The Best Back-Country Coffee

Back-Country Coffee Options

Backpacking coffee
By John Bowers

Let me begin by admitting that I’m a coffee addict; I don’t go many places without my trusty stainless steel insulated spill-proof mug.  At home I subscribe to a coffee service ( that weekly, delivers a new freshly roasted bag of beans from one of hundreds of small coffee roasters located all over the nation.  I grind my beans and pull espresso shots on a Breville Barista Express to make americanos instead of drip coffee.  So believe me, when I plan my annual archery elk hunt, I make sure I’ve got coffee to power me up the mountain.

Hunting out West can present some challenges to a coffee aficionado, especially on a backpack hunt.  If we are planning a truck based camp, I usually bring pre-ground fresh coffee, heat the water over a camp stove, and utilize a pour-over or a french press, to make coffee.  But these methods are not practical if you have to pack your camp up the mountain on your back.  In situations where every ounce counts, even I am willing to make adjustments to my method of caffeine consumption.


When Backpack Hunting, in order to save weigh if water sources permit,  we usually utilize a water pump such as a Katydyn or a gravity filter such as a  Sawyer in order to provide clean safe water for drinking and cooking.  Meals are usually some form of dehydrated, packaged meals such as Mountain House, so we always have a lightweight backpacking stove such as a JetBoil.   The obvious lightweight choices for morning coffee, since we have clean water and a way to heat it, are dehydrated coffee, and prepackaged coffee grounds.

Here are the types I have tried over the years, in order of my preference, from worst to best:

The Cafe Bustelo Espresso Coffee Singles are a single serve tube pack of dehydrated coffee, that is added to hot water.  They look like crystals and remind me of the old instant coffee.  In my opinion they taste like instant coffee and are not my favorite, but do get the job done as a caffeine delivery system.

best instant coffee

The Folgers Coffee Singles are a teabag-like packet of freeze dried instant coffee, that are steeped in a cup of hot water.  Again, the taste reminds me of instant coffee, so I am not a fan, but they are a lightweight option that is better than nothing.

The Dark Timber Ascent Packs are actually fairly-fresh ground coffee inside of a teabag-like pack, that must be steeped in a cup of hot water.  I was initially very excited about this product when it debuted a few years ago, until i used it on the mountain.  In real world conditions, when waking up in a freezing backpacking tent, and attempting to make a quick cup of coffee while still in the sleeping bag, I discovered that the result was a very weak brew.  It seems like the water cools off too rapidly to allow the coffee grounds to do their job.  I tried reheating the water, and it got a little better, but took quite awhile.  The taste was still not on par with coffee at home, but was better than the previous options.  The obvious drawback is the time it takes to prepare.

Next on the list is the Dark Timber Vapor Packs.  These are combination of finely ground dehydrated coffee and a sweet mocha flavoring.  They mix well with near boiling water, and are a nice change from plain black coffee; almost like a desert.  However, they do not mix well with warm or cold water, something I am prone to do during a mid-afternoon break, to make my version of an iced coffee.

Dark Timber coffee

Last on the list, is my favorite option for backpacking coffee:  Starbucks Via.   Available in 5 roast versions (French, Italian, Pikes Place, Columbia and Veranda), it is packaged in individual tube packs and appears to be finely ground coffee.  When added to hot water, it makes a very quick cup of coffee, that, while not as good as my coffee at home, is a close second.  So what it lacks in flavor is more than made up with speed and convenience.  I will even add it to a nalgene bottle of cold water for a quick pick me up while hunting, because we rarely go back to camp during the day.

Now I know that there are lightweight pour-over setups, that would rival the quality of my coffee at home, but they come with a slight weight penalty, and a bigger time penalty.  I prefer the simplicity and speed that the Via lends itself for backpack hunts.  Nothing is better than enjoying that first cup before getting out of that warm sleeping bag!

Next up on the testing list:

Mount Hagen Coffee

Kuju Coffee

Twin Peaks Coffee

If you’ve tried them let us know what you think.  It would be great to get some feedback!





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