The Definitive Guide to Making the Best Camp Coffee

6 ways to make the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.

6 ways to make the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.

To some, making the best cup of camp coffee is an art form. To others, it’s a practical way to stay warm and energized while enjoying the outdoors. No matter how you look at it, making a great cup of camp coffee is an essential part of morning rituals for many campers.

Even though brewing a cup is simple (hot water + ground coffee beans = coffee) there seem to be a hundred different ways to brew a cup of camp coffee. But which ones are the best?

As lovers of both coffee and the outdoors, we at Bearfoot Theory decided to break it down and see just how many ways you can make a fresh cup of java while car camping or backpacking in the backcountry.

Ready to get your morning buzz? Here’s your official guide to brewing the best camp coffee.

7 Ways to Make the Best Camp Coffee

1. Instant Camp Coffee

Instant coffee is the best way to brew a cup of coffee while backpacking because it’s easy to pack, dissolves completely, and creates one tiny piece of waste. No coffee grinds, filters, or extra beans to worry about storing! Instant coffee is nice and easy for car camping too, but we prefer one of the methods below if we have more time and space.

We love Alpine Start for a solid cup of instant coffee. Their Dirty Chai and Coconut Creamer Latte are especially amazing, plus their coffee is strong and makes a larger cup than other instant coffees we’ve tried.

We’re also fans of Maxim Gold Instant Coffee. It’s only $25 for 100 packs and it already has a little non-dairy creamer and sugar mixed in.

Other instant coffee favorites:

2. Coffee Brew Bag

Similar to the instant coffee above but taking it a step further into “real” coffee territory, coffee brew bags are on the rise. What’s a brew bag you ask? It’s basically like a tea bag but filled with coffee grounds. We’ve been loving Highside Coffee’s sustainably sourced Guatemalan brew bags. They make it a cinch to brew fresh (not freeze-dried) coffee on the go whether you’re road tripping or camping with no equipment needed.

3. Camping Coffee French Press

Using a french press to make your camp coffee is an easy method when you are car camping or traveling in a van and have enough storage space. We recommend a stainless steel french press rather than a glass one for camping so you don’t have to worry about it breaking.

The Stanley Adventure All-In-One Boil + Brew French Press is our choice for car camping. It’s lightweight, durable, and we love that you can boil water right in the pot, then simply add coffee and press.

Or, if you have a JetBoil you can buy a French Press attachment that can turn your JetBoil into a French Press. This is a good option for backpacking since it doesn’t require you to require much extra weight. Just remember to follow Leave No Trace Principles and pack out your coffee grounds.

To make the best french press camp coffee, simply boil water, let it sit for up to a minute so it comes down to just below boiling temp, then add your coffee grounds, stir, let steep for 4 minutes, and enjoy!

Other camping coffee press options

Stanley french press // 6 options for making the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.
Using the Stanley All-in-one Boil & Brew French Press

4. Camping Percolator Coffee Pot

Also known as Cowboy Coffee, a percolator is a great way to make camp coffee. When you want to brew a big pot or make coffee for a crowd, a coffee percolator like this one from GSI Outdoors will help keep everyone caffeinated (it makes 14 cups!). GSI Outdoors also makes a 6-cup version if you’re looking for something not quite as big. Coffee percolators are great for large groups and it’s nice that everything happens in one pot.

GSI camp coffee percolator for making a big pot for large camping group

5. Aeropress Coffee Maker

You might already know our love affair with the Aeropress, if not, you can read all about the Aeropress in our review here. As far as brewing methods go, the Aeropress is our favorite coffee maker for a delicious cup of camp coffee on trail, in the van, and even at home. It makes a strong cup of coffee and clean-up is a cinch. Plus, it’s lightweight, inexpensive, and super easy to use.

The one downside of the AeroPress in my opinion is that it only makes 1-3 cups of coffee at a time so it’s not great for big groups.

AeroPress Coffee Maker // 6 options for making the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.
Making coffee in my AeroPress

6. Camping pour-over coffee

The classic pour-over is a quick and easy way to get your caffeine fix while camping. This simple setup only requires a mug and a pour-over filter, which are typically lightweight and easy to clean. However, consider yourself warned: uneven, rocky, or grassy surfaces are prime coffee spilling spots, so pour your camp coffee with care!

This pour-over coffee maker by GSI Outdoors is super lightweight and great for backpacking coffee.

If you want to make pour-overs while car camping, this durable Stanley pour-over coffee set comes with everything you need (minus the coffee). And if you’re camping with a large group, this Eureka camp pour-over coffee set will make it easy to make a big batch of pour-overs at once.

To make clean-up even easier, check out the Kuju Pocket Pour-Over Coffees. No need for a pour-over cup, simply open the packet, place the paper tabs over the rim of your mug, and pour hot water over the coffee grinds. These are a great option for backpacking coffee as well, just remember to pack them out with your trash to Leave No Trace.

7. Camp Espresso

If you’re really into coffee and only a morning double shot espresso will do, check out the GSI Outdoors Mini Espresso Set. This compact camp coffee maker is lightweight and portable, making it a great addition to any car camping adventure. It brews in only a few minutes and includes a double-walled cup to keep your espresso at the perfect temperature.

The Aeropress coffee maker, mentioned above, is great for making espresso at camp as well.

Tips for Making the Best Camp Coffee

Boil Water to the Right Temperature

The best way to boil water for your morning cup of camp coffee is with a portable camp stove like the Eureka Ignite 2-Burner Camp Stove. A good camp stove will last you for years of camping trips, and what’s nice about a 2-burner stove is you can start cooking breakfast while your coffee water boils.

If you’re making backpacking coffee or are looking for something more compact, the Jetboil Flash Stove is super efficient and boils water incredibly fast.

Once you get your water to a boil, let it sit for about a minute so it can cool slightly (the ideal temperature is between 195°F and 205°F which is just below boiling) before adding to your french press or pouring over your coffee maker.

Use freshly ground beans or high quality ground coffee

For some folks, freshly ground coffee is necessary for the kitchen and at the campsite. Not surprisingly, bringing whole beans will take up more room and you’ll need a manual camping coffee grinder to be able to grind coffee beans fresh at camp. So for freshly-ground coffee purists, grab the GSI Outdoors Java Mill, a lightweight and portable coffee grinder.

Otherwise, a bag of pre-ground coffee will for sure get the job done. For an easy space-saver, pre-measure the coffee beforehand so that you only bring what you need – this especially applies to backpacking coffee where you want to pack efficiently.

Dispose coffee grounds properly

In every situation, it’s important to dispose of all trash and food scraps in accordance with the Leave No Trace Principles. If you have leftover coffee grounds from brewing coffee while backpacking or car camping simply bring a sealable bag or container to store them in until you can properly compost them or dispose of them in a trash can. This ensures the area will be just as you found it and that you won’t attract hungry critters looking for a caffeine fix.

6 ways to make the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.

What is your favorite way to make camp coffee? Have you tried any of the coffee-making gear recommended in this post? Leave a comment below!

6 ways to make the best camp coffee with easy, lightweight options for backpacking, plus the tools you need for a strong and tasty cup.

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  1. Thanks for the tip on the Alpine Start coffee. Had not heard of that one yet, and am always looking for new java ideas for the peaks and trails. Have been using Starbucks Via packets, which are good for a decent 8 or 9 ounce hit.

    Actually, cowboy coffee is made without the percolator, usually in a simple pot. Pour the ground coffee into the pot with the boiling water, set aside until it is thick enough to wake you up, pour a cup, and strain out most of the grounds with your teeth. Some people swear that if you drop a few eggshell pieces into the mix when it is finished brewing, the grounds will settle to the bottom. Others will add a small amount of cold water to do the same. The rest of us just “grin and bear it.” Some of the best high-country coffee moments I have experienced have been with this method, but the grounds are “interesting” to the uninitiated.

  2. Coffee is a must for me. I still hike with a small Moka Stove top (I’ve heard it called an Italian press before). It’s heavy but very durable and reliable. For me it’s closer to a espresso than drip coffee. With that said, I can’t wait to try the aeropress on my next hike.

  3. 1l stainless steel french press for car camping, and mostly VIA for backpacking (or at least afternoon coffee).

    Have the Jetboil press for morning backpack coffee, but always wondered how to dry the grounds enough to hike them out.

    1. Hi Ian, sounds like a great setup! We’ve mostly stuck to instant coffee on backpacking trips to reduce the amount of “stuff” we’re hiking out with, but you may consider a small ziploc for coffee grounds – won’t dry it out, but will keep it easily contained to do so upon your return.