Coffee seems to be one of those luxuries that we’ve moved mountains to figure out in the back country. My theory is that it’s because coffee is a luxury, it’s a necessity, a requirement and represents all that is good in this world. Coffee is also one of those outdoor elements that everyone seems to do a little differently, like we all understand that we need it but never got around to developing the best way to get it. So we’ve gotten together here and put together a list of our favorite ways to brew a good old cup o’ Joe.

The Weekend Warrior / Dirtbagger’s Delight –

GSI Java Press makes the perfect weekend French Press
GSI Java Press makes the perfect weekend French Press

The weekend warrior is by far the easiest mode of mainstreaming coffee in the mornings. This usually comprises of a large insulated mug, a sophisticated but outdoorsy French press or Percolator.

A basic Camping Percolator
A basic Camping Percolator

I reserve this for kayakers, car campers and anyone living in the back of their truck. Making coffee is about as straight forward as it is at home. Add your coffee grounds, boil some water and let the magic happen. While weight and size are sacrificed, the coffee connoisseur succeeds as this is probably the easiest and best tasting coffee made near a tent.

The Backpacker’s Brew –

GSI French Press Cup - A quick and easy solution
GSI French Press Cup – A quick and easy solution

For those longer, more weight conscious trips the art of coffee becomes a bit more challenging. There are still modes of producing that high quality fresh brewed taste, however, it requires the right equipment and a little bit of patience. The easiest backpack friends coffee supply is instant coffee. While we all have our qualms with quality, taste and grainyness (yeah, I made that up), there’s no doubt that instant coffee is a quick and easy solution to get the heart and the body moving in the morning. Other alternatives include French press adaptations, such as the JetBoil coffee press or the GSI French Press Cup.

The Standard JetBoil with Coffee press
The Standard JetBoil with Coffee press

The trick to coffee while backpacking is finding a multi-purpose system that accommodates the limited size and weight requirements when dealing with a backpack. Carrying something like the GSI cup or the JetBoil system gives you integrated French press ability in a multi-function container. My personal favorite is the GSI coffee cup. It allows me to carry a bag of coffee grounds and have decent tasting French press coffee every morning with almost no hassle. It’s so easy that I use it at home as well. The JetBoil system is also great. It was my first attempt at light weight coffee and it worked very well. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t use the Jet Boil of other things while I was drinking / steeping my coffee.

Gimmy S’mores   |   Popcorn Trailsnacks

The Mountaineer’s Mocha –

All the fixin's to make a pot of Cowboy Coffee
All the fixin’s to make a pot of Cowboy Coffee

High altitude coffee is even more challenging. While still an absolute necessity, the single serve coffee size is lost when working with a team. Larger amounts of coffee must be brewed for those early alpine starts when pushing the summit to ensure the entire team is awake and ready to move. As old as the mountains, the long standing practice of Cowboy Coffee takes the cake for those early morning miracles. It’s easy to make and doubles as an entertaining party trick when the days are gloomy. Start by boiling 6 cups of cold water. Once boiled, add 4-6 tablespoons of coffee grounds and turn off the heat. The trick to this is keeping the water warm without over cooking, so let it sit on top of the burner for a few minutes (2-2.5). Now, here’s the finesse part. Take a spoonful or two of snow and plop it into the pot. This will effectively cool the pot without compromising the quality of the coffee. Next take the backside of your knife and give the pot a good solid “clang.” It needs to be a sturdy clang, but don’t knock the pot over. You should be able to watch the coffee grounds settle to the bottom if you’ve given and effective enough strike. Once all grounds have settled, you’ll have a piping hot pot of coffee to jumpstart those cold early mornings.

2 Comments on Let’s Talk Coffee

  1. Jackie
    February 6, 2015 at 00:44 (7 years ago)

    We use Maxwell house coffee filter packs with
    our JetBoil Frenchpress system. The pack can be used several times so there is no waste and no grounds in your coffee. Fast, efficient and tasty.

    • Ian P.
      February 10, 2015 at 13:10 (7 years ago)

      Thanks Jackie! I’ve heard of those before but never gotten around to trying them out. For some reason they’re hard to find in our area. I’ll have to give them a shot! I especially like that they’re reusable, that saves weight and mess!


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