Everyone has a different idea of essentials when spending time outdoors. For some it’s the bare minimum: a few basic tools and know-how will see them through. For others the more gadgets the better (all the gear and no idea?). Personally, I just want a cup of coffee – preferably ground.
Fortunately for me, coffee outdoors is easy to come by. No matter where you are, what you’re doing or how far you are from the nearest coffee shop, you can rest assured that the perfect implement exists to help you brew a rousing cup of joe in the wild. Let’s take a look…
(Remember, for all of these you’ll need a camping stove/fire)
The definition of desperation, or is it minimalism? Ideal for any scenario where you don’t want to carry extra kit for making coffee, or if you just forgot to bring it.
Boil some water then let sit for 30 seconds or so. Add your coffee grounds and stir, leave to brew for 2 minutes before stirring again, then leave to sit for 2 minutes more. Add a little cold water to help settle the grounds then slowly decant the coffee leaving the grounds in the bottom of your pot.
Pros: No additional equipment needed and you feel like the real deal when it goes well.
Cons: Not as smooth as other options, you get a mouthful of grounds when it goes wrong.
Increasingly popular amongst hipsters and outdoor folk alike, the syringe-like AeroPress makes an incredibly smooth coffee and you can really tailor the strength.
I tend to take this as a back-up brewing method when camping or away in the van, it’s really quick and easy to clean so works well when you’re getting out early or making loads of coffees. Aerobie also make a compact travel-style AeroPress called the AeroPress Go, if you’re after something more packable. (Alex has reviewed the Aeropress Go in more detail here).
Pros: Really smooth brew, compostable filters (with reusable options available), quick to make, easy to clean and light to carry.
Cons: Only makes one coffee at a time.
This is my preferred method for car camping or big trips in the van where I’ve got time to spare in the mornings. I’ve spotted 1 cup percolators hanging off the backs of climbing packs at Stanage, so they must be good for a day at the crag too.
Pros: A home comfort, good strong coffee and a relaxed continental holiday feeling.
Cons: Not particularly speedy, packable or light, needs to stay boiling to brew so they use more fuel.
Cheap, cheerful and available pretty much everywhere, most coffee lovers have a french press at home. Although ideal for the kitchen, glass presses are a little too breakable for the crag so it’s worth investing in a metal one.
A big french press is spot on for big group coffee, but their shape and size mean they’re only really useful for car campers and van dwellers. Cleaning them between uses is a messy affair too.
Companies like MSR and Jetboil now make a coffee press accessories to fit inside your integrated stove. The idea is that these are packable and make a quick brew, ideal for hill walking, backpacking and cragging.
Pros: Easy to use (you can just leave it to brew) and great for making group coffee. No filters to throw away.
Cons: Standard presses are bulky and breakable, cleaning them is somehow messy.
Coffee bags (inc. homemade coffee bags)
It’s hard to justify taking a French Press along for mountain marathon type events when you’re carrying all your own stuff, so most would opt for instant coffee. If instant just won’t do, take coffee bags instead.
I’ve used Taylors Coffee Bags in the past, but a cheaper option is to make your own with some string and a coffee filter or, in extreme times of need, your sock or hankerchief.
Pros: Light to carry, no extra equipment required, quick and easy to brew.
Con: Disposable and expensive (unless you use your sock) so not ideal for long-term use.
Reusable coffee filter
Cheap, cheerful and available in all shapes and sizes, reusable coffee filters are ideal for backpackers as they can usually be stored inside your cup. Ideal if you’re going to be in a location where paper filters aren’t readily available. This one from MSR always gets good reviews.
Pros: Packable, portable and quick to use. No disposable components necessary.
Cons: Some filters don’t make the smoothest brews and leave coffee sludge in the bottom of your cup, it’s worth shopping around for a good quality filter.
Pour over coffee maker
Nothing but pour over will do huh? Fortunately the outdoor coffee-making market is saturated with portable, packable and durable pour over coffee brewers to help your inner hipster survive outdoors. You don’t need many tools for this one making it ideal for all-round outdoor coffee making, unless you’re getting into grinding your own beans that is.
It’s worth checking which filters fit your brewer before you buy it as some are made to work with a particular shape that may not be available in more remote areas. This drip coffee maker from GSI can be used with or without filters.
Pros: Great coffee (most filters sift out the oils and sediments), simple set up and not much to carry, many models are fairly easy to clean.
Cons: Not the quickest brewing process.
Espresso hand pump
Apparatus of all shapes and sizes have been invented to make espresso by hand. Although I have one of these cool little gadgets, I rarely use it to brew a coffee outdoors.
It’s handy for making an espresso for one when hillwalking if set up ahead of time. However, back at camp there are probably more effective methods. I like my coffee strong so usually run it through twice.
Pros: Really quick to make a coffee once you’ve got boiling water, no disposable parts.
Cons: Doesn’t make the strongest espresso, a bit faffy to make multiple coffees.
Having formerly been disdainful of instant coffee, necessity has recently left me a little more welcome to such measures. Instant coffee is simple and convenient, leaving you waste-free one you’ve brewed up. There are also some very tasty options available, although the caffeine content is said to be about half that fresh coffee.
That said, I’d take freshly ground over instant any day.
Pros: Simple, convenient and no grounds to get rid of.
Cons: Usually not as flavoursome as ground coffee.
The round up
So which is the best option? I’m afraid coffee-making is far to controversial for such black and white conclusions… For car camping or van trips I take a stovetop percolator or an Aeropress. An Aeropress with a reusable filter, instant coffee or reusable filter would be my choice for longer trips when I want to minimise waste, whereas I’d take a few coffee bags for an overnight like a mountain marathon.
In fact, getting your coffee brewing right is the same as preparing for any foray into the outdoors – consider your destination and the style of trip then adapt your kit list accordingly!
Making coffee outdoors is just one of many skills essential for a successful rugged mountain trip. Come along to one of our Hill Walking and Scrambling Courses to prepare for your next adventure!