Camping trips are all about getting away from the responsibilities of our daily lives – kicking back, taking in expansive views, and enjoying good conversations around the fire. As part of that, we usually give up some of our creature comforts and temporarily eschew modernity.
But let’s be honest, there are just some parts of our daily routine that we can’t give up, not even for a long weekend. Yes, I’m talking about your daily cup of coffee; the bitter, caffeinated brew that makes being awake tolerable.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get your morning cup of Joe in the woods. It doesn’t matter if you’re camping in an RV or pitching a tent deep in the backcountry, there’s always a way to get your coffee fix.
How to Get the Best Brew
No matter which method you go with, there are a few things you’ll want to remember when making a cup of coffee at camp.
- Freshly ground coffee tastes better. You probably won’t bring a grinder with you, but you should grind your beans the night before or the day of your camping trip to ensure maximum freshness.
- Oxygen is bad for your coffee grounds; they should be stored in an air-tight container.
- The water used to make your coffee matters. If you are purifying with chlorine tablets, you can bet your coffee will taste terrible. Use a quality filter or pack the water you’ll use to make coffee.
7 Ways to Get Your Caffeine Fix at Camp
1. Instant Coffee
This is by far the simplest method and the best one for ultralight backpackers as it minimizes cleanup and doesn’t require you to pack anything heavy. Instant coffee grounds are derived from brewed coffee that has been freeze-dried.
It’s much more lightweight than ground coffee beans and can be rehydrated in seconds with a cup of boiling water. Some of the big coffee chains sell individual instant packets of their most popular roasts and there’s always the ubiquitous Nescafe. It is the best tasting? No, but it will get your through the day and is very convenient.
2. Coffee Singles
What if coffee came in a convenient brewing pouch, just like tea? Enter the coffee single. It really is just a tea bag filled with coffee. Mega-roasters like Folgers sell them, and I’ll be the first to say that their flavor is rather unpleasant. It’s a trade-off for the mess-free convenience that comes with steeping it for five minutes and then tossing the bag in the trash.
A better tasting option is to make your own by taking a couple tablespoons of coffee and placing it in the middle of a coffee filter.
Wrap the coffee filter around the grounds, fold the edges to create a good seal, and then staple it to keep everything in place. You’ve just created your own coffee single and since you’re presumably using freshly ground coffee, it will taste much better.
3. Cold Brew Concentrate
What could be more refreshing on a hot summer day than a delicious iced coffee? With a little bit of ice, some refreshing cold, filtered river water and a little bit of cold brew concentrate and you can have that iced coffee in under a minute. This method is even easier to prepare than instant coffee as it doesn’t require hot water.
If you’ve never tried cold brew concentrate, it’s the end result of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature water for twelve hours or more. It has less of an acidic taste, but also less caffeine. To make a cup of coffee from the concentrate, dilute it with two parts water.
4. French Press
This might be my favorite method for making camp coffee: the equipment involved isn’t too expensive, it’s very easy to use, and still makes a great cup. French presses designed for home use are usually constructed of highly-breakable borosilicate glass. Tap the sides too hard with a metal spoon and shards of boiling-hot coffee will be going everywhere.
Fortunately, presses designed for camping are made from plastic, which won’t crack when hastily jammed in a pack, but produces a decent cup of joe.
Toss some grounds in the bottom, pour hot water in, wait five minutes, press the plunger down and enjoy. Camping presses are compact and often double as a cup, so you’ll have no trouble packing one into the backcountry.
For many years the percolator was a necessity for every camper’s kit; rummage through your grandfather’s gear and you’ll probably come upon one. Open the percolator and you’ll find two compartments separated by a metal tube.
You fill the bottom compartment with water and the top compartment with coffee grounds. As the water boils, it will travel up the tube and then spill over the grounds before filtering back down to the bottom compartment.
It’s not a great choice for coffee snobs as the method recirculates prepared coffee back through the grounds, creating a bitter, over-extracted flavor. However, it’s a “set it and forget it system” which requires no effort beyond setup and pouring the coffee into your cup. Percolators are bulky too, so you’ll probably only use one while car camping.
6. Drip Method
The most common method for brewing coffee at home is also a great way to do it in the wilderness. Drip coffee makers for camping usually consist of a collapsible rubber cone with a flat bottom consisting of a filter.
Put a couple spoonfuls of coffee grounds on the filter, pour your hot water into the cone, and you’ll have a great cup of coffee in no time. The cones are easy to wash and weigh almost nothing, so they’re a great choice for long backpacking trips where weight and space come at a premium.
7. Cowboy Coffee
Long before we had all these fancy accouterments for brewing a cup of java, there were still plenty of people enjoying a morning coffee in the wilderness. In the absence of any gear, you can prepare a cup simply by throwing some grounds in the bottom of a mug, pouring boiling water over the top of it, and waiting a few minutes.
The grounds will sink to the bottom and as long as you sip carefully, you won’t swallow too much of the sediment. This is ideal for ultra-light packers that don’t want to carry any extra gear to make their coffee.
Everything Tastes Better in the Woods
There’s quite a few different ways to prepare your java, and some taste better than others. But remember that everything tastes better when you’re not worrying about work and have a panoramic view of the mountains.
A packet of low-quality instant coffee can be just as good as a pour over from your favorite barista when you’re enjoying the majesty of nature.