The Ultimate Guide to Camp Coffee: How to Make the Perfect Cup

Satisfying view of pouring coffee with beautiful scenery

I’m an avid backcountry camper and self-diagnosed coffee addict. Thus, being able to make the perfect camp coffee isn’t a luxury, but a wilderness necessity. And that means I’ve tried it all: from grimey cowboy and instant coffee to a camping percolator and camping French press. 

Whatever methods you choose to explore, I’m confident you’ll find the perfect camping coffee maker for your next trip!

There are several ways to make camp coffee, and the method you choose will be dependent on how you like your coffee and the weight of gear you can carry. Use the table below to navigate to camping coffee makers & methods.

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Camp Coffee: Top Picks

This is a very long and comprehensive post. So if you want to skip right to the recommendations, here they are:

Best Camp Coffee Maker (OVERALL): AeroPress Camping Coffee Maker

Best Camp Coffee Maker for Backpacking: GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

Best Camp Coffee Maker for Canoe / Car Camping: GSI Java Press 30

Best Instant Coffee: Laird Superfood InstaFuel

9 Methods to Make Camp Coffee

AeroPress Camping Coffee Maker

Go Travel Coffee Press Black/Red

I’m going to start with the AeroPress Camping Coffee Maker because it is my absolute favourite way to make camp coffee.

A cross between a drip coffee maker, a pneumatic press and a plunger, the AeroPress delivers a smooth cup of coffee while still coming in a reasonably small, packable size.

Best For: Everything! It’s small enough to be used for backpacking trips, but its quality makes it suitable for canoe / kayak trips and car camping as well.

If you want to go super small, choose the AeroPress GO Coffee Maker, which is the travel size version.

Method: First, place the filter paper and then the coffee grounds into the base. Pour a little water in, and then pour water up to the top. (This is to degas the coffee grounds). Once you have the water in, wait 10-15 seconds. Then, use the plunger that forces water through the coffee ground, filter and out the other end of the base and into your coffee cup.

Clean up is super easy, because the plunger compresses all the coffee grounds into a near-solid disk. Just remove and toss in your garbage bag.

Camping French Press

A French Press is a super easy method to make coffee in the backcountry. A standard French Press is usually made from materials like glass or metal. However, there are a few companies that make French Presses suitable for camp coffee, by using lightweight and durable plastics.

One drawback from using a French Press is that you end up using a lot of coffee grounds, which all need to be packed out. For the same amount of coffee, the Aeropress requires fewer grounds.

Best For: Making coffee on short backpacking trips, car camping or paddling. They’re a little too large for long backpacking trips.

Method: A camping French Press works in the same way as a normal French Press. If you’re not familiar though, here are the steps. Fill the container with boiling water and coffee grounds and then use a plunger to press the grounds to the bottom of the container, trapping them. You can then pour your coffee into a cup, and the coffee grounds stay inside the container.

GSI Java Press 30

Java Press 30 oz Graphite

This French Press was designed by GSI Outdoors specifically for the backcountry. It makes almost 1 L of coffee and contains a silocone ring

The container itself is made of a shatter-proof plastic, and sits snugly in a nylon sheath, providing insulation. However, I’ve found that the sheath doesn’t keep the coffee warm for very long.

Check prices here: GSI Java Press 30

French Press // Boiler

Many manufacturers of integrated cook systems (i.e. MSR Windburner) offer a French Press attachment. This adds a relatively small amount of gear, since you would already be packing the stove and boiler.

Personally, I don’t like these at all. For starters, I try to avoid using a compressed gas stove whenever possible, as they’re difficult to recycle and often end up in landfill. Second, to make coffee with a French Press requires A LOT of grounds – grounds that need to be packed out afterwards.

That said, a lot of people – especially lightweight backpackers – really like this method. So I’ll include it in the list.

Best For: Backpacking, campers who already have an integrated cook system

Method: Use the integrated cook system to boil water. Once boiled, put the coffee grounds in the container. You can have a small flame until the container while it’s brewing to keep it warm, just don’t have it continue to boil. Finally, push down the plunger to trap the coffee grounds and pour the coffee into your camp thermos.

MSR WindBurner French Press Attachment

WindBurner Coffee Press Kit 1.0L

The MSR WindBurner Stove is a rockstar stove in all conditions, and the French Press attachment makes it a a lightweight camping coffee maker, wherein you brew coffee directly in the container that boils water.

Note that the French Press attachment is sold separately and you’ll need to already own the MSR WindBurner.

Check prices here: MSR WindBurner French Press Attachment

Jetboil Flash Cooker w/ French Press Attachment

The Jetboil Flash Cooker w/ French Press Attachment functions almost identically to the MSR WindBurner above (however you can buy both the stove and attachment in a bundle).

Check prices here: Jetboil Flash Cooker w/ French Press Attachment

Camping Percolator

The Percolator has long been the go-to camping coffee maker. I don’t personally own one, but the group I go canoeing with each October brings one (in addition to a few other methods – there are a lot of us). It has its charm, though I’d never choose to bring one myself since they are so large.

I’ve listed two below from companies I like, but you can probably find alternatives at any general camping goods store.

Best For: Car Camping, Base Camp, potentially Canoe Camping

Method: Fill the percolator with water and fill the basket with coffee grounds. Place over the fire / stove and boil until ready. The little plastic top is transparent, and you’ll see the coffee bubbling up to the top. When you see it bubbling up at a deep-coffee colour, it’s done!

GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator

This percolator comes in both 3-cup and 9-cup sizes and gets great reviews. The 3-cup one weighs about 476 g though, so it’s a bit heavy compared to other options.

Check prices here: GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator

GSI Outdoor Blue Enameled Steel Percolator

This one comes in an 8-cup size and weighs 567 g. It also gets amazing reviews and ratings, do people must like it.

Even though I’d probably never take on trip myself, I do love how classically-camping this one looks. Reminds me of summer camp.

Check prices here: GSI Outdoor Blue Enameled Steel Percolator

What do you do with the coffee grounds? You should always pack out all the food waste you bring into the backcountry. The only exception to this is if you have a small amount of coffee grounds and are cooking over a sizeable campfire, in which case you can burn the coffee grounds. You must ensure that have been completely burned and nothing but ash remains.

Pour-Over Stands

A camp coffee pour-over stand works the exact same it would in a boutique coffee shop, only these stands are durable and light enough for the backcountry.

There are a few upsides with pour-over stands make them one of my favourite methods for brewing coffee. For starters, the are lightweight and pack smaller than most of the other options on this list. However, they also produce a lot less waste than the instant methods.

However, they’re slow to use in comparison to instant options or Aeropress. The water trickles through slowly and you have to regularly top up the water. One my last trip we were making coffee for 8 people (and most of us drink 2 cups in the morning) and had two of these going. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the coffee made.

Best For: Backpacking

Method: Place a paper or cloth filter into the stand. Sit the stand on top of a thermos of coffee cup. Scoop in the desired amount of coffee grounds. Pour boiled water onto the grounds. You won’t be able to add all the water in at once, but as the water trickles through the coffee grounds and the filter, you can add in more water.

GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

Collapsible Java Drip Blue

This stand sits on top of your coffee cup and acts like a regular pour-over coffee maker you’d find at a cafe. It’s slightly bulkier than the one below, but since it packs flat I don’t really notice.

Check prices here: GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

GSI Ultralight Java Drip

GSI Outdoors - Ultralight Java Drip - One Color

I don’t like this one as much as the one above. Although it’s never happened, I always feel like if I pour the water wrong I’ll knock the whole thing over. Granted, I’ve only used it a couple times with friends.

Check prices here: GSI Ultralight Java Drip

Stanely Brew Pour Over Set

Although bulkier than the above, this is a really innovative approach to pour over coffee makers.

The coffee grounds and boiling water go in the top. There is a reusable filter in the top that allows the coffee to drip through and into the mug below, all while trapping the grounds in the top.

Check prices here: Stanely Brew Pour Over Set

Single Serve Pour-Over

If the pour-over stands above are too bulky for you, there is also an option for a single-serve (disposable) pour-over stands. I haven’t used them myself, but they

Instant Coffee

Instant coffee is a method I rely on more often than I care to admit. Instant coffee packets are lightweight and super packable, making them perfect for camp coffee. Where they fall short, however, is on taste.

Some instant coffee options just taste like bitter bean water. Fortunately there have been some major advances, and now there are some pretty decent instant coffee brands. I highly recommend Laird Superfood Instant Coffee (especially if you are non-dairy), but any of the ones below makes for a good cup.

Best For: Backpacking

Method: Typically, you just need to pour the powder into your coffee cup, add some water and stir. So easy! Though individual packets might differ slightly, so read the label before preparing.

Laird Superfood InstaFuel

This instant coffee is made of all-natural ingredients, with premium freeze dried Arabica coffee and a coconut creamer blend (made from coconut milk powder, coconut oil and coconut sugar). Check prices here: Laird Superfood InstaFuel

Alpine Start

This 100% Colombian Arabica instant coffee comes in individual packets, making it super convenient (while also increasing waste however). Check prices here: Alpine Start

Steeped Coffee

One step up from instant coffee is steeped coffee. You can actually buy coffee that comes in little steeping bags – exactly like you would for tea. This way, you can have a good cup of coffee in a lightweight, packable container – plus, you can easily control the strength of your coffee.

Best For: Backpacking

Method: Place the coffee bag in your mug and pour in hot water. Let steep for a few minutes (longer = stronger) and remove.

Cowboy Coffee

This is by far my least favourite method for making camp coffee. But, admittedly, there have been times on trip where we were in such a hurry and I was so tired that I settled for Cowboy Coffee.

Just add coffee grounds to hot water. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. In terms of equipment needed, cowboy coffee is the simplest way to make coffee while camping. Although, since the grounds don’t dissolve into the water, clean up can be a little messy, making it less ideal for backpacking or anywhere that you’d need to pack out your waste.

Best For: Campers who have lost all self-respect. Kidding. Anyone who is lazy and doesn’t want to buy instant coffee.

Method: There are actually a couple different methods for brewing camp coffee. I’ll include them all here, but I just use the first option.

Lazy Method

Add boiling water to your coffee cup. Pour into coffee grounds, stir and then let sit for a few minutes. The coffee grounds should sink to the bottom and hopefully won’t end up in your teeth.

Sinking / Skimming Grounds

Add coffee grounds to a boiling kettle. Place kettle over low heat and wait a few minutes. Coffee grounds should sink to the bottom of the kettle. Be careful not to agitate thee kettle when pouring the coffee into your mug.

You can also skim the grounds off the surface with a spoon before they have a chance to sink.

DIY Steeped Coffee

In this method, you essentially steep the coffee as if it were tea. Put the coffee grounds inside a cloth coffee bag (or bandana) and secure. Place in boiling water and “steep” your coffee. Remove the cloth coffee bag. Some people like this because they don’t get coffee grounds in their cup, but then you have to deal with cleaning a bandana or cloth – it just doesn’t make sense to me.

The Best Camping Coffee Mug: 4 Options

Once you’ve made the perfect cup of camp coffee, you’ll need an equally perfect camping coffee mug to keep it in. While all of the options below are excellent, the GSI Infinity mug is my favourite.

GSI Infinity Mug

The Infinity Mug by GSI is incredibly lightweight (only 3.5 oz). A hard plastic mug sits inside the neoprene sleeve, which insulates the coffee. My favourite feature is that the hand is collapsible, so it’s easy to pack. It’s also the cheapest coffee mug on this list.

The drawback to the neoprene sleeve is that it keeps the coffee hot for less than 30 minutes. I haven’t found it to be much of an issue though.

I’ve been using this mug since 2014, and although the plastic is scratched up from many drops, it’s still my go-to mug for almost every camping trip. Needless to say, it’s the best camping coffee mug in my opinion.

Check prices here: GSI Outdoors Infinity Mug

Yeti Rambler 14 Mug

The Yeti Rambler 14 Mug is a double-sealed vacuum-insulated mug. This means that, unlike the GSI Infinity mug above, the Yeti will keep your coffee warm for hours.

The downside to the insulation abilities, however, is weight. This mug comes in at 13 oz, making it almost a full pound in your backpack.

I also don’t like the fixed handle, because (unless you’re attaching it to the outside of your backpack) it’s awkward to pack.

Check prices here: Yeti Rambler 14 Mug

Hydro Flask 12oz Coffee Mug

This coffee mug by Hydro Flask is very similar to the Yeti Rambler above. It also used double-wall, vacuum-insulation to keep drinks warm (and can keep them warm for up to 6 hours).

This mug weighs 11 oz, so it’s a slight weight improvement over the Yeti Rambler. One nice feature of the Hydro Flask mug, however, is the soft exterior. I find it nicer to hold than a metal cup.

A common critique of this mug is that the plastic outer layer can separate from the rest of the mug over time. And the vacuum sealed lid isn’t reliable. But if you use it with care and don’t pack it full of liquid, you should be fine.

Check prices here: Hydro Flask Coffee Mug

CamelBak Mag Chute

CamelBak Chute Mag Vacuum Water Bottle - 20 fl. oz. Olive

I absolutely love the CamelBak Mag Chute for canoe trips or car camping.

For starters, it is indestructible. I have dropped it everywhere and, besides a few scratches on the bottom, it is completely intact.

But what makes this thermos fantastic is that how good the insulation is (it’s almost too good). After I’ve had my cup of coffee in the morning, I’ll pour another cup, seal the lid and pack up camp. At 11 am when I want a little caffeine boost, the coffee is still piping hot.

As much as I love this thermos, however, it’s darn heavy at 11 oz (though actually not as heavy as the Yeti mug). That’s why I normally don’t bring it on hikes or backpacking trips.

Check prices here: CamelBak Mag Chute

Camp Coffee Recipes: Spicing Up Your Cup

Unless you’re keen on black coffee, here are some ideas on how to flavour your coffee in the backcountry:

If you like milk: Milk won’t keep on long trips, however you can bring powdered milk. You can put a spoonful directly in your coffee cup and stir.

If you like creamer: CoffeeMate has some good options for powdered coffee creamers. I also like Laird Superfood Creamers, which are made with all-natural ingredients and flavoured with coconut and cocoa.

If you like flavoured creamers: The bulk-sized CoffeeMate Flavoured Creamer 1.5 L doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You can pump some creamer into a travel-sized bottle.

If you like a flavoured kick: Another cream that doesn’t need refrigeration, this is a great option for evening coffee.

If you like to keep it simple: Bring some sugar and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to sprinkle on tip.

Camp Coffee: Final Thoughts

I hope this post has been helpful and has introduced you to some new way to make coffee on camping trips! There a ton of camping coffee makers to choose from, but I hope this has narrowed it down for you. If in doubt, here are my two favourite:

Overall: AeroPress Camping Coffee Maker

Canoe Camping: GSI Java Press 30

Backpacking: GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

Instant Coffee: Laird Superfood InstaFuel


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2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Camp Coffee: How to Make the Perfect Cup

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  2. KMAC says:

    For cowboy coffee I add the coffee and water at the same time, bring to a boil, let settle, then drop in some cold water. The grounds should fall to the bottom.
    I own two double-walled titanium mugs, one with a handle and one without, which are insulated and super light.

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