If you’re a coffee addict, don’t stress! You’ll be a bush barista in no time with this guide to the best lightweight ways to brew an outdoor coffee on the trail.
Nothing makes you feel like more of a city-rat than a caffeine headache hitting you halfway through the first day of your weekend expedition. Those mid-afternoon coffee runs that helped you escape the office are now ruining your attempts to escape the city limits. So what can you do? You can probably get fired for too many kips at the desk so quitting the bean is out of the question. Looks like the coffee is coming along for the ride!
Before I begin I’d like to make it clear that I’m not even considering instant coffee as an option. We Aussies preach on about having the best coffee in the world but we’ll quickly lose that if we start chugging Blend 43 as soon as we’re 50 clicks from a cafe. Some of the simplest and most portable ways to make coffee produce a refined, regret-free brew that makes them the perfect companion for a trip to the back country.
These are my favourite ways to make a decent cup of coffee on the trail:
The humble plunger is just as reliable in the bush or on the kitchen bench and will give you a great cup with minimal hassle. You’ll be best off finding a metal or plastic one as glass is too heavy and fragile for the trail. GSI make a mug with a built in plunger for hiking and Jetboil even make a custom plunger for their stove and pot sets so you can boil and plunge in one go!
- Super simple and durable
- Camping specific plungers are often built into a cup.
- Reusable metal filter
- Too bulky and heavy for extended backpacking.
- Some trail-appropriate plungers have dodgy filters that give a grainy brew. No one asks for their coffee “chewy”.
Mini Stovetop Espresso
I bought one of these before backpacking in South America and honestly you could have mugged me and taken my passport over this baby. GSI have been making the same simple design for decades because it works.
- Espresso in 90 seconds
- Small and not too heavy (233g)
- Rustic design draws a crowd
- That crowd wants you to “just make them one”
- Annoying for making multiple coffees as the whole device gets very hot
- A bit pricey
If you’re a bit of a trail hipster then the AeroPress might be for you. It’s dead easy to make a cracker cup of coffee with this method but have a few practice runs in the backyard so you’re dialled on the trail. It uses a tube within a tube to force the coffee through a filter and it’s all BPA free plastic with a few simple parts. Get squeezing!
- Strong and packable
- Uber smooth coffee
- It makes up to 4 cups at once (so you can get the whole crew out of the tent for sunrise)
- Easy to clean
- It requires a stable mug to press the coffee into
- You’ll have to keep the filter papers dry and carry them out with you (but you can get a reusable metal filter that saves you the trouble!)
- Bigger and heavier than some plungers and has the most parts to keep track of
Pour Over Coffee
Pour over coffee requires one simple piece of plastic and a filter. Cheering! I know baristas who use this method at home but you’ll have no trouble getting your fix at camp. Just make sure you can pour your hot water smoothly out of a vessel or you’ll end up sleepy, sad and singed.
Oh and if you’ve gone and got yourself an AeroPress you can use it for this method as well!
- Single piece of plastic is simple and lightweight
- Cheapest option around
- Makes the AeroPress hipsters look mainstream
- Not the most stable option if the weather turns sour
- Requires dry filter papers like the AeroPress
- Strange bulky shape (although being a bush barista you might want to clip it to the side of your pack to show off anyway)
The best type of Coffee to bring
Freshly ground coffee. The kind and grind is up to personal preference and the device you choose. Basically I’m drawing the line well before taking a grinder along for your next microadventure. We can have some self-restraint can’t we? For those purists that insist on freshly ground, the Porlex Mini Coffee Grinder has an adjustable grind and fits inside an AeroPress, but you’ll be adding a fair bit of weight for the privilege.
Used grounds: bag or bush?
If you’ve used filter papers squeeze them dry and pack them out* with your other rubbish. Coffee grounds have a neutral pH, a healthy 2% nitrogen and compost like nothing else so scatter them in a bush or bury them so they can become part of the soil. Just keep away from water sources! If you’re in an alpine region, gorge or arid environment this won’t be the case so plan ahead and bring some ziplock bags to take them with you when the brewing’s done.
There’s something inherently satisfying about making a good camp coffee, and it’s not just C8H10N4O2 ** entering your bloodstream. Running the camp café is a special kind of challenge, a champ move for your mates and hell, it’ll probably make you a few new ones.
* Packing an item out literally means putting it in your pack and carrying it out with you.
** Chemical formula for caffeine