GSI Outdoors Coffee Rocket Maker
Photo by Natalie McMillan
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8 Ways to Make Coffee While Thru-Hiking or Camping

With just a little planning it is possible to enjoy a good cup of coffee in the outdoors. We tested eight different methods for making coffee each with varying taste, cost, and weight. The best method for you will depend on your individual needs.

Paul Bodnar       Tech on the Trail       12/13/2019
Paul Bodnar
Tech on the Trail
12/13/2019

We researched a variety of ways to make coffee while you’re backpacking or camping. Each method had its pluses and minuses, but we think you’ll find something here that works for you!

Preferred instant coffee? Check out our post about instant coffee in the backcountry: Instant Coffee on the Trail

We purchased all items and were not solicited to review any item in this blog post.

A camping coffee mug.

1. Cowboy Coffee

Yay: This is the easiest, most lightweight way to make coffee.
Nay: It doesn’t taste good; requires two containers if you decant; messy to pack out used grounds

Directions: Heat up water to desired temperature and add ground coffee to taste. Let it sit for 2 to 4 minutes — any longer and you will extract the bitterness from the coffee.  Drink it straight or decant to remove most of the coffee grounds. In our test we transferred the coffee to a mug to reduce the coffee grounds and it helped a lot.

Taste : This was the worst tasting coffee when compared to all the other  methods. Even after decanting a lot of grounds were suspended in the coffee. This gave the coffee a grainy texture which wasn’t ideal.

Summary : Making cowboy coffee requires no equipment but makes a poor quality cup of coffee. For backpacking you will need a plan to responsibly pack out the loose, used grounds.

A way to make coffee when you're camping or backpacking.
Cowboy coffee

2. DIY Coffee Bag

Yay: This is one of the easiest, most lightweight, and affordable ways to make a cup of coffee; easy to pack out waste.
Nay: It has an odd flavor from the paper.

Directions: Place ground coffee in a paper coffee filter and then tie a knot using unflavored dental floss to seal the coffee inside.  Heat up water to desired brewing temperature and then drop the bag into the cup or pot. Leave the bag in the cup for 2-4+ minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee.

Taste: This was okay tasting coffee. But you can taste the coffee filter.

Summary: This makes an okay-tasting cup of coffee that is easy to make at a very low cost. You can easily pack out your waste  by simply squeezing out the bag and putting it in your trash bag.

A way to make coffee when you're backpacking or camping.

3. Single Serve Paper Pour Over Filter

Yay: This is one of the most convenient ways to make a decent-tasting cup of coffee and easy to pack out your waste.
Nay: You can taste the paper.

Directions: Place ground coffee in the single serve paper filter. Slowly pour heated water into the coffee filter and, presto! — you have a good-tasting cup of coffee.

Taste: This makes a good-tasting cup of coffee, but we did taste a hint of paper.

Summary: This makes a decent cup of coffee that is easy to make and pack out. The filters are lightweight, but come with a per-use cost that may not appeal to long-distance backpackers.

GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip coffee maker.
GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip coffee maker.

4. GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip

Yay: This makes a very good light cup of coffee; doesn’t require a single use paper filter; lightweight; easy to pack out waste.
Nay: Unless you are very careful, it may not make it through a long-distance backpacking trip.

Directions: Place ground coffee in the mesh basket and clip the device to the side of your coffee cup. Slowly pour hot water over the grounds.

Taste: This makes a very good, though light (due to high flow rate), cup of coffee.

Summary: This makes a good cup of coffee and has the advantage of not using disposable single use filters. The design also makes it easy to see how much water you have already poured into the cup. (Some other coffee makers block this critical view.) It is lightweight (11 grams) and collapsible, making it easy to pack away in your cooking pot. Simply squeeze the mesh and invert the basket to put used grounds into your waste container to pack out. Bonus: You can also use this to make tea by lowering the mesh into the hot water (not clipping the plastic clips to the side of the cup).

This is my favorite coffee maker for backpacking. 

MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea Filter
Coffee filter in a camping coffee mug.

5. MSR Coffee/Tea Filter

Yay: This makes a good cup of strong coffee or tea; doesn’t require a paper filter; lightweight.
Nay: can be difficult to cleanly remove grounds from filter.

Directions: Place ground coffee in the mesh container and slowly pour hot water over the coffee.  Either remove immediately or let the filter sit in the cup if you want a stronger drink (but not too long or you will get a bitter taste).

Taste: This makes very good coffee.

Summary: This is a versatile filter because you can easily make coffee or tea. It also doesn’t require single use paper filters so you’ll never have to worry about finding paper filter replacements. Leave the lid at home to save 9 grams.

GSI Outdoors Coffee Rocket Maker

6. GSI Outdoors Coffee Rocket Maker

Yay: The GSI Outdoors Coffee Rocket Maker made the best tasting coffee.
Nay: Lots of parts and too heavy for most backpackers.

Directions: Fill the stainless steel filter with ground coffee in the blue base unit and then attach the water hopper on top. Place the entire device on top of your coffee cup. Slowly pour the hot water into the hopper.

Taste: This made the best tasting coffee out of all the methods tested due to the slow water flow rate.

Summary: This made the best tasting coffee. But its weight (77 grams),  bulkiness and complexity would make most long-distance hikers squirm. The stainless steel filter has a maximum capacity of about 2 tablespoons, so you are limited to about 8 ounces of coffee per use. This coffee maker isn’t bad for overnight backpacking or camping, but not ideal for lightweight long-distance backpacking.

Wolecok Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Dripper
Wolecok Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Dripper

7. Wolecok Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Dripper

Yay: This makes very good coffee; it’s indestructible.
Nay: Requires a standard paper coffee filter; heavy for backpacking.

Directions: Expand the collapsible device and insert a standard paper coffee filter.  Add the desired amount of ground coffee and then pour the hot water over the coffee. You have to be careful pouring water into this filter because you can’t see how much water you already added. — you can accidentally overflow your coffee cup.

Taste: This makes a good cup of coffee.

Summary: This makes good coffee due to slow water flow rate and is practically indestructible.  It can handle temperatures from -40 degrees to 446 degrees Fahrenheit and the silicone is extremely flexible. The only downside is the weight (84 grams) and the fact that it requires a standard paper coffee filter. This would be a great camping coffee maker.

GSI Outdoors 78482 Collapsible Java Drip
GSI Outdoors 78482 Collapsible Java Drip

8. GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

Yay: This makes a good tasting cup of coffee
Nay: Requires a paper filter; this is the heaviest coffee maker tested.

Directions: Expand the collapsible device and insert a standard paper coffee filter into the coffee maker. Add the desired amount of ground coffee to the basket and then slowly pour hot water over the coffee. You have to be careful pouring water into this filter because you can’t easily see through the semi transparent filter base.  If you aren’t careful it is easy to add too much water and overflow your coffee cup.

Taste: This makes a good cup of coffee.

Summary: The weight (101 grams or 135 grams with the lid) of this coffee maker makes it too heavy for most backpackers.  It also has a breakable plastic base. I don’t see any reason to use this filter when compared to the lighter and more affordable Wolecok coffee maker shown above.

Coffee Maker Summary

My favorite backpacking coffee maker is the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip. Why? It makes good coffee, it’s easy to use, lightweight (11 grams), easy to pack, versatile (it can make tea too), doesn’t require paper filters and it is affordable.

My favorite camping coffee maker is the Wolecok collapsible pour-over coffee dripper. Why? It’s indestructable, easy to clean, and easy to store.


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Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.