When you embark upon a backpacking trip, you bring with you only the essentials: clothing, shelter, food, water - and of course coffee.
There’s no Starbucks at the top of a mountain or in the backcountry - and this escape from modern urban life is one of the reasons we love backpacking so much. However, just because you’re spending the weekend in the woods doesn’t mean you have to spend the weekend without coffee.
The popular method for coffee in the backcountry is cowboy coffee, in which ground beans are added directly to boiling water and drank without any filtering. If, like us, you prefer not to drink your coffee grounds, you don’t have to settle - there are methods for brewing smooth, ground-free coffee on the trail.
A good cup of coffee can be yours to enjoy while camping and hiking. So grab your camp chair (need one? try our Lightweight Folding Camp chair), boil some water, and follow one of the methods below to brew fresh coffee on the trail.
A few reminders:
- Always pack your trash out. Do not toss your coffee grounds in the wilderness.
- If you’re backpacking in bear country, keep your coffee stored in your bear can or bag. The aroma of the coffee grounds may attract bears to your site.
If you prefer your coffee exactly how you make it at home, there are methods for making drip coffee without a traditional coffee maker. Ideally, you want to purchase a small, packable drip coffee maker, such as this GSI Outdoors Collapsible Drip Coffee Maker, which you can use to filter coffee directly into your mugs or camp kettle.
However, you can make fresh drip coffee with no extra gear. All you need is boiling water, coffee grounds, a clean handkerchief, and a mug! This article from Art of Manliness will guide you through the steps on how to filter your coffee with a handkerchief or other permeable piece of cloth.
While many of us coffee lovers initially turn our noses up to instant coffee, these portable packets are worth considering for backpacking. All you need to do is add boiling water: no grounds to dispose of and no coffee filter or press needed.
Additionally, the small packets barely weigh an ounce and pack easily into any backpack. Ounces matter while backpacking, especially on multi-day trips, and instant coffee offer the perfect compromise between a lightweight pack and a good cup of joe.
Many companies now sell free trade organic coffee, so choosing instant coffee does require you to compromise your values or tastes.
For a true coffee connoisseur, miniature espresso makers (such as this one from GSI) offer a portable alternative for freshly brewed espresso. You can even make a latte by following this guide from Trails.com on how to make your own latte while camping!
This method is best suited for car camping, when you can easily bring milk, a kettle, and other gourmet cooking tools with you. If you prefer a more minimalist approach to backpacking, espresso may not be the best method for you.
French Press Coffee
JetBoil makes a Coffee Press that fits perfectly onto their Personal Cooking System (PCS). This press is lightweight and packs directly into your Jetboil PCS, so you’re not carrying a significant amount of extra gear. The only downside to this system is that you make the coffee in your JetBoil and cleaning out the grounds can be a hassle in the backcountry.
Traveling coffee press mugs combine an insulated coffee mug with a French press to minimize space and weight. These mugs are a great option for solo backpackers or those who want French press coffee without having to purchase a separate press. Try this GSI Outdoors Commuter Java Press, which makes 15 ounces of coffee and weighs 9 ounces.
While the French Press method works well for backpacking with many lightweight press options, you do need to carry extra gear and pack out the grounds.
What if I Don’t Like My Coffee Black?
Coconut oil gives coffee a creamy texture and adds much-needed calories for long hikes. Coconut oil is ideal for the backcountry, since it requires no refrigeration, is easy to pack, and has a long shelf life. The hot coffee will melt the oil, so simply brew, stir in a teaspoon of coconut oil, and enjoy.
Some instant coffee options include cream and sugar in the packet, such as Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee with Creamer and Sugar. There’s no need to pack additional ingredients, which means these packets are the minimalist backpacker’s dream for a little something extra in their coffee.
Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, you can enjoy your daily cup (or two) of delicious hot coffee while also enjoying the great outdoors. Because let’s face it, coffee makes everything better - even the great outdoors.