Make the Best Backcountry Coffee You’ve Ever Had
Filters, mugs, grinders, and instant options to help you get your caffeine buzz in the woods or on the water
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Some of my best memories include a charred old coffee pot and stale cans of Folgers in hunting camp, or dozens of tea bag sized coffee singles on my lightweight adventures. But I know I’m not the only one. Preparing coffee is just part of the daily routine in so many camps, and possibly even an article of endearment.
Thankfully, just as our hunting and fishing gear has improved thanks to technology and inventive thinking, so has the way we pack, prepare, and enjoy a cup of java. These days, whether you like your coffee black or loaded with cream and sugar, in an insulated mug or tin cup, there is something for everybody. Whether you’re a hardline coffee snob who demands fresh-ground beans, or you prefer to travel ultralight and drink instant go-juice, there are some great options out there. Here’s a look at just a few of the percolators, mugs, backcountry-friendly jitter juice blends, and other items that will help you start your day off right when you’re out and about.
If hunting camp is the cabin, and morning life revolves around the coffee pot for everyone, a simple stainless steel percolator like the one from GSI is a great option. Made from a heavy gauge, marine-grade steel, it has a hinged lid, inner basket to hold grounds, and a clear plastic knob on the lid so you can gauge the strength of your brew. You get that age-old percolated taste in every cup, it makes enough coffee for everyone in camp to get their blood flowing, and it’s simple enough to use that anyone in camp should have no problem preparing the following day’s brew. If someone doesn’t know how to use a percolating kettle, then they need to be in a different camp.
If you’re a fan of motor-oil thick, but smooth, rich coffee, a French press is tough to beat, but until recently, carrying a press has been a royal pain for those of us who live out of our backpacks in the mountains for 14 days at a time. It’s just not practical to bring a press along when you’re trying to cut as much pack weight as possible. Thankfully, now you can use a French press with the cookware you’re likely already carrying. The MSR Reactor is a good example because it uses the MSR Reactor 1.0 pot, which I use to boil water for freeze-dried meals. Simply boil your water, dump coffee grounds into the water, insert the strainer and press down on the plunger, and drink!
If you’re a fan of drip-brewed coffee have had to jerry-rig filters in the past to get relatively home-like coffee, then the Ultralight Java Drip is for you. Even the most weight-conscious hunter or backpacker can’t complain about this lightweight, compact little device. It’s basically a simple, re-useable coffee filter fitted to it’s own stand that clips onto a coffee cup. Just add grounds, pour water over the top, and coffee will drop out the bottom of the net. What makes this device unique is the fact you can add or remove coffee grounds to create a strong, or weak, cup of liquid energy.
If you don’t require multiple pots of coffee to function, but can appreciate a fresh-pressed brew, the Stanley insulated French press and mug combo is pretty cool. Pour in your water, coffee grounds, press down on the plunger, and enjoy your drink. The inside is stainless steel and BPA free, it’s entirely leak proof, and every part is dishwater safe. If you’re always in motion, there’s a good chance you’re carrying your coffee in a Stanley thermos already, so this will kill two birds with one stone—make your coffee, and keep it warm for hours.
Sea to Summit
Sea to Summit’s X-Brew is another great option for drip-brew fans, and while it isn’t bare-bones ultralight, it is a terrific, rigid, reusable option that doesn’t require any filters. A stainless steel mesh at the bottom allows water to seep down and through coffee grounds and into your mug. It’s collapsible, fits over wide-mouth water bottles if you’re on the go, made of food-grade silicone dishwasher safe, and can hold up to two cups of water. Just set it on top of your cup, add your favorite grounds, pour water through it, and when you’re done, rinse out the grounds, collapse it, and throw it back in your backpack until you’re ready for another cup.
You might look at Alocs’ coffee grinder and mug and think it’s a novelty contraption, but it really is just a cool little device. It’s not ultralight, but is can literally take whole coffee beans, grind them up, brew a drink, filter out the grounds, and keep it warm in a combo mug. The lid is a measured pouring cup for your hot water that fits over a hand-grinder with a stainless steel mesh filter. Simply add some beans, rotate the handle to grind, use the cup to pour just the right amount of water into the filter, pull the filter out, and enjoy your coffee right out of the insulated cup. This is a great option if you must have fresh-ground coffee, no matter where you are. You may need to make adjustments to the grinder spacing to make finer grounds, but once you do that, this device works great.
Starbucks coffee holds the wide standard for instant coffee with their VIA packets. After drinking Folgers Singles or Taster’s choice packets for so long, this stuff tastes like gold. Simply boil your water, pour it into a mug, add VIA grounds, and stir with a spoon and you’re done. Each single-serve packet is potent and rapidly dissolving, and available in a few different roast options. It’s also one that you can often find in just about any grocery store, making them very popular for last-minute packers like myself.
Like a craft beer microbrewer, Dark Timber is a small company focused on producing high-quality coffee, and their singles are hard to beat. Their Gravity Packs are a single-serve, disposable, drip brew packets that come with their own paper stand to hold over your cup. Simply tear open the top and you’ll have a fresh-brewed cup of amazingly smooth, real coffee in just a few seconds. Dark Timber also makes an instant coffee called the Vapor Pack, which are dump-in mocha singles, and they are top-notch.
Black Rifle Coffee Company Black Powder Instant Sticks
The Black Rifle Coffee Company has gained a huge following in recent years, and so they’ve branched out to also make instant coffee singles. Cleverly named Black Powder Instant Sticks, these slim packets of powdered coffee is guaranteed to get your juices moving in the morning. It’s got a bit of tang to it that is common with so many instant coffees, but if your favorite flavor is a dark roast, you will enjoy cup after cup of this mocha.
Tioga Rise Instant Singles
Don’t let these unassuming, little Tioga Rise instant coffee packets fool you—this is top-notch java. Tioga is a young company born on a backcountry elk hunt in Idaho after its owners realized the instant coffee options were weak at best. The crystalized coffee packs a punch, and each little packet produces a frothy, espresso-like cup of lightning. It’s tastes as close to a brewed coffee as I’ve ever had, and it even tastes great shaken and poured over ice on a hot day.
If you’re not tied into the idea of having individual packets, and you like espresso, Kimbo’s insant mix might be for you. It’s a crystalized instant coffee that offers much more of an espresso flavor and bite than regular brewed coffee. The small jar it comes in is plenty convenient, but it could also be easily repackaged for your needs.
Waka is another company that makes a relatively obscure, but phenomenal instant coffee. It comes packaged in small, individual single packets, and like the Tioga, it’s a crystalized powder. But this blend will create a cup that will put the tin can coffee you grew up on to shame. In a pinch, or on an all-night fishing marathon, dump a couple pouches of Waka into a 16-ounce bottle of water and shake it up. It may be a travesty, but for water-bottle coffee, it’s pretty good.
Related: Best Coffee Maker