If you’re a coffee addict heading outback, don’t stress! You’ll be a bush barista in no time with this guide to the best lightweight camping coffee. From plungers and pour over, to portable espresso makers, there’s a camp coffee maker for everyone.
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’ll get fired for too many kips at the desk so quitting the bean is out of the question. Looks like coffee is coming along for the ride!
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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 just ’cause we’re 50 clicks from a cafe. Some of the simplest and most portable ways to make camping coffee produce a refined, regret-free brew that makes them the perfect companion for a trip to the backcountry.
These are my favourite ways to make an outdoor coffee while hiking and camping:
1. Plunger Coffee
The humble plunger (also known as a French Press) is just as reliable in the bush as it is on the kitchen bench and it’ll give you a great cup with minimal hassle.
You’re best off finding a metal or plastic version as glass is too heavy and fragile for the trail. GSI make a mug with a built in plunger for hiking and Jetboil even makes 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 or ultra lightweight backpacking
- Some trail-centric plungers can have dodgy filters that give a grainy brew. In this case, it pays to splurge, so you don’t end up with grainy ‘splurge’. No one asks for their coffee ‘chewy’.
2. 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 has been making the same simple design for decades because it works.
It’s written online that it’s for ‘gourmet backpacking’ and we can’t argue with that. The set, which includes a double-walled, stainless steel cup comes in its own foam case for heaven’s sake, so you know it’s going to emerge from the wilderness a heck of a lot shinier than you.
- Espresso in 90 seconds
- Small and not too heavy (233g)
- The 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
‘Ever since its inception in 2005, the original AeroPress has been a camping staple for backcountry baristas the world over’ – Mattie Gould
While offering a similar looking design, and the exact same tasting coffee, the AeroPress Go Coffee Maker is much more packable.
The whole thing, including the plunger, chamber, filter holder, stirrer and scoop all disappear into the cup, like some kind of Russian Coffee Doll. This means it’s much more suitable for the trails.
Did I mention it’s dead easy to make a cracker cup of coffee with this method? But it doesn’t hurt to have a few practice runs in the backyard so you’re dialled on the trail — another excuse for a coffee eh?
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
- 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 (AeroPress Go weighs 326g)
4. Pour Over Coffee
The pour over method requires one simple piece of plastic and a filter to make a tasty camping coffee. 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 already, you can use it for this method as well!
Our picks include the Sea to Summit X-Brew Collapsible Coffee Dripper pictured above. It weighs just 85g, and comes with a reusable mesh filter. It’s also one of the most pack-friendly setups with its collapsible silicone frame.
However. if weight is your number one priority and you’ve already zoned out when we mention grams in the double digits then the GSI Ultralight Java Drip Coffee could be for you. This thing weighs 9.07g. Yup, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, that’s a correctly placed decimal point.
The ‘legs’ on the filter also clip to nearly any mug, which helps free your hands for the pouring component. Camping coffee’s never been so simple!
- 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
- Can require dry filter papers like the AeroPress (however the Sea to Summit & GSI options above notably do not)
- Strange bulky shape (although being a bush barista you might want to clip it to the side of your pack to show off anyway)
5. Portable Espresso Machine
Wait, what? Yeah, I was shocked to learn about these too, and I suppose somewhat relieved to know I wasn’t the only one who’d wished there was an espresso machine at the trailhead.
Wacaco’s Minipress GR Portable Espresso Machine is on the other end of the scales to the GSI filter above, weighing in at 360g, so it’s probably going to be more enjoyed by car campers than hikers, but it’ll arguably make the most cafe-like drop of those listed here.
- A seriously legit coffee
- Heads will turn when you tell fellow hikers it’s not a Nalgene, it’s a coffee machine…
- The tamper sticks out at a right angle making it a little more awkward to pack
What’s The Best Type of Coffee to Take Hiking?
Freshly ground coffee. The kind of coffee and how coarse you grind it is up to personal preference and the device you choose.
For those purists that insist on freshly ground beans when making a camping coffee, 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 and they’re not cheap.
Used Grounds: Bag or Bush?
If you’ve used filter papers making your camping coffee you should squeeze them dry and pack them out with your other rubbish.
Coffee grounds have a neutral pH, a healthy 2% nitrogen and compost like crazy so scatter them in a bush or bury them so they can become part of the soil. Just be sure to do so well away from water sources!
If you’re in a sensitive alpine region, gorge or arid environment you should also take all rubbish with you. Plan ahead and bring some ziplock bags to take the grounds out with you when the brewing’s done.
There’s something inherently satisfying about making a good camping coffee, and it’s not just the 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.
Feature photo by @thetantrap