In the great outdoors, there’s no perfect way to deliver piping-hot coffee directly from the stove to your mouth, but you can get close. After grinding, pressing, and perking 3 pounds of beans on a two-burner camp stove, we think a French press is the easiest way to skip the instant1 and prep a fresh pot for a large group of campers—just dump in your water and go—and the REI Table Top French Coffee Press is best suited for the job.
But coffee is deeply personal, and brew methods such as percolators and pour-overs have their place depending on what you’re looking for. The Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 8-Cup Yosemite Stovetop Percolator and the GSI Outdoors JavaDrip are wonderfully effective, with few trade-offs.
You could buy any of a number of presses, but REI’s is our top choice because it does a better job of filtering out grinds than other models, always a potential issue when you use a French press.
To keep grinds out of the final brew, the REI model incorporates a tightly sealed plunger as well as a mesh screen over the pour spout to help catch anything that sneaks through.
It’s also insulated—keeping coffee drinkably warm an hour longer than noninsulated models—and made of metal, so there’s no risk of broken glass in your campsite or car. When you need to pack up and go home, you can fearlessly cram it in your trunk and forget about it.
The biggest drawback to using a French press is that it’s more difficult to clean than other options. (Where to dump the sludge at the bottom?) But since you don’t have to watch it boil or stand by while coffee drips through a filter, we think it represents the easiest solution for most people.
The REI Table Top French Coffee Press comes in two sizes, 32 ounces and 48 ounces. After conducting capacity testing, we discovered that a 32-ounce press makes slightly less than 4 cups of coffee, and that a 48-ounce model makes slightly less than 6 cups.
Number of 8-ounce cups
|Small REI French press (32 ounces)||☕ ☕ ☕ ☕|
|Large REI French press (48 ounces)||☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕|
Though you’ll find at least one coffee percolator in every camping aisle, they aren’t the most user-friendly tool. You have to adjust the camp stove’s heat, make sure the percolator doesn’t boil over, and eyeball the coffee to see when it’s done. But none of that is especially hard, and if you’re inclined to do it, you’ll get great-tasting coffee at less than half the price of our top pick. We think the Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 8-Cup Yosemite Stovetop Percolator is ideal. Instead of a metal handle, it has a plastic one that won’t get hot to the touch, as well as fill lines that make water measurement easy. And the body is made of heavy-grade stainless steel, so it can take some abuse.
Percolators have some other advantages. You don’t need an extra pot to boil water since the percolator makes the coffee, and it can reheat leftovers, something a French press can’t do. Plus, it looks pretty cool. The trade-off is that some working parts could get lost, not to mention the whole having-to-watch-it thing. Look farther down in this guide if you want to know exactly how to use one.
Though many percolators can sit directly on a fire grate or coals, this one can’t, because it has a plastic handle that can melt. In our tests we found that filling the percolator to capacity—at the 8-cup mark—produced 6 cups of coffee after brewing.
Number of 8-ounce cups
|Farberware Yosemite percolator (48 ounces)||☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕|
Though at first it might seem precious to drag a pour-over system into the wilderness, backpackers have been using simple filters for years as a relatively fuss-free way to brew beans on the trail. The GSI Outdoors JavaDrip is not just a filter but a whole system suitable for more-stationary camping. It’s almost as expensive as our top pick, and you have to spend a minute or two filling the filter, but if you dislike the thicker flavor of French-press coffee, the JavaDrip makes a cup that tastes just like drip.
The tall plastic tumbler comes with an insulating sleeve and is topped with a lid and silicone filter. Though it may look cumbersome, it isn’t at all top-heavy. It also drains quickly—nothing like the lifetime that seems to pass while you’re waiting for pour-over in a coffee shop—and the result still tastes rich and flavorful. (Approved technique: Wet the grinds first, let them saturate, and then fill the filter to the top.) It comes with a reusable mesh filter, though if you choose to use a traditional paper filter instead, this pot is the easiest to clean of all our picks.
One drawback to this device is that you can’t see inside of it, so you can’t easily tell when it’s full. It’s also made of plastic, which is great for backpacking but perhaps less durable for the just-shove-it-under-the-10-person-tent storage method that people often use when car camping.
Like our top pick, the JavaDrip comes in two sizes, in this case 30 ounces and 50 ounces. Both models brewed slightly more than that, producing 4 cups and 7 cups, respectively.
Number of 8-ounce cups
|Small GSI JavaDrip (30 ounces)||☕ ☕ ☕ ☕|
|Large GSI JavaDrip (50 ounces)||☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕ ☕|
Before we ever started testing, we eliminated a lot of products. We dismissed personal, single-serving options because we were focusing on car and group camping. We preferred durable, metal objects that could take a beating (though obviously we allowed exceptions). And we didn’t consider anything gimmicky or expensive.
The true research began when it came time to decide which method of brewing was best. We tried three popular options: the simple-to-use French press, the classic camp percolator, and the new-but-not-so-new pour-over method. We set up a stove at a picnic table and brewed coffee in five different test units, documenting the pros and cons of each.
We also measured the capacity of each pot—the real-world capacity, that is, because the advertised size isn’t always the amount of coffee you get. Some of them don’t hold as much when you add grounds or, in the case of a press, make room for the plunger. And occasionally each product comes with a different definition of what a “cup” of coffee is in its literature—some say 5 ounces, some say 6. Of course, 5 ounces is an amount of coffee that no adult would consider acceptable—that isn’t even half a mug. So we filled each of our picks to its workable capacity, including grounds, plungers, and other devices, and we measured how many actual 8-ounce cups we could make.
(Photos by Eve O’Neill.)