Whether you're pitching your bell tent, loading the RV or packing your backpack tight for a multi day adventure, somehow there's always room for coffee. Or there should be.
Long gone are the days of forcing instant coffee down simply for the caffeine - these days, when glamping it or sleeping out on the trails, there's a brewer for you. It's possible to take a nearly complete espresso setup while out on your hols nowadays - so if you're looking for a little luxury you can count on great coffee at least.
But even if you're travelling super light, there's no reason to go without quality coffee. Along with the more traditional 'campsite' brew methods, the list below just keeps going - right to the best ultra light, and most packable coffee methods.
Read on and we'll show you that camping coffee can take many forms, so you need never suffer through a cup of instant coffee again. Not on our watch.
Cowboy Coffee - The Original (But Not The Best)
Let's start at the beginning. Long, long ago, way before freeze dried coffee was even possible, hardworking cowboys still needed their cup of Joe when out on the plains.
Using no filter, no strainer, and just a little trick of gravity to keep the coffee grounds out of your cup, cowboy coffee is what you get when you just throw the coffee into a pot of water and let it boil.
The resulting brew can be a bit of a let down, and to get it right does take a fair bit of practice. If you get it wrong, expect over-extracted, bitter coffee - and a mouth full of coffee grounds. If you've ever watched a western and seen a rancher spit out the end of his cup, that's a cowboy brew.
If you want less grounds in your coffee, a cheesecloth and even an egg can be pressed into service. Adding egg helps clarify the coffee, allowing the grounds to separate from the water easily, reducing the bitterness and boosting the extraction of caffeine. But for the squeamish, egg shells can be used to separate the coffee and grounds.
- No specialised gear required
- Large brew volume is good for groups
- No paper filters equals no waste to dispose of
- Coffee can be thick and bitter
- Real danger of coffee grounds entering your cup
Things You Need
- Tin coffee pot, camping pot, or even a cooking pot from home
- Coarsely Ground Coffee
- Cold Water
- Cheesecloth (if using)
- One (Raw) Egg
- Pour your water into whatever pot you're using, and suspend above your campfire (or place on your camping stove).
- If you're grinding your own coffee, aim for a super coarse grind. The coffee grounds will sit in the water for a long time so no danger of under-extracting here.
- For the cheesecloth method, place your coffee grounds in the cloth (one scoop per person), tie with string, and throw into the pot. Hardcore cowboy coffee drinkers (and Swedes) will add a cracked egg, or sometimes even a beaten egg, into the grounds here.
- If you're foregoing the cloth, just pour the coffee into the water. Crack the egg and retain the shell.
- Bring to the boil, and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes. Cover and wrap the pot in towels if possible to preserve heat.
- If you use the cloth, you can simply pour. If not, break up the egg shells and throw them into the water. As they sink, they will draw the grounds towards the bottom of the pot.
Cowboy coffee is the simplest, realest, and most authentic camping coffee - but in the modern day, it's hard to claim it's the best.
Bellman Espresso and Steamer CX 25P - For Pure Camping Luxury
Talking of which - enter the Bellman Espresso & Steamer CX 25P. About as far from basic as you can get, the Bellman allows you to easily brew espresso style coffee on your campfire. And with a built in steamer and wand, we're really upping the luxury here.
Probably better on a camping stove than an open fire, the Bellman can of course brew espresso (it's in the title, dummy): but it can also be used as a batch brewer, perfect for camping with the family or the whole gang.
- The closest you'll get to real espresso when camping
- The only camping brewer on our list with a steam wand
- Brew Coffee for a few or the entire crew
- No hot water required
- Works better on a stove with consistent heat
- Not the smallest coffee maker on our list
Things You Need
- Bellman CX 25P
- Ground Coffee
- Milk (Full Campfire Cafe Experience)
The Bellman can be used to brew espresso at camp, or to brew for the entire gang. We've included the espresso method below, and some water to coffee ratio suggestions for more volume.
To Brew Espresso:
- Use an ultra fine, espresso grind.
- Fill the coffee basket with 50gs ground coffee. This should produce 3 shots of espresso.
- Place the paper filter on top of the tamped coffee.
- Fill the water chamber to just below the "Three" mark inside the chamber. If you have hot water, this can be used to speed the process, but it’s not necessary.
- Place the coffee basket on top of the Bellman.
- Place the brew tap on and screw it on tight.
- Place on the stove, or over the fire, on a medium heat. make sure all taps are closed.
- Watch the pressure build. At between 2 – 2.5 bars pressure, you should soon hear water passing through the coffee. It should take 10-15 secs for coffee to pass through. Slowly open the tap until you get a steady, gentle flow of coffee.
- If the brewer begins to spit or steam, remove from the heat, and allow the last of the espresso to flow out.
For lower volumes, you can use less water and coffee at the same ratio for 1 or 2 shots. But you can also alter the ratio of water to coffee to produce a slightly weaker brew, but more voluminous, brew.
The best thing about the Bellman though is that once you're done brewing, the steamer is all ready to go. So if you do have milk with you, you can legit fire up a flat white fireside. For camping luxury, that's pretty hard to beat.
The Classic One Cup Filter / Dripper
If you've ever used a one cup pour over brewer, it may have occurred to you that this thing could go on the road. One cup drippers are ideal for camping coffee, especially if you're flying solo or with a hiking buddy.
Small and fairly pack-able, all you need are coffee grounds, the cone itself, and a few paper filters. Pour over can produce a rich, complex brew with a mouthfeel many swear by. The only sacrifice you need to make is a little time, patience and technique.
Though perhaps less suitable for bad weather and altitude, pour over brewers can still provide high quality coffee on hikes, or by the campfire.
- Great quality, smooth coffee
- Relatively easy to make
- Light and requires minimal gear
- Brewer can be a little awkward if packing tight
- Can only brew for one at a time
- Paper filters generate waste
Things You Need
- One cup pour over dripper
- Ground coffee (fine)
- Mug or cup
- Boil 250-350ml of water (depends on the size of the dripper).
- Place the dripper on the lip of your cup, and place the paper filter in the dripper.
- Pour a small amount of water through the filter, then discard.
- Scoop around 15-20g of coffee into the centre of the filter.
- Pour around a quarter of your water over the grounds, to start the blooming process. This will activate the coffee and begin releasing the oils and aromas.
- After around 30 seconds, begin to slowly pour water over the coffee grounds. If you can (i.e. you have a kettle or easy pour boiler) work outwards from the centre in a circular motion.
- Keep pouring (slowly) until the cup is full.
The pour over method offers a little more luxury if you are making coffee while camping alone or with a friend - but if you're hitting the trails or bikepacking, it could still be a little awkward.
Travel 'Pour-Over' Coffee
Luckily, the good folk who think about these things already got to this. Enter the travel dripper - offering pretty much the same experience as the one cup, but this time in an ultra light, ultra pack-able collapsible cone.
This is one I have sampled myself on the trails. Barely perceptible in your bag when packed, along with the filters it weighs basically zilch. So long as you can find a place to sit a cup (and the winds are not too crazy), you'd be surprised where you can brew with this.
And the brew itself is surprisingly good, which can amount to a slightly surreal experience out in the wild - coffee this good on the trails just shouldn't be!
- Ultra Light
- Collapsible design makes it super easy to pack
- Easy enough to use on the trail (though not in high wind)
- Rubber construction might be off-putting for purists
- You need an appropriately sized coffee cup
Things You Need
- Travel dripper
- Freshly ground coffee (ideally)
- A way to boil water
We don't need to walk you through this one, assuming you read the method above. If not, then the method is above. The only difference is when you unpack the brewer, you need to 'pop' it out into shape. Sit on the cup, and proceed as above.
If you do aim to use this on the go, we would recommend investing in a dedicated compact camping boiler. Not only will your water be water quicker, but these guys are normally a lot easier to pour from, vs a traditional pot (assuming you didn't bring a kettle up the mountain, of course).
You can't talk about travel coffee without mentioning the Aeropress Go. Frankly, I'm surprised we made it this far. If you're gonna make coffee while camping, love espresso, and hate cleaning up, this is your guy.
Allowing you to brew camp coffee under pressure, making coffee something akin to espresso, the Aeropress is a campsite miracle. And it cleans itself! Well, kinda.
It has distinct advantages, and a few drawbacks. Relatively light, so long as you have hot water and coffee grounds you can force out very decent, freshly brewed coffee pretty much anywhere.
That said, the standard model is a little clunky, but the Aeropress Go is much more packable (and thoughtfully incorporates a cup and scoop too). It's not as light as the travel dripper, but not much heavier, and all waste generated is biodegradable (if you use the metal filter).
- Measures on the side make it easy to brew
- Comes with scoop and cup
- More espresso like coffee than other light brewers
- Can still feel bulky when packing light
Things You Need
- Medium/fine ground coffee
- Mug (be sure the Aeropress fits before you head off)!
- Boiling water
- Bring water to a boil.
- Grind your coffee medium fine, a little finer than you'd use for pour over.
- Attach the filter and place the brewing chamber on top of your mug or cup.
- Add around 15g ground coffee to the chamber.
- Add 225 ml of boiling water quickly.
- Stir back and forth three times, then add the plunger attachment, to build pressure.
- After a minute or so, remove the plunger attachment and stir again in the same way.
- Replace the plunger, and push down slowly for around 20 seconds to pull your shot.
The Aeropress is still a great travel brewer, and handy for backpackers and cyclists too. It might seem a cliche, but it's hard to overlook this modern classic.
If you prefer french press coffee and simply can't live without, there are travel presses to itch that scratch. Quick, easy and able to brew for many or few, the versatile press is a classic. The travel press offers all of the above, but in a more robust and slightly more portable package.
If you need camp coffee for the whole gang, and aren't too fussy (but can't stomach instant coffee) the french press is a strong option. Camping coffee needn't be a chore - keep it simple, kick back and enjoy nature the lazy way.
- Brew for up to six people
- Can boil water over open fire
- Easy to clean and no waste
- Coffee can easily over extract
- Not easily packable
Things You Need
- Boiling Water
- Coarse Ground Coffee
- Paper Filters (Optional)
- Use medium or coarse ground beans.
- Boil water, and leave to cool slightly (to avoid burning the coffee grounds)
- You want to achieve a ratio of roughly 1:15 coffee to water. For a 4 cup brewer, use 64gs of coffee, and add 950 ml of water.
- Add the coffee to the press, and slowly pour hot water (but not quite boiling) slowly over the grounds. Stir the water and coffee grounds together gently.
- Add the lid, and depress the french press plunger to just above the water line.
- Leave for 3-4 minutes, and then very slowly depress the plunger until it reaches the ground coffee.
- Pour, and enjoy.
A favourite home coffee maker, for those who want their usual creature comforts on the road, the french press is also a treasured way to make coffee while camping too.
Portable Hand Press Espresso Maker
If you want something akin to authentic espresso, but without the bulk of something like the Bellman, these guys are well worth a whirl. Hand press brewers do probably require the most elbow grease - but if you're fit enough to run the trails, this shouldn't phase you at all.
Pressure is generated by hand pumping the machine, which forces hot water through the grounds to create your espresso. All you need to do is pump, boil water, add coffee to the basket, add water, and before you know it you'll be drinking coffee like don. For the espresso purist, who travels light and flies solo when camping, there's no perhaps better way to enjoy your camping coffee.
- All in one so easy to pack and impossible to lose a part
- As close as you'll get to espresso in the wilds
- Often compatible with pods (as well as fresh coffee)
- Not the cheapest option
- No steamer, so it's espresso or Americano only
- Pumping to pressure can be hard work
Things You Need
- Boiling water
- Finely ground coffee
- Your hand press gadget of choice
As all of these guys work slightly differently, this is not a precise guide - but should help with dosing and recipe ideas at the very least.
- First, pump the machine up to pressure. Most hand pumped machines have a pressure gauge to let you know when you're there.
- Grin your coffee ultra fine. Add coffee to the basket - around 7-8gs will do it.
- Add water to the reservoir - you'll be surprised how little at first, but remember this is a one shot brewer. %0ml will do it.
- Activate the pressure, and hold or place the brewer over the cup as the water is forced through the grounds into your cup.
Stovetop Espresso Maker
If you want something a little more 'homely', the stovetop espresso maker can do a very decent job. Often referred to as a Moka pot, it's ideal for brewing camp coffee, and can produce a thicker, espresso like brew at higher volume - making them perfect for camping trips with groups or the family too.
With a distinctive hourglass shape, they normally consist of two slightly conical chambers which screw together, with a coffee basket in the top of the bottom chamber. Water is wicked up through the coffee, where it bubbles and flows out of the central stem into the top chamber. Simply load, place over heat, and wait.
Although portable, they are a little clunky and heavy - though you may just about be able to lug a one-man pot on a multi day hike. For a gang who want a better brew but perhaps not at the expense of the Bellman, stovetop espresso makers are a great in-between.
- Strong, espresso like coffee
- Can be single serve, or brew for the gang (depending on size)
- Rugged aluminium design makes these practically unbreakable
- Better suited to camping stoves
- Can be awkward to carry and pack
Things You Need
- Finely ground coffee (espresso grind)
- Cold water
- Unscrew the pot, and separate the two chambers. Remove the coffee basket from the lower half.
- Fill the lower chamber with water to just below where the coffee basket will sit.
- Place the coffee basket fitting back into the lower chamber.
- Scoop finely ground coffee into the basket, filling the basket but not packing too tight.
- Screw the top chamber on tightly, and place the brewer on the heat.
- When the brewer starts to make a popping sound, the water is passing through. You want a gentle flow of water, so if it's too fast, remove from the heat or turn down.
- You're ready to enjoy your coffee!
One option is to forego a coffee maker altogether, and simply take your own coffee bag on the road. No coffee filter, no pre-ground coffee, no grinder, no coffee grounds to dispose of. And importantly, no instant coffee is required.
But what price do you pay for leaving the camping coffee maker behind? Although the brew won't rival many of the methods on the list, you can still get a pretty good coffee from a bag. Purists will scoff, but if your imperative is to travel light, and especially if you're day hiking or running the trails, coffee bags can certainly fill a hole.
Even better, you can make your own coffee bags, so you can take your favourite blend out with you.
- Super light
- No gear required at all!
- Only requires boiling water and a cup
- Coffee is not as rich or complex as other methods
- You will need to carry the waste
Things You Need
- Coffee bag
- Boiling water
To Make Your Own Coffee Bag:
- You can use a standard coffee filter. Lay it flat on a board.
- Grind medium fine coffee (or buy from the store).
- Scoop up the filter over the coffee, and tie with string or twine tightly.
Boil water to a rolling boil. Place your coffee bag in your cup, and pour over the water. Allow to steep for 90 secs/2 mins, remove the bag from the cup, and enjoy!
Percolator camp coffee is not to be overlooked. Not quite as low rent as Cowboy, but definitely not as upmarket as the Bellman, percolator coffee has the advantage of volume - allowing you to brew once for the whole family or camping gang. So long as they're not too fussy.
Easy to brew, and suitable for an open campfire, percolator coffee is perfect for those who want an easy life - and don't plan on doing any hiking.
- Super easy to use
- Great for groups
- Retains heat well
- Easy to clean
- Not the greatest quality coffee
- Bulky, so impractical for hiking
Things You Need
- Coarse ground coffee
- Campfire or camping stove
- Campfire percolator
- Take the top off of the percolator, remove the basket and filter, and fill the pot to just below where the basket will sit.
- Place the basket back in the pot. Fill with coffee.
- Add the filter on top of the basket, and then put the lid back on the percolator.
- Put the percolator on the campfire, suspend above, or fire up the camping stove.
- Let the kettle come to the boil. This will force the water to bubble up through the coffee, and don’t be alarmed if the pot gurgles and even spits a little.
- Boil for 4-6 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and pour.
Camping Extras and Accessories
Manual Burr Grinder
If you really want to get the best out of whichever brew method you choose, it will always be better if you grind your coffee fresh. You might think you can grind at home and take with you - but be warned, coffee loses its oils and aromas at a terrifying pace once exposed to oxygen.
You may get an ok brew, but you'll never get the complexity, smoothness and all round deliciousness of freshly ground coffee. Taking a grinder camping with you on your travels ensures you always have the best brew - and let's face it, if you're already carrying a brewer, why not up the weight a tiny bit more!
Manual burr grinders do the same job as their automatic cousins - truly grinding, rather than smashing and chopping the grinds like blades do. The only difference is, you're providing the power. Grinding for one brew will take a few minutes, so be prepared to work a little - and be rewarded handsomely for your efforts.
If you're using the pour over technique, or you're just a fan of high precision, a set of miniature electric scales can make all the difference. I would add though that for a lot of the brewers above, the basket capacity is often set at more or less the right volume anyway.
And on a windy day, you can forget all about accurately dosing coffee! All the same, for the purist who wants the finest brew with the greatest scenery, portable scales are so light that you might as well take them just in case.
Boiling Water On The Move
The majority of these techniques have one major thing in common - they all require hot or boiling water. If you're camping in situ, this might not be a problem. The camp fire after all is right there, and if not, a camping stove will do.
If you are going light out on the trails though, you'll either need to build a fire whenever you want a drink (bad form), or an entire stove set - right? Wrong.
All in one boiling and food prep systems are abound, designed to not only fit easily in your bag, but pack down super small. But that's not the best part - many of these guys can boil your water in a matter of seconds, and in all manners of weather. So if you're thinking about getting a camping brewer and you like to get right out there, you should think long and hard about packing one of these too.