How To: Make a Great Cup o’ Joe While on the Trail

By Carolyne Whelen,

A horror story a friend of mine once told me: He had planned a camping trip with a couple friends, each person responsible for different aspects of the trip. The person who was in charge of coffee thought the brewing apparatus was too heavy and bulky to bother bringing. My friend is the type of person who can’t talk until that first cup of gold, and walked ten miles into town to find a gas station that could supply his needs.  Now, he never travels without his own small stash of coffee.

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There are many ways to make coffee on the trail, and the best option depends on what sort of camping (or glamping!) you’re enjoying, what kind of coffee you like, and other factors such as cost, sustainability, weight, and bulk.

  1. Starting at the most rudimentary, there’s Cowboy Coffee. Just pour grounds directly into your hot water, let sit for a few minutes, and carefully pour into your mug. Pour slowly, so that the majority of the grounds stay at the bottom of the pot, rather that making it into your mug (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
  2. The DIY tea bag method. Fill coffee filters with as much coffee as necessary for your needs (if you’re not sure, a good rule is one scoop, or two tablespoons, per cup of coffee), tie with thread or unflavored dental floss, and toss into a pot of near-boiling water. Let steep for about 4 minutes and enjoy.
  3. Pour over coffee is lauded in 3rd wave coffee communities as both an art and a science that produces a very clean tasting cup of coffee. There is a lot of measuring and some expensive equipment such as a gooseneck kettle involved. It’s also a very simple and lightweight way to make coffee on the trail. Devices that sit on top of your coffee mug can be found at most grocery stores. There are ones that are cone-shaped and require a filter, such as this V60 or this GSI, and others that are dome-shaped with a mesh bottom that do not require a filter. Simply pour your water slowly over the grounds an voila, great, simple coffee.
  4. Another deceptively simple coffee method is the Aeropress. This is a plastic cylinder that uses pressure to expel the coffee from the grounds. You can either use disposable filters or a reusable mesh one, which is easier on the trail because of minimal packing in and packing out. Plenty of videos are available on YouTube to help walk you through the process, but once you try it the mystique will be gone and you’ll likely have a new favorite method of campside coffee.
  5. Finally, the old man in the corner is the time tested moka pot. These heavy, durable pots have been around for ages, and make a distinctive coffee that is almost closer to espresso. They come in all sizes, but since they’re made of aluminum, the smaller the lighter. Water goes in the bottom chamber, coffee grounds go on a metal filter above the water, and as the water boils, it pushes through the coffee grounds and in the top chamber of the put is your dark nectar. There are also models with a spout and tray to pour the coffee right into a small cup. This is a very barebones and, in my opinion, rather romantic way to brew coffee the way our grandparents did.
carolynewheelerABOUT: Carolyne Whelan is an adventurer and freelance writer who usually hangs her hat in a camper. When she isn’t working as a bike mechanic in Pittsburgh, PA, she can be hard to locate without a compass but is most easily found at her blogs Lifting Weights at Midnight and Roadside Fires Burning. Her poetry can be found at carolynewhelan.com.