How to Make Camp Coffee - Brew Your Favorite Coffee at the Campsite

How To Make Coffee While Camping

Most people are particularly attached to their morning rituals, and especially with their morning coffee. Whether you rely on coffee to get you moving in the mornings, or if coffee is how you mentally relax and prepare yourself for the day ahead, coffee lovers may worry about how to feed their inner caffeine fiend when they are out in the wild. So once you climb out of your bag and figure out what to wear for the day, we have you covered on the morning Joe.

Fortunately, coffee has been part of human culture for hundreds of years, well before modern electricity and coffeemakers, so this problem has already been solved thousands of times by different cultures and in different climates.

Today, we have a lot of great ways to make sure that coffee lovers can enjoy coffee with their campfires. In fact, there are so many options for how to make coffee when camping that we’ll cover several approaches to help you find the method that works for you.

We will go into different coffee-making methods, equipment, and techniques below, but whatever method of brewing you choose …

You Will Always Need

Coffee

If you are a true devotee, you may even want to bring whole coffee beans and a grinder, so you can grind your beans fresh every day. However, if you are like most people, you will simply pack some ground coffee and bring it with you on your camping excursion. Keep in mind that if you are using pre-ground coffee, the size of the grind makes a big difference in how your coffee tastes, depending on your coffee-brewing method. It’s a good idea to first decide how you will brew your coffee while camping, and then choose the coffee grind that will work best for that method. Make sure you add your preference to a complete camping list for future use.

Boiling water

campfire coffee

Of course, you can easily boil water over a campfire, using a pot or even a (clean) tin can. You may also want to look at a dedicated water heating device like a Ghillie Camping Kettle, which has interior chambers for fire and water and pours from a spout just like a kettle. If you anticipate needing a lot of warm water for coffee, tea, or cocoa and don’t want to start and maintain a whole campfire, a smaller kettle like the Ghillie might be a good idea.

You can also get hot water kettles that draw power from a car cigarette lighter if that suits you better. Yet another alternative is to use an immersion heater that is also powered from a car cigarette lighter; you plug it in, wait for it to produce heat, and then simply drop it into a cold liquid and wait a few seconds for it to heat up. With all these options, there are many ways to get the water hot you need to make coffee camping.

Take Your Gourmet Coffee With You

You can make camp coffee at your campsite that is every bit as good as the coffee you make in your own kitchen, using nearly the exact same tools and processes. If you have perfected your at-home coffee experience, it’s actually easier than you may think to translate that experience and those flavors to your campsite and enjoy the coffee you love no matter where you are.

Gourmet Coffee Making Techniques When Camping

Cold Brew Coffee

Cold-brew is a favorite of coffee lovers and experts. This technique brews coffee gently and slowly, avoiding bitterness and drawing out the full range of flavors. It’s also incredibly easy to make, even when camping, and doesn’t require water to be hot at all. So if you want to skip boiling water, cold brew is a great option, and can also be made in large quantities, so you may only need to brew it once. Here’s how to make a cold brew when camping.

You Will Need

  • Coarsely ground coffee (ground at its most coarse setting)
  • Two sealable pitchers or containers to brew in
  • Cheesecloth or paper towels to strain through
  • A big rubber band (or something similar)
drip coffee

To Cold Brew Your Coffee

  1. Place your coarsely ground coffee in the bottom of a brewing pitcher
  2. Add cold water to the pitcher in a 1:8 ratio of water to coffee (in other words, 2 ounces of water for every tablespoon of coffee). Or make a stronger brew that you can later dilute with water before drinking
  3. Stir gently until all the coffee grounds are wet
  4. Close the container and leave the coffee for 18-24 hours
  5. When it’s done, strain the coffee through the cheesecloth into the other pitcher or container. It may be helpful to secure the cheesecloth with a rubber band to hold it in place while straining.
  6. Discard the grounds. You may want to strain it a second time through paper towels to remove finer grounds.

You can drink cold brewed coffee cold, iced, or make a stronger brew and add boiling water to heat it up before drinking.

Pour-over Coffee

Another favorite of experts and coffee aficionados is pour-over coffee. While cold brew is great for making coffee in advance for a crowd, pour-over is perfect for a single cup right when you need it. If you are a fan of this technique, you can easily enjoy it while camping.

You Will Need

  • Coffee that is ground medium or medium-fine
  • A coffee cup
  • A pour-over filter cone (there are collapsible pour-over cones made specifically for travel and camping)
  • Coffee filters of the right size for your cone

To Make Pour-over Coffee While Camping

  1. Bring water to a boil, then let it rest for a moment off the heat
  2. Place the filter cone over your coffee cup
  3. Place a filter inside the cone
  4. Add two tablespoons of coffee to the filter
  5. Pour the boiled water over the grounds to saturate them
  6. Let the coffee rest and bloom for a moment
  7. Pour enough water over the filter to fill your coffee cup

Pour-over coffee is portable, fast, and convenient, so it’s great for camping, and you don’t have to compromise any of the incredible coffee flavor or aroma that you’re used to at home.

Get a Travel Version of a French Press or Aeropress

If you love your French press or Aeropress coffee maker at home but worry that it’s too fragile to take with you on a campsite, look for a travel version. These kinds of coffeemakers are offered made of materials that are more rugged, more durable, and better suited to use at a campsite. These camping-friendly designs are used exactly the same way as their kitchen-friendly counterparts, and allow you to enjoy your favorite cup of coffee, no matter where you are.

Make Your Home on the Range

Making coffee outdoors doesn’t have to emulate your at-home coffee making techniques. Maybe you want your camping experience to be more traditional, and to make coffee camping with a campfire as they did in the Old West. If you like your coffee strong and rugged and want to make it over a fire, here are some ways to have great campfire coffee.

Classic Camping Brew Techniques

Percolator Coffee

The coffee percolator at the campsite is a classic image of the old west. Percolators are great for camping because they are durably constructed (often stainless steel), simple to operate and make great coffee. While percolators for home use have fallen slightly out of fashion in recent decades, they are incredibly versatile devices, and, because they “over-extract” the grounds, you can make coffee camping that is as strong as you like it.

make coffee camping

This fact that percolators are rugged devices that make very strong coffee is why we associate them so closely with camping and cowboys. However, they also make camp coffee that is prone to bitterness, which is why many modern gourmets opt for more delicate brewing methods. With a little care, however, you can avoid over-brewing, and enjoy delicious coffee from a percolator.

You Will Need

  • Coarsely ground coffee
  • A coffee percolator

The basket in your percolator has holes in it to brew the coffee. If your grind is coarse enough (recommended to avoid bitterness), the grounds will be too large to get out of the holes and mix into the water. If your grind is finer, you may need a paper filter to separate the grounds from the water. The right grind depends to some extent on your exact model of percolator.

To Make Percolator Coffee

  1. Add water to the percolator. You can make less than a full pot, but never over-fill the pot. The percolator will have a fill line somewhere, and it’s important to not go past that line.
  2. Add coffee to the percolator basket. Because percolators repeatedly extract, use less coffee per cup than you would with other methods. Add one tablespoon of coffee (ground) per finished cup of coffee, or a little more if you want it stronger.
  3. Place the basket inside the percolator and assemble and close the whole thing.
  4. Place the stainless steel percolator on your stove or fire where it has a medium amount of heat and wait for it to boil. It’s a good idea to watch it and not walk away.
  5. When you see the coffee percolating (bubbling up into the top), either turn down the stove or move the percolator to a low heat location. Reducing it to a “simmer” at this point is key to avoiding bitterness; you should see the coffee continue to bubble and the water darkens, but don’t keep it on higher heat than necessary.
  6. Let the percolator continue to work for 10+ minutes, or up to 15 minutes if you like stronger camping coffee.
  7. Remove it from heat, pour, and enjoy.

A percolator continually recirculates hot water through the grounds, extracting as much flavor as possible from the material. However, this can make the finished coffee bitter and acidic. Simmering it on lower heat after the initial boil, and lowering brew times, can reduce this bitterness and make a better-tasting cup of coffee. However, since people’s tastes differ so widely, and because different percolators have different properties, it will take some experimentation to learn how to make the coffee you prefer with a percolator. If you want to use this method for its ruggedness and simplicity, it’s a good idea to get your percolator early and experiment with grinds, temperatures, and brew times on your stove at home, rather than beginning to familiarize yourself with this method while on your camping outing.

Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy coffee is, as the name suggests, perfect for camping over a fire, and requires almost no equipment or preparation. It’s a great solution for people who don’t want to bring a lot of extras with them when they camp.

You Will Need

  • Finely ground coffee
  • A pot or kettle to boil water in

To Make Cowboy Style Coffee

  1. Bring water to a boil
  2. Move the kettle or pan off the direct heat, but keep it warm and just below simmering
  3. Add ground coffee directly into the hot water, adding 2 tablespoons for every 8 ounces of water
  4. Stir the grounds into the water
  5. Let the coffee rest for 2 minutes
  6. Stir it again
  7. Let it rest for another 2 minutes
  8. Pour coffee slowly off the top, allowing the grounds to remain settled on the bottom
coffee over campfire

There is a cowboy coffee controversy, as you might expect. Some advocate for a very coarse coffee grind, like cold brew, since the longer exposure to the water (compared with pour-over and drip methods) extracts more flavor. Some advocate for a fine grind to avoid bitterness. Since cowboy-style camping coffee is so similar in principle to ancient Turkish coffee-making techniques, which always use an extremely fine grind, finely ground coffee is probably the way to go. However, feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

Cowboy Joe does have the drawback that the grounds, whatever size they are, stay on the bottom of the pot, can get into your camping coffee cup, and can be a bit of a pain to clean up.

Use Instant Coffee Or Coffee Bags

You may choose to bring instant coffee on your camping trip, for no-fuss, no-muss convenience You can also get coffee bags, which have coffee in single-serve filter bags that work and look just like tea bags. The advantage of these methods is that they are fast and easy, and all you have to do is add hot water to have your camping coffee. There’s no lengthy or precise brewing, and cleanup is fast and easy.

Go Wild

Perhaps you find yourself out in the middle of nature and realize you forgot your camping coffee pot. It may happen but doesn’t need to be a crisis. Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention, and provided you have ground coffee and hot water, you can probably MacGyver something together to make it work. After all, you can’t let missing coffee lead to a poor camping trip.

Improvising Coffee While Camping

In a pinch, you can make coffee camping out of grounds and a clean sock, a bandana, or just about anything else that will act as a filter. Some techniques include putting grounds of coffee into a sock or a bandana, tying it into a knot, and immersing it in hot water. Or securing a piece of fabric to the top of a cup, pushing it down to make a pocket, and putting your grounds into the hollow. Then you can pour hot water over the grounds to brew the camping coffee. It may not be good coffee, but …

Espresso au Naturale

It may surprise you to learn that you can easily make espresso while camping, but you can. In fact, camping espresso makers that use manual pressure are compact, portable, require no power, and many of them make exceptional espresso. And, because they don’t require a paper filter, and grounds are compressed into a small puck, they require less stuff for you to bring and carry, and are easier to clean up than many of the other best camping coffee-making methods. If you love espresso, consider the following.

You Will Need

  • Very finely ground espresso beans
  • A camping espresso machine. These typically have a chamber for hot water, a basket for coffee, and one or more screen filters.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course, but this is generally how they are used.

To Make Camping Espresso

  1. Open up your espresso machine
  2. Fill the basket with your espresso grounds
  3. Tamp the grounds gently into place so they are level and slightly compacted. Generally speaking, grounds are not as tamped and compacted with these manual machines as they are with an electric espresso maker.
  4. Fill the water reservoir with boiling water
  5. Screw the espresso maker back together
  6. Invert the espresso maker over a cup
  7. Manually pump the espresso maker to add pressure
  8. When pressure is high enough, espresso will be forced out of the machine and into your cup
  9. Continue pumping until all the pressure (and all the espresso) is released

Camping espresso makers are rugged, portable, and simple to use. Most of them only allow you to make a single shot of espresso at a time, so this may not be the perfect method if you need coffee for a crowd, but it’s a great way to save space in your pack, make cleanup easy, and have delicious espresso no matter where you are.

Bonus: Froth milk while camping so you can make cappuccinos and lattes. You can get small, battery-operated milk frothers to take your camping coffee drinks to a whole new level. Or you can simply froth milk using equipment you probably already have at your campsite. Here’s how:

You Will Need

  • Milk
  • A tightly sealed container (a plastic bottle will work nicely)
  • A pot for heating

How to Froth Milk When Camping

  1. Pour the milk into a tight container or bottle. Do not fill it more than halfway
  2. Shake the container vigorously until it starts to bubble and froth, usually 30-60 seconds
  3. Pour the milk into a pot over a fire or stove and bring it to a boil, stirring to keep the froth from running over
  4. Remove from the heat and tap the bottom of the pan gently against the stove to firm up the foam
  5. Spoon the foam onto your coffee drink of choice

Even More Options for Coffee

Immersion Brew Coffee Maker

Immersion coffeemakers are available in compact, portable sizes for camping, and can be used for cowboy coffee and cold brew, and solve a problem common to both: loose grounds in the water. A French press is an immersion coffeemaker; the coffee is completely submerged in the water, and then filtered out before drinking. There are big immersion-style coffee makers designed for a cold brew that could easily be used with hot water instead or single-cup immersion coffeemakers that can be used one cup at a time. Whether they use mechanical filters like a French press or paper filters like a drip coffeemaker, immersion brewing is as easy as throwing grounds into the water, but makes filtering and cleanup easier.

Get Some Batteries

Finally, if you are really attached to your morning coffee and don’t mind making room for it on the campsite, there are battery-powered options for every a wide range of coffee preferences. You can get a battery-operated K-cup brewer, or a battery-operated drip coffee maker. Some of these battery-powered camping coffee makers are designed to be compatible with battery systems you may already have on hand, like battery systems that operate power tools and home appliances.

Things to Remember

Leave No Trace

The first and most important rule of camping is “leave no trace.” This means that whatever you bring to a campsite must be taken away with you. If you use a coffee-making method that creates trash in the form of k-cups, paper filters, or other waste products, you need to carefully store them until you leave your campsite and can dispose of them properly. This is why coffee-making methods that don’t require a filter or other waste items are strongly recommended, and methods that require single-use filters are not great for camping. Also, remember to take care of any empty tanks if using a gas-powered stove for camping.

how to make camping coffee

This raises the question of what to do with coffee grounds. Many people feel that ground coffee is not “trash,” in the traditional sense. They are biodegradable, and many acid-loving plants prefer soil that is enriched with used grounds. Many other people feel that coffee grounds fall under the auspices of “leave no trace,” and therefore should never be left behind at a campsite.

How NOT to Dispose of Coffee Grounds While Camping

  • Never dispose of your grounds in or near a local water source, like a river, stream, or pond. Do not use natural water to rinse out your coffee containers.
  • Never dispose of coffee grounds above the tree line
  • Never dispose of coffee grounds on hard, rocky, or impacted soil

Many people feel that coffee grounds if scattered gently over the soil in a bushy, brushy area, are doing no harm and can be disposed of in this way with a clear conscience. However, this should only be applied to small quantities of coffee grounds. If you are making 2 or more cups of coffee every day at a campsite where you will be for several days, repeatedly scattering your grounds on the soil greatly increases the acidity in that specific area. And be mindful that scattering coffee grounds near your camp may attract wildlife, who associate the smell with food. Scattering small quantities of coffee grounds probably does no harm, but does violate the Leave No Trace principle.

However, used coffee grounds are fully biodegradable, and therefore can be burned in a hot campfire. In fact, according to the EPA, the smell of burning coffee grounds may actually repel mosquitoes, so burning may be an ideal solution for many campers.

In other words, in most instances, your coffee grounds need to be packed out and taken with you for proper disposal.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are dozens of ways how to brew your favorite cup of coffee any time you need it, even while camping. And there are ways of making coffee outdoors that are not just delicious, but also environmentally responsible. Camp coffee is an especially amazing treat while on a cold-weather camping trip, sitting in the winter tent waking up. To make your camp outing easier and more enjoyable, choose a method that satisfies your coffee preferences, but that also doesn’t weigh down your pack, require a lot of fuel, or generate a lot of waste. With all these options, there is bound to be a perfect coffee solution for you.

  • February 4, 2019