A Steaming Cup While Streamside: Coffee in the Field

February 6, 2023 By: Bob Mallard

Nothing is as simple and compact as coffee pouches and a mug. Photos by Bob Mallard

Fly fishing and coffee go hand in hand. Go to any trout town in America and you’ll see trucks with rod carriers and towing boats lined up at the local coffee-to-go shop long before most are even awake. Legions of guides and clients show up at fly shops and boat launches every morning carrying a cup of hot coffee. And many shops have a pot of coffee going all day. Some even sell specialty coffee.

Several years ago, I showed up at a lodge in Wyoming with a few personal coffee presses to photograph for a piece I was doing for the manufacturer. Hoping to keep one for myself, they were scooped up by guides who saw the utility in being able to grab a quick coffee on the way out the door. I left sans a press and had to order one upon returning home.

I spend 40-60 nights a year in a tent, splitting my time between National Forest campgrounds, drive-in backcountry sites, and remote backpacking. Over the years I have experimented with instant coffee, coffee bags, stove-top percolators, cowboy coffee, and most recently, coffee presses.

A multi-cup press is a great option for group fishing and guiding.

I have coffee products from GSI, Planetary Design, Primus, Yeti, and a few other companies. A specialist, I have a unique complement of coffee related items for my long and short camping trips as well as backpacking. I even have a couple of grab-and-go items for day trips or when someone else is outfitting a camping trip.     

In-the-field coffee tech has evolved notably over the years. We now have premium brand instant coffee and coffee bags; presses of all sizes, styles, and materials; and even stove-top espresso makers in multiple sizes. There are single-wall, double-wall, and vacuum insulated coffee mugs in a wide variety of sizes, materials, and colors, many of which have some form of lid.

When it comes to in-the-field coffee, the best option in my opinion are coffee presses. For those who prefer something more exotic, stove-top espresso makers take it to the next level. Coffee bags are a good option when weight and bulk is a consideration or when you are looking for absolute simplicity. And I prefer double-wall insulated mugs with lids whenever possible.

I like a high-volume coffee press and large insulated coffee mugs for long tailgate camping trips where space and weight is not an issue. For trips more than four nights, I use a 48oz BaseCamp French Press from Planetary Design and 14oz insulated Yeti Rambler mugs with lids. Planetary Designs also offers a 32oz version of their press. Another option is the 33oz insulated Glacier Stainless JavaPress from GSI.

For short tailgate camping trips of four or fewer nights, I use a 30oz JavaPress from GSI, and GSI’s 10oz insulated Glacier Stainless Camp Cups. These light and compact products help reduce weight and bulk, and fit nicely in my short trip gear box.

Lightweight and compact is what is needed for backpacking.

Backpacking presents a unique challenge due to the need to limit weight and bulk. In most cases, a personal press and light cup is your best option. I use a 20oz Personal JavaPress and 17oz mug set from GSI. Made from plastic, they are compact and light, and have outer sleeves to help keep your coffee warm and your hands cool.

For day tripping, I use a 15oz insulated MicroLite JavaPress from GSI. Unlike most presses which use a plunger system, it employs a plastic inner sleeve with screen bottom that acts as the plunger. This not only gets the plunger out of your face, but allows for the easy addition of milk or cream.    

For times when simplicity is desired or weight and bulk are an issue, coffee pouches and a small insulated mug are a great option. While there are many coffee bags out there, I prefer Dry Dropper Single Serve – Fresh Brewed Coffee Pouch, dark roast single-serving bags by Angler’s Coffee.

For those who prefer a jolt of espresso over standard coffee, or want to wow their clients, the four-cup MiniEspresso Set from GSI is a great option. Paired with two or more 1.75oz Glacier Stainless Double Walled Espresso Cup, this is the ultimate in-the-field espresso system. They also offer a one-cup MiniEspresso Set which is suitable for backpacking.

Consider coffee from Angler’s Coffee a good corporate citizen that gives back to the wild native fish resources we all love. In addition to the single-serve coffee bags noted above, they also offer 12oz bags of coffee. My favorites are Woolly’s Blend and Muddler’s Blend, the latter of which is also good for espresso.

The ultimate stove-top espresso set from GSI.

Angler’s Coffee sells their coffee in whole bean or drip and press grinds. For those who like to grind their own coffee, consider GSI’s compact JavaMill or JavaGrind.

For extended tailgate camping, I use a traditional propane single-burner stove from Coleman. For shorter trips, I use a more compact butane single-burner stove from Eureka. These stoves will facilitate both presses and espresso makers.

When backpacking, I use a propane/isobutane blend Jetboil stove for boiling water for a press or coffee bags. For espresso, I use the Glacier Stainless Explorer Set from GSI, which can also be used for  presses and bags.

Nothing beats a hot cup of coffee in the morning, or when the weather gets cold. Having grown up with less than ideal options for in-the-field coffee, and what could fairly be called marginal coffee, it’s exciting to see all the new coffee tech and coffee coming out of the outdoor products industry today.