipment is required, a coarse grind is just fine, and it’s one of the best options for large groups like on a river trip. For best results, heat a pot of water (ideally over a fire, but a camp stove works too), and add your preferred amount of coffee when it warms (about 2 tbsp. of grounds per 8 oz. of water is recommended). Bring it to a rolling boil, then remove from the heat and let the grounds settle to the bottom. Pour directly into cups, or if you’re feeling high-class, filter it through a cheese cloth or a (clean!) bandana. Alternatively, you can use the same methodology used for tea and use a clean, food-grade mesh bag to steep your camp coffee in a large pot of boiling water.
Hear us out, coffee snobs: instant has come a long way. It’s not all tasteless Nescafé anymore, although it’s only fair to point out that instant coffee, in general, contains less caffeine than the “real” stuff. Even the best instant coffees can’t compete with the aforementioned brewing rituals, but it’s a great supplement to your coffee repertoire—bringing along a few instant coffee packets means you can accommodate a wider range of palates for folks who prefer different roasts and flavors. Plus, when brewing a cup is as simple as heating water and pouring instant coffee into a cup, you can fuel up anytime you have a few minutes to spare.