In this day of gourmet coffee fetishizing we have so, so many options when it comes to mainlining caffeine in the backcountry. Too many options, maybe, depending on your personal level of indecision. Lately, I’ve been planning lots of backcountry trips for friends who aren’t experienced backpackers. Their kitchen kits, especially their camp coffee choices, seem to inspire the most confusion and frustration. What kind of coffee prep makes sense for what kind of camping? What’s the most efficient coffee system? What’s the easiest to pack? That sort of thing. As a red-eyed caffeine fiend, I steadied my perpetually quivering hands just long enough to put together this little guide to nailing coffee prep in the wilderness.
Single cup pour over filter
This is my go-to. Whether backpacking, car camping, nordic ski hut trip, a tiny and lightweight little cone is perfect when you want good coffee and have the time to prepare it properly. I like the Sea to Summit X-Brew Coffee Dripper—weighs less than three ounces. Folds down to less than an inch it height. Perfect blend of easy to carry combined with quality brewing. Bring pre-ground coffee in a little baggie, and this is a great high-end coffee option no matter where you are.
For the supremely dedicated coffee snob, the Aeropress is the ideal backcountry coffee maker. This plastic syringe/plunger is light enough to cart in a backpack, though it takes up a fair bit of space, and produces brilliant coffee. Want a quick shot of espresso blend or a full cup? It does both. Porlex even makes a hand-cranked burr grinder that fits in the Aeropress if you want to really geek out and grind your own beans. No better coffee option in the backcountry if you absolutely must have the best coffee you can.
If you’re camping with a group or maybe you just want to chug a liter of coffee yourself, this is your tool. Biolite makes a great french press that fits into their Kettle Pot, even if you’re not using their little wood-burning stove thing—it works great on a two-burner stove. At 1.5 liters, it’ll make enough coffee for 2-4 people, easy. Backpacking and need to make coffee for two people? I like the MSR Windburner pot with their Coffee Press.
If my main concern is packing as light as possible and/or moving as quickly as possible, I’m bringing some little packets of instant. Starbucks Via is the gold standard with good reason—I’ll drink these at home in a pinch—but Maxim Original, which comes pre-mixed with sugar and creamer, is also pretty dang good. For a long time I’d only bring Via while backpacking, but as good as it is, it can’t compare with freshly-brewed coffee. This is your thru-hiking, speed-hiking or, as I do, emergency coffee option—I’ll stash a Via packet or two in my first aid kit so if I forget to bring my pour over, which happens sometimes, I’ve got serviceable coffee on standby.
Don’t. Just don’t. With weightless pour overs or instant packets, there’s no reason anymore to mix grounds with boiling water and MacGuyver your way through figuring out how to avoid drinking the grit.