The best ways to make a cup of joe at your campsite
If morning isn't morning without your cup of coffee, camping presents a bit of a conundrum: The fresh air and scenery are great, but the prospect of coping without caffeine is just not an option. This isn't a problem if you camp in a lavish RV with all the comforts of home, but on the trail or at a remote campsite you'll need to exercise some old-school, hands-on coffee-making skills. The good news is that you have plenty of options, depending how you like your coffee and how adventurous you are.
Classic cowboy coffee on the campfire
The most iconic version of camp java-making is cowboy coffee, preferably in a big, battered enamel coffee pot. But that part's optional, because a plain old pot works just as well, although admittedly, it doesn't look as good on Instagram. Just bring water to a boil over the campfire or stove, add coarsely ground coffee and let it sit for five minutes or so. Keeping the grounds in the pot rather than getting them in your cup is an art – you have to pour carefully, or you can cheat and pour the coffee through a strainer. Either way, it's good, strong coffee, and once the pot is rinsed you can use it to boil more water for cooking or cleaning. An old-fashioned percolator makes good campfire coffee, too: The grounds go into a basket, and water burbles up through the grounds to make the coffee. Just eyeball the color of the brew through the glass handle on the lid and remove it from the fire when it's strong enough.
Pour-over coffee in the great outdoors
If you detest getting grounds in your cup or you just prefer a cup of light, civilized drip coffee, you can have that outdoors easily enough. Just tuck a few filters and a lightweight plastic drip cone into your pack, choosing a single- or multi-person cone depending on the circumstances. Filters pack flat and weigh nearly nothing. The cone itself is bulky, but at least it's hollow so you can pack clean socks in it rather than waste the space. When you want your cup of joe, just boil up some water and pour it over the grounds in the cone as you would at home. It's simpler to make than cowboy coffee, and the cone is smaller and easier to carry than a large pot.
Three upscale options for the discerning coffee hound
If your taste in coffee is sophisticated and you're a no-compromises kind of person, you have several options for cranking out high-end coffee on a campfire or camp stove.
French press: A French press makes a refined version of cowboy coffee. Drop in your favorite coarsely ground coffee, wait several minutes, then press the plunger to separate the grounds. Lightweight polycarbonate versions are sturdy enough to pack, and you can choose a single- or multi-person press as needed.
Moka pot: The familiar, octagonal old-world stovetop espresso maker is heavier to carry than a cone and filters, but smaller and lighter than a big cowboy-style pot. Fill the basket with fine-grind coffee and the base with water, then put the pot at the edge of your fire or over the camp stove until the top fills with rich, strong coffee.
AeroPress: The AeroPress is an odd little contraption with a tube, a filter and a plunger, rather resembling an oversized syringe. Fill the tube with fine-grind coffee and hot water, then screw the cap and filter onto the end. Place the press over your mug and push down on the plunger until it's empty. It gives you a potent shot of espresso-like, concentrated coffee, which you can drink as is or dilute to regular strength.
A few practical considerations
Each of these approaches has its virtues. Percolators and cowboy-style pots are big and bulky, but can do double duty for cooking. They're best for car camping or canoeing where weight is less of an issue. The drip cone and AeroPress both take paper filters, which are one more item to pack and carry out. Worse, if the filters run out, blow away or get soaked with water, you won't be able to make coffee. Percolators, French presses, moka pots and the AeroPress all have multiple parts to clean, pack and keep track of. Finally, there's the question of what to do with the used grounds. They can go into the fire, or in many parks or camping areas, into a trash receptacle, but in sensitive environments you may be expected to pack them out.