Whether it’s a simple pleasure, or a chemical dependence, there are few things better in the morning than a fresh cup of coffee. Sure, in a pinch, that stale gas station pot will do—or that free in-office cup—but nothing beats an actual-factual good cup of coffee. When you don’t spend every single morning in your home kitchen, bad coffee has a way of sneaking in. It’s a problem I had when I lived out of my truck for five months while driving across the country. But distance from my home did not make me any less fond of good coffee; if anything, it became a bit of welcomed normalcy in an otherwise irregular world. Absent the conveniences of running water and 110v electricity, I had to find another way.
My first thought was a technique I used a few times in my backpack guiding days, a technique we called “cowboy coffee,” a term that has, admittedly, been applied to many grizzly techniques. For us, it meant throwing coffee grounds in boiling water, waiting a minute then splashing cold water on top with the belief that it would make the coffee grounds magically sink to the bottom. It worked better than one would assume, but the last sip always meant straining a mouthful of grounds out from between my teeth, then finding somewhere to spit the slurry.
For my truck, though, I wanted something a little more humane. I had a small backpacking stove, a flat tailgate, a bit of room, and, more often than not, a gallon of water. So, when I visited my parent’s house before leaving, I stole my mother’s Bodum single cup French press. I’d boil water in my backpacking stove, then use the French press and transfer the contents to my travel mug. Of course, I did then have to find a way to clean out the wet grounds before I left my campsite.
The one day…I broke the glass vessel of my French press. I was back to making cowboy coffee. So, I set out to find something a bit more durable—and convenient, if I could find it.
And what a wide world of coffee I found. While I always thought of myself as, if not a connoisseur, an appreciator of coffee, I was quite surprised at the number of options at my disposal. French presses are an easy, foolproof way to get coffee, but even pour over, vacuum powered, and real espresso are possible.
You’ll need a mug with any of the below methods: I’m partial to the Miir camp mug for in camp drinking, the Otterbox Elevation 20 with a sip lid for driving, and the Klean Kanteen TKWide 16 oz for drinking hot coffee much later. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it right. No matter what travel you’re doing, or how hard you want to work for it—whether you’re in the backcountry or a cheap motel—there is a good cup of coffee to be had. Here are some of my favorite ways to get it.
AeroPress Go Portable Travel Coffee Press
The Aeropress has been bopping around the outdoor adventure world for a while now, and it doesn’t take long to find out why. This particular model is geared for travel and packs away neatly into a case that doubles as a mug. The plastic construction is light but durable enough for the bottom of a pack or back of your truck. And while it does use disposable filters, this model has a puck-like disk where you can put enough filters for the duration of your trip and pack them in the case.
The coffee itself is both quick and really high quality. It only takes 10 seconds after you put hot water in to make a hot cup. With room temp water you can make cold brew in a minute, and it actually tastes like cold brew (I was shocked). It uses air pressure to force water through the coffee to make a concentrate that you can drink like an espresso or add water for an americano.
The Aeropress was also the easiest to clean, by far. You remove the filter cap and press the plunger out of the bottom of the press then eject the puck of pressed, dry, coffee beans out. This was, by far, my favorite method thanks to speed, simplicity and quality of taste.
- Easy to clean
- Makes cold brew
Waka Coffee Quality Instant Coffee, 8 Single-Serve Colombian Packets
Waka is a truly impressive instant coffee. The individual pouches come with freeze-dried coffee chunks that smell like high quality coffee as soon as you open the pouch. They have good coffee taste, without the rubbery burn that cripples most instants. It’s relatively mellow, inoffensive, with light fruit notes at the end of the cup. It’s better than a diner coffee and on par with an airplane coffee, which i mean as as a big compliment since both of those coffees are brewed. I’ll be keeping a few of these in my car for sure.
Best Portable French Press
Primus Lite+ Coffee/Tea Press
The caveat of this recommendation is that it is contingent upon having the Primus ETA Lite stove (my favorite backpacking stove). With this simple french press plunger though, for almost no additional weight, your lightweight backpacking stove becomes a coffee press. Your stove becomes your French press, you cut down on dishes, and you still make a great coup of coffee quickly. I love how easily the press integrated, and how well the filter worked, and packed away with the rest of the stove.
- Compatible with Primus Lite stove
Best Portable Espresso Maker
Wacaco Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker
I was tremendously impressed and surprised by this espresso maker. While other coffee makers said they could make espresso, it often just looked and tasted like concentrated coffee. But this machine gave the espresso a beautiful foamy, cream-colored head, and had that buttery sweet and bitter taste that makes espresso so great.
The machine is completely hand=powered and uses a simple pump to create the pressure necessary to extract the espresso. It is not difficult to pump and as soon as you add hot water you are good to go. A few pumps later and you’re done.
The design is also exceptionally satisfying thanks to a built in cup, a coffee scoop that doubles as tamper to compress the ground beans, and an included brush for cleaning. I’m in love with this machine and will use it at home or in the truck, though the weight is a bit much for backpacking.
- Great design
Best Travel Coffee Grinder
The VSSL Java will be available mid-September but I got a sneak peak—and it did not disappoint. If you’re a real coffee snob or just want to take your cup to the next level, its tough to beat freshly ground beans.
The Java is a grinder ready for whatever adventure it happens to find itself on. The design is obscenely clever with a clip that doubles as a crank. The aluminum body feels great in the hand, and it all packs away into itself. When packed up, the Java can hook on to the outside of your pack and take any abuse.
I’ve had other plastic grinders break in the backcountry, but that’s not going to happen to the Java. From the moment I picked this up, I was in love with it. It feels great, works well, and does its job without getting in the way. If you’re looking for an upgrade, this is it. Weight means it’s better suited to a weekend trip than a months long trek.
Stanley French Press
The classic Stanley green and silver first drew me to this French press, but its performance has kept it in my kitchen. The double wall insulation keeps coffee hot for hours (though leaving coffee in a French press can change the taste of coffee over time). Use the massive 48-oz. capacity to entertain guests in your car camping site, or guarantee a hot cup of coffee over hours for just you as you work outside your off the grid cabin.
The plunger is smooth and easy to use, the press feels great in hand without getting hot, and the durability is right up to what you’d expect from Stanley. You wont bring this in the backcountry, but for in your RV, car camping site, or just when guests visit, it’s a great option.
Bodum Brazil French Press Coffee And Tea Maker
It is tough to beat the classic design of this Bodum. What it lacks in durability with its glass cylinder, it more than makes up for with its low price, convenient size, and ease of use. This was my primary coffee maker for a month in the back of my truck. And while it took a bit of care to make sure it didn’t break, it performed admirably and was perfect for someone like me who drank coffee alone. Great value and usability no matter where you are, but not great for backpacking or super cramped quarters where something could push against the glass.
GSI Outdoors Commuter JavaPress
If you’re the kind of person who wakes up late for the road trip and runs out the door before you finish making your coffee, the commuter press is perfect for you. The press works with two tall vessels. Put coffee and water in the first, let it steep, then slide the second, with a filter bottom, tightly into the second. It’s a remarkably effective and compact system that cuts down on dishes. One brewer, and one mug, it’s the same thing.
I also loved how the insulation keeps the coffee hot for up to 9 hours. It worked well, but I, and my now stained shirt, did find one flaw. If you put too many beans in, the filter bottomed cylinder can push all the way to the bottom of the outer cylinder. That means coffee can linger between the two, and the rubber tops of both don’t make a seal near the sip lid. While it can be hard to visualize that, and it’s not a huge problem, the important thing to know is that when I tipped up my mug for that last sip, coffee poured out from between the two cylinders on to me. But, I am willing to blame user error.
If you’re a pour-over person and have that tried and true Chemex at home, the Pourigami is your best adventure alternative. It’s small, tough and light thanks to stainless steel, easy to use, and extremely packable. Though you will need to bring your own filters, it is easy to put the origami together over your cup and make your drip coffee. Its great strength is that it packs flat and can slide into your bag, in the desk at your office, or in the glovebox of your car.
The Pakt Coffee Kit
This is not for an outdoor adventure, or even a van life trip, but it is still for a coffee snob on the go. What makes it hard is that the kit requires a wall plug to power the included electric kettle. But, other than a power source, the kit has literally everything you need packed away inside it.
Pack your beans in the included container before you leave, find some water, and you’ll be good to go. Use the electric kettle to heat water, add beans to the reusable metal filter, put in the packable pour over cone, and place on top of the drinking mug.
The system is easy to use, beautifully designed, and the silicone-covered metal construction feels amazing in your hands. This kit is perfect for your weekend Airbnb adventure where a working coffee maker can’t be trusted, or for when you visit those friends who are freaks who don’t drink coffee. It’s supremely well thought out and really has everything you need for a great cup of coffee. If it fits your use case, nothing will be better. It’s about the size of a cardboard tube that covers your favorite scotch bottle.
I loved the clever design of the disposable dripkit and the taste of Verve coffee. The dripkit is a disposable pour-over system that comes with ground beans. Open the pouch, straddle the paper dripkit over your cup (it has clever legs that grip the cup so it doesn’t move as you pour in water), and pour water slowly into the ground beans as you would if this were your Chemex. The system comes in a small flat package and folds open. It works supremely well and cleanup is super easy.
The Verve coffee is packed with complex flavor, and though you lose some of the benefit of freshly ground beans, it is more than made up for with convenience. It’s a bit big and bulky for backpacking, but as an emergency cup in your car or your office, I would very highly recommend it. I might even bring it on my next flight and just ask for a cup of hot water so I can brew up my own high quality coffee.
Canyon Instant Coffee
This one’s another really terrific instant coffee option. The individual packets of ground beans pour directly into hot water and, with a stir, become a cup of hot coffee. You could give this to a guest and they would have no idea it was instant. A light cup that isn’t overwhelmed by the classic instant coffee burnt or bitter taste. Mellow and fruity, with only a slight back of the throat bitterness. Honestly, just a really great cup of coffee, I was quite impressed with the Celinga, Eithiopian pack.
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