I took my first backpacking trip just a year ago. I’d done plenty of camping and long day hikes, but I hadn’t yet put the necessities on my back and ventured into the unknown. Luckily my adventure partner was experienced enough to know all of the most important things—like how to make coffee while backpacking.
There’s something inherently simple about a cup of coffee. The premise of bean to cup stays the same, even as the variables change. And for thousands of people all over the world, coffee is part of a regular routine.
Backpacking is also something to be praised for its simplicity. Since every ounce of weight is important, backpacking asks you to choose only what’s essential for your survival and your comfort. It can feel much more chaotic than a person’s predictable coffee routine, but it’s still all about simplifying.
Like all of the best activities, backpacking can be nuanced to an individual’s preferences. For instance, while it is about keeping your pack as light as can be, it can also center around all of the amazing backpacking gear out there. These tools are what makes it possible to simplify without sacrificing conveniences and comforts. With that in mind, there are lots of kitchen tools that can brew a cup of joe to satisfy even the snobbiest of coffee snobs.
Things to Consider
You can’t make a good cup of coffee without good coffee beans to begin with. That’s common sense, of course, but something you should remember when you’re grocery shopping for your next backpacking trip. Add to your list a bag of fresh beans from your favorite local roaster.
The amount of coffee you should bring will depend on the number of people in your group. You should use that same number to determine which brewing method is best for your backpacking trip. Make sure you have the fresh coffee beans ground ahead of time and stored in a lightweight container (just a plastic bag will do). For perfect measurements, stainless steel coffee scoops are helpful, but certainly not necessary.
Before you can decide on a brewing method for your backpacking coffee, and before you decide on any equipment, you need to think about how much weight you’re willing to carry for this purpose. The more you can find multipurpose backpacking tools and gadgets, the better. For instance, there’s no need to bring a separate French press when you can just get a coffee press accessory for your Jetboil backpacking stove. If you want to start making coffee while backpacking, you need to choose the gadgets that will work well with your current setup.
Gadgets You Might Want
The Jetboil mentioned above is a great, light, versatile backpacking stove. You can use it to heat water for your oatmeal before you make your morning coffee in it French press style. Come evening you’ll be cooking soup in there. (Just make sure to rinse well between uses!) There are also similar systems in other brands, like this Coffee Press Kit from MSR.
If pour-over coffee is your java style, you can buy a compact coffee dripper for backpacking purposes. This one from Sea to Summit is just 2.9 ounces and folds up to be just 0.8 inches. Its base will sit right on top of your mug or water bottle so you can brew directly into your cup. Of course, you’ll still need a separate tool for heating water, but if you have a solid backpacking setup and just want to add on something for trailside barista techniques, this is a good choice.
Another versatile piece of gear that works well on the trail is the MSR MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter. The small filter weighs 1 ounce and will pack up easily with the rest of your gear. To use, you just steep coffee like you would tea straight into the cup. It’s a simple, ultralight piece of gear that will always turn out a fresh, hot beverage. But again, be sure you have a separate source for boiling water.
How to Make Coffee While Backpacking Without a Coffee Maker
One of the really fun things about backpacking is the “roughing it” part. Backpackers are constantly challenged to make due with limited supplies or to adjust to the unpredictable variables that surround any multi-day trip into nature. How can we make a fire when it just rained? How will we open this can without a can opener? Is it possible to make coffee even though we forgot all of our fancy coffee-making gadgets?
If you really want to know how to make coffee while backpacking in any situation, you have to keep an open mind as you would with any other backpacking challenge. The truth is, you don’t need any of these backpack-ready coffee making tools in order to get your daily fix.
This witty guide from the out-of-print Backpacking Light magazine illustrates (literally) several methods of brewing. It touches upon making coffee with some of the tools mentioned above but also talks about “Cowboy coffee” and the Turkish grounds method, both of which involving mixing grounds straight into the water. It might get a little sludgy, but works in a pinch and can produce a strong cup of joe that will gear you up for the long hike ahead.
The guide also mentions a couple of cheats—namely instant coffee and canned coffee. Most of the time, these options leave something to be desired in taste. And, when it comes to backpacking, cans are the last thing you want to bring. If you’re looking for a way to get your coffee and caffeine fix without having to stop for a quick brew, I’d recommend chocolate covered espresso beans. They’re tasty, compact, and a small handful will give you a satisfying burst of energy.
Some backpackers have reported using something like a handkerchief as a filter in a pinch. But if you remember to pack some filters or even some napkins, you can use simple steeping or filtering methods without dirtying your handkerchief. This post from Coletti will show you how to make coffee while backpacking without a coffee maker using two other methods.
Have you experimented with making coffee while backpacking? What works for you? We’d love to hear your stories of success—as well as those that weren’t so successful. Let us know!
Katrina Eresman worked for over a decade as a barista in Ohio. Since she left to write full time, she has become a compulsive traveler. If she's not touring with one of her bands, she's scheming her next backpacking trip or a flight to a new part of the country where camping and coffee sipping will both surely occur.