THE BEST CAMPING COFFEE MAKERS – 2017
“Life isn’t worth living without coffee.”
How do you make the best coffee while camping or traveling? A great cup of coffee is easy and inexpensive to produce, even while camping. If you have a refined palettes and demand more from your morning kick-start than simply a caffeine jolt, want rich flavour, want refined perfection, and want it while sitting comfortably in a collapsible camp chair, read on.
Taste is the factor that weighted the heaviest in this evaluation. The pour over method is the best method because it consistently gives the best flavour. It’s also the most convenient and cost-effective brewing method for camping. But most pour over methods required careful pouring to get the best flavour – the method affects the taste dramatically. The many important variables are: quality of coffee, quantity, grind size, when it was ground, water temperature, and how fast you pour the water. This is most easily done with a kettle like the Hario Gooseneck Kettle. But few people will backpack or camp with such a specialized pour apparatus.
Hario V60 Plastic Dripper $7
Well-thought out design
Filters hard to find
Not the lightest or most compact
The same classic cone for your home is also the favourite choice for camping – just in a lighter and more durable plastic form. The Hario V60 Plastic Dripper gives the best taste, is easy to use and relatively light. The AeroPress edged ahead in the taste tests, but it was close and many testers preferred the V60. Also, the V60 is less than half the price of the AeroPress, less than half the weight, is far simpler since it does not have multiple pieces, and works better if you are brewing for multiple people. All of these features together make the V60 the best choice for the connoisseur who values bold taste and also enjoys waking up to mountain vistas. Of note, the Hario V60 Ceramic Dripper is our favourite way to make coffee at home and makes excellent camping coffee. It’s just heavier and less durable.
Keep in mind that the V60 supposedly requires a special filter different than the typical Melita filter style. In our experience, however, you can pretty much use any filter with any of these cones. In the case of the V60, you may have to double fold the bottom of a filter if you’re not using the Hario brand filter. You can also use the normal basket style filter if you pour carefully.
Best Filterless Option
Cafellissimo Paperless Pour Over $15.94
No filter needed
Extra time to clean
Don’t want to remember filters? Don’t want hot water interacting with plastic? The Cafellissimo Paperless Pour Over is the best filterless option we tested. It tied the V60 for taste and only fell a little behind it in ease of use. We found it easier to use filters as the cleanup process is faster and doesn’t involve much if any water. On the other hand, there is more and more concern about hot water over plastic and most of the other camping coffee makers, including the V60, use plastic. Want a filter option? Get the V60. Don’t want filters, get the Cafellissimo.
Best Bang for the Buck
Melitta Ready Set Joe Cone $2.29
Light and simple
View hole to prevent overflow
The Melitta Ready Set Joe appears similar in design to the Hario V60, but the differences result in less flavour that the Hario model, but it still makes an excellent, fresh morning brew. For only two bucks, this simple option is hard to beat.
Top Pick for Gourmet Taste
Aerobie AeroPress $29.95
Brews espresso complete with crema
Very portable for such a gourmet result
Many pieces and special filter
Not the most durable
In taste tests, this brews smooth, bitterness-free espresso shots. Many use this as their exclusive coffee maker, even at home, yet it is portable enough for traveling or campinp. Compared to pour over methods, it is a more complicated process and involves a lot of little pieces, yet once you train yourself it is fairly easy. To its credit, the AeroPress is extremely easy to clean: just push the grounds and filter out the bottom and into a trash bag. The AreoPress is portable but is made up of several small pieces, requiring a little more attention to detail when packing. It’s also a little delicate, and the base can crack.
Top Pick for Lightweight Travel
Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy $6.58
No filter needed
Light and compact
Easy to get consistent taste
Must lift to prevent steeping
It weighs about as much as an AA battery, is compact and durable. It also gives consistent taste no matter how you pour. The other lightweight contender, the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Press requires a much more exact pour that is challenging with a JetBoil or camping pot.
1. Starbucks VIA. $10 By far the lightest option. VIA packets are the most desirable option for a backpacker planning to go light, although for a long-distance backpacker they would be on the expensive side. For a more economically minded car-camper unconcerned with weight, any of the coffee makers are a far better option. None of the products tested can quite compete with the negligible weight of a single Starbucks VIA packet, (0.14 ounces) but the pour over coffee makers can be reused indefinitely, making them more cost effective than VIA in the long run.
How does the VIA taste? Nobody loved it, but some testers found it quite tolerable, especially since everything tastes better when camping. Other testers thought no weight savings was worth the VIA instant coffee experience. Our Verdict: VIA is better than Nescafe, but not nearly as good as any other brewing method using “real coffee.”
2. JetBoil Coffee Pressjetboil coffee press $10 Turns your jetboil into a french press. But, a pain to clean.
3. Aerobie AeroPress Aerobie AeroPress $30 Top scorer for taste. However, takes a lot of time, especially in a group.
4. GSI Personal Java Press $30 Great option for the French press lover that camps but, pour over methods scored higher.
If you want to grind it fresh before brewing (check out our trial of the GSI JavaGrind) the Personal Java Press makes for the best companion to a hand grinder simply because it also serves as a container to grind into, whereas the cone style makers are much less stable. That said, we find it much easier to just bring ground coffee when camping. You take a little flavor hit, but it’s worth the convenience.
Run out of filters? No problem, using a carefully folded paper towel is almost as effective as a coffee filter. We recommend pouring a 1/2 cup of water through to make sure you don’t get any paper towel flavor.
Portability is similar but slightly different than weight. Whereas weight is a defined measurement that backpackers find important, portability is our evaluation of how easy they are to pack and carry. As with the weight category, Starbucks VIA was obviously the most portable option.
The GSI Ultralight was the most portable filter we tested. Just fold the little plastic legs and this fits under a fuel canister.
Next, it’s a shootout between the Primula and the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Press. GSI wins here, but just barely. It’s so compact, it folds under a fuel canister. The Primula has the advantage of being much more durable. Also, it requires less coffee to consistently produce flavourful coffee. The GSI requires a more precise pour and so you may end up using more coffee. This means bringing more weight in coffee on your trip.
Even though the Melitta Ready Set Joe was the lightest of all the cones, it’s awkward cone shape made it hard to pack inside a backpack or camp kitchen box. It does have a small handle that can be clipped onto the back of a pack and carried on the outside. The Hario V60 has the same problem as the Melitta version. The AreoPress is portable but is made up of several small pieces, requiring a little more attention to detail when packing. It’s also a little delicate, and we eventually cracked the base.
If you are planning a trip with multiple devout camping coffee drinkers and plan on making camping coffee, it is worth looking for a method that can brew for more than one person. This was an area where the AeroPress did not hold up as well to the competition. Since it only brews a few shots of espresso at a time, you have to re-brew for every person, which would become a tedious and time-consuming process. The pour-over style makers are for one or more people. The Melitta and Hario versions can easily brew for two at a time, but for more than that, you will need to start over with a new filter and grounds, so that the last person doesn’t have a painfully weak cup of joe. However, the GSI Collapsible Java Drip has a much larger capacity than the other two pour-over makers, and could brew for 3-4 at a time if you put enough grounds in the filter. The GSI Personal Java Press is perhaps the best option for sharing between two people. The press comes with a separate mug, so aren’t required to drink out of the press, as with some models. This means you can pour for yourself and pour some into your friend’s mug from the same brew.