Reviews You Can Rely On

First Ascent Instant Review

Created by a craft coffee roaster, one of the best instants we've tried
First Ascent Instant
Photo: First Ascent
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Price:  $20 List | $19.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Ultra lightweight, great flavor for instant, available in single origins and blends, created by a specialty coffee roaster
Cons:  Expensive, still has that weird instant smell
Manufacturer:   First Ascent
By Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett  ⋅  May 21, 2021
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60
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#16 of 16
  • Taste - 40% 3
  • Ease of Use - 25% 10
  • Group Cooking - 15% 2
  • Portability - 10% 10
  • Weight - 10% 10

Our Verdict

First Ascent is a shockingly decent instant coffee from a specialty coffee roaster based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This option is ultralight, easy to use, and brewable with hot or cold water. Whether you're deep into the backcountry for an alpine mission, or you need a quick jolt of caffeine while ultra-running, thru-hiking, or doing a quick big-wall climb, you're probably psyched that instant coffee exists, no matter how terrible it tastes. Thankfully the era of crummy, flavorless instant is coming to an end, and First Ascent is one of our favorites. We tested both their Hero Blend and their single origins and were highly impressed, especially with their single-origin.

Compare to Similar Products

 
First Ascent Instant
Awards  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award   
Price $19.99 at Amazon$9.05 at Amazon$9.99 at Amazon$6.00 List$9.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Ultra lightweight, great flavor for instant, available in single origins and blends, created by a specialty coffee roasterGourmet flavor, well-conceived design, ceramic version available for home useNo filter needed, tiny and light, consistently good tasteLight, simple, affordable, design allows you to see the level of coffee while brewingNo filter needed, tiny and light
Cons Expensive, still has that weird instant smellSpecial shaped filters are harder to find, expensive for a plastic dripper, heavier than other brandsMust lift filter out of most cups to avoid over-steeping, poor for large groupsNot as refined a flavor as the V60, bulkyMust pour carefully for bold flavor, delicate clips
Bottom Line Created by a craft coffee roaster, one of the best instants we've triedThe iconic pour over model in a light plastic package, delivering a consistently great flavorThe best option for light travel and backpacking, this savvy brewer will keep you caffeinated without taking up space in your bagThis is a very light and inexpensive pour over option that provides solid taste and stellar valueA great ultralight backpacking option, as long as you pour carefully and aren't too rough with the contents of your pack
Rating Categories First Ascent Instant Hario V60 Plastic D... Primula Coffee Brew... Melitta 1-Cup Pour-... GSI Outdoors Ultral...
Taste (40%)
3.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Ease Of Use (25%)
10.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Group Cooking (15%)
2.0
6.0
4.0
5.0
5.0
Portability (10%)
10.0
5.0
9.0
5.0
9.0
Weight (10%)
10.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Specs First Ascent Instant Hario V60 Plastic D... Primula Coffee Brew... Melitta 1-Cup Pour-... GSI Outdoors Ultral...
Measured Weight 1 packet: 0.2 oz
Box of 8: 2 oz
Dripper alone: 2.95 oz
Dripper + scoop: 3.37 oz
1.1 oz 2.01 oz 1.1 oz
Brew Type Instant Pour Over Pour Over Pour Over Pour Over
Main Material N/A Hard plastic Nylon filter Hard plastic Nylon filter
Filter Needed? No Yes No Yes No
Notable Features Specialty single origins available Cone shape, large hole, ribs along side Rests on any mug Can see cup without lifting dripper Collapsible to fit under fuel canister
Notes One of the best tasting instants of all we've tried! Makes strong, smooth coffee Filter hangs in coffee for most cups Doesn't brew as well as the Hario dripper Not sturdy or durable

Our Analysis and Test Results

If you're deep in the backcountry with a heavy pack, but cannot live without your morning brew, then First Ascent is among the better tasting instant coffees we have tasted. Gone are the days when you will have to sacrifice flavor for an ultralight and ultra-rapid caffeine fix. First Ascent flips the narrative on instant coffee with high-quality single-origin options and their absolutely drinkable Hero Day blend. Next time you are getting ready for an all-day alpine assault deep in the backcountry, pick up a couple of these packets — you surely will not be disappointed.

Performance Comparison


First Ascent was able to make us not totally despise instant coffee!
First Ascent was able to make us not totally despise instant coffee!
Photo: Penney Garrett

Brew Features


Nothing is easier than instant coffee. Nothing. Simply, rip open the packet, add the grounds to whatever mug you can find, add hot or cold water, and stir. That's it: you're done! To finesse the flavor, we suggest adding less than 8 ounces of water, as this will assure you get a full-bodied cup rather than a weak batch of bean tea.

No grind size or brewing times to mess up here, just add water and...
No grind size or brewing times to mess up here, just add water and you're on your way to caffeination.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Taste


In the hearts and minds of most coffee lovers, instant coffee will always taste and smell different than fresh-brewed coffee. However, First Ascent fared decently well in our blind taste tests. While it scored lower than brewing with fresh beans, our taste-testers preferred it to more mainstream instant coffee options. Besides, when it's all you have, you'll be happy you opted for a higher quality instant coffee.

We tested both the Hero Day Blend and a single-origin Ethiopian. The Hero Day Blend has more of an "instant" flavor than the Ethiopian, perhaps because it's a darker roast. However, the Ethiopian is downright impressive. In one taste test, a taster ranked it just below all the fresh-brewed options, without recognizing that it was an instant coffee. With every other taste test we've done where an instant was on the table, our testers spotted the instant coffee within one sip. First Ascent makes an utterly drinkable instant coffee reminiscent of a freshly brewed single-origin coffee. Impressive.

The two varieties we tried while testing. The Ethiopian was our...
The two varieties we tried while testing. The Ethiopian was our favorite.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Ease of Use


There is literally nothing to it. All you gotta do is rip open the packet, empty the contents into your cup, and add water. It doesn't even have to be hot. If you prefer strong coffee, be sure to add less than the recommended quantity of water. Either way, there is minimal clean-up and finessing involved with producing a cup of coffee.

One of the benefits of instant is that you can brew it in any vessel you have available, regardless of shape and size. We've also found that making your brew with cold water instead of hot often improves the overall flavor.

Even if you forget your camp mug you can still get your caffeine...
Even if you forget your camp mug you can still get your caffeine fix. There are benefits to instant for sure.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Group Cooking


We rated our instant options based on a single packet, but you could caffeinate a gaggle of your friends if you have enough on hand. Be fair-warned; this could get mighty expensive compared to the other caffeination methods in our review. Either way, instant coffee is simple enough that you could easily share tons of coffee with your friends if you're down to foot the bill.

Got a big group? Bring a whole box. It will be expensive, but also...
Got a big group? Bring a whole box. It will be expensive, but also get the job done.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Portability


There is nothing more portable than a featherweight packet of instant coffee. Each packet is roughly the same size as your driver's license, so you will barely notice the space they take up in your food bag. Slip one of these little dudes into any pocket of your pack. They are moisture-proof and pre-portioned. You can't get more portable than that.

We're ready to hit the road with our First Ascent!
We're ready to hit the road with our First Ascent!
Photo: Penney Garrett

Weight


There is no beating instant coffee with respect to weight. Each packet weighs 0.2 ounces or just 2 ounces for a box of 8. One of the perks of instant is that the weight you see on the packet or box is the weight you get. Alternatively, with all the fresh coffee brewers in our review, you will have the additional weight of coffee and possibly paper filters to consider. So for those backcountry missions where every micro-gram counts, First Ascent may be the way to go.

First Ascent, keeping it classy.
First Ascent, keeping it classy.
Photo: Penney Garrett


Value


The old saying "you get what you pay for" absolutely applies here. This is not your typical cheap instant available at a regular grocery store, sure to make you pucker in disgust. This is expertly crafted instant coffee from a small specialty roastery that buys quality beans and takes pride in the final outcome. Sure, it costs more than a budget instant, but if you have to drink the stuff in the first place, shouldn't you do yourself a favor and drink something that's actually good?

Conclusion


This is a turning point for coffee lovers and ultralight aficionados. For far too long, instant coffee has been something you grimaced your way through in exchange for a caffeine fix. Now you don't have to sacrifice flavor on a backcountry mission where every gram counts. First Ascent has upped the ante by peddling a delicious instant coffee with single-origin roasts that surprised and impressed us.

First Ascent: OutdoorGearLab tested, coffee snob approved.
First Ascent: OutdoorGearLab tested, coffee snob approved.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett