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Yes, I love coffee for the typical reasons—warmth and caffeine—but also the joyful rhythm it brings to mornings in camp. Whether you’re on a multi-day river trip, car camping adventure or backpacking trip, there’s no reason to deny yourself of a great cup of coffee. The best brewing methods vary based on the type of trip, available packing space, and the number of people you’re serving, but read on for a few classic ways to make delicious camp coffee.

How to Brew Coffee While Camping

How to Make Killer Camp Coffee

1) Cowboy coffee

This is a classic method for large groups and is still used on river trips around the world. Some rafters are recalcitrant to share best practices. My favorite system, honed after many early river mornings, is known as the sink down method. Boil a large pot of water. Once it boils, turn off the flame, leaving the pot on the burner. Pour in coffee (about 2 tbsp. grounds per 8 oz. of water). DO NOT STIR. Relight the flame, until a delicate boil returns and the dry grounds are *just* barely over-topped with water. You’ll see some really neat coffee bubbles. Turn off the flame immediately. Wait until the grounds sink, and strain before serving.

2) French press

It works so well, I take my French press from home when I’m car camping. Mine is glass, so I do not use it on the river, but there are many other durable options on the market, as well as French press attachments for Jetboil camping stoves if you’re looking to pack light. Thanks to the instructions of my former-barista sister, I am a bit precious in my formulation. I buy coffee specifically ground for a French press, use exactly four tablespoons measured in a bamboo (never metal or plastic, but wood is okay) spoon, fill with boiling water, stir counterclockwise three times, set a timer for exactly four minutes, plunge, and drink immediately. If this sounds like overkill, it probably is, but if you want your fellow campers to love you forever (or always assign you to coffee duty), accuracy and precision are key.

Camp coffee with an AeroPress

3) AeroPress

This lightweight and portable brewing device has quickly become a go-to option for coffee enthusiasts both at home and outdoors. The AeroPress only makes one serving at a time so it’s not going to work for a 20-person multi-day river trip. However, it is great for self-supported adventures like kayaking and backpacking, or any camper who just wants that one perfect cup in the morning (the coffee comes out fierce). The brewing method is similar to a French press, but a filter is used at the bottom and prevents any grounds from escaping into your cup. For best results, the coffee should be ground specifically for AeroPress.

4) Percolator

The percolator is another old-school camp favorite, perfect for cozy mornings on the river or in the woods at a campground. This brewing method, which is essentially like your coffee maker at home, is ideal for mid-size groups. You add grounds to a filter, place it in the filter basket and fill the kettle with water. As it boils, the water percolates up through a tube in the middle of the kettle and over the grounds. When the coffee reaches a color to your liking (there’s typically a clear viewing window at the top), your coffee is ready. Made on a camp stove or over the open fire, the coffee is strong, and the nostalgia is excellent.

How to Brew Coffee While Camping

5) Coffee sock

Take the sweatiest, grossest, swampiest sock from the previous day, pour grounds in it, and submerge in recently boiled water for 10-20 minutes. Just kidding! While this may be a useful strategy if you’re in a desperate situation, for the love of free-flowing rivers, use a clean, food-grade vessel for steeping. This cowboy coffee alternative essentially applies the same methodology used for tea to coffee. Make sure not to over stuff your sock (as I definitely have) because that will lead to horrible undrinkable coffee and everyone in camp mutinying.


I learned my most-important and most-adhered to coffee rule from my sister, a former mountaineering guide and barista familiar with early morning starts. Her caffeine-drenched wisdom? Always dump out the last bit of your brew. That way, you can always have another cup because you never finished the previous one.


Photos: River morning in Grand Canyon – Justin Bailie; AeroPress camp coffee – William Moreland / Unsplash; GSI Percolator – GSI 



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