The Best Camping Coffee Makers

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Mmmmm, a delicious morning brew in the Java Press. The Java press did not come up on top in our taste tests, but the flavor is the distinctive murky flavor common with other French presses.
Credit: McKenzie Long
Nothing completes a morning quite like a perfectly brewed cup of Joe, and brewing is one of those morning rituals that many people don't like to go without, even if they are on vacation. Does backpacking mean you have to settle for yucky instant? Or (heaven forbid!) do without? Luckily for you fellow caffeine addicts, there are actually a number of ways to get your morning fix, and it doesn't have to taste bad either. We found some top market contenders and ran them through the gauntlet with several blind taste tests, took them along on backpacking trips, and used them on numerous mornings that started in a sleeping bag. Read on to see how they compare.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Camping Coffee Displaying 1 - 5 of 7 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Hario V60 Plastic Dripper
Hario V60 Plastic Dripper
Read the Review
Aerobie AeroPress
Aerobie AeroPress
Read the Review
Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone
Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone
Read the Review
GSI Collapsible Java Drip
GSI Collapsible Java Drip
Read the Review
JetBoil Coffee Press
JetBoil Coffee Press
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price $6.69
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Varies $25 - $30
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$1.86
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Varies $12 - $13
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$15
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100% recommend it (2/2)
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1 rating
Pros Gourmet flavor, well-thought out design, ceramic versions for at home use.Amazing coffee flavor, brews espresso complete with crema, very portable for such a gourmet result, simple cleanup.Lightest, simplest, and least expensive; hole to see level of coffee while brewing.Portable and packable, wide base fits on most camping vessels, like the GSI Fair Share mugLight, don't have to buy filters before each trip, makes good strong coffee
Cons Special shaped filters are harder to find, expensive for a plastic dripper, heavier than the Melitta version.A lot of little pieces to keep track of, on the heavy side for backpacking.Not as refined of a flavor as the Hario dripper.Does't result in best flavor, twice as heavy as other pour-over makersClean up process requires water and takes your stove "offline" while making coffee
Best Uses Camping, backpacking, everyday use.Camping, traveling, everyday use.Backpacking, camping, everyday use.Backpacking, car-camping, group camping, any time you have limited space and a driving need for fresh-brewed caffeineBackpacking and camping near a water source
Date Reviewed Aug 23, 2012Aug 23, 2012Sep 30, 2011Aug 23, 2012Oct 13, 2010
Weighted Scores Hario V60 Plastic Dripper Aerobie AeroPress Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone GSI Collapsible Java Drip JetBoil Coffee Press
Taste - 40%
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Weight - 15%
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Ease Of Use - 20%
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Portability - 15%
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Group Cooking - 10%
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Product Specs Hario V60 Plastic Dripper Aerobie AeroPress Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone GSI Collapsible Java Drip JetBoil Coffee Press
Weight 2.94 oz press alone: 7.98 oz press + spoon and stirrer: 9.39 oz. 2.01 oz. 4.76 oz. 0.8 oz
Brew Type Pour Over Espresso Pour Over Pour Over French Press
Materials Hard plastic BPA free co-polyester Hard plastic Silicone Hard plastic
Notable Features Cone shape, large hole, ribs along side Easy to clean, re-usable filter Can see cup without lifting dripper Collapsible for easy storage and portability Turns your stove into french press
Notes Makes strong, smooth coffee Eliminate bitterness while keep good flavor Coffee is weaker than with the Hario dripper Flavor is on the sour side Only works with JetBoil stove systems

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone
$3
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Aerobie AeroPress
$29.99
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GSI Collapsible Java Drip
$13
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GSI Personal Java Press
$30
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Starbucks VIA
$9.95
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JetBoil Coffee Press
$20
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Taste
Taste is the factor that we weighted the heaviest in our evaluation, because if we weren't concerned with quality flavor, we would be satisfied with instant coffee on those treasured outdoor mornings. But no, unfortunately those of us with refined palettes demand more from our morning kick-start than simply a caffeine jolt. We want rich flavor, we want refined perfection, and we want it while we are sitting comfortably in our collapsible camp-chair. In the words of one of our volunteer taste-testers, "Life isn't worth living without coffee."

With that attitude, we conducted several blind taste tests with like-minded coffee lovers, gathered opinions from others as they borrowed our makers or tried a new model over the course of a series of mornings, and we were finally able to evaluate which products brew the best. All of them make an acceptable cup, but a couple of them stood out for their ability to brew fantastic cups that are pleasing even to the pickiest coffee snob.

The AeroPress came out as the distinct taste winner, though the Hario V60 was a close second. (Let it be known that a few of our tasters did prefer the V60 to the AeroPress.) One taster began using the AeroPress at home every morning after the initial test because she loved it so much. The AeroPress brews a smooth, strong, cup without bitterness. By pushing water evenly through the grinds at a high pressure, the end result is more like shots of espresso than regular drip, giving it a more refined and clean flavor. By contrast, the Collapsible Java Drip brews a very bitter, almost sour cup, and the Personal Java Press makes a muddy, cloudy tasting cup.

When testing just the coffee made by the three pour-over style makers (the V60, the Melitta version, and the Collapsible Java Drip) the V60 was far and away the best brewer of this style. Similar to the AeroPress in flavor, the V60 brews a strong, clean-tasting cup with very rich flavors and less bitterness than the other drippers. The V60 has a significantly larger hole for more flow through, allowing the person brewing to customize brew time through the flow of water they add to the grinds. The vertical, pointed cone shape actually allows the water to sift down through the grounds longer, extracting more flavor than it does in the flat basket shape of the other two.

Special Note on The V60 and Pour-Over Method
How you use it will affect the taste dramatically, especially with the pour-over method used with the V60. There are many important variables: quality, quantity, grind size, when it was ground, how hot is the water, how fast do you pour the water. The below movie is the best example we have seen of how to make the perfect pour-over cup.



Ease of Use
If you are one of those people who can't quite wake up until after the first cup of caffeine, then the simpler the brewing process the better. Aside from V60, the pour-over style cones and the Personal Java Press are the simplest to use with a fuzzy morning brain, though the cones are much easier to clean (just toss the filter full of grounds) than the french press, where you have to scoop and rinse out used grounds. The AeroPress requires the most complicated process and involves a lot of little pieces, yet once you train yourself it is fairly easy. To its credit, the AeroPress is extremely easy to clean: just push the grounds and filter out the bottom and into your trash bag.

If you want to grind it fresh before brewing (check out our trial of the GSI JavaGrind) the Personal Java Press makes for the best companion to a hand grinder simply because it also serves as a container to grind into, whereas the cone style makers are much less stable.

Keep in mind that the V60 supposedly requires a special filter different than the typical Melita filter style. In our experience, however, you can pretty much use any filter with any of these cones. In the case of the V60, you may have to double up on the filter or pour the water very slowly if you are not using the Hario brand filter.

TIP: Run out of filters? No problem, using a carefully folded paper towell is almost as effective as a coffee filter.

Weight
None of the products tested can quite compete with the negligible weight of a single Starbucks VIA packet, (0.14 ounces) but the makers can be reused indefinitely, making them more cost effective than VIA in the long run. VIA packets are the most desirable option for a backpacker planning to go light, although for a long-distance backpacker they would be on the expensive side. For a more economically minded car-camper unconcerned with weight, any of the coffee makers are a far better option.

After weighing each one individually on a scale, we found that the Melitta Ready Set Joe was the lightest, weighing 2.01 ounces. This is half the weight of the more packable GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which weighs in at 4.76 ounces. It makes for a strange dilemma that the most packable is not nearly the lightest.

The second lightest was the Hario V60 at 2.96 ounces, and the heaviest was the Personal Java Press with its included cup, which weighs 11.05 ounces.

Portability
Portability is similar, but slightly different than weight. Whereas weight is a defined measurement that backpackers find important, portability is our evaluation of how easy they are to pack and carry. As with the weight category, Starbucks VIA was obviously the most portable option. Even though the Melitta Ready Set Joe was the the lightest of all the actual devices, its awkward cone shape made it hard to pack inside a backpack or camp kitchen box. It does have a small handle that can be clipped onto the back of a pack and carried on the outside. The Hario V60 has the same problem as the Melitta version. The AreoPress is portable, but is made up of several small pieces, requiring a little more attention to detail when packing. Overall, the most portable model was the GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which squishes down into a disc about five inches in diameter, and can easily fit in a backpack, camp box, or grocery bag.

Group Camping
If you are planning a trip with multiple devout coffee drinkers, it is worth looking for a method that can brew for more than one person. This was an area where the AeroPress did not hold up as well to the competition. Since it only brews a few shots of espresso at a time, you have to re-brew for every person, which would become a tedious and time-consuming process. The pour-over style makers can be used for one or more people. The Melitta and Hario versions can easily brew for two at a time, but for more than that, you will need to start over with a new filter and grounds, so that the last person doesn't have painfully weak cup of joe. However the GSI Collapsible Java Drip has a much larger capacity than the other two pour-over makers, and could brew for 3-4 at a time if you put enough grounds in the filter. The GSI Personal Java Press is perhaps the best option for sharing between two people. The press comes with a separate mug, so aren't required to drink out of the press, as with some models. This means you can pour for yourself and pour some into your friend's mug from the same brew.

Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice goes to the Hario V60 Plastic Dripper. Though the AeroPress edged ahead in our taste tests, the V60 was very close on its tail, resulting a refined and rich tasting cup. The V60 is less than half the price of the AeroPress, less than half the weight, is far simpler since it does not have multiple pieces, and works better if you are brewing for multiple people. All of these features together make the V60 the best choice for the connoisseur who values strong taste and also enjoys waking up to mountain vistas. Of note, the Hario V60 Ceramic Dripper is our favorite way to make coffee at home.

Top Pick Award
Since the Aerobie AeroPress emerged as the leader in our taste tests, brewing smooth, bitterness free espresso shots, we had to give it our Top Pick award. We know a number of people who use this as their exclusive coffee maker, even at home, yet it is portable enough to bring along while traveling or on camping trips. If you are looking to have the most gourmet spread a picnic table has ever seen, the AeroPress is a safe bet.

Best Buy Award
At first glance, the Melitta Ready Set Joe appears similar in design to the Hario V60, but upon closer inspection there are a number of differences between these pour-over-style makers. The Melitta version does not result in quite the flavor that the Hario model does, but it still makes a great, fresh morning brew. For only two bucks, this simple option is hard to beat. Beside the instant Starbucks VIA, this is also the lightest one we tested, and can clip the outside of a backpack for a short overnighter.

You might also be interested in reading our Dream Camping Gear List.

McKenzie Long
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