OK, it's not a coffee maker, but most of the products we reviewed here are too bulky for long backpacking trips. So what is ideal for a backpacker or a big wall climber? The answer may be an instant coffee like Starbucks VIA. Almost completely weightless while still packed full of coffee flavor, this instant "micro grind" coffee can easily be tossed in a pack and carried for miles without a second thought. For shorter trips where weight and space are precious, this is an ideal method. For longer trips where budget is a concern, not so much, as VIA averages to almost a dollar per cup, far greater than making your own coffee in a simple pour over cone.We preferred the flavor of First Ascent, our Top Pick for Instant to the VIA however. Created by a craft roaster in the Colorado mountains, it was the best instant we've tasted thus far — though it is more expensive. For the budget-minded backpacker that can spare room for a bulkier setup and a few more ounces, the Melitta Pour Over, our Best Buy winner, is a great option. Just slightly heavier but producing one of the best-tasting cups was our Editors' Choice winner, the Hario V60 Plastic Dripper.
Starbucks VIA Review
Cons: Limited quantity, have to continually re-purchase, more expensive per cup than using other coffee makers
Our Analysis and Test Results
If you're going on an adventure that doesn't allow space or weight for luxuries but can't fathom starting the day without caffeine, packets of instant coffee might just be the ticket. Instant coffee, in general, isn't known for being particularly delicious, but Starbucks VIA is pretty darn decent. Though we found First Ascent to be considerably better.
This coffee is instant and tastes like it, though it's better than many other brands on the market and there are a lot of varieties available. Individual packets carry finely ground coffee that can be dissolved in water for a sort-of fresh brew with no grinds whatsoever to clean up afterward. One huge plus is that this even works in cold water, so if you don't want to bring a stove or run out of fuel, your morning cup can still be kinda tasty and satisfying.
Starbucks says that VIA retains a smooth, quality flavor despite being instant — and we found that this isn't a total fabrication! The flavor certainly does not compare to freshly brewed coffee by literally any other means, but the taste-to-weight ratio of these tiny packets is excellent. If your only choice is no coffee or instant, this will do.
One thing we liked about VIA is how many different roast profiles and blends are available. From very dark to decently light to sweet and flavored, VIA has something for everyone. We tasted the Italian Roast, French Roast, Pike Place Roast, Veranda Blend, and the single origin Colombian. The lightest roast of that bunch was the Veranda Blend, so for the coffee connoisseurs out there that can't stand that burnt rubber-taste of very dark coffee, try the Veranda. Or go with a single origin from First Ascent if you really value your taste buds — it's worth the extra dollars.
Ease of Use
It doesn't get any simpler than this: just add water. You don't even have to heat the water up if you don't want to.
The rule for instant coffee is pretty much one packet for one person. In that respect, this isn't a good option for multiple people. That said, the packets weigh almost nothing, so it's easy to stockpile a bunch of them and be able to satisfy however many humans your group happens to have.
You really can't get more portable than tiny practically weightless packets. Bring along a whole handful for your overnighter, just to be safe, and you will still have room to pack your orange poop shovel and a teddy bear.
At 0.14 ounces for one packet, VIA is still less than half an ounce for three servings. This factor alone makes it the perfect solution for caffeine-addicted ultralight backpackers.
If you are a backpacker who likes to move fast and light but are still encouraged by caffeine-filled mornings, then this is your method for a brew. Taking up almost no weight or space, it seems as if instant coffee was designed with outdoor adventurers in mind. Car-campers will be better off with a more sustainable coffee brewing method, such as the Hario V60 Plastic Dripper or AeroPress, our Top Pick for Gourmet Taste.
Other Versions for the Sweet Lover
- Rich and creamy
- A little fancier than your regular cup of joe
- Available in Caramel, Vanilla, and Caffè Mocha
VIA Iced Coffee
- Specially crafted for cold water
- Great for warm mornings
- Available in Classic (lightly sweetened) or Caramel
— Penney Garrett