Outdoors / Tips and Solutions

The Morning Grind: Camp Coffee


Java. Joe. Go Juice. Morning Jolt. Cupped Lightning. However you refer to coffee, the odds are pretty good it’s an integral part of your morning routine. Maybe even lunch, too. And let’s not forget the afternoon. Out on the trail or in the woods, you can’t just rely on your local barista to provide you with your favorite brew. All is not lost though, because there are many ways to prepare your favorite beverage in the great outdoors so you can get your fix—no matter how far from civilization you are.

Cowboy Coffee

This was the method preferred by those who made their living punching cattle over the open range. To enjoy your favorite hot beverage the same way the men who settled the West did, you need nothing more than water, coffee grounds, a pot to contain the mixture, and a heat source to warm it. Traditionally, a campfire was used, and that method still provides the greatest ambiance, but you can feel free to use a camp stove for this, as well. Preparation is simple: combine one heaping tablespoon of coarse grounds per cup with the appropriate amount of water, and place the pot on the fire. Bring the elixir to a boil, and remove it from the fire for a bit to let it cool. When the bubbles stop, give it a stir to send the grounds back toward the bottom, and put it back on the flames. Repeat this process twice more. After you have stirred it for the final time, drizzle some cold water on the top to “shock” the coffee and help the grounds settle. After a couple of minutes, pour everyone a cup and enjoy. A word of warning: watch out for the grounds on the bottom of the pot, or grow your mustache longer to strain them out.

DIY Individual Bagged Coffee Grinds

"Once you are in the field, it is as simple as making a cup of tea."

Sure, it requires some preparation at home, but once you are in the field, it is as simple as making a cup of tea. All you need is some paper coffee filters and dental floss to create individual servings, ready to brew. Add as much of your favorite grind as you would normally for a cup, and secure the top with the floss, leaving four or five inches on the tag end. You can use this excess length later to pull the grounds out when your cup reaches the shade of black to your liking. Cut off the excess filter and discard, and throw your baggies in with the rest of your camp kitchen equipment and foodstuffs. A variation of this is known as the Sock Method, where a (preferably) clean sock is substituted for the paper filter. The bonus here is that you can reuse (or wear) your filter over and over again, so you eliminate some of the waste. When you are ready for your fix, throw one of these in your mug with some boiling water and enjoy.

Reusable Coffee Filter

Moving a notch up the scale in classiness from the DIY Bags or Sock Method is the reusable coffee filter. Simply put, these are durable filters designed to brew directly in your mug. Typically, they are constructed of wire mesh and a high temperature rubber that can handle being immersed in boiling water. Brewing is conducted in the same manner as above, removing the device when your coffee has reached maximum enjoyability. Being reusable is good for the environment; while the grounds are biodegradable, the bags often are not. Models like the MSR MugMate Reusable Coffee/Tea Filter can be cleaned easily with even the slightest trickle of water, and be reused almost indefinitely. They are fairly lightweight, as well, making them a good choice for backpackers who are counting the ounces of every item they throw in their pack.

Campfire Percolator

This is probably the most iconic of all methods; think of a coffee pot being propped up on the fire’s edge with a forked stick. One of the big advantages here is that you can prepare enough for a large group, instead of a cup or two at a time. A big pot such as the Stansport 9-Cup Aluminum Percolator Coffee Pot makes this possible. Getting your brew to your proffered strength is easy—you just keep an eye on the glass bulb on top. When the water bubbling up reaches the right shade, pull it off of the heat and pour everyone a cup. To help keep it clean of soot from a wood fire, rub the base with soap before use. Instead of requiring a bunch of elbow grease when cleaning, the residue will rinse right off. You may also use these pots on your camp stove or in your house if the power goes out.

French Press

One method that has been favored by coffee snobs throughout time has been the French press. And why wouldn’t it be? Making a great cup of coffee using one is very simple; simply put coffee grounds in it and add boiling water. When it has steeped as long as you would like, depress the plunger to push the grounds to the bottom and pour a cup. While most of these devices consist of a glass vessel, others are decidedly more durable. The Primus LiTech Camp Coffee/Tea Press Kit is lightweight, yet sturdy enough to survive life on the trail. You can boil the water directly in it, something you can’t do with most household presses. The pot can also pull double-duty in other aspects of meal preparation, something glass cannot. It should also be noted that many use a coarser ground in this than they would in a drip coffee maker. The larger diameter helps prevent particles from slipping through the mesh and ending up in your cup.

Pour Over

There is no reason you can’t take your favorite cone-style coffee maker out in the woods with you. Sure, it is a little bulky, but it’s worth it when you’re enjoying that delicious fresh-brewed cup. And if this is your preferred method at home, there is no reason not to continue just because you are out enjoying nature. Just bring your cone with you, along with your favorite paper filters. Place the whole assembly on top of your mug, and add one heaping tablespoon of ground coffee.  Pour the boiling water over the top and enjoy. Repeat as many times as necessary for your part to be thoroughly energized.


This is the simplest method of coffee making, whether you are in the bush or in your kitchen. Simply boil water and add some instant blend according to the manufacturer’s directions. To be honest, I haven’t had a cup of instant in years. And my memories of it weren’t the fondest; though I must admit it is be better than nothing. Or maybe not—many in the military would take the instant mix from their Meal-Ready-To-Eat and make “Ranger Pudding” to get the caffeine and ensuing energy boost they needed. If these rough-and-tumble folks had a tough time stomaching a cup of instant, most of us stand little chance. I think I will stick to one of the methods mentioned above.

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Nice article!  Always love reading about coffee when I'm sitting around having a nice cup of coffee, myself.  One bit of advice, or tidbit of experience, if you've got to go with instant coffee, Starbuck's Via instant coffee is, by far, the best tasting instant coffee I've come across.  They work in a pinch!

Snow Peak makes a lightweight titanium French Press for backpacking, or if you like the AeroPress, as I do, that's easy to bring along. Add a compact hand grinder like from Porlex and you can bring whole beans and enjoy the very best of the best where ever you roam …