How to make quality backpacker coffee


You may have a great coffee maker sitting on your kitchen counter, but making a good cup of joe in the backcountry is a whole different adventure. Things like size and weight are factors you may have never thought about, but are huge factors if you want a cup of coffee in the wilderness. The two most common ways to make coffee in the backcountry are french press and cowboy coffee, filtered or unfiltered. There are also instant coffee options, but they aren’t the best tasting. There are give and takes for every method, taste, weight and size. You have to weigh what type of backpacking you are doing and compare it to what you value in your coffee.

Every good cup of coffee starts with a fresh grind. Grinding coffee in the backcountry is a bit tricky, without electricity and trying to be as lightweight as possible, there are only a few options. REI only sells one, the GSI Outdoors Java Grind, which is what I use and love. I’ve heard of other people using the Hario Coffee Mill Slim Grinder too, but it is actually an ounce and a half heavier than the GSI model. Both are hand cranks and can store the beans inside.


Cowboy coffee is traditionally thought of as crudely made coffee with a burnt flavor, but actually is connoisseur coffee, if made correctly. Cowboy coffee is simple and uses less coffee than french press or drip methods. It is made by heating coarse ground coffee and water in a pot, letting the grounds settle and pouring off the liquid to drink, sometimes filtering the grounds. I’ve seen people filter cowboy coffee all sorts of ways in the woods, bandanas, bug screens, cheesecloth and so on. I prefer this method:

STEP ONE: Bring water to a boil

STEP TWO: Take water off heat and let settle until not boiling

STEP THREE: Place one tablespoon coffee per two cups of water in the pot and stir gently with a small stick

STEP FOUR: Coffee grounds will sink after they become fully saturated (3-4 minutes)

STEP FIVE: Filter coffee grounds by pouring them through the MSR MugMate Coffee Filter

STEP SIX: Drink!

***Some people have little tricks they do to get stubborn grounds to settle, including: tapping the side of the pot, adding in a few drops of cold water (or snow), dropping in a few pebbles into the pot or just continue stirring with the small stick.


French Presses make a great cup of coffee! They don’t have the paper filter, like drip does, so the natural oils from the coffee aren’t stripped away while brewing. However, while backpacking, they do add a bit of extra weight. Some ultra-lightweight backpackers cut the handle of the press off and remove the bottom or sleeve it comes in to save some ounces. For obvious reasons, bringing glass (or Pyrex) into the backcountry is not a good idea. Make sure to have a Lexan french press that is 30 oz. or more if you plan on sharing or having two cups.The best backpacking french presses on the market today are:

GSI Outdoor’s Java Press – 30 oz. volume – 10.3 oz weight – $32.95

Jetboil Flash Java Kit – 30 oz. volume – 16.25 oz. weight – $99.95 (comes with stove)

There also is the Aerobie Aeropress which can make up to 20 oz. of coffee and weighs 16 oz. and costs $29.99. It’s similar to a french press, but is different since it uses a filter. Some people argue it makes the smoothest coffee a backpacker can make, but I still love my traditional french press.


For most coffee connoisseurs, instant coffee is not even a thought when packing for an upcoming camping trip. However, they are ridiculously light weight and there are some pretty good tasting ones on the market these days. All major coffee brands have some form of instant coffee on the shelves: Folgers, Nescafe, Maxwell House, etc. However, in my book of instant coffee there are only two pages (cheesy, I know…): Starbucks Via and Java Juice. These two are just the best and don’t have that “instant-coffee” flavor no one is keen on. Both of these brews will run you a little over a dollar per packet, which makes it the most expensive option, but also the easiest and lightest.

I use the GSI Outdoors Java Press and Java Grind system. The whole system will cost you about $58 and weighs 21.5 ounces. The grinder fits nicely inside the french press, so you can grind directly into the press and is really easy to use. Sometimes the grinder will slip out from your hand while you are grinding, so you have to keep a good hold on it, but other than that I have no complaints. I spent 16 days in the backcountry a couple weeks ago and had great coffee to share with everyone, it was a great start to the day!

Emily Butterfield – founder of “The Christian Backpacker”, a travel blog centred on topics that really matter. Emily is one of those people who is always on an adventure. Currently leading a World Race team, for now Emily is content with being a nomad, a wandering Christian in search of truth, justice, love and Jesus. Check out:



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