How To Make Coffee Camping: Guide For The Perfect Camp Brew

There are many different ways to brew a cup of coffee from the comforts of your own home, but are the French press, pour-over, and percolator off-limits when you want to enjoy a bit of the great outdoors?  

Thankfully, it’s possible - and even easy - to brew coffee that suits the grandeur of your surroundings on a camping or backpacking trip. Read this guide to find out how to make coffee camping and the best gear to use to do it. 

Choose The Best Coffee Beans 

Hikers, campers, and backpackers need a robust coffee to match the fresh air and backcountry vistas. But, for an uplifting morning coffee, you need quality beans. 

If you’re trying to maximize caffeine content per bean and keep your pack weight down, find a nice robusta. Budget-conscious drinkers typically opt for arabica beans because they’re often less expensive. 

Wait Until Brewing To Grind Them 

You might shake your head when we suggest bringing a coffee grinder in your pack - particularly you ultralight backpackers out there. Trust us; it's worth it for the significant flavor boost in your coffee. 

Car campers and others heading to the backcountry with more than 10 pounds on their back should have no issue throwing a small hand grinder in with their other gear. 

Reach The Right Water Temperature 

Even when you’re making cowboy coffee, Swedish kokkaffe, or Vietnamese egg coffee, boiling the grounds will scorch them and make them taste bitter. According to the National Coffee Association, water should be between 195° and 205° Farhenheit to fully extract flavor from ground coffee beans.  

That’s slightly beneath the boiling point for water at sea level. If you’re at higher altitudes, the boiling point may be lower. In any case, what you’re aiming for is a few bubbles just before boiling rather than an aggressive bubbly boil. 

Prepare Everything Before Leaving 

Consider where you’ll be making your coffee. Do you need to bring water or a water filter? What about your power source? If you’re using a more labor-intensive brewing process like a pour-over or French press, make it easier on yourself by packing your materials so they’re ready to rock. 

Planning will also help you get high-quality ingredients to the trail or your campsite. If you’re pre-grinding beans, you can zip-seal them to preserve freshness.  

Invest In A Water Filter 

Lugging tons of water around is a pain. If you want to have water to spare for coffee, a filter system can turn most natural water sources into potable drinking water. Don’t rely on boiling the water to clean it. Instead, use a filter to be sure harmful metals, pollutants, and bacteria aren't in your cup of coffee. 

How To Make Coffee Camping

How To Make Coffee When Camping: 8 Different Methods Explained 

1. Cowboy Camping Coffee 

Easily one of the most (in)famous backcountry brewing methods, some might say you don’t know how to make good coffee camping unless you’ve mastered cowboy coffee. All you need is beans, a grinder, and a fire- or stove-safe pitcher. 

Follow these steps to make cowboy coffee that won’t give you heartburn: 

  • Fill your cooking vessel about ¾ of the way with water and put it on a stove or over the fire. 
  • Let the water get warm and steamy, and then introduce your grounds. They should be much coarser than espresso grounds. Aim for about a quarter cup of grounds per quart of water when you make cowboy coffee. 
  • You’re a cowboy now, so may as well start breaking our rules - let that water get to a full (but not violent) boil. Make sure it doesn’t boil over but let the bubbles roll for 3 - 4 minutes.  
  • Settle the grounds with cold water. Pour it a little at a time down the spout and the sides of the pot so any grounds there fall back in. Let the coffee sit, so the grounds settle in the bottom before you start pouring out cups. 

While there are lots of grounds leftover in the pot after you make cowboy coffee, the pot just needs a quick rinse to get rid of them. Sometimes the dregs of the coffee are enough to rinse the pot out with. 

2. Using A Percolator 

For those who find cowboy coffee too bitter or messy, the percolator offers a much more controlled brew and nearly no coffee grounds in your cup. 

Get your freshly ground beans, clean drinking water, a campfire or camping stove, and a percolator. Each model may vary slightly, so use the instructions that come with yours to brew the coffee properly. Here's how to use a camping percolator coffee maker generally, so you have some idea how they work: 

  • Pour water into the water chamber. This is typically located in the bottom of the percolator, although some models have you pour water into the main pot. Look for a fill mark inside. Overloading water will drown your grounds and make a messy cup of bitter coffee. 
  • Fill the basket with ground coffee beans, making sure it’s leveled off evenly. Put the basket into the percolator without spilling grounds into the water. 
  • Close the percolator and put it on your heat source. As the water gets hot, it will move through the grounds and percolate. 
  • When the water is hot, move it away from the center of the fire or turn down your camping stove and let it finish percolating for 4 - 5 minutes. Then, remove the basket, get rid of the grounds, and pour yourself a cup. 

One thing some campers and hikers don’t like about percolators is that you have to deal with the grounds afterward. Usually, though, you can just dump them out and rinse the filter basket or wipe out the remaining grounds with a dry paper towel.  

3. Instant Camping Coffee 

Instant coffee is the easiest way to have coffee in the wild, but you're probably going to be sacrificing flavor and body. Shop around and try to find a reliable brand—ultralight packers like instant coffee sachets for short solo trips.  

The steps to brew instant coffee are easy. All you need is a pot, water, instant coffee, and a mug.  

  • Heat your water until it’s steaming and bubbles begin to form. 
  • Put your instant coffee in the mug you plan to drink from. 
  • When the water is hot, pour it into the mug. Some brands need stirring, while others are pretty much good to go without stirring. 

If you can find a tasty instant coffee, more power to you. Although many manufacturers have made progress getting good flavor into their instant coffee, there’s still something lacking - plus, many instant coffees have additives and additional sugar that you might prefer to avoid.  

They frequently have less caffeine and markedly reduced flavor profile compared with freshly-ground coffee. The tradeoff is there’s no clean-up except for washing your mug. 

4. Coffee Bags 

Coffee bags work the same way as teabags do. Some manufacturers make eco-friendly, perishable, and/or recycled bags. 

You can also make your own DIY coffee bags. Here’s how to make coffee bags for camping without creating too much waste: 

  • Buy coffee filter material. It can be regular filters, cheesecloth, or even (hopefully unworn) socks. Just make sure it’s food-grade material. 
  • Find something to tie it closed. Some DIYers use dental floss, but you can also use twine or string. 
  • Place your filter in a cup. A measuring cup for the amount of coffee you want in the bag is ideal.  
  • Pour your grounds into the filter. Put a healthy tablespoon inside if you’re making coffee for between 1 and 3 people.  
  • Fold up the edges of your filter and tie it off with your string of choice.  

Keep this in a Ziploc bag and take it out when you want to have coffee. Steep it in hot water, and you'll have coffee in just a few minutes. 

5. Using An Espresso Pot (Moka Pot) 

Espresso pots are as easy as percolators, and most models are easier to deal with. As with most other brewing devices that require equipment, a Moka pot isn’t ideal for lightweight backpackers, but it is perfect for single or small group car campers. 

You need coffee, water, a heat source, and an espresso pot. Here’s how to make coffee at camp with a Moka pot or espresso pot: 

  • Grind your beans to a fine, nearly espresso consistency.
  • Fill the basket in your Moka pot or espresso pot. 
  • Pour water in the base of the pot and then put the basket on top.  
  • Screw on the top if needed and then place it on embers on the outside of the fire. Alternatively, put it on your camping stove on relatively low heat.  
  • As the water heats, it will pass through the grounds and into the top section of the pot. When the pot is full, your coffee is ready to drink. 

The biggest advantage to the Moka or espresso pot is that it’s about as close as you can get to the strength and flavor of espresso at your campsite. You can run water through it without grounds if you want to let it clean itself. 

6. Pour-Over Camping Coffee 

You don’t have to lug a ceramic pour-over filter to make great coffee in the backcountry. Most ultralight backpackers go with foldable models if they want high-quality coffee without the extra weight of a Moka pot or percolator. 

If you don’t mind a few grounds possibly entering your coffee, then you can use these pour-over models without a paper filter. 

Here’s how to make pour-over coffee while camping: 

  • Put the pour-over filter above your mug and place a good amount of finely ground beans into the filter.  
  • When the water is hot, pour a slight amount into the beans to let them bloom. 
  • After a minute or two, pour the water over the grounds slowly. Go in circles to prevent channeling and get an even brew.  
  • Let the water drip through, and then enjoy your coffee. 

7. Using A French Press 

A traditional French press is probably only viable for car campers and people who don’t mind the extra weight. Glass ones are potentially too fragile for use in the backcountry.  

Luckily, there are mugs and other vessels with a French press built-in. Here’s how to use one: 

  • Heat water in a pot and pour grounds into the bottom of your French press.  
  • When the water is ready, pour it directly into the grounds and then put the French press lid on. 
  • Leave the plunger up while the coffee is brewing. After 4 - 5 minutes, depress the plunger and then pour your coffee. 

8. Using An Aeropress 

The Aeropress is undoubtedly one of the most popular ways to brew high-quality coffee at a campsite or at home. There are tons of resources to find out how you can manipulate the variables (water temperature, ground consistency, steep time, agitation, etc.) to make the coffee you like best.  

Here’s how to make coffee at camp with an Aeropress: 

  • Grind your beans if necessary.  
  • Pop off the end of the Aeropress and insert a paper filter. Put the cap back on. 
  • Heat water on the fire or a camping stove.  
  • Place the Aeropress over your mug. Add coffee grounds into the chamber. 
  • When the coffee is hot enough, pour it over the grounds. You can bloom with a small amount for 10 seconds beforehand if you wish. 
  • Let the grounds and water brew for about 90 seconds. 
  • Put the plunger into the top chamber. Push it down slowly to force the water through the filter.  
  • When the Aeropress is empty, your coffee is ready. 

Clean-up is easy with an Aeropress, especially if you have a reusable filter. Simply pop out the filter, rinse everything or remove grounds with a paper towel, and you’re ready to brew again. 


How To Use A Coleman Camping Coffee Maker 

The Coleman camping coffee maker looks like a regular countertop coffee maker. 

The difference is the bottom is made to conduct heat from a camping stove rather than an electric energy source. You need a camping stove that runs at less than 15,000 BTUs. 

Put a filter in the upper basket, fill it with grounds, pour water in the rear reservoir, and put the container in place with the handle lined up in the center.  

Turn the heat on, and the machine will brew your coffee for you. It’s too cumbersome for backpacking, but for car campers, it might be the best way to brew coffee for multiple people. 

Coleman Camping Coffee Maker

Things To Consider Before Going Camping 

  • Whole, Ground, Or Instant Coffee? 
    Ideally, you can take fresh whole beans with you. If not, try to find a way to store ground beans with a vacuum seal or shop around for a high-quality instant coffee. 
  • Number Of Days + Amount Of People 
    The Aeropress is superior for solo campers and perhaps small groups, but if you have more than three people, you'll want to look into the Coleman coffee maker, a sizable french press, or cowboy coffee. 
  • Milk Options 
    If you don’t want to lug around milk, there are powdered varieties. For the best results, mix with hot water and add to your coffee after it’s brewed. 
  • Power Source Or Fire? 
    Most camp coffee brewers work with just heated water, so you can use a camping stove or fire as long as you have suitable cookware.  
  • Car vs. Tent vs. Backpacking? 
    Coffee is important, but it can't take up the lion's share of your pack. Lightweight solutions ensure you won't be bitter about the added weight of your coffee brewing gear. 
  • Clean-Up Required 
    You don't want to have to spend tons of time on your coffee, and that includes cleaning up. Choose a method you can clean without much water in case you aren't near a natural water source. 
man drinking coffee in tent

Coffee While Camping FAQs

Can you make coffee and let it sit overnight? 

You can let black coffee with no added milk sit for 24 hours, and it's still likely safe to drink. Keep in mind that its flavor will be far from ideal unless you convert it to iced coffee. 

Is day-old coffee OK to drink? 

Coffee is fine to drink for 24 hours even if left at room temperature, but its taste won’t be very pleasant if you leave it sitting around that long. 


Conclusion

Now that you know how to make coffee while camping, you can enjoy a hearty morning boost even when you’re far from home. Use the tips in this guide to make sure your campsite coffee is as tasty as possible.