Coffee on the trail

Drinking coffee when you’re out hiking is a quandary. Do you put up with bad coffee just because you’re away from your fancy machine, or do you give it up until you are back home because you are unwilling to sacrifice quality? Well maybe you don’t have too. This article discusses options for making coffee on the trail from the ‘just Ok’ to the ‘this is pretty dam good’. We also discuss some coffee alternatives if you want your caffeine fix without the hassle of making coffee.

If you prefer to listen to this article as podcast go here

The Facts

Anecdotally there are a large number of coffee drinkers out there. In fact when we polled hikers in an online survey in relation to their coffee drinking habits  we found out the following:

  • 94% of survey dependants drink coffee
  • 86% of respondents drink coffee while hiking

Of those coffee drinkers :

  • 64% take their coffee with milk
  • 42% take their coffee black and
  • 21% use sugar

Before we discuss coffee types both Gill and I must admit to a degree of coffee snobbery, Tim in particular. So please don’t be offended by our opinions.

Coffee Options

  1. Instant coffee
  • This is about as basic as you can and can be broken up into two main categories:
    • Powered
      • The powered coffee is typically what gets served to big groups such as schools or scouts, or in remote areas. It’s cheap and easy but isn’t what you call high quality.
    • Freeze dried
      • High quality but still instant and for most white Anglo Saxons of my generation this was the ‘good stuff’ and what many of us grew up on.
        • 23% of survey respondents drink instant coffee

While I don’t mind some of the freeze dried coffees I really have to be desperate to drink instant coffee and I would prefer to give up coffee altogether than drink this.

Coffee Sachets from hotel rooms

Nescafe Gold Coffee. As much as I dislike instant and/or freeze dried coffee I found this passable

2. Coffee bags

Next level compared to the instant coffees and usually coming in individual sealed bags, so you don’t need to worry about a special container to keep the moisture out. I must admit I actually prefer a good Freeze dried coffee over the coffee bags

  • 25% of survey respondents use coffee bags while hiking

Coffee Bags

3. Filter

  • Your options can vary here from the disposable paper filters that sit inside a filter holder to a fine metal filter such as the MSR Coffee/tea filter (as shown in the picture below). You can also but mugs with built in filter units as well. The quality of the end product will depend on the quality of your coffee you use.
    • 11% of hikers use filters of some type

MSR Coffee and Tea Filter out of pack

GSI Ultralight Java Drip with dry coffee with water poring through drip mesh

4. Plunger Coffee (French Press)

Now we’re  talking. This is what I normally drink at home and it’s taken me years to find a particular brand of coffee that I really like. This coffe tastes just the same on the trail as it does at home. Both Jetboil and MSR produce plunger units for their stoves and if you are already carrying the stove on a hike an extra 30 grams for the plunger is a small price to pay to get good coffee. The drawback here is that you have extra cleaning up to do at the end of your meal.  You can also buy standalone plastic or metal plunger units and take these with you if you aren’t a Jetboil/MSR user.

  • Unsure of the percentage but 18% use a machine of some type

Jetboil Grande Coffee Press

5. Machine

This is getting really serious. If you are using one of the coffee machines on a hike you love your coffee more than you do reducing your pack weight. We tested two brands of coffee machines based on our survey results and what friends use. These were the AeroPress Go and the Wacaco Nanopresso.

Both of these units produced reasonable quality coffee with the Wacaco Nanopresso being some of the best quality coffee that I have ever had either on trail or at home.

The drawback here is the weight with the Wacaco unit weighting in at 419grams.

AeroPress Go Coffee Maker

Wacaco Nanopresso produces some amazing quality coffee

6. Cowboy coffee

  • This is just adding coffee to your boiling water. I have never tried this as this is to much like cooking which is something that I don’t do when I hike. Again using good quality coffee is the way to go and be careful when you pour out the coffee to make sure that all the grounds have sunk to the bottom of the pots and you pour carefully

7. Day trips

  • Day trips provide you will a great degree of flexibility which means that apart from making coffee on the trail you can also bring it with you. Gill and I are both big fans of the Thermos insulated mugs finding that you can make your coffee at home and bring it with you. We find that the coffee is still hot even after 6-7 hours after making it and are perfect for drinking when we are travelling to a hike
  • Alternatively you can get a small thermos that you can take with you for using during the day

Thermos Stainless King Travel Mug red colour with open lid

Coffee Add ons


I like my coffee with milk but we don’t have the luxury of refrigerated milk when we go hiking so need to come up with other options.

Powered milk is pretty good thee days, in particular the full cream varieties. If you use powdered milk then use cold water in small quants to mix up the milk rather than adding a powder to hot coffee. you just end up with better results.

Another option is to use the small milk capsules however these end up being heavy at 17grams a piece.


You can easily buy sugar sachets/ sugar replacements in most supermarkets and these are usually the equivalent of a teaspoon each so are easy to measure.

Long life Milk Capsules

Powdered milk

Sugar substitute in sachets

Coffee Alternatives

If you want to skip coffee on a hike then there are plenty of options. These include coffee/caffeine substitutes or just giving up coffee all togeather.

  1. Chocolate covered coffee beans 
    • These combined coffee and chocolate in one snack. A great option!
  2. Clif Shots Energy Gels or GU Energy Gels
    • Some of which contain caffeine and they also provide a boost of energy just like coffee
  3. Tea
    • herbal tea means that you can skip the milk
  4. Hot chocolate
    • Sugary and sweet which is what you want at the end of the day
  5. Mocha – hot chocolate and instant coffee
  6. Give it up
    • As much as I love coffee I have made a conscious decision to not drink coffee when I hike. What this means is that I get withdrawal symptoms, without fail, 1.5 days later which show up as a low level sustained headache. As a result I give a coffee a week before I start an extended hike. I will instead survive on a long trip on herbal and hot chocolate. I will also use the energy gels but not for the caffeine component.

Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans

Cliff Shot Blocks

GU energy Chews Lemonade

Hot Chocolate. I usually save this until the end of the day

Pack it In/ Pack it Out

Coffee grounds aren’t part of the Australian landscape so while its tempting to bury your coffee grounds or just throw them into the bush they should come out with the rest of your rubbish.

Last words

Whether you decide to take coffee on a hiking trip is going to be a personal choice. There is no right or wrong in what and how you choose to do it however life is to short to drink bad coffee so do a bit of testing and  find something that you like

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