What's the best way to get your fix while camping? To figure this out, we researched more than 50 camping coffee makers, hand-picked the best, and buckled down for some side-by-side tests. A team of coffee aficionados took these brewing options from car-side campsites to backcountry bivies, making hundreds of cups of coffee in the process. Almost every type of brewing style comes in a portable version, from pour over to french press and even espresso. But not all are created equal. Some make coffee quickly and cleanly, while others leave a mess that can double your morning camp chores. Read on to find your perfect camp coffee companion and our favorite backpacking options.
The Best Camping Coffee Makers of 2018
|Price||$7.55 at Amazon||$13.99 at Amazon||$4 List||$7.19 at Amazon||$9.96 at Amazon|
|Pros||Gourmet flavor, well-conceived design, ceramic version available for home use||No filter needed, great taste, stylish||Light, simple, affordable, design allows you to see level of coffee while brewing||No filter needed, tiny and light, consistently good taste||Lightweight, easy to use and clean, durable, no waste, can use for tea|
|Cons||Special shaped filters are harder to find, expensive for a plastic dripper, heavier than other brands||Expensive, requires water and more time to fully clean||Not as refined of a flavor as a V60, bulky||Must lift filter out of most cups to avoid steeping, poor for large group||Didn't produce the best flavor, difficult to control extraction|
|Bottom Line||The iconic pour over model in a light plastic package, delivering a consistently great flavor.||The best model that does not require filters and one of the few that does not involve hot water on plastic.||The Melitta Ready Set Joe is a very light and inexpensive pour over option that provides solid taste and stellar value.||The best option for light travel and backpacking, this savvy brewer will keep you caffeinated without taking up space in your bag.||This simple and durable filter is easy to use, produces a decent cup of Joe, and can also be used for tea.|
|Rating Categories||V60 Plastic Dripper||Paperless Pour Over||Ready Set Joe Cone||Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy||MSR MugMate|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|Group Cooking (15%)|
|Specs||V60 Plastic Dripper||Paperless Pour Over||Ready Set Joe Cone||Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy||MSR MugMate|
|Weight||dripper alone: 2.95 oz, dripper + scoop: 3.37 oz||3.3 oz||2.01 oz||1.1 oz||1.0 oz with lid/coaster, 0.7 oz for just filter portion|
|Brew Type||Pour Over||Pour Over||Pour Over||Pour Over||Filter|
|Main Material||Hard plastic||Stainless steel||Hard plastic||Nylon filter||Nylon/Stainless steel|
We added in four more options! The tried-and-true MSR MugMate, two French presses — the Snow Peak Titanium French Press and Espro Travel Press, and one more instant option, First Ascent Instant. Read on to learn what we discovered and who rose to the top.
Best Overall Camping Coffee Maker
Hario V60 Plastic Dripper
The same classic ceramic cone for your home is also our favorite choice for camping — just in a lighter and more durable plastic form. The Hario V60 Plastic Dripper gave us the best taste and is straightforward to use. Plus, it barely tips the scale at 2.95 ounces (3.37 ounces with its measuring scoop). The AeroPress just barely edged ahead in our taste tests, but it's triple the price, heavier, and more complicated to use — especially when brewing for multiple people.
There's not much negative to say about this simple and effective brewer other than you will need to track down V60-specific filters and, for optimal taste, you will also want to be sure your coffee is uniformly and finely ground. Once you've assembled your tools and dialed in your process, this dripper will deliver one of the cleanest and best-tasting cups you can have.
Of note, the Hario V60 Ceramic Dripper is our favorite way to make coffee at home and also makes excellent camping coffee. It's just much heavier and nowhere near as durable.
Read review: Hario V60 Plastic Dripper
Best Bang for the Buck
Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone
At first glance, the Melitta Ready Set Joe appears similar in design to the Hario V60. But upon closer inspection, there are some differences in design between these pour-over-style drippers that affected the overall taste.
The Melitta does not result in quite the flavor that the Hario model does, but it still makes an excellent fresh morning brew. And, for only three bucks, this simple camping coffee maker is hard to beat. However, if you're a coffee connoisseur and only want the best of the best, you should probably just spend the extra dollars and get the V60
Read review: Melitta Ready Set Joe
Top Pick for a French Press
Espro Travel Press
French press coffee has long been complained about because it continues to extract after pressing (leading to over-extraction unless you pour it all out right away) and the last pour is sludgy and thick. Well, not anymore. Enter the Espro Travel Press, a clever design with a double filter system that not only stops extraction when you press, it also delivers a cup as clean as a filtered pour over. You can even add a small paper filter in between the two mesh filters for more clean-up duty. We were beyond impressed with the final cup this press produced. On top of it all, you can press and walk away without needing an additional cup because the top of the Espro is a sippable travel lid that can be made leakproof. Top Pick material for sure.
The major issue with this press is its weight: at 12.3 ounces (not including coffee), this clearly isn't a backpacking option. However, there is an ultralight version available that will get you down to 7.4 ounces. Still not really "ultralight," but a substantial improvement nonetheless.
Read review: Espro Travel Press
Top Pick for Gourmet Taste
Since the Aerobie AeroPress emerged as the leader in our taste tests, we had to give it a coveted Top Pick award. With this fun and functional brewer, we were able to create smooth espresso-like shots as well as clean satisfying full cups. We know some 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. Cleaning is as fast as popping the puck of grinds out of the plunger — the squeegee action gives a pretty effective cleaning without the use of extra water.
There is a bit of a learning curve with the AeroPress — it has more pieces than many other camping coffee makers in our review (though not all of them are necessary) and you need to make sure you have a big enough cup for it to properly nest into for pressing. You will also need the special round filters, available in either stainless steel or paper. While not for everyone, coffee geeks will fall head-over-heels for this versatile brewer and its delicious results.
Read review: Aerobie AeroPress
Best Backpacking Coffee Maker
Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy
Whether you are backpacking or just want to ensure you always have pour-over coffee when traveling, the Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy is the way to go. It's super compact, durable, and weighs about as much as an AA battery. It also gives consistent taste no matter how you pour. Other pour-over contenders in our review required a much more exact pour that can be highly challenging to achieve with a JetBoil or camping pot.
The only downside to this brewer is that you have to stay alert and be sure to remove it from your cup in a timely matter. If you don't, your coffee will steep like tea, leaving you with a bitter, over-extracted cup. Whether you're backpacking or hotel-hopping for work, the Primula is a light and cheap option sure to protect you against lousy camping coffee.
Read review: Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy
Top Pick for Large Groups
Bialetti Moka Express
Most of the camping coffee makers in our review are great for a single person or couple, but if you want to brew for a larger group, it can get frustrating. With some brewers, it's not possible, and with others, you will sacrifice flavor. Enter the Bialetti Moka Express 9-Cup — this stovetop espresso maker is easy to use, delivers a fabulous cup (espresso-style or not), and it brews up quickly. Only the Farberware Yosemite 8-Cup Coffee Percolator brewed more volume, but it wasn't as easy to use, and the flavor wasn't as nice.
The Bialetti is certainly not backpacking size though — it's also expensive and made from aluminum (though stainless steel options are available). But if you want something tried and true that can please a lot of people at once, this is our current top pick.
Read review: Bialetti Moka Express
Top Pick for Instant
First Ascent Instant
Well color us surprised, we found an instant coffee that doesn't make us cringe. Because instant is such a great and necessary option for certain activities, we have been diligent about trying to find one that isn't abjectly terrible. And it seems that day has come! First Ascent is a craft coffee roaster in Crested Butte, Colorado that roasts high-quality beans and also handcrafts instant packets. Currently available in their Hero Day blend and two single origins — Ethiopia and Honduras — we were shocked, impressed, and pleased throughout our rigorous taste tests.
Will a coffee connoisseur still notice this is instant? Absolutley. It isn't completely devoid of that weird smell and slightly off flavor, but the key word here is "slightly." We had some taste testers not recognize immediately that they were sipping instant — something that hasn't happened with any of the other brands we've tested thus far. First Ascent isn't a cheap option, especially considering it's not as widely available and so you may have to pay shipping on top of its already premium price to get it in your hands. But for many folks out there — you know who you are — we know it will be worth it.
Read review: First Ascent Instant
Best Camp Espresso
Wacaco MiniPresso GR
If you find yourself craving a creamy shot of espresso while you're out camping or backpacking, the Wacaco MiniPresso GR could be a game changer. It uses a manual pump to pull a shot with rich flavor, delivering a beautiful crema that rivals the offerings of many home espresso machines. For cleaning all you need to do is shake out the spent grinds and rinse the components. If you're on a single night adventure, you can even just shake out the grinds and save the more thorough cleaning for when you get home.
The Wacaco is slow if you're trying to pull a bunch of shots for a big group, and its weight certainly doesn't fit into the fast and light category. However, if you need an espresso fix on the go, it can't be beat. You can read a full review here from our friends at TechGearLab.
Analysis and Test Results
For many people, coffee is a critical part of their morning ritual, an essential component of getting the day off on the right foot. It's an extremely personal process, and there are a ton of available options in regards to what to brew and how to brew it. From dark roasts to light roasts, espressos to pour overs, plastic to stainless steel, decisions abound, and each one will change the flavor and mouthfeel of your final cup. Read on to learn about some of the savviest brewers on the market, how easy (or not) they were to use and care for, how conducive (or not) each was to serving multiple people, and — most importantly — how well they brewed up our precious liquid black gold.
Items in this review range from $4 to $56 — nothing outrageous, but still enough of a spread to warrant some time and thought when going to purchase. It's wise to think about what situations you will be brewing in the most and what you want out of your final cup. Is taste your number one priority? Weight and packability? The number of people you can serve? After determining our rating criteria, we weighted each metric in regards to what we deemed most important to the average camping coffee drinker. The price vs. value chart below is a great way to see how price and performance intersect (hover over each dot to see which brewer it represents). The most expensive models did not automatically rank the highest in our tests — several very affordable options ended up scoring quite high and winning awards. For example, the lower righthand corner shows that our Editors' Choice Hario V60 was the best value for the lowest price.
No surprise, taste is the factor that we weighted the heaviest in our evaluation. If you don't care about taste and just want a caffeine jolt, you can skip the rest of this review and just buy instant coffee. But most people don't want to do that and recognize that instant coffee, while convenient, will never taste as good as the real thing. Most of us want a smooth, rich, clean flavor, whether lounging on our couch at home or sitting comfortably in a collapsible camp chair. We can help you achieve that, even with a bare-bones camp kitchen.
Recognizing the importance of this rating metric, we conducted several blind taste tests with like-minded coffee lovers to evaluate which products produced the best final result. We found that all of them made an acceptable cup, but a few stood out for their ability to deliver an elevated flavor that was pleasing even to the pickiest coffee snob.
The AeroPress came out as the distinct taste winner, though the Hario V60 was a close second along with the Espro Travel Press (for the record, some tasters did prefer the V60 over 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 devoid of bitterness. By pushing water evenly through the grinds at high pressure, the result has some resemblance to shots of espresso, with a refined and clean flavor.
Our new addition, the Espro Travel Press, also rose to the top in taste tests. The double mesh filters are much finer than a traditional French press filter and when you couple that with a patented system that completely stops extraction once pressed, you get an impressively delicious brew every time. The Espro also has special paper filters that you can use between the two mesh filters for an even cleaner cup — the addition of paper removes extra fine particles that would normally remain and also absorbs all the oils. So you end up with a final product that's very similar to the V60 or a Chemex. All of this exists inside an insulated, leakproof travel mug that, while on the heavy side, is highly durable and can go with you anywhere.
The V60 was also a favorite for taste and definitely the best of the pour-over style options. It brewed a bold, clean-tasting cup with vibrant flavors and less bitterness than the other drippers in our review. The special-angle of the cone (60 degrees to be exact), and the fact that it causes everything to coalesce at one point, means that the ground coffee gets very evenly saturated — flat-bottomed brewers are prone to over-saturation from water pooling at the edges. If you would rather not have to use paper filters or pour hot water on plastic, the Cafellissimo Paperless Pour Over gave us almost as good a cup without creating any additional waste.
Of note, most pour over methods require careful pouring to get the best flavor. This is best done with a kettle like the Hario Gooseneck Kettle, but few people will backpack or camp with such a specialized pouring apparatus. Though it didn't score quite as high as the V60 or Cafellissimo, the Primula delivered the most consistent taste with the sloppy pour you often get when camping. More on this below.
There's no doubt about it; fresh ground coffee is the gold standard. If you want to grind your beans right before brewing, there are a few hand grinder options. We have tested several and found the Hario Skerton to be the best. The GSI Javamill is also a staff favorite for camping as it doesn't have any glass components and it packs down nice and small.
Special Note on Pour Over Methods
Yes, you can use a pour over with no real plan by placing a random amount of ground coffee into the device and dousing them with water. However, how you prepare and use your chosen pour over will affect taste dramatically. There are many essential variables: quality of beans, freshness, quantity used, grind size, water temperature, and how you physically pour the water. The video below is a great example of how to make a stellar pour over.
Ease of Use
If you are one of those people who can't quite wake up until after your first cup of caffeine, then the simpler the brewing process, the better. Additionally, resources are often limited while camping, so we appreciated the models with easier clean up that allowed us to either have another round or get back on the trail that much faster.
French press brewers are one of the simplest to use and don't require filters, but they are also a bit of a pain to clean. You have to scoop out the messy wet grounds and then use water to rinse everything. The AeroPress is a breeze to clean — just remove the piece that holds the filter and press the plunger a bit further to pop out a puck of grounds. However, this device requires a bit more knowhow to use and has more parts to contend with. The various cone-shaped pour over brewers we reviewed are all extremely easy to use and clean — especially those with a paper filter (just lift out the filter and toss) — and are therefore conducive to sleepy-eyed fumbling campers. Do keep in mind that many of these drippers, most notably the V60, require a special filter for optimum brewing. As we discovered in the testing process, you can make almost any filter work with a little folding, finagling, and careful pouring, but it's less than ideal.
All of our filterless options involved more cleaning between uses. How much hassle depends on your standards as much as the filter design. You can get 90% of the coffee out with a quick pour of a 1/4 cup of water. If you want your filter 100% clean, you will have to sacrifice quite a bit more water. Of all the filterless options, the Primula was the easiest to clean because of its shape and small surface area. The MugMate wasn't far behind, though its rigid design made it a tiny bit harder to rinse clean.
Of our large group-size options, the Bialetti Moka Express was the easiest to use. Fill the water up to the valve, put ground coffee in the basket up to the rim, screw the top back on, and pop it on the stove until it tells you its done by gurgling. Something else we loved about the Bialetti is the fact that we could get an espresso-like final product by filling up the basket all the way or a more typical drip consistency by only filling it up halfway. And, most importantly, both still tasted good! Many brewers can end up tasting bad if you mess with the brew ratio too much.
No problem! Using a carefully folded paper towel is almost as effective as a coffee filter. We recommend pouring water through to make sure you don't get any paper towel flavor, but this should be done with any coffee-specific paper filter as well.
If you are planning a camping trip with multiple devout coffee drinkers, it is worth looking for a method that can brew for more than one person and, hopefully, still deliver excellent flavor.
We awarded the Bialetti Moka Express 9-Cup our Top Pick for Large Groups, with the Farberware Yosemite 8-Cup Coffee Percolator coming in a close second. These are the two largest brewers in our review, yielding enough coffee for a pretty sizable group.
The Bialetti is a stovetop espresso maker that can yield about 18 ounces of strong espresso. You can then either enjoy it as is or add more hot water or milk for a bigger cup. The Farberware can percolate up to 40 ounces at a time, an impressive amount for sure, but it was not as easy to use and didn't give us nearly as good a flavor as the Bialetti. We also liked the versatility of the Bialetti, allowing for each person to customize their final cup as desired.
While pour over style drippers are generally best suited for 1-2 people, you can always fill them with more grounds if you need to serve a group quickly. Just remember that this will affect extraction and, ultimately, the final flavor. Of these models, the GSI Collapsible Java Drip had the best capacity and could brew for 4 or more. The GSI Personal Java Press is also great for sharing between two people. The press comes with a separate mug, so you don't have to drink out of the press itself, as with some models. This means you can pour for yourself and pour some into your friend's mug as well.
Portability is our evaluation of how easy each item in our review is to pack and carry. No surprise, the instant coffee options, First Ascent, Starbucks VIA, and Alpine Start, scored the highest here. We included instant coffee for just this reason — sometimes every gram and millimeter counts, even if it means sacrificing flavor. However, with instant as good as First Ascent you at least won't be grimacing your way through breakfast!
Instant options aside, it was neck-and-neck between the Primula Single Serve, GSI Collapsible Java Drip, GSI Ultralight Java Drip, and MSR MugMate. The GSI Ultralight wins here, but barely. It's so compact it folds under a fuel canister. The Primula and GSI Collapsible have the advantage of being much more durable though, and they both still pack down to a very small size. Also, the Primula requires less coffee to consistently produce a flavorful result. The MugMate is also a compact and durable option that can nest inside your mug for travel, it just isn't collapsible.
If in a rush to pack for your trip the coffee cone didn't find its way into the camp kitchen box, consider cutting a plastic water bottle in half as shown below. Some people might cringe at pouring hot water over thin plastic but, in a pinch, this is a fast and lightweight fix. A 2-liter bottle with a "broad top" works best, but even a 1/2 liter bottle like the one below will suffice. Forget the filters as well? Use a paper towel. Hopefully, you didn't also forget the coffee.
Even though many of the pour over drippers are extremely light and simple, their awkward cone shapes make them harder to pack into a backpack or camp kitchen box. But those with a handle like the V60 or an open base like the Melitta Ready Set Joe can be clipped onto the outside of a pack and carried that way.
None of the brewing devices tested can quite compete with the featherweight of a single instant coffee packet at less than a quarter of an ounce. But they can be reused indefinitely, making them more cost-effective in the long run.
Instant coffee packets like Alpine Start and First Ascent can often be the most desirable option for ultralight enthusiasts of all kinds, though for something like a long-distance backpacking trip they would be on the expensive side. For a more economically minded adventurer who is unconcerned with weight, any of the coffee makers in this review are a far better option, save the large brewers meant for a crew. And, though there are exceptions, the vast majority of people with functioning taste buds believe that no weight savings is worth having to drink instant coffee. Except for maybe First Ascent. Maybe.
After weighing each contender individually on a scale, the MSR MugMate was the lightest, weighing just a single ounce with the optional lid/coaster and 0.7 ounces without it. The Primula and GSI Ultralight Java Drip were just a smidge behind at 1.1 ounces. None of these brewers require filters which is an additional weight savings. This is less than a quarter of the weight of the GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which weighs in at 4.76 ounces and does require filters. It makes for a strange dilemma that one of the most packable is not nearly the lightest, though it's still not what we would call heavy by any means. The Melitta Ready Set Joe, V60, and Cafellissimo are other excellent lightweight contenders, the Cafellissimo being another filterless option.
Of note here is also the Snow Peak Titanium French Press. It weighs 6.2 ounces but you can boil water directly in the press on your stove, removing the need for an additional water boiling pot (or, at the very least, freeing up your pot for other tasks). Granted, you probably need to have a pot with you anyway, but a savvy backpacker could undoubtedly use the Snow Peak for modest meal prep as well.
While it may be blasphemy to write this, switching to tea while camping or backpacking saves a lot of weight and clean up. Some of our testers found instant coffee acceptable, but others found it a poor taste substitute. For those folks, tea may be a nice option.
With so many choices out there, we know it can be challenging to select the right camping coffee maker for your needs. Hopefully, you find our ratings and tests helpful in narrowing down the options to hone in on the perfect brewer for your particular needs. If you're still unsure, be sure to check out our Buying Advice article.
— Penney Garrett