Coffee for backpacking and camping

Coffee, and the consumption of it, runs deep within my family DNA.

I am not talking about the nostalgic version of Magnanti Sunday dinners with our grandfather drinking his coffee, made on the stove, accompanied with a little bit of anisette liqueur.

These cans full of nuts, washers, or bolts lingered near his tools, too.

While that is undoubtedly part of the cultural DNA, I am talking about something much more prosaic.

Mom always had a pot of coffee on. A drip-maker brewing up a store brand, or Autocrat brand coffee more than likely, and I can still picture her with an omnipresent mug. Mom worked hard raising three boys, and the coffee helped, no doubt.

When we visited my Mom this past Christmas, the same scene played out. But proving that I inherited Mom’s caffeine need, I too had a mug of coffee at all times.

Which is to say, I drink a lot of coffee.

It fueled many late-night drives to remote trailheads, kept me alert on long on-call rotations during my IT days, and something I enjoy during less frantic times.

My good friend Nahum made this mug for me. And I still have it.

But unlike my love of craft beer, I am not discriminating about coffee.

I am not a person who roasts their beans, procures special blends from the downtown roasters, or even gets higher-end larger batch coffee at Costco or Trader Joes.  Not that either store is in Moab, mind you.

Instead, my tastes are a step above Folgers or Maxwell house, but not by much. Perhaps store brand French Roast on sale with a name like “Private Selection Morning Blend.”   I drink it black, hot, and highly caffeinated.  And in copious amounts.

So when I talk about what coffee I suggest for camping and backpacking, it is not the best method to make the perfect cup or the best tasting one.  You can read other, much better views on that subject.

It is the coffee that fits my pragmatic nature, cost-effective, and gets me amped up in the backcountry.

Not that I won’t sip my morning coffee and take in the scenery a bit in a slow manner. In fact, I enjoy it quite a bit at times. I just don’t get too wrapped up in the particulars of it all that much.

Which is a long preamble just to list my preferred methods of making coffee while backpacking or camping. 🙂

I won’t list al the methods. Or all the types of coffee. I’ll just list what I actively use for my outdoor experiences.

The Percolator

When I started car camping more often about a decade ago, I brought a percolator. An old school way to make a vigorous cup of joe that gets the blood flowing. Except it takes a while, a bit messy to clear up, another piece of gear to keep in the kit.

It is now in a misc. gear tote in the shed.

Cowboy Coffee

I have no tchotchkes from my corporate career, but receiving this mug for volunteer work meant a lot to me.

Even older school.

There are many articles on the intricacies of making cowboy coffee, but I can sum it up as:

  • Grab pot
  • Add water
  • Add grounds
  • Slowly heat up until the liquid gets a coffee color to desired strength.
  • Drink coffee, chew grounds.

I do it this way, mainly on road trips. And when my drip maker when kaput one day. Once in a very great while, I’ll do a coffee bag method way of making this coffee, too. An effortless, straightforward way to make coffee that works well in many ways.

But, again, you still have to clean up and dispose of a mess. Not complicated by any means, of course, but additional steps I don’t always want to perform.

Coffee for backpacking – Cafe’ Bustelo

I go cold turkey when backpacking on long trips since I tend to eat cold, and the nature of the journeys do not mean brewing up a hot drink in the morning.

However, as mentioned, I enjoy my brew on shorter trips.  Hot coffee sipped during cold mornings in winter with the sun just rising over the desert makes for one of the great joys in life.

And my coffee of choice? I make a compromise between convenience and price and use Cafe’ Bustelo.  The instant packets are similar to Starbucks Via. However, I can pick up instant packets of Cafe’ Bustelo for 16.5 cents each in bulk on Amazon.

Quick, convenient, light, and I can easily pack just what I need for a trip.

Is it good coffee?  It’s good enough backpacking coffee. I drink the magical juice, and I can hike up the canyon, scramble up to an ancestral dwelling, and take in the desert landscape.


Coffee for camping – Generic Instant Coffee

A great value! At this point, this well-used jar contains three different types of “great value” coffee from the Dollar Store, Wally World, and some grocery store from the middle of Nevada.

When we road trip or car camp, our mornings are rarely leisurely. We tend to pack up to go to the next destination, or we want to get some hiking in that morning. Evenings post-trip are when we tend to relax a bit. As such, I want my caffeine fix quick and in an easy way to start the day.

From Pinterest

And my coffee of choice?

Something I can find in any grocery store or even a Dollar Store along the way – A plastic jar full of instant coffee.

Cheap, easy to use, minimal cleanup, and comes in a handy plastic container that first perfectly in our always packed pantry tote.  I don’t claim this coffee is particularly good, but it is good enough.  Continuing with a trend, the coffee ends up being hot, invigorating, and easy to make.

I know I can make my version of by finely grinding coffee ala a Turkish style at home. But that requires buying beans, grinding it, putting it in a Ziploc bag, and having it ready to go.  And, again, not something I can easily replenish on an extended road trip.

So generic instant coffee it is!  It works.


I am, in fact, writing this article drinking from this very mug.

And that’s my coffee selections of choice for backpacking and camping. Boil water, add in some mix, drink it black. Do it cheaply and conveniently, and how I do it depends on if I am backpacking or car camping. Nothing too fancy.

Somewhere some distant cousin near Rome or a barista in Seattle might be cringing at my choices, no doubt.  But I sure do enjoy those desert sunrises in winter with my cheap brew.







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3 years ago

I love the Bustelo instants. IMO taste great and super cheap.

3 years ago

Trader Joes has instant coffee packets complete with cream and sugar, just add water. 10 for 2$, I find those are great for backpacking and camping.

Another Kevin
3 years ago

I carry ground coffee and a GSI Ultralight Java Drip . Because if I can’t have real coffee I’m not going!

3 years ago

I go for the cheapest coffee that I like, which could be name brand or store brand. Most of the time, that means coffee that doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste. Outdoors, I will use a press when truck camping, pour over or packets otherwise. I have some of the Bustelo instant, but have never seen the packets. I’ll have to try some. I usually drink my coffee black, except when I’m going to take off before eating. In that case, I’ll mix up a concoction with dry milk, cocoa, protein powder and whatever I think will get me by until… Read more »

3 years ago

I noticed that Amazon was out. I don’t get out much these days, so I ordered some on eBay. I’d rather get them cheaper, but this will do to see how I like them.