I love coffee. I love everything about it: the way it smells as it grinds, that whiff when you open the container, the way if wafts around you like a gentle hug in the morning. And let’s not forget the first sip of the day that makes waking up worthwhile. This is especially true when we go camping. Maybe it’s the fresh air or being surrounded by the great outdoors or maybe it’s just the way that you can be immersed in the experience.
Naturally, as I was waiting for the water to boil for coffee one camping trip, I started thinking about the best way to make coffee when camping. Naturally this is a subject that I take very seriously. As easy as it may seem, there are actually a few criteria that I decided to use to evaluate each coffee maker:
Size and Weight – How much space does this coffee brewing system take up?
Quantity of Brew – How much coffee does each one make?
Ease of Use – How much brain power is required to make coffee?
Time to Brew – How long from the time I start until I can get a mug of go juice?
Waste – How much will I have to dispose of (or pack out)?
I looked at three different methods of brewing coffee while camping: an Aeropress, a cone with filter, and a percolator. I have rigorously tested all three methods and have put my body on the line in the name of science. These are all devices that I purchased and have used. I have received no compensation of any kind for these reviews.
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This has the most parts of the brewing systems I looked at. Essentially it’s a large plunger that delivers a full-bodied dose, almost like espresso. The zippered nylon carrying case helps to keep it together and clean although I can never figure out how to put it all back in so that it’s neat like it was when I first got it.
How it works: With the plunger just set in the chamber, add your desired amount of coffee and pour in water just off the boil in the open end. Let sit for 30 seconds then place a filter in the cap and screw it on the top. Set your timer for one minute. Once the minute is up, flip the whole thing quickly onto a waiting mug. Slowly depress the plunger. There are plenty of people that weigh their coffee and water and stir at specific times but let’s face it: that’s more thinking than I want to do when I’m trying to break camp or not get tangled up in dogs.
Size: 5.5” h x 4.25” w (just the chamber, plunger, and cap)
Weight: 11.7 oz without filters (332 g)/6.3 oz (180 g) just the chamber, plunger, and cap
Weight of 10 filters: 0.1 oz (2 grams)
Quantity: this makes about half a mug of strong coffee which you can top up with water to make an americano
Ease of Use: easy
Time to Brew: time to boil water plus about two minutes
Waste: spent grounds and small filter
For flavour, this is the superior coffee brewing method. It loses points as it is bulkier and has more parts to clean, even if you leave all the extra stuff at home. It is still an easy and quick method to brew a single hit of joe.
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I have two different cones that I use: a Kuke collapsible and a rigid cone from Melita.
How it works: Place the cone on a mug, add a filter, add coffee, add water. Then wait for the water to pass through, topping it up until you’ve got your desired amount.
Size: 4.75” w x 3/4” h (collapsed)
Weight: 2.9 oz (81 g)
Melita rigid cone
Size: 4” h x 5”
Weight: 2.0 oz (56 g)
Weight of 10 #2 filters: 0.5 oz (13 g)
Quantity: this can make as much as you need to brew. If you have multiple people and multiple cones, you could even brew multiple mugs all at the same time
Ease of Use: the only brain power required is not missing the cone and remembering to top it up.
Time to Brew: time to boil water and about one minute
Waste: grounds and filter
The collapsible cone is my go-to system for brewing coffee. What it lacks in flavour, it more than makes up in its small size and ease of use. I also don’t have to worry about over-extracting the coffee which is possible with the other two methods.
I have a Coleman 9 cup percolator. It is a self contained coffee brewing system: a small chamber fits onto a hollow tube that fits inside the pot.
How it works: The desired amount of water is placed in the pot. Ground coffee is placed in a perforated chamber with a perforated lid and then mounted on a hollow tube. The pot is placed on the heat source. As the water boils, water rises up the tube and out the top where it flows over the lid and onto the coffee through the holes. It saturates the grounds and flows back into the chamber where the cycle repeats.
Size: 8” h x 8.5” w
Weight: 1 lb 8.2 oz (687 g)
Quantity: capacity of the percolator
Ease of Use: of the three methods, this one requires the most attention to avoid over extracting the grounds and making a bitter brew.
Time to Brew: this will take longer as the water has to boil longer in order to cycle through the grounds a few times. This also means a larger investment in fuel.
If brewing for a crowd, this is the best system to use. There’s also something about a pot of campfire coffee. Otherwise, it’s bulky, the amount of time required, and the potential for over extraction means that this is may not be ideal for a couple of quick cups.
If you don’t want to deal with any coffee maker or the waste that goes with it, instant coffee is always an option. Increased demand has lead to a wider selection and better flavour than the not so old days. If weight is the ultimate deciding feature, when backpacking for example, this will be the best option as you don’t require any other equipment.
Hopefully the gallons of coffee I consumed and copious experimentation has come in handy the next time you brew a cup during your next camping trip. Let me know your thoughts on brewing camp coffee.