For many of us, getting outside is a respite from the drudgery and stress of day-to-day work life, and we come back from our outdoor adventures refreshed, rejuvenated, and recharged.
Being outside is also a game of sacrifice, however, as the comforts of home are left behind. One comfort I hate to leave behind? Coffee.
Coffee Coffee Coffee.
So I don’t! I mean, why would you? There are many ways to get your caffeine fix out in the backcountry, and it all depends on how much you want to carry and how much time in the morning you want to devote to getting the perfect cup.
Simple, easy, and by far the most lightweight, taking instant coffee out into the wilderness is the go-to method for multi-day backpacking trips. It may not taste the best, but it certainly gets the job done. Starbucks Via is the standard these days.
- Instant coffee
- Boil the water.
- Put the coffee in the water, and stir it.
- Drink the coffee.
Another simple way to make coffee, what you need for this method is relatively simple: coffee beans, water, pot. Also, a rock. Why a rock? Fer smashin’. Cowboy coffee is best made with a coarse grind since it is well-steeped; a finer grind will lead to over-extraction and bitter coffee. So get yer beans, and smash ’em! Channel your inner caveman! Cowboy! Cowboy caveman!
- Coffee beans
- Crushed egg shell (optional)
- Grind the coffee beans coarsely, either at the grocery store when you buy the beans, at home when you’re packing, or with a rock or hammer at camp.
- Heat water to a boil, let cool a few minutes.
- Add the coffee grounds to the pot. They should gradually sink to the bottom (throwing a crushed egg shell into the water is an old folk-method of getting the grounds to settle quickly).
- Pour slowly, sideways into your mug, leaving the grounds in the pot.
- Drink–carefully. Try not to choke on the grounds, or smile too broadly. You have grounds in your teeth.
Though somewhat time-consuming, a well made cup of pour-over coffee is hard to beat from a taste perspective. But how to make good pour-over coffee in the backcountry? Well, you just have to be content with winging it a little. True coffee aficionados will gnash their teeth and weep at this, but I can’t expect you to travel into the backcountry with a gram scale to weigh your coffee grounds and water. If you’re car camping, then sure. That’s fine. Or hey! If you are that serious about good coffee in the backcountry, you’ll find a way to fit a scale into your pack.
- 2 Tbsp of coffee per 3/4 cup (6 fl oz) of water, or 3/4 cup ground coffee per 1 liter of water
- If grinding your own coffee, a hand-powered quality burr coffee grinder, like GSI’s Java Mill.
- A cone-shaped pour-over brewer, such as GSI’s Collapsible Java Drip, or Soto’s Helix Collapsible Coffee Brewer.
- A paper filter that matches your pour-over brewer
- 1 cup water
- Optional: Substitute paper filters for a reusable cloth one, or reusable metal filter.
- The ideal ratio of coffee to water is 1:15. For example, use 16 grams of coffee for 250 grams water (1 cup), or 66 grams of coffee grounds for 1000 grams (1 liter) of water. To approximate in the field, use 2 tablespoons to ¾ cup (6 fl oz) water, or 3/4 cup of ground coffee to one liter of water.
- Grind the coffee beans at a medium-coarse grind.
- Heat water to a boil, then let cool a 45 seconds to 1 minute to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Set the paper filter in the cone. Pour a bit of hot water over it to rinse the filter – to rid it of that unfortunate ‘paper flavor’ from it. Dump the rinse water.
- Start your timer now.
- Begin pouring the hot water onto the coffee grounds, slowly, starting in the center, and moving outwards concentrically, just enough to saturate all of the coffee grounds evenly, then wait 4-8 seconds. This is called pre-infusion. Then, continue to pour the water slowly in a circle onto the grounds, at the same rate that the coffee comes pouring out the bottom of the brewer. Try to saturate the coffee grounds evenly. This entire process should take no more than 4 minutes.
- Remove the cone brewer and dispose of the grounds (pack it out, especially in environmentally sensitive areas.)
- Drink and enjoy a great cup of coffee!
4. AeroPress Coffee
Here we come to the real good stuff. The AeroPress, though ostensibly for outdoor use, is recognized by many to brew some of the tastiest, sweetest, most full-bodied coffee you can get outside of your local coffeeshop. We’re not going to do anything crazy with it, like make espresso or a latte (though you could), just a simple cup of good coffee.
- About 2 1/2 Tbsp of recently roasted coffee beans
- Hand-powered quality burr coffee grinder
- AeroPress brewer
- AeroPress paper filters
- Stirring device
- Cookpot or kettle
- A little over a cup of water
- Grind your coffee beans at a medium-fine grind.
- Heat water to a boil, let cool a 45 seconds to 1 minute to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the filter into the filter cap of the AeroPress, screw the cap into the base of it, and place that onto a mug.
- Pour a bit of hot water over it to rinse the filter. Dump out the rinse water.
- Add the ground coffee. Start your timer now.
- Pour the hot water onto the coffee grounds until you reach the No. 4 on the AeroPress–the time it takes to saturate your grounds should be no more than 10 seconds. Stir.
- Gently place the top plunger part of the AeroPress into the very top of the base, so that the resulting suction keeps all the liquid dripping through too quickly.
- After 3 minutes, begin pressing the top down, until almost all of the liquid has passed through the grounds into the mug below.
- Unscrew the filter cap from the base of the AeroPress and dispose of the grounds (pack it out, especially in environmentally sensitive areas.)
- Drink and enjoy!
5. Percolator Coffee
Long the mainstay of family camping trips, the rustic charm of percolating coffee hearkens back to childhood memories of summers by the lake, marshmallows over the campfire, and a giant car camping tent. Nostalgia.
- Very coarsely ground coffee
- Coffee percolator
- A heat source, either a stove or fire
- Pour cool water into the base of the percolator. Two tablespoons of ground coffee to 1 cup of water.
- Place the top chamber into the base, and add the ground coffee, and close the lid.
- Place the percolator onto the heat source, and leave it there until the water in the bottom boils, beginning the percolation process.
- Remove the percolator from the heat once it has finished, no more than 3 minutes.
- The coffee is ready to drink.
6. French Press Coffee
Ah, Oui. There are a number of french presses available for the outdoor-enthusiast, like the Snowpeak Titanium Coffee Press, the GSI Commuter Javapress, or even an attachment for your trusty Jetboil. Making coffee doesn’t get much simpler than this one, folks!
- Freshly ground coffee – coarsely ground (8 tablespoons)
- French press (a 3 cup volume model, like the Snowpeak)
- 3 cups water (heated to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Stirring device
- Warm up the empty french press with a bit of hot water. Dump the rinse water.
- Put 8 tablespoons of coffee grounds into the french press.
- Pour in half of the of hot water. Start the timer.
- Stir briefly, and wait 1 minute, then stir again.
- Add the rest of the hot water, wait another 3 minutes.
- Place the coil compressor and lid onto the top, and begin to press down until all of the coffee is concentrated at the base.
- Pour the coffee out into mugs right away, so that the hot liquid does not continue to extract bitter flavors from the coffee grounds.
- The coffee is ready to drink.
So there you have it! Remember, going out into the backcountry doesn’t mean going without that sweet, caffeinated manna from heaven. Take the perk with you!