Good coffee for wild camping

Although making fresh coffee isn’t a science, making good fresh coffee in the wild is a challenge. Luckily, when venturing by kayak, it’s possible to pack more than one might expect. Think of your kayak as your mule – just don’t let it know this is how you feel.

I can do without much on an expedition, after all that’s the joy but a morning without good fresh coffee is distinctly lacking so, when packing a kayak for expeditions at sea, good coffee making capability is one of the first boxes ticked.

Moka (percolator)

The Italian Moka coffee maker is a good start – robust and available in just about every size imaginable. I use a Moka for one person and it it is indestructible. In Italy, ordering a cafe Moka is not the same as ordering a mocha coffee in America’s cultural contribution that is Starbucks. They may sound alike but they do not taste alike – the former is a trusted brand, a method and a utensil and the latter is a recipe using coffee and chocolate.

For making Moka, you use a coffee pot made for the purpose. I use a Bialetti Moka Express and the logo is a very well turned out waiter, with one hand in the air, signalling that he has received your order. Perhaps it is Senore Bialetti himself. It is a good design for packing into a kayak and, with no glass parts like some coffee makers, is robust for expeditions – made from lightweight aluminium and almost indestructible. The two-chambered Moka pots have sat on Italian stovetops since the beginning of the last century, producing a small, strong, full-bodied coffee that is rich in aroma. It is the equivalent strength to an espresso and is the rocket fuel every kayaker often needs to persuade him to face the swell again.

Octane once hosted an Italian from Milan called Arturo on a wilderness kayak tour and I served him a filtered French press coffee – thinking nobody was watching he poured it into the sand without saying a word. When pressed, he later explained that I had made him an ‘Americano’ and that ‘Americans do with coffee as they do with everything else – dilute and bigger’. After the expedition he kindly sent me my Bialetti Moka Express and I have used it ever since. Especially when there are Italians around.

Water is heated in a lower chamber and, when at boiling point, vapour pressure approaching two atmospheres pushes the water vapour upwards through ground coffee in a filter, cooling and collecting in the upper chamber as liquid coffee. 

It’s really that simple and all it takes is a careful eye, the right grind (never too course), a low flame and removal from the heat as soon as it has percolated through. The coffee it produces contains less caffeine than a filter coffee because the steam passes through the granules quickly whereas in a filter coffee the granules steep in the water for a longer period. Moka coffee also has a cleaner and crisper taste than the often over stewed tasted of coffee produced in a cafetiere.

Making a Moka

  1. Fill the base chamber with cold water up to valve level. Insert the filter
  2. Completely fill the filter with ground coffee and pack it down lightly
  3. Screw the two chambers tightly together
  4. Place the Moka pot on the stove, keep the heat low
  5. Remove pot from heat as coffee starts to gurgle, before it finishes rising – you’ll be sure to extract only the best parts of the coffee
  6. Rinse the coffee maker with hot water, never use washing up liquid

Height 16cm, Width 9.5cm. Indestructible.

French Press (cafetiere)

A French press or cafetiere is easy to use – add grounds to the bottom of the container, add water that has cooled a couple of degrees after having boiled and let it steep. After a couple of minutes, push down the filter and pour the coffee.

A traditional French press uses glass and is not suitable for expeditions or being packed into a sea kayak however, the Jetboil Coffee Press uses no glass and conveniently turns sturdy aluminium Jetboil Camping Stoves into a French press. The system does not work with any other pot or stove however so it is only a good buy if twinned with the other Jetboil product.

Because the granules steep for so long French presses result in a distinctive murky, oily flavour that some people love. The bitter sludge that finds its way into the cup doesn’t help. I like it, although be weary of Italians turning their noses up.

Filter Coffee

The pour-over filter coffee is a simple, yet refined way of making your morning cup of camp coffee. True coffee snobs have very particular methods for making it, down to hand grinding, measuring the temperature of the water with a thermometer, and timing how long the water sits in the grounds.

For those of you who aren’t that particular, it still makes a satisfying cup without much fuss. Since all it requires is a cone and a filter, it is easily portable.

The HarioV60 Ceramic Dripper is very good and, if you are not comfortable with ceramic, the same company makes a plastic version (HarioV60 Plastic Dripper), which weighs less and won’t shatter. However, purists will claim coffee tastes better from ceramic.

Espresso makers

For some coffee is a necessity, for others an obsession. For the users of the Aeropress, it appears to be the necessity for obsession.

Inventor Alan Adler (responsible for the Aerobie flying ring which broke a world record for furthest distance throw), unsatisfied with the taste of home brewed coffee, discovered four variables affecting a coffee’s flavour: time, temperature, grind and grit (the sludge at the bottom of your cup) and embarked on creating a solution to bring them all together.

Adler created a coffee making system with many parts: a plastic tube, a filter cap, screws, a plunger with a rubber stopper, a stirrer, a scoop, paper filters and a funnel to get coffee grounds into the tube. The Heath Robinson creation is no beauty but the intense taste holds its own against any restaurant espresso.

Survivalists and end-of-days types take note: no electricity is needed, just build a fire to boil water, ideal should you need you need a quick cup before the rapture occurs.


For those who cannot, or will not, distinguish between coffee and dishwater this is the one for you. Lighter, easier, quicker, cheaper and with a half life twice the average kayaker’s age it won’t go off until sometime into the next century.

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