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Caffeine in the Backwoods - 5 Ways to Brew Coffee Outdoors

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By Casey Routlage

I was always told that there’s no wrong way to camp.  Whether you’re trudging through the backcountry with a 40 pound pack in tow or preparing to “glamp,” what matters is that we’re out there.  To unwind, explore, escape, reconnect, and ground ourselves, a night under the stars is simply a reset button. After a late night by the fire, everybody retires to their tents.  When morning comes, the first to rise has a crucial duty; get the coffee going.

(Mount Kilimanjaro, Photo Credit:@jpclutter)

With any trip into the wilderness, certain packing concerns are always at the forefront. Condense, simplify, and remain lightweight. Even when space is limited, there is always room for coffee. Everyone has a preferred brew method at home, but many of them can be brought into the woods with a few tweaks. Consider pre-grinding your coffee or pack a handheld burr grinder to elevate your backwoods caffeine game with one of these methods.  

(Mount Kilimanjaro, Photo Credit:@jpclutter)


It wasn’t long ago that I had my first cup of AeroPress coffee.  Pour overs had become my default, but it was time to try something new.  While the two methods share many characteristics, aeropress brews tend to shine with higher acidity and brighter tasting notes.  After all, you are plunging the slurry through a filter rather than letting the water find its own course through a slow drip. The aeropress is quite possibly the most versatile brewing device that still produces a fantastic cup of coffee.  It is the quintessential travel device that remains budget friendly at $30-35. While any craft roastery most likely has an aeropress offering, it also makes a great backpacking, car camping, and cross country traveling coffee option. To maintain pack it in, pack it out etiquette, the aeropress creates a dense puck of grounds similar to what would be ejected from an espresso machine for easy disposal upon exiting the trail.

Grind Size: fine

Pros: lightweight, compact, low-maintenance, resilient

Cons: multi-step process, 8 oz. yield


Percolated coffee will always be what I automatically visualize when I think of camp coffee.  Water bubbling up through the wand to circulate through the basket of grounds, an intensifying aroma from the pot of joe, and a shaking kettle elicit memories of our old pop up camper somewhere in the woods of northern Michigan.  For a more mellow, traditional cup of coffee that produces a higher yield, percolators are great for car camping where more resources are available such as a propane camp stove, and space is not an issue.

Grind Size: coarse

Pros: higher yield, simple, traditional

Cons: bulky device, longer brew time, cleaning the basket




Anybody who regularly brews with a French press is loyal to their thick coffee that you could cut with a knife.  Creamy, dense, and comforting, this brew method also lends itself to the rugged nature of the outdoors with plastic presses that can stand the test of time.  In other words, leave your pretty glass press at home, and pick up a plastic copy. Like a percolator, the French press is better off saved for car camping to save space in your backcountry pack.  Pack it in, pack it out etiquette is also more difficult with the sloppier clean up that comes along with presses and percolators.

Grind Size: coarse

Pros: simple, large yield, consistent taste

Cons: bulky device, cleaning the pot


Pour overs have come a long way in the past couple years allowing for use on the trail with minimal equipment.  Look for single use pour over pouches pre-stuffed with grounds for the most low maintenance setup. Complete with cardboard stilts to mount on top of your mug, these pouches make for the most low maintenance set-up.  Although pricey, the option to bring your own grounds with a collapsible cone is also possible. Another option is this .4oz polyester drip cone. Besides instant, pour overs require the least additional equipment making them a nice companion for the backcountry.

Grind Size: fine

Pros: lightweight, compact

Cons: high-maintenance, more waste to pack out, small yield


(Photo Credit: Casey Routlage @mojojojorut) 


While much of the available instant coffee at supermarkets elicits memories of muddy water, many roasteries are making the investment to offer craft instant coffee.  Drift to instant for the lowest maintenance brew option that remains lightweight, low waste, and travel friendly. When you’re up against a long day in the backcountry with a few too many miles in front of you, instant will get you moving quicker than any other brew method.

Pros: low waste, easy to pack out, compact

Cons: small yield, pricey,

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