I only have three requirements when I’m making coffee in the backcountry: 1) the coffee must taste great (duh); 2) the coffee can’t have a gritty feeling; and 3) cleanup must be fast and simple. Now, as a self-proclaimed coffee addict, I’ll admit that criteria #1 completely depends on the quality and freshness of the coffee beans and what your taste for coffee is. I like a black mug of joe from medium to light roasted beans.
I’m not a morning person, and I struggle equally at home and on the trails when it comes to getting up early. That’s why coffee is a must for me! Nothing gets me out of bed faster than the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Over the last few years, I have experimented to find the absolute best way to enjoy coffee while backpacking or in the great outdoors. Fortunately, making the best dang cowboy coffee is pretty darn simple and fuss free!
While this method will work for car camping as well, I usually bring my French press and coffee grinder with me on those trips (praise my little Toyota Matrix that has an outlet built in!) because the French press is still the fastest way to make great tasting coffee for a larger group and most car campsites have trash bins which make dumping grinds simple enough.
I’ve experimented with instant coffees (Starbucks Via instant coffee and Sudden Coffee.) I’ve always felt instant coffee is too acidic and sometimes burnt tasting; now, I still pack these and use them in a pinch, but it’s not my preferred method. If you are going to pack an instant coffee, I suggest supporting Sudden Coffee as they’re a fellow freeze-drying company based not far from our kitchen here in San Francisco.
Adding coffee grinds into your teapot, jetboil (etc) is my least favorite way to make coffee for a few reasons. First, it’s messy. When I’m backpacking, my teapot is generally my only kitchen equipment unless I know I can hit a town for bacon and eggs, in which case I bring a small pan too. But for the most part, I only have a teapot. Cleaning the grinds out of a teapot is messy and hard to do without getting grinds on the ground, which not only violates LNT but is also dangerous if you’re in bear country. Second, inevitably the water I boil afterwards tastes like really weak coffee. This might be more a testament to how well I scrub my dishes while on the trail, but nonetheless it holds true for me! And finally, I’m not great at pouring the water out into a mug; somehow, I always get gritty coffee grinds mixed in which isn’t pleasant. Or, I wind up using two mugs and going back and forth with a filter over one which is just messy and I usually spill half the cup. Again, not great in bear country!
Coffee Filter Method
Unless I’m using a narrow brim mug, I’ve had the coffee filter collapse in my mug which causes the grit problem as described above. I also like making coffee in advance in a thermos on cold days or if I know I have a river crossing during the day’s trek, and this method isn’t great for that.
So now that I’ve explained how I DON’T make my backpacking coffee, let’s get down to how I do make it! It’s simple, fast, and fuss free. Winning!
If you want the best coffee while backpacking, hunting, or in general enjoying the great outdoors, please please please start with whole beans. Honestly, this makes such a flavor and aromatic difference. I don’t believe you have to rough it while on the trail, so I bring my favorite beans with me. Personally, I suggest Flying Goat’s single origin coffee, though their blends are tasty too. These guys are my absolute favorite. I discovered them while eating out in San Francisco; the coffee was so yummy that I asked my waiter if he could share what beans they brewed, and this led to my discover of Flying Goat, which is a Santa Rose based company. Check them out!
To make a successful cup of coffee:
You will need single use tea bags for this method; I buy compostable ones since that makes it easiest to dump once I’m off trail as everything can go into the compost bin.
You will also need a second bag of ours or a ziplock bag. I’ve had ziplock bags break open and leak in my pack, so I’m not a big fan of them for this use.
You’re on trail and ready to drink that delicious coffee! You’re so close, just a few more steps.
That’s it! Literally that’s it. No coffee grind cleanup, no washing out your teapot, nada! Just simple, delicious coffee; the way it should be! (Pro tip – sometimes I use weak coffee to rehydrate the Citrus Chia Morning Bowl so I get an espresso caffeine boost!)
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If you’re applying for the Pacific Crest Trail permit lottery or already have your permit issued, then congratulations! You’ve taken the first step towards the adventure of a lifetime!
For many, food is the largest source of anxiety when planning a long-distance backpacking trip. Read our resupply guide for more information on successfully planning your food for the PCT.
As a fellow backpacker, athlete, or active outdoorsy person, you know how vital the right food is to your success — especially when you’re on the trail or on the go.
The problem is finding time to source, cook, and pack food that’s lightweight, tastes great and is actually good for your body (the holy trinity of backpacking food!)