All of the products in this review are portable and can adequately supply caffeine for your craving. But the critical factor is this — Can they satisfy your refined palette? We know that our team of testers would never settle for just any cup of cheap bitter Joe, so we searched out the best and most delicious ways to brew while outdoors.
Be sure to also check out this review of the Hario Skerton if you feel the need for fresh grounds to go with your coffee maker. The GSI Javamill is another staff favorite with a slimmer design and no glass parts. And a lovely stainless steel option is the JavaPresse manual burr grinder.
Keep in mind that, while fresh ground coffee is amazing, using a hand grinder will add time and labor to your coffee-making process. If you want fast and easy when rolling out of your sleeping bag, bring pre-ground coffee.
How to choose?
Some things to consider when trying to decide on your purchase:
- How important is flavor to you? If this is the most important piece, then focus on that and commit to learning how to best brew on your device. Dialing in a recipe and system before you head out into the woods means you'll be that much more likely to have the perfect cup every time.
- How many people do you want to be able to serve? Do you just need a coffee maker for solo backpacking trips or do you tend to go camping with a big group? Does it make more sense for everyone to use their own separate brewers or to have one that can accommodate everyone easily and efficiently?
- How easy is the brewer to use? Do you care? Paying attention to what pieces you will need to keep track of, how easy the brewing process is, what filters and other accessories you may need to buy, and how streamlined clean up is will have a big effect on how satisfied you are when out in the elements.
- Do you need the lightest possible method? If you're looking for a brewing device for backpacking or other weight-conscious activities, be sure to pay attention to this. Also, how packable is the device? Will it work with your current set up?
Types of coffee makers
If you have to have coffee every morning, chances are you probably already have a preference for how you like it brewed, so you may already have an idea of what you are looking for. Following is a quick camp coffee maker run-down. Our Best in Class review gives a more detailed breakdown of the factors we find important when purchasing one for camping excursions.
Percolators are the old school way of brewing while camping (well, short of cowboy coffee, where you just boil water and throw in the grounds). Typically, a percolator is a metal pot with a basket inside which you fill with grounds. The pot is placed on a burner and, as the water from below boils, it bubbles up through the grinds and into a see-through glass knob. Once percolation starts, if you care about flavor at all, you will need to start a timer. Brewing takes about five minutes and can have a rough flavor.
French presses are very easy to use, but rather a pain to clean. You make your cup by placing grounds in the bottom of a container, adding water, and letting it steep. When you are ready to drink, push down a screen to trap the grounds in the bottom and pour your drink out. French presses result in a distinctive murky flavor that some people love.
For some great tips on how to brew the best French press, check out this blog post from Copper Door Coffee Roasters.
Pour-Over Style Drip
The pour over is a simple, yet refined way of making your morning cup of Joe. True coffee snobs have very particular methods for making it, down to hand grinding, measuring the temperature of the water with a thermometer, and timing how long the water sits in the grounds. For those of you who aren't that particular, it still makes a satisfying cup without much fuss. Since all it requires is a cone and a filter, it is easily portable.
If you want to learn how to take your pour over skills to the next level, check out how the pros recommend using a V60.
The classic Bialetti Moka pot is one type of portable, espresso-style brewer that has been around for decades and has a bit of a cult following. The AeroPress is another one that kind of falls half in this category and half in the pour over category. There are also some devices on the market like the Wacaco MiniPresso that can build enough internal pressure to give you pretty good crema. These options are for the purists who want the most from their coffee every morning, even if the brewing process is slightly more complicated.
The AeroPress, in a group by itself
The AeroPress often gets grouped with espresso makers and, while it can produce a very strong cup and even a wee bit of crema, it's really more of a hybrid in a class by itself. One part french press, one part pour over, a nod to espresso and that's the AeroPress.
There are two different ways of brewing on an AeroPress, regular and inverted, with many coffee pros preferring the inverted method. For a run-down of the standard method though, take a look at this blog post.
For those of you who are big on flavor, this is your least likely choice. But for those of you concerned with weight, this is the best choice. Instant coffee requires no actual brewing device (just a cup and water) and hardly weighs anything. The downside is that it never tastes as good as a freshly brewed cup. Not even close. However, for a backpacker, this can be an ideal method.
Gas Grill Coffee Maker
Example: Coleman Camping Coffee Maker. Essentially, these are pots suspiciously like the ones that sit on your kitchen counter at home, only they use either your gas grill or fuel canisters to power them. You still end up with a full pot, just like at home. These systems are bulky and rather expensive, but they can brew easily for groups and are the most similar to a standard at-home apparatus.
We got you caffeinated, but are you hungry? For tip and tricks while backpacking, check out these excellent recipes. If you're car camping and weight is not a concern, consider learning how to use a dutch oven.