How do you make the best coffee while camping or traveling? To find out, we researched over 30 products and bought 10 for side-by-side tests. Eight expert java enthusiasts then spent over 100 hours sampling over 300 cups of coffee. Whether you enjoy portable pour over perfection, french press or some more innovative brewing methods, we have a recommendation for you. The good news: a great cup of coffee is easy and inexpensive to produce, even while camping. The bad news: many of the camping coffee makers out there are much more hassle than needed and deliver sub-par taste. Read on and we'll sort it out for you.
Spring 2017 Update
In April 2017, we added three new models to our tests and two new award winners. We awarded a second Edtiors' Choice for best filterless option and a new Top Pick for lightweight travel. We focused our new additions on the pour over method because it consistently gives the best flavor. It's also the most convenient and cost-effective brewing method for camping.
The same classic cone for your home is also our favorite 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 our 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 favorite way to make coffee at home and makes excellent camping coffee. It's just heavier and less durable.
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.
At first glance, the Melitta Ready Set Joe appears similar in design to the Hario V60, but upon closer inspection, there are some differences between these pour-over-style makers. The Melitta version does not result in quite the flavor that the Hario model does, but it still makes an excellent, fresh morning brew. For only two bucks, this simple option is hard to beat.
Since the Aerobie AeroPress emerged as the leader in our taste tests, brewing smooth, bitterness-free espresso shots, we had to give it our Top Pick award. We know a number of people who use this as their exclusive coffee maker, even at home, yet it is portable enough to bring along while traveling or on camping trips. If you are looking to have the most gourmet spread a picnic table has ever seen, the AeroPress is a safe bet.
Whether you are backpacking or just want to ensure you have pour over coffee when traveling, Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy is the way to go. 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. Even if you don't backpack, the Primula is light and cheap insurance against bad coffee while traveling.
Left to right: Primula, GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Press and Hario V60
Taste is the factor that we weighted the heaviest in our evaluation. If you don't care about taste, you can skip the rest of this review and just buy instant coffee. But no, unfortunately, those of us with refined palettes demand more from our morning kick-start than simply a caffeine jolt. We want rich flavor, we want refined perfection, and want it while we are sitting comfortably in our collapsible camp chair. In the words of one of our volunteer taste-testers, "Life isn't worth living without coffee."
With that attitude, we conducted several blind taste tests with like-minded coffee lovers, gathered opinions from others as they borrowed our makers or tried a new model over the course of a series of mornings, and we were finally able to evaluate which products brew the best. All of them make an acceptable cup, but a couple of them stood out for their ability to brew fantastic cups that are pleasing even to the pickiest coffee snob.
The AeroPress came out as the distinct taste winner, though the Hario V60 was a close second along with the Cafellissimo. (For the record, a few tasters did prefer the V60 to the AeroPress.) One taster began using the AeroPress at home every morning after the initial test because she loved it so much. The AeroPress brews a smooth, strong, cup without bitterness. By pushing water evenly through the grinds at a high pressure, the result is more like shots of espresso than regular drip, giving it a more refined and clean flavor. By contrast, the Collapsible Java Drip brews a very bitter, almost sour cup, and the Personal Java Press makes a muddy, cloudy tasting cup.
The Cafellissimo delivers great taste with no filter.
When testing just the coffee made by the pour-over style makers V60 and Cafellissimo were ahead of the rest. Similar to the AeroPress in flavor, the V60 and Cafellissimo brew a strong, clean-tasting cup with very rich flavors and less bitterness than the other drippers. The V60 has a significantly larger hole for more flow through, allowing you to customize brew time through the flow of water they add to the grinds. The vertical, pointed cone shape allows the water to sift down through the grounds longer, extracting more flavor than it does in the flat basket shape of the other two.
Of note, most pour over methods required careful pouring to get the best flavor. 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. Though it didn't score quite as high as the V60 or Cafellissimo, the Primula delivered the most consistent taste with the sloppy pour you often get when camping. More on this below.
Special Note on Pour-Over Methods
How you use it will affect the taste dramatically, especially with the pour-over method used with the V60. There are many important variables: quality, quantity, grind size, when it was ground, how hot is the water, how fast do you pour the water. The below movie is the best example we have seen of how to make the perfect pour-over cup.
Ease of Use
If you are one of those people who can't quite wake up until after the first cup of caffeine, then the simpler the brewing process the better. Aside from V60, the pour-over style cones and the Personal Java Press are the simplest to use with a fuzzy morning brain, though the cones are much easier to clean (just toss the filter full of grounds) than the French press, where you have to scoop and rinse out used grounds. The AeroPress requires the most 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 your trash bag.
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.
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.
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.
Filterless options like the Cafelissimo require cleaning after each use. How much time and water is dependent on your personal cleanliness standards.
All of the filterless options involve cleaning between each use. How much hassle depends on your standards as much as the filter design. You can get 90% of the coffee out with a quick pour of a 1/4 cup of water. Want your filter 100% clean? With the Cafellissimo, that takes a lot more water and is easiest if you have a sink. Of all the filterless options, the Primula is the easiest to clean because of its shape and little surface area.
Cleaning is as easy as flipping the filter inside out and pouring water. Of all the filterless options, the Primula is the easiest to clean.
None of the products tested can quite compete with the negligible weight of a single Starbucks VIA packet, (0.14 ounces) but the makers can be reused indefinitely, making them more cost effective than VIA in the long run. 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. But 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."
After weighing each one individually on a scale, the Primula and the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Press were the lightest, weighing 1.1 ounces. This is a quarter the weight of the GSI Collapsible Java Drip, which weighs in at 4.76 ounces. It makes for a strange dilemma that one of the most packable is not nearly the lightest.
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 flavorful 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.
Everything needed to make fresh, delicious coffee while camping: MSR Reactor, GSI Personal Java Press, GSI JavaGrind, and Deeper Roots coffee.
With so many choices out there, it can be challenging to select the right camping coffee maker for your needs. We hope that you've found our ratings and tests helpful to narrow down to the right one for your particular needs. If you're still unsure, you may want to check out our camping coffee maker Buying Advice article.