Camp Coffee Showdown: The Best Ways to Make a Cup of Joe
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On a recent trip to Terlingua, Texas, my family and I decided to skip the camp kitchen and eat at nearby restaurants. “But what about coffee?” my sister asked. “We can leave the Dutch oven, but we’ve got to have coffee!” Don’t worry—just because you’re roughing it or could be miles from civilization doesn’t mean you have to skimp on your coffee fix.
When I was in college as an art major, I accidentally enrolled in a chemistry class for premed students. I didn’t make it to midterms before dropping; the question that put me over the edge was whether coffee was a solution or a mixture. Fortunately for us caffeine lovers, you don’t need a biochemistry degree to know that coffee is made up of two things – coffee grounds and water. It’s the way that you make it where you can tailor it to your taste or preference.
There are many ways to brew your perfect cup of joe while camping, including drip, pour-over, French press, AeroPress, and espresso. Let’s start by taking a look at the options.
Drip coffee is the most traditional brew method for coffee. Think of your coffee pot on the counter—it is probably a drip coffee maker. This is the least involved brewing method. All you have to do is add your grounds, add your water, and turn it on. The coffee maker does the rest. The downside is you have little control over the flavor or strength.
With a pour-over brew, you’re a bit more in the driver’s set. Using the same basic setup as a drip coffee maker, you pour hot water over your grounds and let them filter into a carafe below. The slower the water moves through the grounds, the more the flavors are extracted. A pour-over method also allows you to make a cold brew.
Coffee made with a French press is typically stronger and more full-bodied. Hot water and coffee grounds are allowed to mix together for as long as you choose before a plunger works to push down the grounds and separate them from the brewed water. In the French press method, much more of the oils are drawn from the coffee grounds giving the beverage a more intense taste. A downside? Because the French press uses a screen instead of a finer-woven filter, it can be a little gritty.
The Aeropress makes a smooth cup of coffee with low acidity and bitterness. It’s a mix of pour-over and a French press—you pour water over the grounds and through a filter, then use a plunger to extract every last drop. The Aeropress has the advantage of having a super easy cleanup, which is a great way to make coffee while camping. It can also make espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes.
Espresso is a way to make coffee by pushing hot water through the grounds at high pressure and speed. It has a robust flavor and is served in small portions. An espresso maker requires power to run, so this is best for days when you’re hooked into shore power.
So, how do you know which method of camp coffee is right for you?
The thing about camp coffee is you have to consider all of your variables to land on the perfect method that fits your lifestyle. Do you want your coffee to be fancy or super simple? Will you have power? If you are dry camping, odds are a coffee maker that has to run on electricity isn’t going to cut it.
These days, there is a lot of coffee gear out there that makes caffeinated camping so much easier and nicer than it once was. Gone are the days of cowboy coffee (boil water and coffee together, strain through your teeth). My personal favorite option is the Aeropress. I like it because I prefer to dry camp, and I like how low-effort it is.
No matter how you prefer to brew it, I can almost guarantee that someone in our community has tried it. Here’s some of the Campendium community’s favorite coffee gear.
No Power Required
Pour Over (Stainless Thermal Carafe & Travel Brewer)
Those searching for a big pot of coffee without a lot of cleanup will find the Stainless Thermal Carafe convenient. Scott and Jamie say, “We loved our French press coffee maker, but it required a lot of water to clean up, and coffee grounds would always go down the drain. We found the Melitta pour over 10 cup coffee maker with stainless steel carafe makes great coffee and is easy to clean up with regular cone filters. The carafe keeps the coffee hot, so no need to use the microwave to reheat.”
The Travel Brewer is also great but is best for those who want only one or two cups.
French Press (Double-Walled and French Press Coffee Maker)
A French press produces a unique flavor and texture, and many people love to bring that taste with them camping. The Boundless Baker says that this is their favorite. “Coffee is a big deal in our tiny home on wheels. Since we boondock a lot, using a traditional drip system isn’t always that convenient. All the French press needs is some hot water and freshly ground coffee beans. We save on the generator gas, only need a little propane to boil the water, and the coffee just tastes better. It’s a win-win!”
Those who want the French press flavor without the cleanup find the Clever Coffee Dripper a win. Kerri and Tim say, “Our ideal morning coffee is from a French Press, but the cleanup wastes too much precious water for our small tank. We found the perfect compromise of a quality brew and a fuss-free process in the Clever Coffee Maker, which, unlike a standard pour-over, has a plug that lets your coffee steep for a few minutes (like a French Press) before placing it over your mug to drip. After brewing, we just toss the grounds in the paper filter, and we’re done!”
Fans of Chemex will find this Kalita Wave a camper-friendly option. Skyler and Tori list it among their favorite gear saying, “The Kalita Wave is our primary coffee brewing method. It uses a paper filter and is very similar to a Chemex. Unlike a Chemex, it’s much more friendly for travel because it’s stainless steel instead of glass! We place it on top of a carafe, put the paper filter in place, drop in our coffee, and then add water. It’s much less clean up than a French press, makes two large cups of coffee, requires no power, and is nearly indestructible!”
As I mentioned above, AeroPress is my favorite for its taste and convenience. Marshall lists it among his favorite gear too. He says, “It’s simple, light, compact, and makes a cup of coffee. Exactly what I need for my tiny house and non-discriminating taste when it comes to coffee.”
The Rumble Jar is one of the least demanding pieces of coffee gear out there, which is one reason why Nathan and Winter love it. They said, “After considerable research and multiple attempts, I found the Rumble Jar, which requires nothing but water, coffee, and a shake around noon. By the next morning, it’s just me and a tall cold cup of saving $5 at the local nitro cold brew tap.
When you have electricity, you have more options for making coffee, but sometimes electric coffee makers can be big and bulky. The Nespresso Pixie is perfect for espresso in tight places. Leigh and Brian said, “The Nespresso Pixie is the perfect sized coffee maker for small space living, and we use it every day that we’re plugged into shore power. The only down-side is we have to plan ahead and mail-order our pods, but we prefer the flavor of the coffee over the Keurig, and it’s really easy to keep clean.”
Sometimes you just want a coffee maker to do all the work of creating that perfect morning brew. Like the Nespresso Pixie, the Capresso Coffee Maker is a great choice for tight spaces. Brad and Maggie said, “Once we downsized into our travel trailer, we knew we needed a different coffee maker that could fit in a smaller kitchen cabinet. This 5-cup maker is a perfect size, plus it can be programmed to auto-start (when you’re plugged into shore power) and has its own basket filter, so you don’t need single-use filters.”
Kettles are used with pour-over coffees, teas, and many other things. The curated Campendium gear page has a few different options to choose from, each recommended by a community member.
Leigh and Brian said, “Coffee Gator Pour Over Kettle has the perfect spout for making pour-over coffee, and it also has a built-in thermometer, so you don’t overheat your water. This also comes in handy for making tea.”
Marshall said, “With the Aeropress, you need some way to heat water. Since I don’t have the ability to use an electric kettle (I boondock all the time, so no sipping from shore power), I use this really slick, stainless steel tea/coffee/whatever kettle.”
We want to hear from you—what is your preferred way to make camp coffee? Leave us a note in the comments!