Camp Coffee Snob? We Have the Grinders For You

Sometimes instant coffee is fine. Backpacking long distances, over many days, for example. Sometimes, ancient coffee grounds that you bought for that one trip three years ago and that are still in your chuck box are fine, like when you realize you forgot to buy fresh coffee and the old ones are all you have.

But there is nothing wrong with loving coffee and loving great coffee, no matter where you are. A small pouch of quality beans and a hand grinder can be the coffee snob’s best friend in the backcountry. Even if you don’t mind instant or old grounds, you probably prefer the good stuff, so why limit yourself?

I stopped worrying about how much my kit weighs (within reason) a couple years ago. I’m a camp-first backpacker, as opposed to a hike-first backpacker, so I’ll allow a few more ounces for some camp luxuries. Same deal with car camping. Sure, it’s easier to grind beans at home, but nothing beats fresh ground beans right there at the campsite.

So, I bring a hand grinder when camping. These are the two best I’ve tried.

The VSSL Java. $145

Hoo boy! $145 for a coffee grinder! Are you insane? Quite possibly, yes, but this is one hell of a grinder. Made from aluminum, with stainless steel burrs, and, according the VSSL, anyway, premium ball bearings, it’s an heirloom. You will hand this grinder down to your kids, unless of course your slavish devotion to the perfect cup of coffee turns them off the beverage forever. The action of the grinding handle is smooth and effortless, I’m guessing due to those bearings and the weight of the metal grinding arm. You can adjust the grind to absurd specifications, allowing you to wade into the realm of the true coffee weirdo. Everything packs away nice and neat, the handle folds back on itself to form a nice clip to attach the grinder to a backpack, even. But you’ll also use it at home, I’d bet. I have an electric burr grinder which is great, but there’s something meditative about grinding the beans by hand with the VSSL. May seem like a bizarre splurge, but if you know, you know. If the very idea is appalling, read on.

The Hario Mini Mill. $35-ish

Take the VSSL, knock $100 off the price tag, replace the pleasing, durable metal parts with plastic, eliminate the nifty handle that doubles as a clip, and remove some of the grind settings, and you have the Hario. A perfectly serviceable burr grinder. For years I’ve used this while camping. For a time I used it at home, but it doesn’t grind nearly as smoothly or easily as the VSSL. I abandoned it a long time ago for a regular blade grinder. When I missed the even grounds of a burr grinder, I bought an electric one. I would not recommend the Hario as a home grinder, but it is epic as a little travel buddy.

– Justin Housman



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