At Camp with the Best French Presses
When the morning sun shines into your tent, it’s time to burrow out of your sleeping bag and throw on some coffee. There’s nothing as good as morning in the mountains with your coffee hot to warm you up to face the day. In town, I mix up my morning coffee between a V60 pourover, an Aeropress, and a French press, but when I hit the road, it’s French press all the way. A good camping French press is easy to brew and easy to clean, and gives you a first-class cup of coffee.
Infusion is the best way to make coffee when camping, and the French press is the best design to make that happen. Combine coarsely ground coffee with near-boiling water in a brewing vessel, let infuse for 4 minutes with a stir after 30 seconds to make sure all the coffee is doing its job, then press a stainless steel filter through the coffee. The filter traps the coffee grounds at the bottom of the pot, letting you pour coffee out the top.
When you brew with a French press, you get a robust cup of coffee. Without a paper filter, you lose none of the liquid contents of your coffee, giving a unique and strong flavor. There’s a dark side here — you get a little bit of the solids in your coffee too. The finest bits are just a part of the characteristic texture of brewed French press coffee, but the last swallow or two in your cup are usually full of undrinkable grounds, which have to just get tossed.
RELATED: WHO INVENTED THE FRENCH PRESS ANYWAY?
Why Choose a French Press for Camp Coffee?
A French press is a good choice for camping because it’s a simple way to get a great cup of coffee with minimal equipment and waste. French press coffee is tastier than boiled coffee, a percolator, or traditional drip coffee. It’s easier than pourover, especially if you’re making it on the ground. There’s no paper filters needed, and no extraneous parts to lose. The French press doesn’t care what heat source to heat up your water, so it’s versatile.
Not every good French press is a good choice for camping, though. Glass is just fine around the house, but you need something stronger for camp use, usually metal or plastic. While you’re better off transferring your coffee to a thermos to get it off the grounds once it’s brewed, I don’t go to that kind of trouble when camping. A good portable French press for camping should be well-insulated so it holds onto the heat for your second cup of coffee. This is also useful for cold mornings where you’re brewing your coffee at well below room temperature. A bad pot won’t even give you a hot first cup of coffee.
When you take your French press camping, you should do a little prep-work to make your morning coffee easier. Pregrind your coffee and portion it out at home into one-pot units. I recommend reusable plastic 1-cup containers, since they’re useful around camp for storing leftovers or easy to stack and store for taking home. Ziptop plastic bags are fine too, but are harder to empty all the way and leave you with more trash.
Our Testing Method
We’ve tested French press makers endlessly. From standard everyday french presses, camping french press makers, and portable presses for when you’re on the-go. This testing was no different, but the results were as we were focused specifically on functionality and heat retention.
We made a pot of coffee in each of the presses at a ratio of 16 parts water to 1 part coffee and noted any problems in the brewing process. After pressing, we measured the temperature of the coffee and tasted it, noting any problems. We then set the presses aside for 30 minutes and measured the temperature again to check for temperature retention. Afterward, we cleaned all the presses to look for any problems on that end. Throughout the process, we took notes on the design of the pots.
Best Camping French Press[Tested & Ranked]
Ordinarily, I’d be breaking down these pots individually, but these four are all extremely similar, and extremely good. They’re all stainless steel French press pots with double-wall insulation, all with a 1-liter capacity. We got a tasty cup of coffee from each of them with a minimum of grit. Each one dropped about 20° in a half hour, so your coffee will stay good and hot. They’re all solidly built, and should last a good while.
Any of these four would be a great choice for your next camping trip. Your choice comes down to mostly price and style.
Müeller — Best Value
The Müeller rises a little higher than this top group because of its great price — at $25, it’s $10 less than the other top choices. It’s got a sleek industrial look, and includes a small matching canister for grounds. That canister won’t get a group through a long weekend, but the coffee pot sure will.
Imagine the Müeller, but dull gray instead of shiny silver, and you’ve pictured the Coffee Gator, down to the matching canister. The biggest difference is the price — $36. This too is a great coffee pot, but I’d rather have the extra $11.
This time, take the grey finish and give it a stone texture, plus nice-looking wood for the handle and the pressing knob, and you’ve got the Poliviar. There’s no coffee canister included for your $37, but the pot is marked inside with measurement lines, which is good if you just want to make a half pot. I like the look and feel of the wood handle, but I don’t love the handle attachment, which looks a little weak.
The Müeller wins on price, but the VeoHome wins on style. The functionality is the same, but I love the sweeping curves of the VeoHome, and the feel of the closed-loop handle. You’ve got to pay $35 for that style, and while I love the feel of the handle, the attachment looks a little iffy. Honestly, I’d rather keep this one and home, and the Müeller in the camping box.
The Second Tier
Stanley French Press 48 oz.
The number one reason to buy the big Stanley is right there in the title. Its 48 ounce capacity towers over the 30‒34 ounces offered by most of the other presses. The number one reason to not buy the big Stanley is the price tag — $65 is a lot of money to avoid making a second batch of coffee. Performance-wise, we got a quality cup of coffee from this model, plus the great heat retention we’d expect from Stanley, dropping just 21° – a great choice for hot coffee sitting campside. Build quality is solid, and Stanley is a trusted name.
The big question here is, how much coffee do you need at once? The big Stanley here will serve four people in one pass; the models in the top tier will get four people started, but you’ll probably want to throw on a second pot. The 48 ounce Stanley is a really good product, but I’d rather make two pots in the morning and have the extra cash.
Stanley Adventure All-in-One Boil + Brew
The Stanley Adventure is a coffee pot with great potential. It’s designed more explicitly for camping than other pots above it in this list, with folding handles to make it compact, and a rugged sleeve-style filter instead of a filter on a stick that moves through the lid. This gives the Stanley Adventure more parts than the other presses here, but the individual parts are tougher. The Adventure can be heated as a pot too, which is great for backpackers who don’t need an extra pot to heat the water. Just make sure to stir well when the coffee grounds go into the water, then again 30 seconds later to get all the grounds in contact with the water.
As a French press, I wish the Stanley Adventure were a little better. The sleeve filter is harder to press than the usual plunger style, and that’s only going to be more true without a sturdy table to work on. The taste of the coffee was good, but the Adventure has trouble with retaining heat. It dropped 35° in half an hour and was on the low side immediately after brewing too. The lid twists around as if it seals, but doesn’t seal that much. The folding handles are better for storing than pouring.
Overall, I like the idea of the Stanley Adventure better than I like the actual product, though I do like the reasonable $25 price tag. It would be pretty good for a pair of backpackers looking to split a liter of coffee, but not as good as the rest for car camping.
Not So Much
OXO 11181100 BREW
I started the day without a real preference between metal and plastic for a camping French press, but ended it pretty sure that metal was the right answer. The OXO looks like the classic glass French press, but made of Tritan plastic. Build quality is sold — you’re not breaking this thing without some serious effort. Unfortunately for the OXO, coffee quality is not as solid. The filter has a silicone outside gasket instead of the usual metal spring, and it did not do as good a job. The coffee was noticeably gritty and a bit unpleasant. The plastic might be tough, but it’s not as insulating as the metal presses, losing 31° in half an hour’s rest.
Add it all up, and even the $20 price tag and light weight doesn’t save the OXO.
Widesea Camping Coffee Pot
The Widesea is made for backpacking. It’s made of lightweight aluminum, and features a drink-through lid. Like the Stanley Adventure, it can be used as a pot over a stove or a fire. It’s labeled for ¾ liter, but will actually hold a little more, which is a nice change of pace in this category. The coffee we brewed in it was tasty enough, though the aluminum drops heat fast. It lost 47° in thirty minutes, so drink up fast. The lid and plunger are a little awkward and bendy, but there were no problems with grit. The lid suffers a bit as it’s not great for drinking or pouring, but it does work.
This isn’t a bad product, but the Stanley Adventure is better in basically every category for the same price ($25).
Bestargot Outdoor French Press
The Bestargot is another one for the backpacking crowd, trading off everything for light weight. This is a pot for one, with a capacity of just 16 ounces. It’s made of titanium, so it’s very light, but seems good and strong. It can be used as a pot over a fire or stove, but it heats a bit oddly, so you’ll want to try it a few times to get used to how the titanium behaves. The flavor on the coffee was fine, but the temperature drops like a rock. After half an hour, it was down a whopping 57°.
If you’re willing to trade away everything else about the pot, including $37, you get your light strong coffee pot. I’m looking elsewhere, myself.
My number one takeaway: these coffeepots were really good. I’ve been burned before, sometimes literally, on previous tests, but all of these pots have legitimate upside and keep coffee hot. I think it shows how good the French press design is. For value and quality, we recommend the Müeller, but you’ll be happy with any of these pots on your next camping trip. I look forward to mine.